13 Reasons Why You Should Visit Ghent

Ghent | © Dimitris Kamaras / Flickr
Nana Van De Poel

Combining the quaint old with the hip new has become Ghent‘s strong suit, making for a historical city that’s rich in art, food and music. Here are 13 of the things Culture Trip adores about this Belgian canal city.

Loved by over 40s

Gentenaars have the conscious food thing down

Culinary-forward Ghent has famously become a haven to conscious foodies, whether they be vegetarians, vegans, or simply like their organic greens. Biological markets like BE O Market have thrived as they go out of their way to offer sustainably sourced veggies, cheeses, oils and other crucial supplies. In 2009, Ghent became the first European city to declare an official vegetarian day in a full-on effort to combat climate change. With plenty of vegan buffets, veggie restaurants, salad bars and take-away soup opportunities to choose from, it’s no wonder lots of locals have made it a weekly habit. One of the most beloved friteries in town, De Frietketel, even atypically prepares its fries in vegetable oil rather than animal fat and whips up homemade vegetarian snacks to go on the side. Read our full guide to an ethical diet in Ghent here.

In Ghent, Thursday is officially veggie day

The Ghent Festivities: a 10-day extravaganza with hippie roots

For 10 days in July, Ghent becomes a cultural jungle. Every corner is taken over by concerts, plays, exhibits, circus classes, children’s workshops or markets, and over a million people pay a visit to these lively streets during one of Europe’s biggest urban festivals. And to think it all started with white-bearded Walter de Buck and his crew of hippie friends who sung forgotten folk songs on the little square next to St. Jacob’s Church. The plaza is now named for Walter in honour of the joyous spirit he brought to town, and remains a nerve centre of the festivities every year.

Musical merriment at the Ghent festivities

Its festival that literally lights up town

Every three years Ghent plays host to an exceptional festival of lights. International artists have made the city one of the most imaginative places in Europe by way of giant luminescent bunnies, mystical whales and light stories projected on protected monuments three times already, and the next edition is slated for February 2018. Dazzling festival aside, Ghent enjoys a careful lighting plan designed by renowned lighting great Roland Jéol the rest of the year, and it recently gave a permanent canalside spot to a work of radiant blue birds based on a fairytale by Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck.

Blue Birds by PITAYA, a light installation acquired by the city after the 2015 Light Festival

Its traditional sweets with wacky names

Gentenaars’ most famous candy is purple, hard on the outside and soft on the inside, and goes by the nickname of neuzeken (‘little nose’) after its cone-like shape. Old school confectionery Temmerman still makes them the artisanal way, along with lutsepoepkes or ‘wobbly bottoms’ and smoeletrekkers (untranslateable, basically a treat so sour it makes your face scrunch up like a raisin). One forgotten specialty pops up in bakeries in floods at the start of hunting season or during the annual festivities at the medieval Patershol quarter: the gestreken mastel or ‘ironed mastel’, a cinnamon pastry in the form of a bagel, smeared with brown sugar and butter on the inside and then literally ironed by grandma’s clothing iron.

Cuberdons, more frequently called ‘neuzekes’ (little noses) by locals

The sound of the underground

While café Charlatan has been a great marker of Ghent’s musical prowess, there’s loads of underground venues with innovative programming that have yet to receive movies made about them (Felix van Groeningen‘s Belgica was filmed in and inspired by the legendary music café). Bubbling underneath the surface are places like Café Video, Kinky Star and record store-cum-cult label Consouling Sounds. For all-night underground techno, the three-roomed club Decadence near the Citadel Park is always a great bet.

Its ‘bicycles first’ policy

While not Amsterdam just yet, Ghent has increasingly been taking steps to get its inhabitants cycling more than they already were. A new circulation plan has recently been implemented to keep more car traffic out of the city core at the same time as doubling the pedestrian zone in size. In a very thoughtful move, tram tracks that aren’t in use get filled with rubber to save cyclists from scrapes and bruises. Getting around town on your rented ‘steel stag’ should be a breeze.

