Ghent is a historic city with a rich past. It is very nice to just hang out and enjoy the historical framework and to enjoy the many activities offered by every attraction. Ghent is a charming city that is rich in architecture, history, museums, lovely walks, and beautifully illuminated promenade parks at night. Its restaurants offer the famous Belgian chocolate and its exquisite cuisine along with several terraces to relax and view the idyllic facades of the old structures while enjoying a glass of the typical beer.
It’s worth doing the cosmopolitan tour on board a boat that takes you through the narrow canals of the city, a real delight to the eye where you are transported to another era. Besides the amazing scenes, you will notice that Ghent is very clean, well maintained, and decorated with flowers all over in every park, gardens, monuments, and museums that you will visit in the fourth largest city in Belgium.
When To Go:
The peak season to travel is best done during the months of July and August, when the climate is at its finest, yet you’ll discover Ghent is just as appealing amid different months of the year. It is around this high season months when flight deals, hotel accommodation costs, and restaurant deals are less expensive amid this time but you also get to attend annual national occasions and festive events during these months in Ghent.
However, despite the assurance of a good weather it is still advisable to pack an umbrella or a raincoat set because sudden downpours still occur in any months. You must also pack a sweater or two even in the months of July and pack some clothes that are good to be layered, likewise, the cold season is tolerable and still ideal for a tour. If you visit during the mid-year it is advisable to bring in more casual shirts and some space for summer tops and a pair of good trekking shoes or sandals that is ideal for the cool summer in the city.
These are the top things to do and not to be missed attractions when in the city of Ghent.
Graslei and Korenlei
The Graslei (spring herbs) and Korenlei (spring beans) are on the opposite sides of one of the canals of Ghent. It is one of the most beautiful parts of the city where you can see houses built from the 1300s, designed to dry grains, collect taxes, and bringing together entrepreneurs that manufacture boats. These two walks are at the center of the city where you can find painters and regular street performers. If you stand from the Bridge of San Miguel you’ll have a good view of the 2 banks. It is one of the best spots in Ghent, but no problem to find it because it is in the center of the old part of the city. You can sit down and rest for a few minutes on your journey. The view is spectacular especially at night where you can see the reflection of the buildings in the water.
The area is well suited for a walking tour. In the same area you can also make boat trips with explanations about the history of the City. This used to be the medieval commercial port city. Today, it is the busiest point of Ghent meeting as both residents of the city, tourists, and travelers who go to this place enjoy its architecture and tranquility. Both Korenlei Graslei have a beautiful range of buildings whose facades are more or less intact with the passing years. Although in the back part they have built some hotels, restaurants and shops with fast food, this is a place where the buildings combine various architectural styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, or Renaissance. In the past, there were guild houses, and products like; grain, spices, herbs and vegetables and wheat were transported through these two channels. Romantic walk can be enjoyed along the right bank, Vleeshuistragel, opposite the tourist office. Do not miss the sunset and the night lighting of the channel, Graslei, Cathedral Square and Castle Gravensteen as well as the surrounding squares. It is a must in Ghent.
The tour of the Gravensteen Castle is perfectly put together, very structured and detailed. You need only follow the simple numbers and you will not miss anything. It is interesting to see such a nice castle where an exhibition of objects is not huge but very informative. The view from above over the city of Ghent is tops. Kids will also find this tour to be a pleasure. In this castle you will see how people once lived and what weapons they had at that time which is quite nice to know. There are also nice photo spots where you can take selfies or family pictures and have the castle as your background.
It is the only remaining medieval castle in the Flanders region in the heart of Ghent, a symbol of power that is definitely worth a visit. There is no entrance fee for local residents. Take a tour through the various rooms and you will get a good portrait of the dark ages, and when you get to the top, just like icing on the cake, you will witness a wonderful view over Ghent. It is an impressive building in the middle of downtown that is also unique because of its location.
