If you are travelling to Belgium, you need to spend at least one day in Ghent. Conveniently located between Brugge, Brussel or Antwerp, Ghent is one of the best-preserved European medieval cities.
A town built on water, with a beautiful castle right in the heart of the city, Ghent is definitely a hidden gem. Even though it’s a big city, all the sights are close to one another so it’s easy to explore the town, on foot, in just one day!
Tip: Travel to Ghent by train. A return train ticket, to any destination in Belgium, is half price on weekends from 7 p.m. Friday until Sunday. We travelled to Ghent from Brussel, by train, on the weekend and paid 10 EUR (11 USD) for a return ticket. The ride took no more than 40minutes.
GETTING TO THE CITY CENTRE
The train leaves you at Ghent-Sint-Pieters Railway Station. As you leave the station, on your left side, is the platform no 1. From here, tram nr.1 will take you to the city centre in no more than 10 minutes. Get off at Korenmarkt station.
Cost: 3 EUR (3,30 USD) for a 60 minutes ticket or 7 EUR (7,70 USD) for a day ticket at vending machines. You can also purchase tickets on board, but you’ll pay more.
Tram no.1 leaves you in the heart of the city, just in front of Saint Nicholas’ Church, one of the oldest and beautiful landmarks of Ghent. One part church, one part antique market. Get into the market and maybe you will find something old and unique.
As you leave the church, you find yourself in the middle of Korenmarkt, the historical heart of Ghent. Lots of the buildings house today – restaurants, shops and bars. In need for a coffee? Reach for Mokabon coffee house!
KORENLEI AND GRASLEI
Korenlei and Graslei, the opposite banks of the river, are the most beautiful parts of the city. This charming place, with historic buildings that sit alongside the waterfront, was once one of the most crucial trade areas in this part of the world. Now here are plenty of shops, cafes and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the views. Just take some time, stroll around and enjoy the scenery. Or take a boat tour on Leie River.
CANAL BOAT TOURS
Several companies offer round-trip guided tours on the canals. The journey is very informative, giving most of the history of the buildings on both sides of the Leie river. It’s a lovely way to see Ghent and to take some great pictures from a different angle.
Cost: 7.5 EUR, 8 USD
SAINT MICHAEL’S AREA
If you arrive in Ghent by car, you can park it at Sint Michiels parking area and start your walking tour here. At Sint-Michielsplein 12 you can join a free walking tour of Ghent. Tours are daily at 10:00hr, 13:00hr & 18:30hr, Monday – Sunday in English and Spanish and take around 2 hours.
SAINT MICHAEL’S BRIDGE
This is the best place to capture the old buildings of the old harbour, the Leie canal, the churches of St. Michael and St. Nicholas and the three towers leading to St. Bavo Cathedral.
You can also sit on the river bank and enjoy the view and then head to Saint Michael’s Church. The first thing you will notice is that it has no spire. It was not destroyed, it was the only thing never built. This beautiful church suffered several setbacks, including partial destruction, but now is a Gothic beauty. The exterior is pretty impressive, but there are a lot to see inside: beautiful wooden carvings, sculptures and glass windows.
On the other side of the Korenmarkt is a small public square called Groetenmarkt. Here you will find Great Butcher’s Hall, that dates back the 15th century. You will see Ganda hams hanging from the roof like they once used to. Now the hall houses a small restaurant inside.
Tip: Belgian Frites at its best! Behind Great Butcher’s Hall, there is a small counter called Bij Filip, where you can find good fries. Crisp on the outside and sublime on the inside. Just try some topped with SAMOURAI sauce! Delicious!
Built-in 1180, Gravensteen Castle was the residence of the Counts of Flanders. It used to be a prison, a court and a cotton factory but now it’s a museum. We were very impressed by the beauty of this castle. It looked amazing from outside, so we quickly decided to join an audio-guide tour to find out the past of the castle. The audio-guide provides the history in a story form, making it enjoyable for children and adults as well. Funny and quirky, it got me in the first place. An engaging format that got other people, too, since everyone seemed amused. Don’t miss the rooftop for a 360 degrees view of Ghent. From here you can see all the 4 Medieval Towers of Ghent.
Cost: 10 EUR, 11 USD
Duration: 90 minutes.
A small street filled with bold and bright graffiti. It seems like the alley attracts lots of tourists. It worths a quick stroll to see the graffiti and take some photos on the way to Vrijdagmarkt.
Vrijdagmarkt is another lovely square of Ghent, which houses a local market on Weekends, ever since the 12th century. Here you can find some great restaurants and pubs. And you can also have a quick look at Saint Jacobskerk before moving further. Dating back to the Romanesque period, this church has gone through a lot of renovation, destruction, and expansion.
A little neighbourhood with lots of restaurants and shops. Just take a walk on the cobblestone alleys and enjoy the area.
SAINT BAVO’S CATHEDRAL
An impressive Gothic Cathedral built on the ruins of the 12th-century Romanesque church that once stood here. Both interior and exterior are amazing. It has a beautiful interior with stained glass, marble, a large Altar and many chapels along both flanks. Everyone goes to see the Hubert and Jan Van Eyck’s famous artwork “The Mystic Lamb”. We were very impressed by this Cathedral. The tower cannot be accessed, but you get great views from Belfry Tower opposite it.
Cost: 4 EUR, 4,50 USD- for the crypt
The Belfry, a Unesco World Heritage, is the symbol of Ghent. Built around 1313, the Belfry Tower is a fiery dragon that guards the heart of the city from 91m high.
Tip: Climb the stairs or take the lift from the first floor and reach the top on the hour when the music drum revolves. The small balconies are giving beautiful views over the city.
Cost: 8 EUR, 9 USD
TASTE THE FAMOUS WAFFLES
Belgium invented them as well, so make sure to try some. But buy the waffles from a street cart that makes them fresh, in front of you. Remember, no waffle is complete without a delicious topping like caramel or dulce de leche!
From Korenmarkt, take the tram back to the Ghent-Sint-Pieters Railway Station, from platform 4.
Are you planning a visit to the nearby town, BRUGES? Read ONE DAY IN BRUGES, BELGIUM – this article will help you better plan your day in this lovely city.