20 places to see and things to do during your visit to Ghent in Belgium

Panorama from the Saint Michael bridge in Ghent in Belgium
Panorama from the Saint Michael bridge in Ghent in Belgium

Recently I have been able to pay off this debt by visiting Ghent twice, and I tell you that it is a city whose visit deserves a lot, very much, another great jewel that should not be missed on a route through Flanders .

Church of St. Nicholas from Belfort belfry of Ghent
Church of St. Nicholas from Belfort belfry of Ghent

Tips for visiting Ghent

From the outset I will tell you that Ghent is a city that you find and on the way between Brussels and the very popular Bruges .

If you are not making a car trip through Belgium , a very good way to get there is by train , which you can catch in the center of Brussels or at the airport itself.

Views of Grislei dock from the castle Counts of Flanders in Ghent
Views of Grislei dock from the castle Counts of Flanders in Ghent

In fact it can be converted into an intermediate stop, either on the way out or upon returning from Bruges.

Excursions to Ghent from Brussels

From Brussels you can sign up for a Tour to Ghent from Brussels  that in a day of almost 10 hours allows you to have a good approximation to this Belgian city.

Or even join a tour combined with the Tour to Bruges and Ghent from Brussels , which also takes place in a single day.

I also tell you that  visiting Ghent will be very comfortable because most of the highlights are concentrated in the historic center, where you can take a nice walk among its streets with canals and monuments.

Of course, you can have a good approximation to its attractions with the visit of Ghent in a day , although I’ll give you enough arguments so you can enjoy them with the most relaxed visit in two days .

Canal de Ghent in the Belgian region of Flanders
Canal de Ghent in the Belgian region of Flanders

If you go on your own, from the train station it will take you just 15 minutes to reach the historic center on board a tram line 1 , as Ghent is one of those cities that enjoy the charm that, from my point of view, confer the trams.

What to see in Ghent

Then in the center you will have two main axes for your visit, which converge on the San Miguel bridge that crosses the main channel of the city, and from where you have the best views of its monuments.

Bridge of San Miguel

On the bridge of San Miguel you have one of the iconic corners of the city of Ghent, you can from there have the famous views of the three towers that follow each other, the church of San Nicolás , the Municipal Bell Tower and the Cathedral of San Bavón .

In a perpendicular sense, with the church of San Miguel behind you, you can see other iconic scenes of Ghent, which make up the canal and the docks of medieval origin of Graslei and Korenlei .

Facades of Graslei dock houses in Ghent
Facades of Graslei dock houses in Ghent

Graslei and Korenlei springs

The Graslei and Korenlei docks located on both banks of the main canal were the commercial center of Ghent in the Middle Ages, and now they are going to be one of the axes of your tourist visit.

There you can see beautiful facades of buildings from different periods, starting from the original grain warehouse of the year 1200.

From there you will see the beautiful image of the bridge and the church of San Miguel , and you will also find lively terraces of bars and restaurants.

And on these docks you can get on one of the small boats that take you on a cruise through the canals.

Municipal bell tower next to the Cloth Hall in Ghent
Municipal bell tower next to the Cloth Hall in Ghent

 

Go up to Belfort Municipal Bell Tower

If it is a question of panoramic views, going up to the Municipal Bell Tower , also known as Torre Belfort , becomes a must to enjoy the best of the city.

These typical bell towers in Belgium and France are declared World Heritage Sites , and were used for defensive purposes to warn the population of the attacks of enemies.

When you go up, see if you’re lucky and you can see the chime running, as it happened to me.

Roeland Bell

The Municipal Bell Tower of Ghent dates back to the year 1380, and in it a first bell known as Roeland was installed .

Church of San Nicolás in front of the Ghent Municipal Bell Tower
Church of San Nicolás in front of the Ghent Municipal Bell Tower

Now on a pedestal at the foot of the Belfort Tower you can see a bell with the same name, which was part of the carillon that was built in 1659 after the original Roeland was melted .

The great bell that you can now see was removed from the aforementioned carillon when it was electrified in 1918.

Cathedral of San Bavón

On the other side of one of the squares that surround the Belfort Tower is the Cathedral of San Bavón , a Gothic building from the 15th century that replaced a Romanesque church of the 12th century.

Although the cathedral was initially dedicated to San Juan Bautista , in 1540 it happened to be under the invocation of San Bavón .

Inside the cathedral of Ghent several artistic works are preserved, such as a baroque altar in marble and oak and, above all, the great work of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb .

St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent in the Belgian region of Flanders
St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent in the Belgian region of Flanders

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

I tell you that if you like painting, the visit of Ghent will not be complete until you see the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb , a monumental panel of 20 panels painted by the Van Eyck brothers .

This painting has the curious “honor” of being the most frequently stolen works of art at all times.

In fact, two of its panels were stolen in 1934 and have not been recovered.

Completed in 1432 with the purpose of being the altarpiece of the chapel that in this church the then mayor of Ghent was constructed , throughout the history the work and its different panels have traveled by diverse cities of Europe.

It was in the year 200 when it happened to occupy its current location in a corner of the Cathedral of San Bavón to be seen by visitors, and in 2012 the last restoration of the same was addressed.

Monument to the Van Eyck brothers in Ghent
Monument to the Van Eyck brothers in Ghent

Van Eyck brothers monument

Behind the cathedral of San Bavón , facing the apse, you can see a large monument with statues of the Van Eyck brothers .

Regarding the actual authorship of the famous work of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb , there are various speculations.

It is known that was initiated and mostly painted by Hubert Van Eyck , and after his death was supposed to be completed by his younger brother Jan .

