From a prominent city-state during the Middle Ages, Ghent has evolved to today’s cultural hub and university town. Its nightlife and town events are geared towards its students and so this medieval city is an amazing mixture between young and old. This amazing blend does not only apply to its residents but also its architecture.
“Museum voor Volkskunde” is a former children’s hospital dating back to 1363 and one of the last remaining Godshuizen in Belgium. Have a look into Flemish folklife around 1900 in a picturesque courtyard with 18 typical Flemish cottages – all inter-linked.
Visit the 10th-century Gravensteen Castle at Sint-Veerleplein 11.
Founded by Belgian art pope Jan Hoet, S.M.A.K. museum in the Citadelpark has the biggest collection of contemporary art in Belgium.
In addition to being a university city, Ghent is famous for its large public squares, marketplaces, and many famous medieval monasteries of which the most notable is probably the 7th-century St. Bavo’s Abbey (Sint-Baafsabdij).
Ghent sits halfway between Brussels and Bruges, and so it often gets overlooked since its big brothers are more well-known. It definitely is an under-subscribed travel destination, and one well worth visiting.
Het Belfort van Gent: The 14th-century belfry and watchtower are symbolic of Ghent’s independence. Address: Sint-Baafsplein, Central Ghent.
Adjacent to the belfry is the Cloth Hall (1426-1441), once a popular gathering landmark of wool and cloth traders. The Cloth Hall was used as a prison in the 18th century. But when you travel to Ghent today, you can relax in the charming café-restaurant. Address: Sint-Baafsplein, Central Ghent.
Once a fish market, the Old Market (Groentenmarkt) is immersed in cultural heritage. At the west side is the long Groot Vleeshuis (constructed 1406-1410; restored in 1912), a medieval covered meat market with a guild house, chapel, and gables in the roof.
The Penshuizeken (south of the Vleeshuis) is where the poor were given the insides of slaughtered animals. Today, the Vleeshuis is a fine restaurant and worth seeing even if you don’t plan to dine there. Address: Groentenmarkt, Hoogpoort, central.
Werregarenstraat is known as the ever-evolving “graffiti alley” and boasts the work of the Ghent’s native and acclaimed graffiti artist ROA (spot his signature napping rabbits and fierce birds). Along with the old grain pits at Dok Noord you’ll find more street art and also underneath the highway at the Keizersviaduct.
The flashing streetlights of Ai Nati Oggi on St. Pharaildis Square are unique to Ghent. Every time a baby is born in Ghent, these street lanterns flash in silent celebration for 40 seconds to welcome the newborn.
Fridays are Vrijdagmarkt (“Friday Market”)-time when you can buy anything from clothes to cheese.
A must-do on Sundays is to meander around the amazing Kouter flower market with a pitstop at the picturesque Blue Kiosk to indulge in oysters and champagne.
More outdoor activities include the Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen Nature Reserve, Blaarmeersen, Sports and Recreation Park, Ghent University Botanical Garden, and Citadel Park (home to two main visual arts museums).
Graslei boasts plenty of historic guildhalls beside the Leie river, with Grasbrug adding the final touches to a picturesque setting in central Ghent. On the opposite side of the canal is Korenlei.
Korenlei canal. See how quickly you can spot No. 7 along the Korenlei which is the Gildehuis der Onvrije Schippers (House of the Tied Boatmen), a Baroque building dating to the 18th-century. Number 24, Lintworm en Krocht, was a 12th-century Romanesque château, rebuilt in the early 20th century.
The glorious Gothic-style Saint Michael’s Church is constructed of Belgian sandstone. Mary Queen of Scots gave the Relic of Doorn as a gift to the church, which can be seen as well as numerous 18th-century statues and Baroque paintings. Address: Sint-Michielsplein 4.
