As it looks like many of us are planning a staycation in Belgium or the countries close by, I figured it was about time I’d take you on a little city trip to Ghent. Ghent is an enchanting university city in the Flemish region of Belgium. With a perfect combination of old and new, cosmopolitan and laid-back, you’ll have a ball! I’ve been wanting to share my tips and tricks about my hometown forever. But you know how it goes… There is always so much to say about the trips abroad, that I never came around doing so.
Ghent has a very lively restaurant scene, going from vegetarian and world cuisine to Michelin star and traditional restaurants. In terms of food our city offers something for everyone. I already shared a lot of foodie hotspots on the blog, so in this post I opted for restaurants I haven’t done a separate post about. This way I can give you as many tips as possible 😉
Enjoy the view from the St-Michael’s Bridge
Let’s start with one of the absolute highlights; the view from the St. Michael’s Bridge. From here you will be able to spot the Graslei and Korenlei, the Castle of Counts and of course our three medieval towers; the St. Nicholas’ Church, the Ghent Belfry and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Make sure to have your camera’s ready, as this is the best place for your perfect Instagram shot!
Explore the Korenmarkt
When you walk down the St-Michael’s Bridge, in the direction of the towers, you will arrive at the Korenmarkt, Ghent’s ‘grand place’. The St. Nicholas’ Church is one of the most beautiful examples of the Scheldt Gothic style. Also worth a little visit is the former Post Office that has been turned into a shopping mall and luxury hotel.
Climb the Belfry
The Ghent Belfry is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and symbolizes the prosperity and independence of our city. Climb the tower to admire one of the best views of Ghent. Oh and hey… If you don’t feel like climbing 300+ steps… I have some good news for you, there’s an elevator!
Visit the St-Bavo’s Cathedral
The last tower in the famous row of three is the St-Bavo’s Cathedral, the oldest parish church in Ghent, built on the site of a 10th century church and a 12th century Romanesque church. The cathedral is filled with many art treasures. The most famous one being the Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers. It’s one of the most influential paintings ever made and unfortunately also one of the most stolen ones! On the morning of 11 April 1934, Ghentians woke up with the news that two panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, ‘The Just Judges’ and ‘John the Baptist’ were stolen from the Cathedral! The ‘John the Baptist’ panel was returned, but ‘The Just Judges’ is still lost without any trace. Over the years this theft has given rise to all sorts of exciting stories and mysterious conspiracy theories. Anyhow if you happen to know more about its whereabouts, reach out, because we would like to see the panel back where it belongs.
Lunch at De Rechtvaardige Rechters
At this point you must be hungry, so how about a typical Flemish lunch at the ‘De Rechtvaardige Rechters’ with a view upon the Belfry & St-Bavo’s Cathedral? Both the Flemish Stew and Mussels are to die for. Bon Appetit!
Stroll around historic Ghent
As we already spent a lot of time indoors, it’s time for a little walk throughout the city. Rest assured you will still encounter many important sights, like the Ghent Town Hall for example. Our city hall is very unique if you ask me, as it was built in two very different architectural styles. The façade on the Hoogpoort side shows the Late Gothic style that dates from the early 16th century. This style is in sharp contrast to the Renaissance style on the Botermarkt side. Make sure to walk around the building to experience it’s full glory. Opposite the street lays the City Pavilion, an architectural masterpiece designed by the architects Robbrecht & Daem in collaboration with Marie-José Van Hee.
If you walk further into the Hoogpoort, you will see the Werregarenstraatje, better known as Graffiti Street. Street artists are free to spray-can art to their heart’s desire. This means that Graffiti Street looks very different upon every visit.
On our way to the Vrijdagsmarkt we will pass by the Serpentstraat, in my opinion the cutest street in Ghent and the place to be if you like Mexican food, (which I do very much)!
The Vrijdagsmarkt is one of the oldest squares in Ghent. On Fridays, it’s super fun to visit the market (hence the name of the square). Dominating the square is the statue of Jacob Van Artevelde. He is considered a hero by the locals, as he managed to undo the boycott of English wool imports during the Hundred Years’ War. Throughout history the Vrijdagsmarkt has been of big importance to Ghent. It’s here that royals were officially welcomed to the city, but unfortunately it’s also the place where people were guillotined or burned at the stake. The Little Tower is the only building dating back to those days.
Close to the Vrijdagsmarkt you will find the ‘Big Canon’, known in popular parlance as the ‘Dulle Griet’ (evil woman). She might look a bit scary, but don’t be afraid, she’s completely harmless, as she has never been fired.
