A Day in Ghent, Belgium – Top Things to Do and See

(Last Updated On: August 1, 2018)

Ghent, the capital of the East Flanders is a medieval gem half an hour train journey from the Belgian capital Brussels. Tourists usually give Ghent a miss lured by the enticing aura of the city of Bruges. The first glimpse of Ghent as soon as we walked out of the station didn’t impress us either especially after a remarkable Bruges visit. We collected the route map and headed towards the historical center of Ghent.

The historical center of Ghent is a couple of km away from the train station and is well connected by public transport. We decided to walk all the way to the historic center inquisitive of the hidden gems we may explore on the way. The city has a well-preserved medieval architecture and numerous historic churches and buildings.

Things to do in Ghent - Ghent Medieval Architecture

Walking through the streets of Ghent towards the historical center is like walking back in time. As we get closer to the historical center the concrete buildings, wide lanes, and the trendy cafe, bars recede into a car-free zone surrounded by splendid architecture.

The first building we came across was the 13th-century Castle of Gerald the Devil. The magnificent gothic building has served as knights’ residence, an arsenal, a monastery, a school and even as a prison and mental asylum. Today the building serves as an administrative building of Ghent for storage of the archives.

Things to do in Ghent - Ghent Historical center

The historical center dominates the city skyline with three medieval towers of St Nicholas’ Church, the Belfry, and the St Bavo’s Cathedral in the Saint Bavo Square.

St Nicholas’ Church

The church was built in the early 13th-century in the location of a previous Romanesque church. The magnificent church an exemplary Scheldt Gothic style building is constructed of the blue-gray stone from the Tournai area. The church features a single large tower situated at the crossing of the church flanked by turrets at the corners.

Things to do in Ghent - St Nicholas’ Church

The central tower was used as an observation post until the construction of the belfry of Ghent. The interior of the church features an ornate organ and two remarkable 19th-century stained-glass windows.

St Bavo’s Cathedral

Saint Bavo Cathedral also known as Sint-Baafs Cathedral is an imposing Gothic cathedral completed in 16th-century. The cathedral building stands on the site of the 10th-century Chapel of St. John the Baptist the remains of which can be found in the cathedral crypt. The crypt of the church houses numerous tombs of bishops and several historical artifacts and religious items in the treasury.

The rich Baroque interior of the cathedral houses several important and fine artworks, paintings and sculptures. The most famous artwork being the ‘Altar of Ghent’ also known as ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’. The multi-paneled painting is one of the greatest masterpieces of Flemish art and was painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck.

More on details of visiting hours and open times here.

Ghent Belfry

For several centuries, the belfry served as a watchtower guarding the city of Ghent and a place where the important municipal documents were kept. An elevator can be taken to the Belfry’s upper gallery to see the bells and splendid panoramic views of the city.

Things to do in Ghent - Ghent Belfry

The present Belfry tower replaced an original wooden bell tower dating back to the early 14th-century. The tower is crowned by a sculpture of a gilded copper dragon flanked by four armed figures. Next to the Belfry is a grand 15th-century Cloth Hall which was a meeting place for traders during the middle ages and also as a prison during the 18th century. Today the building houses a popular restaurant.

Ghent Town Hall

The Town Hall or the Stadhuis is one of the stunning buildings in Ghent built in 1600. The exterior of the Town Hall decorated with statues and sculptures showcases a wonderful mix of gothic and renaissance architecture styles.

Things to do in Ghent - Ghent Town Hall

Also Read: A day in Antwerp – Its all about Diamonds, architecture and Fashion!

The cobblestone square around the town hall had a lively ambiance with people lazing and kids running around. Chhavi too had her share of fun with other toddlers frolicking around the square.

The different architectural styles of the town hall can easily be noticed in the picture below. The most striking feature of the town hall is the gothic style marriage chapel adorned with beautiful stained glass windows.

Things to do in Ghent - Ghent Town Hall

Our next stop was the Sint-Jacobskerk Church with its two magnificent Romanesque towers which is one of the oldest church in Ghent. We were by now exhausted and hungry. We stood at the junction and started scouring the map to reckon the shortest route to the castle.

Things to do in Ghent - Sint-Jacobskerk Church

The square at the entrance of the church was jam-packed with tourists. We followed a throng of tourists walking into a narrow alley around the corner of the square. The alley was chock-a-block with tourists, souvenir shops, quaint colorful houses, and the cafes.

Vrijdagmarkt

The narrow lane opened up into a huge square Vrijdagmarkt dominated by a statue of the Flemish political leader Jacob van Artevelde in the center. It is one of the oldest square surrounded by many outdoor cafes which makes it a favorite meeting point. The square gets its name from the weekly Friday markets that take place here. The square was also once the spot for public executions and important meetings.

Things to do in Ghent - Vrijdagmarkt

The Dulle Griet is a massive wrought-iron cannon from medieval times founded in Mons (Bergen). Dulle Griet is said to be one of the three cannons of which one resides in the majestic castle of Edinburgh called ‘Mons Meg‘ which we remember visiting during our Edinburgh trip. The last one found in France is said to be missing since ages.

