A town built on water, with a beautiful castle right in its heart, Ghent is definitely a hidden gem. Even though it’s a big city, home to more than 250.000 people, all the sights are close to one another so it’s easy to explore the town, on foot, in only one day! Conveniently located between Brugge, Brussel, or Antwerp, Ghent is one of the best-preserved European medieval cities. So, if you are travelling to this part of Belgium, you need to spend at least one day in Ghent.
We flew to Brussels on a late autumn weekend, and after visiting the capital, we took day trips to Ghent and Bruges. We traveled by train to Ghent and walked through the city center and the surroundings. Although we didn’t prepare much, we saw a lot on these day trips. Here is a little inspiration for organizing your time if you only have one day in Ghent!
Getting to Ghent by Train
A return train ticket is half-price to any Belgium destination from Friday, 7 pm until Sunday, 12 am. We traveled 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 no. 1 platform. From here, tram nr.1 will take you to the city center in no more than 10 minutes. Once you’ve reached the city center, get out of the tram 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 Ghent’s oldest and beautiful landmarks. One part church, one part antique market. Step inside the market, and maybe you will find something old and unique.
As you leave the church, you’ll find yourself in the middle of Korenmarkt, the historical heart of Ghent. Lots of the buildings house today restaurants, shops, and bars. In need of a coffee? Reach for Mokabon coffee house!
Saint Michael’s Area
If you arrive in Ghent by car, you can park 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 harbor, 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 riverbank, 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 it is a Gothic beauty. The exterior is pretty impressive, but there are a lot to see inside: beautiful wooden carvings, sculptures, and glass windows.
Korenlei and Graslei
Korenlei and Graslei, the opposite banks of the river, are the most beautiful city parts. With historic buildings that sit alongside the waterfront, this charming place was once one of the most crucial trade areas in this part of the world. Just take some time, stroll around and enjoy the scenery.
Now here are plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants where you can sit and enjoy the views. Have lunch at one of the many terraces with a river view 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 buildings’ history 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
On the other side of the Korenmarkt is a small public square called Groetenmarkt. Here you will find Great Butcher’s Hall, which dates back to the 15th century. Now the hall houses a small restaurant inside. You will see Ganda hams hanging from the roof like they once used to.
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 castle’s past. The audio-guide provides the history in a story form, making it enjoyable for children and adults. 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.
What better way to understand and feel the city than walking? One of the most beautiful and interesting areas is Patershol: a little neighborhood with many restaurants and shops. Just take a walk on the cobblestone alleys and enjoy the area.
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 Jacob Church before moving further. Dating back to the Romanesque period, this church has gone through a lot of renovation, destruction, and expansion.
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.
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 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 city’s heart, standing at about 91m high.
Tip: Climb the stairs or take the lift from the first floor and reach the top at 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 Belgian 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!
Getting back to the Train Station
From Korenmarkt, take the tram back to the Ghent-Sint-Pieters Railway Station, from platform 4.
Interactive Map & Our Day in Ghent Itinerary
Are you on Pinterest? Save this image for Later!
RELATED POST: ONE DAY IN BRUGES, BELGIUM
Are you planning a visit to the nearby town, BRUGES? This article will help you better plan your day in this lovely city.