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Often neglected in favor of more touristy places such as Bruges and Antwerp, Ghent is a perfect combination of the two, as it has plenty of beautiful historical buildings, as well as a buzzing restaurant and café scene. Add a relaxed vibe and plenty of culture to that, and Ghent is one of the best travel destinations in Belgium.
If you’re arriving via train, take tram 1 all the way until you reach the stop at the Korenmarkt. There you can walk past the Sint-Niklaaskerk onto the marketplace, and continue until you reach the Graslei, a picturesque quay lining the banks of the Leie River, which runs through Ghent. It’s the perfect place for an aperitif, as it has numerous cafés. Or you can always do as the students of Ghent do, and buy a bottle of wine or some beer, and picnic on the ground.
For dinner, head over to the historic Patershol neighborhood. The area is full of beautiful old houses and tiny, winding streets, and most importantly, a great selection of delicious restaurants. The Oudburg is an entire street simply full of restaurants, so there are more than enough to choose from, but it’s also a lot of fun to lose yourself in the warren of streets where you will definitely bump into a good restaurant soon enough.
After eating, there are plenty of great places nearby to have a drink. De Rococo is an elegant 18th-century room lit only by candlelight, and its patron is a well-known local figure. Or you could always try ‘T Velootje, an infamous pub filled to the brim with knick-knacks and bike parts collected by the owner. If you’re in the mood for cocktails, try Jigger’s, a fun and experimental cocktail bar with a speakeasy vibe. But most importantly of all, try the beer, and the best places to do this are in Het Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant and the Dulle Griet on the Vrijdagsmarkt a little farther.
If you really want to go out, head over to the Sint-Jacobs area right next to the Vrijdagsmarkt and the Sint-Jacobs church. The Charlatan in particular is a great address for dancing, and Café Video, a bit farther down the road, regularly hosts concerts with live bands.
Instead of having breakfast at the hotel, why not head to the adorable Julie’s House on the Kraanlei? They do a normal breakfast from Wednesday to Thursday – which you can always supplement with one of their delicious cupcakes or cakes – and from Friday to Sunday, they do a full out brunch.
From there, head to the Gravensteen, the magnificent medieval castle in the center of the city which dates back to the 12th century. Once you’ve finished admiring its imposing ramparts, walk over the bridge to the Jan Breydelstraat, and follow this until you reach the bridge facing the Graslei and the Korenlei. Admire the view! Head to the Groentenmarkt and follow the Hoogpoort until you reach the Botermarkt and Sint-Baafsplein. There you can visit the beautiful cathedral of Saint Bavo and admire the Ghent Altarpiece by master painter Jan Van Eyck.
For lunch, why not go to one of the restaurants in the Vlaanderenstraat, part of the fancy neighborhood called Het Zuid. Jackie’s Bagelbar is always fun, as is Faja Lobi, a Surinamese restaurant with a great terrace.
Head past the Vooruit, the legendary cultural venue, on the Lammerstraat and walk to the Kouter, one of the prettiest squares in Ghent. From there, you can walk down the Zonnestraat and admire the Neoclassic Courthouse of Ghent. If you cross the bridge, you can follow the canal until you get to the Coupure, where the Leie River splits in two.
At the Coupure, you can rent your own boat, so why not rent one for an hour and sail around the canals of Ghent? Or you can always take a guided tour back at the Korenmarkt. While this is a complete rip-off in Bruges, the boat rides in Ghent are relatively affordable and give a very interesting historical background to the city. Also, some parts of the city can only be viewed from the canal and it offers a very different perspective.
Head up the Blandijnberg to see the beautiful university buildings, and walk along the Sint-Pietersplein. Once you get to the Citadelpark, get lost in its leafy avenues, or alternatively, visit the S.M.A.K. (the museum of modern arts) or the Museum of Fine Arts. From there, it’s a short walk to the station.
‘T Velootje, 2 Kalversteeg, 9000 Ghent, Belgium,+32 9 223 28 34
Jigger’s, 16 Oudburg, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 335 70 25
Het Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant, 9 Groentenmarkt, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 225 06 80
De Dulle Griet, 50 Vrijdagmarkt, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 224 24 55
De Charlatan, 6 Vlasmarkt, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 224 24 57
Julie’s House, 13 Kraanlei, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 233 33 90
Het Gravensteen, 11 Sint-Veerleplein, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 225 93 06
Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, Sint-Baafsplein, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 269 20 45
Jackie’s Bagelbar, 84 Vlaanderenstraat, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 336 79 14
Faja Lobi, 2 Vlaanderenstraat, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 223 55 33
Minerva Boat Hire, 2A Coupure Rechts, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 233 79 17
De Bootjes Van Gent, 4A Korenlei, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 228 62 63
S.M.A.K., 1 Jan Hoetplein, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 240 76 01
Museum of Fine Arts, 1 Fernand Schribedreef, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 240 07 00