The Patershol neighboorhood is the oldest part of the city. I always feel transported back to the Middle Ages when I wander around these cobbled streets and alleys. Oudburg, the main street of the Patershol, is filled with restaurants. Whether it’s international or typical Belgian, you will definitely find something to your liking here.
If you like to try old-fashioned sweets such as ‘mokken’, ‘knopkes’ and ‘cuberdons’ make sure to stop by ‘Confiserie Temmerman’ at the Kraanlei. Further down the road you will pass by the House of Alijn, once a children’s hospital, nowadays a fun museum that shines a light on the daily life of 20th century people.
Drinks at Waterhuis aan de Bierkant or ’t Dreupelkot
Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant is one of Ghent’s traditional historic pubs, so beer lovers, should check it out. Its location on the riverbank makes it very popular, especially in the summer when the terrace becomes a true hotspot. Next door you will find ‘t Dreupelkot, where they serve more than 200 kinds of Belgian Geneva. My favorite: Vanilla. Cheers you guys!
Foodie stop at the Groentenmarkt
The Groentenmarkt is where you need to be for Ghent delicatessen, sweet treats and delicious regional products. I love the chocolate bread from Oud Huis Himschoot, the oldest bakery of the city. When in Ghent you have to try a Cuberdon or Neuzeke! Nowadays they come in all colors and flavors, but the original one, with a soft raspberry center is the best one! If you like to take a little bit of Ghent home with you, head to Tierentyn Mustard or The Great Butchers’ Hall.
Enjoy Ghent from the water
Ships have been sailing into Ghent to trade since the eleventh century. All the activity of the thousand years of trading can be seen at the Graslei & Korenlei. The view of Ghent from the water is wonderful, so a boat trip is a must-do! Tourist boats embark every 20 minutes from the jetty’s at the Graslei & Korenlei. During the 45 minutes cruise you pass by many of the landmarks and will learn a lot about the history of Ghent. Ship ahoy!
Dinner at Meme Gusta
One of my preferred restaurants in Ghent is Meme Gusta. This because they serve classical Flemish dishes, exactly like our grandmothers used to prepare them. When I tell you I have eaten my way around town in search of the best Belgian Stew, I’m not lying and honestly the one from Meme Gusta is one of the very best. Same goes for their homemade cheese and shrimp croquets. The cozy atmosphere makes you feel right at home, and that’s all the more reason why I need to go back soon.
Nightcap at The Alchemist
The Alchemist is one of the most fun bars in the city. On the beverage menu you will find a nice selection of wine, gin & tonic, rum, whiskeys and local beers. A view on the Castle of Counts and a nice drink in your hand… believe me, there’s no better way to end your first day in Ghent!
Stay at The Hide
Time for bed… If you are looking for a unique and hip place to stay in the city center of Ghent, I have found the perfect spot for you. The Hide is located in the SoGo district of Ghent, more particularly in the Nederkouter. SoGo is considered the biggest shopping area in the city. This is where you will find the most stylish boutiques, quirky restaurants and specialist shops. Talking ‘bout an amazing location for your home away from home right? The Urban Hideaway, as Leading Lady Barbara likes to call The Hide, consists of seven designer flats. All flats have a king-size bed and offer the comfort of a private kitchen or kitchenette (in case you want to eat in) and en-suite bathroom facilities. If you fancy a drink, make sure to check out ‘The Living Room’ and enjoy the stunning view upon the Bijloke site. I can go on and on about how wonderful this place is, but you just have to #seekthehide and find out for yourself!
Breakfast at Het Moment
Morning folks! Hop on tram number 1 direction Wondelgem/Evergem and get off at the stop ‘Gravensteen’. Before we are visiting the most popular attraction in Ghent, we’re having breakfast at Het Moment. Whether you’re just having coffee with a croissant or dig the more elaborate breakfast, you’re in for a threat!
Visit the Castle of Counts
It’s finally happening! I know you’ve been wanting to check this place out, since you got here. And right you are! A trip to Ghent wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Castle of Counts. The castle was built in the 12th century by Count Philip of Alsace and is a symbol of his power and wealth. It’s the only remaining medieval castle with a moat and largely intact defense system in Flanders. During your visit, opt for the audio guide. Local comedian Wouter Deprez takes you an adventure through the castle’s history, packed with funny anecdotes and stories. Inside there is also quite a unique collection of torture equipment. From the roof you have the most wonderful view upon Ghent.
Walk around the Lievekaai & Prinsenhof
The entire area around Prinsenhof lives and breathes the legacy of Emperor Charles V, as this is where he was born 1500. Enjoy your walk around the neighborhood and take in all the history. On your way to the Prinsenhof you will pass by my favorite square in Ghent, the Lievekaai. It’s such a charming sight and one of the most relaxing spots in Ghent.