Things to do in Ghent - Dulle Griet

We walked onto a street parallel to the square and were awestruck by the by the invigorating aura. A faint peppy song wafted through the air of the bustling square. The glistening emerald waters of the River Leie drifted through the canals winding through the square. There are numerous outdoor restaurants, shops, cafes and the exuberant crowds enjoyed their meals and coffee relishing the amazing vistas.

Things to do in Ghent

Food

We decided to soothe our hunger pangs in one of the restaurants at the end of the bridge on the other side of the canal. ‘Soup Lounge’ serves a choice of hot soups, bread, salads and fresh fruits. The menu was just right for us, filling and healthy and we wanted to try something other than the potato fries. The healthy and delicious soup turned out to be little Chhavi’s favorite too.

The square also has chocolate shops where you can shop for the famous Belgian chocolates. Also, make sure you eat some Belgian fries served with delicious mayonnaise and yummy waffles which are usually sugar coated, chocolate spread or whipped cream and topped with a wide variety of fresh fruits.

Graslei and Korenlei

Graslei and Korenlei are two quays in the historic center of Ghent. Both are popular landmarks of Ghent for the spectacular vista of a row of grandeur guild houses set along the bank of the Leie River. The quays were part of the city port during the middle ages. Today there are several restaurants and cafes housed in these guild houses which makes Graslei and Korenlei popular tourist spots and a bustling meeting place. The vibrant historical buildings and their splendid facades set along the canal make for a postcard-perfect picture of the city of Ghent.

Things to do in Ghent - Graslei

Gravensteen Castle or the Castle of the Counts

After scrumptious lunch, we followed the map to the last attraction on our list – Gravensteen castle or the Castle of the Counts. The Gravensteen castle once the strongest fortresses in Europe is an iconic landmark of the historical center of Ghent. The stone castle dates back to the 12th century. The castle houses an armory collection and a recreated torture chamber. The climb up to the top ramparts rewards with superb views of Ghent city.

Things to do in Ghent - Gravensteen Castle or the Castle of the Counts

The Castle an exemplary art of fortification of medieval times has served as an administrative building for counts and also as a cotton mill.

Things to do in Ghent - Sint-Veerleplein near Gravensteen Castle

The Sint-Veerleplein next to the castle is one of the oldest squares in Ghent and is surrounded by remarkable 17th-century buildings.

Rabot Gate

On the way back we decided to take a different route to reach the station hoping to discover some hidden gems. We wandered through some of the tranquil neighborhood with hardly any crowd and old stone houses. We came across this imposing two towered fortified gateway called Rabot Gate also known as the ‘Watergate of Ghent’.

Things to do in Ghent - Rabot Gate

The gate is said to be built as a part of the old city walls of Ghent during the late 15th-century. The gate sits straddling the Lieve canal and is surrounded by several medieval and modern buildings.

Sint-Pietersabdij

Some 15 minutes train ride away from the historic center of Ghent is one of the magnificent abbeys of Belgium, the St Pietersabdij. Sint-Pietersabdij or the St Peter’s Abbey is a former Benedictine abbey dating from late 7th century. The abbey today houses a museum exhibiting historical artifacts and few interesting 16th-century tapestries. The gardens and orchards around the abbey are a great spot for a picnic or to relax away from the city hustle bustle.

Canal Boat Tour

One can also explore the city of Ghent on a canal boat tour. There are several options for boat tours like traditional boat tours, themed boat tours, historical boat tour and much more. A boat tour is definitely a great way to explore some unique Ghent points of interest and hidden gems.

The hop on hop off water tram is one of the best options with six stops: Castle of the Counts, Graslei-Korenlei, Museum Site, St Peter’s Abbey, St Bavo’s Cathedral and Veldstraat. You can ride the boat as many times with the day pass which is free with the Ghent City Card. The tour is accompanied by informative commentary. The hop on hop off water-tramway runs only on the weekends and is closed during the winter.

Ghent at Night

Ghent wears its best at night when the city is illuminated in golden light. The medieval architectural buildings awash in bright yellow colors and the spectacular reflection in the calm waters of the canal is a sight to behold.

Things to do in Ghent - Ghent at Night

If you are staying for a night in the city of Ghent you should definitely consider a night walk through the illuminated Ghent.

The city of Ghent is popularly known as a hipster city which leaves us in a deep wonderment at the city where the modern and the medieval times co-exist in a sheer harmony. Do you agree?

Have you been to Ghent? Do you think we have missed out something? Please share your views in comments.

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27 thoughts on “A Day in Ghent, Belgium – Top Things to Do and See

  • March 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm
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    Lovely! I stopped off in Bruges instead on my last trip to Belgium – will definitely visit Ghent the next time 🙂 Great post!