Ghent City Center
The historic Ghent City Center lends itself wonderfully to anyone who wants to wander among the beautiful old facades, various vintage stores, museums, antique shops and halls, interspersed with a drink on one terrace or a snack in one of the many exceptional restaurants located in the area. This four hectares lot is highly pedestrianized with a considerable amount of foot traffic from all walks of life. Naturally, there are many Belgian beers on tap offered in the pubs. Try to have a waffle that is dazzled with strawberries and slagroom (a sweetened and fluffy whipped cream) in one of the pastry shops. You can gain 5,000 calories, but it is unbelievably delicious and deserving to be one of Ghent’s favorite desserts.
It is a paradise for cyclists and walkers filled with nice restaurants and cafes, and beautiful terraces and outdoor cafe set up where you can dine al fresco. Each building has a story and the overall architecture is beautiful. The medieval facades stand next to art deco and the other modern buildings and fast food joints. A round trip takes about 2 hours and may take longer if you dwell to photograph an admire the city center and all its splendor. The place is very attractive and you can linger at the public parks, stroll along the row of shops and visit historic buildings.
St. Michael’s Bridge
From the stunning St. Michael’s Bridge, you can have a nice view of the waterway (Graslei and Korenlei), the castle (Gravensteen), the old port dock, and the City Center of Ghent. Definitely check it out if you have the chance as it is the only point in Ghent that you can see in line the famous three towers of the city (St-Nicolas, Belfry and Cloth Hall, and St-Baafs). You also have a view of the Pawn and Predikherenlei that is located on the other side of the bridge.
If you want to update your Facebook or just shoot nice pictures of Ghent, the St. Michael’s bridge gives you plenty of options. It takes not much time, but you should go see it. Go step on it and Ghent is in all its beauty at your feet and as far as your eyes can appreciate.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal)
Spend a few hours to see the St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal). In this beautiful gothic cathedral you can see the Lamb of God, but just as rewarding is the crypt area. In one of the chapels you can regularly listen to live Harp music. It is a lovely cathedral with lots to see, richly decorated with beautiful ornaments and paintings. Unfortunately, it is prohibited to photograph within the premises of the basilica which is a big disappointment to some hobbyist photographers who want to capture its mystic charm on film.
Likewise, the rest of the church is cool and truly worth seeing. This cathedral exudes the former power of the city of Ghent. The interior still has the splendor of a prosperous town. The Lamb of God remains a monumental work and currently being renovated, maybe after the restoration everyone can see it in all its pomp and glory. For now, a portion of it is allowed for the public to see; of course it would be nice to have the missing part of the attraction in the right place to behold. It is a must to see when in this ancient cathedral of Ghent city.
STAM Ghent City Museum
The STAM Ghent City Museum is interesting and nicely integrated into the modern environment and the old monastery of Ghent City. The contemporary museum is very informative and shows how the locals used to live. It offers a charming combination of the old and new in each room along with the assistance of its friendly and trained tour guides. In this modern museum, the history of Ghent is presented in a smooth manner and made accessible to everyone.
You can experience the museum and the exhibition in many ways like; you can read the information boards, you can work with the interactive screens, watch the many video clips and slideshows or listen to the audio guide in several languages as you walk along its huge hallways. The LEGO table is also interesting for young and old.
The museum is located just outside the city center and within walking distance for a good 10 minutes or so. There’s also a bus or tram if you don’t want to walk. It is a very modern museum where the whole history of Ghent is discussed and presented chronologically up to the modern era. There are many old documents and objects to be admired. Part of the museum is located in an old convent. STAM is located in the former abbey of De Bijloke. In 10 rooms, you get a good overview of Ghent from then and now.
Belfry and Cloth Hall (Belfort en Lakenhalle)
The reward of the steep climb to the Belfry and Cloth Hall (Belfort en Lakenhalle) is the panoramic views of Ghent City. The stairs (steps) are narrow. Along the way, you can always feel a bit of vertigo in order to see the clock. You can either take a break. If climbing is hard for you, you can take the elevator. From the first floor you could go and ride the elevator. You can still view the original dragon, there is a whole set of bells, and upstairs there is a huge musical drum box that plays the arias that can be heard on top of the tower.