Ghent is working its way up to becoming one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in Europe

Graffiti galore

ROA’s oversized snoring bunnies and buffalos, Bué the Warrior’s cheerful cartoon bears and large masked figures by A Squid Called Sebastian all adorn the walls of Ghent. These Belgians are just a few of the street artists that have made the city their playground, helped by legal graffiti spots such as ‘graffiti alley’ in the historic town core and the ‘Grindbakken’ (white gravel pits at the former docks). Pick up a Concrete Canvas Tour map at De Vooruit or print it out here.

Ghent’s graffiti-rich gravel pits

The signature Ghent warmth

Ghent has a typical warmth about it that can be hard to do justice with words. Part of it is the signature hospitality of the East-Flemish people, part of it the traditional cuisine. A Ghent ‘waterzooi’, a tasty stew of tender chicken, potatoes and leaks, at a rustic tavern, paired with a local beer, should leave the tired traveler with a renewed sense of comfort.

Ghent ‘waterzooi’, a soothing dish starring a creamy broth and tender pieces of chicken

A mood for a hipster to bask in

Vinyl record stores, hip barista places, speakeasies serving cocktails made by bartenders in suspenders – Ghent has that thing that makes a hipster’s heart race. Throw in old-fashioned barber shops that do the beard justice, bohemian artist cafés and vintage-rich markets, and you’ve got yourself a fine city for a nostalgic free spirit to take part in.

Its love of a good flower

For centuries now, Ghent has had this thing with flowers. Since the surrounding region is an age-old horticulture hub, the recreational cyclist can spend many hours riding through fields of azaleas. But the love goes further than a scenic bike ride. Every day florists can be seen peddling their fragrant wares on the Kouter square, which truly transforms into a flower haven on Sundays that locals delight in strolling about on. The most beautiful arrangements can be seen during the quadrennial Ghent Floralies, a 10-day long urban floral display that first took root in 1809 and now boasts multiple lush gardens in the middle of the city.

Ghent’s Floralies

Its superfluous religious temples get renewed callings

As precious as Ghent is about its historic roots, the city also likes to go with the times. A recent trend in which its proclivity for reconciling the old with the new really shines through, is in the hosting of repurposed old churches. The sparkliest new example of this is the Holy Food Market, for which the 16th-century Baudelo Chapel has been renovated to house about 16 food stalls in a divine interior, including a booth serving dishes inspired by altar bread. At social restaurant Parnassus, healthy lunch is served between the white pillars and pulpits of an old Franciscan Church. As churchgoing numbers have taken a dive in Flanders, Ghent has its eye on more than 10 other out-of-use churches it plans to repurpose for the public space.

Holy Food Market

Still radiating historic character

For all its hipster-y appeal, Ghent remains a town that’s known for quaint canals and a persisting medieval luster. The characterful houses of the Patershol quarter and the more peaceful Prinsenhof area are just samples of its ancient smorgasbord, which ranges from 16th-century Mason’s Guild Halls to enchanting overgrown ruins (St. Bavo’s Abbey). If there was ever any doubt as to Ghent’s stature in the Middle Ages, there’s the St. Bavo’s Cathedral housing treasures of the time such as the Van Eyck brothers’ Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a work of art considered the Renaissance’s first masterpiece.

Its combo of elegant and unusual museums

Both Ghent’s Design Museum and especially the S.M.A.K. (museum for contemporary art) are noteworthy players in Belgium and Europe but, more intriguingly, the city combines these elegant options with a more unusual strand of museum. Two of them jump out: the Dr. Guislain Museum, where an eerie history of the way medicine used to treat the mentally ill is put on display in a 19th-century psychiatric hospital, and the House of Alijn, where the everyday life of 20th-century Gentenaars is put on display.

Old picture of daily life in Ghent, from the House of Alijn collection
culture trip left arrow
 culture trip brand logo

Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip

meet our Local Insider


women sitting on iceberg


2 years.


It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.


I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!

culture trip logo letter c
group posing for picture on iceberg
group posing for picture on iceberg

Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.

map of volcanic iceland trip destination points
culture trip brand logo
culture trip right arrow
landscape with balloons floating in the air


Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.