Lunch at Valeir with a view upon Portus Ganda
For lunch I’m taking you to Portus Ganda. It’s a little bit outside of the historic center (15 minute walk), but nevertheless it’s a location with significant meaning. Ganda, as Ghent was originally called, arose at the confluence of the Lys and the Scheldt. That site is now known as Portus Ganda, a little marina and also the location of our lunch spot.
Valeir is where you need to be for yummy sandwiches, salads, granola bowls and milkshakes. The best thing about Valeir is the fact that it’s also an ice-cream parlor! Before heading out grab yourself a yummy gelato and enjoy the view from the jetty upon Portus Ganda and it’s colorful houses.
Visit the ruins of the St-Bavo’s Abbey
From Portus Ganda it’s about a five minute walk towards the ruins of the St-Bavo’s Abbey. The abbey was built in the 7th century in an attempt to convert the citizens of Ganda to Christianity. In the 11th century the abbey was as the peak of its glory, so a complex that included an abbey church was constructed (of which the ‘oldest wall in Ghent’ is still standing). To give you a clearer image of how the abbey once was, the city has marked the shape of the original Romanesque church with green shrubs. Unfortunately this site can only be visited during spring and summer. However if you have the change to visit it, take it!
Time for vino at ONA
ONA is one of the most charming wine bars in Ghent. The changing selection of approximately 30 wines originates from small, European farmers to guarantee the purest tastes. Whether you’re in the mood for white, rosé, red or bubbles, Ona & Arne got you covered!
Dinner at Bodo
After a quick refresh at the hotel, we are going back to the historic center for dinner. Bodo is one of those restaurants, I loved from the get-go! The interior, the vibe and the food. It’s spot on! As they work with fresh and seasonal products the menu changes often, but it’s always a good combo between traditional and international dishes.
Breakfast at Luv L’oeuf
The motto at Luv L’oeuf is ‘Breakfast all day, every day!’ And who doesn’t love that right?! On the menu you will find everything that your heart desires with eggs. So far I was able to try the Eggs Benedict, Huevos Rancheros and the Shakshuka… Mmmm! And don’t even get me started on those pancakes and sweet potato fries! What can I say; I love Luv L’oeuf!
Visit the Museum Quarter
After a delicious breakfast it’s time for some culture. There are many great museums in Ghent, but my personal favorite is the STAM. The Ghent City Museum tells the story of Ghent from the Middle Ages to the present day. I was so impressed with the gigantic aerial photograph of Ghent on which you can locate your home. The Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) and Contemporary Art (SMAK) are less than five minutes walking distance away from the STAM. I personally feel that one museum per day is more than enough, but if you like to visit a second one, you should totally do that!
Lunch at Alice
Alice is one of the coziest and most homey restaurants in Ghent. The name ‘Alice’ refers to owner Eric’s mother. The dreamy pink interior and Marie-Antoinette details will make all the girly girls jump for joy! Go to Alice for a yummy breakfast, traditional lunch or even a full high tea.
Shop till you drop
Ghent has the largest pedestrian shopping area in Belgium, which makes shopping a relaxing and fun activity. In Ghent, you will find the big, famous chains alongside authentic boutiques. Shops are also open on the first Sunday in the month in Ghent. They are closed on all other Sundays and bank holidays. Although the stores are close to each other, they are several shopping districts in the city: Gent Central, Linkeroever, East District and SoGo. However as we have a Zara & H&M in every city, it might be nice to get to know some local stores, don’t you think? Garderobe, Maaike Kleedt, The Fallen Angels and Curiosa & Co are amongst my favorites, but you can find many more on the Instagram page of Gentsekoop. Happy shopping!
Coffee Break at Take Five Espressobar
Whenever I go on a shopping spree, I have to stop by Take Five Espressobar for a little pick me up. Believe me, the coffee and homemade cakes are to die for! Take Five is located in the heart of the different shopping districts, so that’s super handy too.
- Sightseeing: I suggest purchasing a Ghent City Card from the tourism office at € 36 (valid for 48 hours) or € 42 (valid for 72 hours). The card provides free access to all the sights, monuments and museums in the city. This is a great deal, as it also includes public transportation (bus & tram), free bicycle rental for one day, one guided tour by boat, you can even get on and off the Ghent hop-on/hop-off water tram for one day.
- Parking: there are plenty of public carparks in Ghent. I suggest you park at ‘Parking Ramen’ as that is one of the cheapest (€ 14/24hours) and super close to the historic center.
- Low Emission Zone: As of 1 January 2020 there is a low emission zone in Ghent. All foreign cars, must register, even if admitted. Click here to register on the official site of the city.