Ghent is in Belgium. Which, other than chips, Audrey Hepburn, chocolate and a statue of a small boy peeing, isn’t exactly famous for anything. It’s almost famous for not being famous for anything in fact.
Which is a bit of a shame really, because Belgium has a lot to offer, the small town of Ghent being one of these things. We visited recently as part of an adventure around Europe and loved it. Here are some of our favourite things to do on a whistle stop tour of Ghent!
What to see and do in Ghent
Wander, wander, wander
Ghent is a city that is really all about the wandering. Get yourself lost in the side streets, stumble across hidden little cafes and bars, marvel at the many waterways and cobbled streets. It’s a town from another time, with a largely car free centre, and you’ll find yourself stopping to take pictures every few paces of the medieval architecture and sights.
Some must-wander locations include the Graslei, the old harbour, which is lined with wonderful old buildings, and of course the old city centre itself, where you will find some of Ghent’s most famous landmarks, including the old post office, Saint Nicholas church, Saint Bavo cathedral and the dragon topped Belfry. Speaking of which:
Climb the Belfry
I know, if you’ve read a few of my city guides, this advice is not exactly going to shock you. I just happen to firmly believe that the best way to get orientated in a city, whilst scoring some decent views, is to get above it. And Ghent has a handy number of options for a view, including the UNESCO world heritage listed Belfry of Ghent.
Dating from 1313, and with a height of 91 metres, the Belfry offers spectacular views across the city of Ghent and particularly the historical city centre from the 66m high viewing platform. The different stages on the way up to the viewing platform have information about the history of the tower, the dragon that sits atop it, and the many bells for which it was built.
At the time of writing it cost €5 to go up, and was well worth it.
Visit the Cathedral
Ghent’s cathedral, Sint Baafskathedraal (also known as Saint Bavo Cathedral) has to be one of the oldest buildings in Ghent, dating from 942. That’s one old building. It is impressive from the outside (and looks good from the top of the Belfry, which it is next to), but the real draw is the display of art inside.
It is the Ghent Altarpiece which takes pride of place – a 15th century set of panels which are painted on both sides, and are nearly five metres wide. It is widely regarded as being one of Europe’s most significant pieces of art, and it has survived a whole host of events, including fires, war and theft. So yes, you can very much get your culture on in Ghent, if that’s your thing.
Check out the Castle
Gravensteen castle, dating from 1180, sits monolith like in the centre of Ghent, a testament to a time when buildings were all about the longevity. Unfortunately the castle was closed when we got there, so all we could do was admire the walls from the outside, and the ebb and flow of time around it.
If your timing is better (and it’s open all day, so you shouldn’t have a problem), then you’ll be able to climb the ramparts, check out a display of arms, and feel generally medieval for 8€. Which seems good value to me, and we’ve put the castle firmly on our “next time we’re in Ghent” list. Which will hopefully not be too far away, because we loved this place!
Getting there and around
The easiest way to get to Ghent is by train from Brussels. These run approximately every half hour, and take about half an hour. Be sure to catch the fast version of the train though as there are slower options which take twice as long.
The central train station in Ghent isn’t particularly central. Luckily there is a handy tram service which will take you to the town centre – just turn right out of the train station and catch tram number 1. If you’d prefer to walk, just go straight ahead as you leave the station, you’re looking at about a 20 – 30 minute wander. If in doubt, follow the tram tracks of the number 1 tram.
Ghent itself is best explored on foot – it’s not a very big place and one of the best things about it are the countless little streets to wander, so that’s the option I’m going to recommend. Otherwise that tram is excellent network, which is probably the next best option if your feet are tired.
Where to stay.
Ghent being so handy from Brussels means that it’s easy to stay in Brussels itself, and take the train to Ghent for the day, thus widening your accommodation choice. This was exactly what we did.
We stayed in the funky Pantone Hotel (as in the colours) in Brussels, thanks to HostelBookers, our accommodation partner on our Europe trip . This was two stops from the main train station on the subway, and within walking distance of the main sights of Brussels.
Our room happened to be right at the top of the building, with two balconies offering 360 degree panoramic views over the Belgian capital – which was pretty epic. The breakfast (included) was also rather jolly, from waffles to bacon and beyond. And the colour inspired decor was delightful, with everything from the toilet rolls to the tea packets coming in multiple bright colours. An easy place to recommend!
Naturally there are plenty more choices when it comes to accommodation, both in Ghent and in Brussels, catering for the majority of budgets, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding somewhere to suit.
Thanks for reading today’s post on the city of Ghent! As you can tell, our accommodation in Brussels was provided by HostelBookers, thanks to them for that. Have you visited Ghent? As always, do share your thoughts in the comments below!
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