Vismarkt and Kraanlei in central Ghent. The superb Baroque building at Sint-Veerleplein No. 5 is the old fish market, constructed in 1689. Here you have magnificent views of elegant houses in Brabant Gothic and Baroque styles dating back to 1500. At Kraanlei 65 you’ll find restored workshops and living rooms, a dining room, a barber’s shop, a cobbler’s workshop, an apothecary’s shop, a confectioner’s bakery, and a candlestick maker’s workshop.
The Museum of Ghent (STAM) tells the story of Ghent with exhibits including jewelry, weapons, textiles, books, paintings, religious icons, and ceramics all enhanced by state-of-the-art multimedia displays. It also boasts a magnificent 10-meter-long painting of the Last Supper.
At the Museum voor Schone Kunsten you’ll view a collection of classical art covering the 15th to 20th centuries. In the central hall are eight beautiful 18th century Brussels wall tapestries. Address: Fernand Scribedreef 1, Liemaeckereplein.
Cuberdons or the ‘Gentse Neuzekes’: Cone-shaped, purple candies with a hard shell and a raspberry-flavored filling.
Gentse Waterzooi: A Middle Ages traditional soup with chicken or fish.
Gruut: The Ghentian beer, a mixture of herbs (called ‘gruut’) as opposed to the usual hops! The city was a beer-brewing centre for many centuries. Visit Ghent’s Gruut Brewery, if you have the time.
Roomer: An elderflower-flavored drink, containing 15 percent alcohol and bottled in round bottles bedecked in elegant flowers.
Tiereney mustard: Ghent’s mustard.
Belgium’s official language is Dutch. Generally, most people also speak English.
In today’s turbulent times it is a natural concern wherever travelers go. “Travel and Home” always recommend you travel being aware of what might (without being paranoid) happen since there are no guarantees to a perfect crime-free world. In other words, take normal travel precautions. Like using recommended forms of transport such as the public transport system – a pleasure to use.
There are indications of crime levels in Ghent available on the internet to read up on before your travel to Ghent.
April (spring) to June, and again September and October (fall) are great months for tourism in Belgium. July (also the rainiest summer month) and August are the high-season months and you can expect raised accommodation rates and longer queues at sightseeing landmarks.
That said, June to August is usually the festival period with plenty of activities. The average day-time temperature during the summer months is around 22°C.
The winter months do not bring snow and have an average low of about 1°C. The rainiest month during winter is December.
Three days (two nights), that is if you don’t want to be rushed.
However, if you want to include day-trips to Brussels, Antwerp, or Bruge, you can easily do so from here. In which case, I recommend a day or two as add-ons.
It’s so worth-it to book guided tours in and around Ghent because of its rich heritage. If you want to get the most from your visit, you can enquire and book direct (and save on having to pay agent’s fees) from reputable providers such as Viator and Get Your Guide. From personal experience, these two providers are not only reliable but they’re also the best.
It’s quite a walk from Gent-Sint-Pieters to the downtown area. You may want to take a tram (buy a return ticket from one of the automated machines at the tram stop) or a taxi instead of the 30-minute walk. There are trams in front of the train station.
From Bruges (Brugge) it’s about 30 minutes by train.
From Maastricht, it’s about 2 hours by car.
European Union, European Economic Area (Norway, Iceland, Lichtenstein), and Switzerland citizens qualify for visa-free entry to Belgium. Travelers should not intend to take up employment and should not stay longer than 90 days per 180 days.
South Africans can travel to Belgium visa-free for up to 30 days.
Visa-free entry (or visa-on-arrival) valid for 90 days is available to passport holders of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Moldova, South Korea, Taiwan, and the US.
Passports must be valid for at least 3 months beyond the period of their stay in Belgium.
And that is the beautiful hidden gem of Belgium! Definitely, a travel bucket list destination if you have not yet been.
We love sharing our experiences. Especially if they were as enjoyable as our visit to Belgium’s hidden gem. That said, we also love hearing your version. It helps our other readers to make up their mind as to what to do, and where to stay. And so they have more ideas for their next trip. All thanks to your feedback in addition to ours.