Municipal Pavilion

Between the Belfort Tower and the church of San Nicolás is the Municipal Pavilion , a modern construction of 2012 that is presented as a large marquee of 40 meters in length under which various events are held.

The construction of this modern structure at the time was very controversial among the inhabitants of Ghent given its location in such a historic corner of the city.

City of Ghent in Flanders in Belgium
City of Ghent in Flanders in Belgium

City of Ghent

Nearby you will find the building of the City of Ghent , which will draw your attention for the two very different architectural styles of its facades.

One of them shows flamboyant Gothic style of the early sixteenth century.

The other facade is in the 17th century Renaissance style with an architecture inspired by Italian palaces.

Castle of the Counts of Flanders

Something that will surely surprise you is to see in the center of Ghent a great medieval castle , the only one that is preserved in Flanders.

Castle of the Counts of Flanders in Ghent in Belgium
Castle of the Counts of Flanders in Ghent in Belgium

It is a great fortress from whose walls you have beautiful  panoramic views of Ghent .

The castle of the Counts of Flanders dates back to a first wooden building of the tenth century, although its configuration with a great wall and 24 towers is 1180.

Vrijdagmarkt Square

Vrijdagmark is one of the central squares of Ghent  that in the past was a popular scene of executions, the last of which took place in 1822.

With great spaciousness and with a large statue in the center dedicated to a historical personage of the Middle Ages,  Jacobo de Artevelde , in this square you will be struck by a large building of the fifteenth century, one of the buildings that originally had in the square.

Night illumination of the Vrijdagmarkt square in Ghent
Night illumination of the Vrijdagmarkt square in Ghent

Now this place has a great atmosphere, with numerous terraces, and highlight the outdoor markets that the establishments of the same installed on Friday morning until 1 pm, and Saturdays from 11 am to 6.30 pm

STAM, museum of the city of Ghent

In terms of museums, the STAM is the main reference in this Flemish city, which tells the history of the city Ghent since the Middle Ages.

During your visit, you will be especially surprised by the huge aerial photos that you will walk on and that show what the city was like at different times, from 1534 to the present.

It is located in three buildings, a 14th century abbey, a 17th century convent and a modern construction of the 20th century.

Corner of a Ghent canal in Flanders Belgium
Corner of a Ghent canal in Flanders Belgium

Things to do in Ghent

Cruise on the Ghent canals

One of the most typical activities on your trip to Ghent is to cruise the canals of the Lys and Scheldt rivers .

You can find them on the docks of Graslei and Korenlei .

Walk through illuminated Ghent

Although in a full day you can know the most prominent corners of Ghent, if you stay overnight in the city you can enjoy one of its great attractions.

Night illumination of the medieval center of Ghent
Night illumination of the medieval center of Ghent

It’s about a night walk through illuminated Ghent , which I can assure you is very worthwhile.

Keep in mind that the night lighting of Ghent has been awarded internationally and every three years a Festival of Lights is celebrated , the last one in May 2018.

 

Restaurants in Patershol neighborhood

Patershol is a neighborhood of narrow streets located next to the castle of the Counts of Flanders that after being a well-off area went on to concentrate artisans and merchants and then it became a working class neighborhood .

After a period of decadence in the last century, its subsequent rehabilitation has led to it now being a fashionable neighborhood in Ghent with small and charming restaurants.

Cloth Hall in Ghent
Cloth Hall in Ghent

Typical food in Ghent

Cuberdon in flamenco, they are cone-shaped chocolates with a raspberry flavor, sold in trolleys that you can find in the streets.

In winter in Ghent it is typical to have one of the soups sold in the many soups you can find on the street.

The most popular dish in Ghent is the Waterzooi , an original stew from the Middle Ages made with fish or chicken, and it is also typical to buy mustard in Tierenteyn , sweets in Temmerman and waffles in MAX .

Cuberdons stand in Ghent
Cuberdons stand in Ghent

Craft beer Grutt

As for the typical Belgian beer , an iconic place is Gruut , a craft brewery in the city of Ghent where the most traditional processing systems are maintained.

It uses a mix of herbs ( gruut ) instead of hops, and offers several varieties of beer, wheat, blonde, amber, toast and inferno.

To emphasize that it is a very pleasant place to chat or eat.

Dulle Griet Brewery

In the Vrijdagmark square it  is worth visiting the Dulle Griet brewery , where you will find many types of Belgian craft beers.

Flower market in Ghent
Flower market in Ghent

It is an establishment with a very peculiar decoration where one of the rituals is when you ask for a liter beer, which you are served in a giant yard .

To enjoy the beer you have to leave a garment in a basket hanging from the ceiling … and until you finish the beer, they do not give it back to you.

Flower Market Kouter

Visiting Ghent on a Sunday is also synonymous with going to the Kouter Flower Market .

It is a large elongated square where on both sides of it there is a succession of flower sales, which makes up a set of great color.

Ghent florals
Ghent florals

Floralia, floral art exhibition

But when the love for flowers reaches its maximum expression of Ghent is on the occasion of Floralias , a floral art festival that is held every several years in the month of April.

The last edition took place in 2016, and I can assure you that it is a true wonder.

Various corners of the city are home to large floral decorations, such as the Bijloke cultural center , where the aforementioned STAM museum , the medieval abbey of San Pedro or the large Citadelpark park .

How to get to Ghent

Ghent is only 57 kilometers from Brussels, one hour from the center of the capital by car and 35 minutes by train.

From Bruges it is only 50 kilometers and 25 minutes by train.