    Reply
    • mm
      March 17, 2016 at 3:11 pm
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      Thank you Sofia. I know tourists generally prefer Bruges as a day trip from Belgium and We loved Bruges too. But Ghent has its own charm with a melange of old and new and is worth a visit. Keep us updated if you could plan to visit Ghent 🙂

      Reply
  • March 21, 2016 at 3:20 pm
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    I always love reading people’s recounts of walking tours or walks they do on their own through historical areas of cities. They’re honestly my favorite part of visiting a new place. I love learning the history of were I am, taking a moment to understand where this new place gets it roots so I can appreciate where it has grown. Ghent looks absolutely stunning. These photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    xoxo,
    Dannie
    http://www.stilefotocibo.com

    Reply
    • mm
      March 21, 2016 at 5:59 pm
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      Thanks Dannie for your valuable viewpoints. Walking tours are our favorite too we always look to explore a city like a local and that is possible only on foot 🙂

      Reply
  • April 19, 2016 at 5:43 pm
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    Ghent is such a pretty place, I love the old buildings and the architecture. Walking tour is also something that I would love to take, never been on one before. You made stunning photos 🙂

    Reply
    • mm
      April 19, 2016 at 7:04 pm
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      Thanks David. Glad you liked the pictures. Ghent is a lovely place indeed with beautiful architecture 🙂 Walking tours are great to experience the hidden gems of any city/town.

      Reply
  • April 19, 2016 at 5:58 pm
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    I always love reading your blog and your latest travel adventures and this this is a heartfelt post because I love Ghent, is one of my favorite weekend getaways !

    Reply
    • mm
      April 19, 2016 at 7:06 pm
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      That’s great to know Denisa. You must be then well aware with nook and cranny of the Ghent town. It is a beautiful place indeed and worth visit.

      Reply
  • April 19, 2016 at 7:26 pm
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    Nice pics, it’s great fro someone who has never been to Belgium to see how pretty it really is. Ghent already in my travel list. Great post.

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    • mm
      May 4, 2016 at 11:06 am
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      Thanks Argell.. Glad you found our post informative. Happy Travelling!

      Reply
  • April 19, 2016 at 7:39 pm
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    I love that Ghent is so hipster it kinda reminds me of Shoreditch/ Dalston at the moment and I like the sound of the soup lounge. The architecture of the Romanesque church is breathtaking too!

    Reply
    • mm
      May 4, 2016 at 11:08 am
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      True Ana.. Ghent architecture is remarkable indeed and the soup was delicious 😉

      Reply
    • mm
      May 4, 2016 at 11:09 am
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      True Rosie.. Ghent is an awesome place with great history and worth a visit.

      Reply
  • April 20, 2016 at 8:11 pm
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    stunner pics! Ghent looks so beautiful! definitely on my list!:)

    Reply
    • mm
      May 4, 2016 at 11:10 am
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      Thanks Suchi for stopping by 😉

      Reply
  • May 7, 2016 at 7:52 pm
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    Oh my gosh! you were in Belgium 🙂 Welcome !!!
    This is probably one of the prettiest city of the country 🙂

    Reply
    • mm
      November 8, 2016 at 1:42 pm
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      Undoubtedly Florence.. We have travelled through so many beautiful towns of Belgium and we are sure there are many more to cover 🙂

      Reply
  • November 8, 2016 at 6:36 am
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    The cathedrals and churches look lovely. The canals make the city look so romantic! Ghent, being such a small town, packs so much of history and nature …I am sure you had a good time!

    Reply
  • November 8, 2016 at 9:00 am
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    I think this is actually the first time I’ve actually read about Ghent! Thanks for sharing your experience – the architecture looks fabulous, and that huge drooping tree over the water is so pretty!

    Reply
  • November 8, 2016 at 11:07 am
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    The castles, churches and the architecture is all looking magnificent. You captured it very well with your camera! It’s so nice to see couples with young children travelling! It reassures me that if you really want to travel, you’ll always find a way. Thanks for sharing your story of Ghent!

    Reply
  • November 8, 2016 at 1:55 pm
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    Oh this Belgian city is certainly beautiful. I love the architectures as well as the clean surrounding. I would love to put this in my bucket list for future.

    Reply
  • November 8, 2016 at 5:34 pm
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    I was in Ghent few months back for just a few hours. It is a gorgeous little town and we had fun walking around. However I did not get time to visit the castle. Had to be content seeing it from the outside.

    Reply
  • November 8, 2016 at 8:16 pm
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    I’ve never been to Belgium but I’ve heard wonderful things about Ghent. I love the architecture here and the canal! We like exploring on foot too so this guide will come in handy when we visit one day 🙂

    Reply
  • November 9, 2016 at 11:07 am
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    Love the way you tell about Belgian city. It’s amazing information of the places with wonderful pics. I’ve never gone there before. Noted it!

    Reply
  • November 11, 2016 at 2:56 am
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    I have never been here! We passed through Belgium on a busabout trip but I didn’t get to see much! I did enjoy a scrumptious doughnut though!! Will have to get back here sometime so we can visit Ghent!

    Reply
  • November 17, 2016 at 3:04 am
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    Never thought Belgium had such nice churches as well. I will definitely keep that in mind when I go visit!

    Reply

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