The location of the carillon is interesting, and you will notice how much craftsmanship is interwoven herein. The staff can even tell you a lot about the history of this particular building. It is not hard to find because it is situated between two famous cathedrals in Ghent; the St. Bavo and St. Nicholas Church.
You can visit all five floors and on each floor there is something to see. Thus, the history of the bells of the tower can be seen, as well as the history of the dragon that sits on the steeple. The medieval predecessors are exhibited on one of the floors. Furthermore, the movement can be seen with the “music” of the chimes. All in all it is very impressive and must not be missed when in Ghent.
Saint Nicholas Church
In the heart of Ghent, is the church of St. Nicholas, one of the oldest in the city dating back to the 1100’s. The architectural structure of St. Nicholas was designed in the so-called ‘Scheldt Gothic style’ (one of the two rivers of the city of Gant) and differs from the style of Brabant Gothic commonly used by other churches in Belgium because it made use of blue-gray stone that came from the area of Tournai, a town in the south of Belgium that is rich in quarries and could carry on their boats on the River Scheldt. The church belonged to the powerful merchants of Ghent, who initiated the trading their activities in the nearby port; Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of merchants.
The Saint Nicholas Church is a great historical monument filled with a collection of interesting images. The crossing tower is unique because it is not above the entrance, but above the intersection of the nave and transepts (Medieval style axis style). Natural light directly enters the transept while the tower acts as a natural lantern. It is characterized by the large windows that illuminate it. The bright light runs contrasts with the dark baroque altar together. The Church stands on the river and is very impressive from the outside.
Ghent Town Hall (Stadhuis)
The Ghent Town Hall (Stadhuis) is one of the most spectacular buildings in Ghent. The building consists of two parts; one part of the building was built in the Gothic style and the second in the Renaissance style. According to the marker located outside its building, the facade is characterized by the successive use of Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns and pilasters. The interiors can be explored, but be sure to come in early because the building closes before 5:00 pm. This considered the landmark of the city and situated between the two famous cathedrals of Ghent (St. Bavo’s and St. Nicholas). Inside the lobby you can admire a marvelous artwork on the ceiling done by a local Belgian artist.
Saint Peter’s Abbey
The Saint Peter’s Abbey is an impressive building located on the great St. Peter’s Square. The façade is simple, but once you get inside you will marvel at its grandeur. An audio guide can be interesting for those who like to get detailed historical information.
For sensitive children it can sometimes seem a little scary, but older children listen and get enthralled by the interesting history of the abbey. The Abbey Gardens are a lovely setting for a picnic and children can enjoy playing after a visit. This place is highly recommended for a family with older children.
Fine Arts Museum (Museum voor Schone Kunsten)
The Fine Arts Museum (Museum voor Schone Kunsten) is the ideal place for anyone who is interested in art. It is filled with many beautiful works of Belgian painters. Through a clear map guide and references you will not miss any room of the museum.
For students, a 2 Euro admission fee is collected. The area surrounding the museum also makes it more fun to visit. The Citadel Park is a nice extra. Plus, it is easy to get here by tram because the stop is within walking distance of the museum. In short; it is a must for everyone!
Rederij De Gentenaer
One of the exciting things to do while in the city of Ghent is to take the boat tour around the two channels, docks, and the castle. You can avail of it through the tour services of the Rederij De Gentenaer (Gentenaer Company) which is quite pleasant. The guides know a lot and tell about the sights in the center and also have entertaining anecdotes to share and make the tour lively.
It is a pleasant way to see and learn about the city and its history in a relaxed and comfortable setting. If touring in winter, bring a sweater or some warmer clothes because the water can be chilly and in some places there is a lot of wind. Children find this tour usually pleasant and one of the best ways to understand what Ghent City is all about.