I love mini breaks and try to escape the busy-ness of London whenever I can. The weather typically starts to get warmer towards the end of March however it’s not the case this year. So, to avoid the cold and rainy weather, I hopped on the Eurostar direction: Belgium. I had decided to visit Antwerp after being offered Lonely Planet’s book “Best in travel 2018”. Before planning my trip to Belgium, I had never heard of Ghent (Gent in Flemish and Gand in French). Ghent turned out to be one of my favourite Belgian cities. There are so many reasons to visit Ghent, some mentioned below, but if you have to retain a few then remember: beautiful historical buildings, relaxing atmosphere and a cultural city.
Travelling within Belgium cities is very simple. From Brussels, it only takes 30 minutes to get to Gent-Sint-Pieters or 50 minutes from Antwerp. The station is magnificent so just before you exit the station, look up and check the work on the ceiling. From the train station, take tram 1 just outside the station to Korenmarkt, and within 15 minutes, you are in the centre of Ghent.
Ghent’s key monuments
Ghent is full of monuments. Therefore, you can’t miss seeing the famous three towers symbolising Ghent from the St Michael’s Bridge (Sint-Michiels Bridge). St Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint Baafskathedraal ) is part of the trio. This old parish church with a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectures is full of paintings including the “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” located just opposite the Belfry. Visiting the cathedral will cost you €4 which is quite reasonable.
Standing in the middle of the famous three is the Ghent Belfry, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 700-year-old Belfort is the symbol of the city and its independence. If you are up for some exercise, climb the stairs of the tower and enjoy spectacular views of the town!
The last that makes the “three towers” is the 13th-century St Nicholas’s Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk). It was paid for by the wealthy merchants and guilds. Next, you have the city hall.
The Graslei and Korenlei
As mentioned you can see the three towers from the bridge on one side. The opposite side offers views of the river Leie (Lys) and the postcard-perfect Graslei quay. With such sights, the bridge has become tourists favourite selfie spot. To experience the beauty of Ghent, you need to sit by one of the restaurants or cafes along the Graslei or Korenlei. For a cheaper option, grab a portion of fries with some drinks in the nearby shop, sit on the cobblestones on either side of the river and mix with the locals.
A stroll through Patershol
Wandering along the old quarter of Ghent was one of the things we enjoyed the most. Strolling along the picturesque cobblestone streets of Patershol, the relaxed ambience and the different types of architecture at each corner made it very enjoyable. The atmosphere in Patershol which means “monks’ hole” is like a village, however a lively village with all the cafes and restaurants. Stop by the old-fashioned confectionery Temmerman for a taste of Belgian sweets including the famous cuberdons (Kraanlei 79, Ghent).
Just a few minutes away is the must see Gravensteen Castle (Het Gravensteen) built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace. You can climb the ramparts and fortified tower which offers excellent views of the city.
Visiting Ghent without taking a boat ride is a shame. After all, Ghent is famous for all its canals and waterways, and the tour along the Lys river is an excellent way to view the city’s highlights. Several companies like De Bootjes van Ghent offer a boat tour, and with the CityCard Gent, you can get the tour for free. For people who don’t have the CityCard Gent the fare is €7.50. It’s a very touristy activity but worth it if I am honest. The trip lasted 50 minutes, and we saw the old guildhalls, Castle of the Counts, the Belfry and St Nicholas’ Cathedral.
Ghent’s street art
I had no clue that Ghent was known as one the European cities to go to for street art. I was happy to explore and track the numerous urban pieces plastered on the walls of Ghent. Whether you understand graffiti or not, wandering in Warregarensteeg should be on your itinerary. This little alley known as Graffitistraatje is covered with legal graffiti. If you are interested in seeing more of the artworks, you can follow the SorrynotSorry street art map. It’s a tour that you can either walk (7km) or cycle (14km) and cover at least 50 locations. You can print the map here.
Hidden green spots
Whether you are tired of walking around and are in need of a peaceful place to relax or just looking to experience another side of Ghent, the two parks will sure help you relax. Then a stroll through Koning Albertpark (Zuidpark) is the perfect activity to enjoy relaxing with the locals. The park has a play area for kids, a skating section and plenty of benches too.
Muinkpark is another park worth going to especially for a lovely picnic with family and friends. This cosy park with a duck pond was a zoo until the 19th century.
Ghent by night
On the way back to the station, as the night was falling, we witnessed the change from daylight to the evening sky. It was so beautiful that we wanted to go back to the Graslei quay. If you are not time restricted unlike us or are staying the night in Ghent, then I recommend that you rediscover the city by night. With the Ghent Light Plan launched in 1998, all the streets and buildings in Ghent are beautifully lit in the evening.
Alternative ways of visiting Ghent
- on foot – the city centre is easily walkable, and you can pretty much do the centre within a day
- by bicycle – much like Amsterdam, Ghent is a great city to cycle, and everything is made to facilitate that. There are bike stands everywhere, the one by Sint-Pieters-Station is quite spectacular.
- by boat – for most of the year, you can get a ride on the many boat companies that operate in Graslei. For more info, check here
- by canoe – a fun way to explore the different canals of the city
- by carriage – for a romantic tour of the medieval centre, a carriage ride is a perfect option on a beautiful and warm day
- Ghent by Night – VisitGent offers a light walk that takes you to the highlights of Ghent illuminations (about 3 miles)
- Street art tour – as mentioned above, Concrete Canvas Tour is a street art tour by Street Art Belgium. The map traces all 54 arts located in Ghent, and you can do the tour can on foot or by bike.
- by scooter – with Bella Vespa, you can rent a Vespa from €25 and enjoy a tour of the artists’ village of Sint-Martens-Latem
Practical info to help you plan your trip.
- VisitGent – Tourist Information Center for Ghent
- Visit Flanders – official website for tourism information about Flanders (Belgium)
- SNCB – official website of the Belgian Railways
I hope I gave you plenty of reasons to visit Ghent and if you have already been, then I hope you will return again!
Have you visited Ghent? What did you think of the city?