It’s an artist hub, an Old World gem and a recent foodie paradise: the canal town of Ghent more than deserves a spot on your weekend getaway list. Here’s how to make the most of your stay in Belgium’s historic up-and-coming holiday hotspot.
Ghent is a bike and public transport kind of city, so if at all possible, leave the car at home. When flying into Belgium, Brussels National Airport is the most convenient choice. From there, catch a train to either Gent-Sint-Pieters or Gent-Dampoort, depending on your sleeping arrangements. Both stations are no more than a thirty-minute walk to the historic center. If you don’t feel like lugging your bags around, take tram 1 at Gent-Sint-Pieters (every ten minutes) or bus 3, 17, 18, 38, or 39 at Gent-Dampoort.
Art-wise, Ghent more than has its bases covered. While outdoor art is everywhere – from the ever-evolving ‘graffiti alley’ where urban artists are free to splash otherworldly designs on the walls, to esteemed painter Michaël Borremans’ oil portrait that watches over City Hall – indoor treasures are ubiquitous at the S.M.A.K Museum for contemporary art and the Design Museum. History buffs can get their kicks at the medieval Castle of the Counts and at Ghent’s pride and joy: the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. The latter has come to enjoy somewhat of a museum status since the gothic house of worship displays not only a major work by Peter Paul Rubens and a valuable Rococo pulpit, but also one of the ultimate renaissance works: the Van Eyck brothers’ immense altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
If you time your visit right, you might catch Belgium’s biggest film festival in October or the more modest but innovative Courtisane Festival in March-April. Walk beneath Robbrecht and Daem and Marie-José Van Hee’s asymmetrical Market Hall in the evening to experience a warm glow of light falling through hundreds of slits in this architectural beauty’s roof. Sundays are for flower shopping at Ghent’s most fragrant market on the Kouter and slurping oysters and bubbly at the blue kiosk nearby, while beautiful days lend themselves perfectly to a kayaking trip down Ghent’s charming waterways.
Knowing that this is the third oldest building in all of Ghent and was once a residence to Philip II and his entourage, it’s a pleasant surprise that a family and budget-friendly hostel has found a home in this historic step-gabled house. A pleasant mix of backpackers from all over the world meet each other over free breakfast at Hostel Uppelink, take complementary guided tours, cook meals together in the communal kitchen and rent kayaks to explore the city paddling.
Average price for a dormitory bed: €20/night
Hostel Uppelink, Sint-Michielshelling 21, Ghent, Belgium +32 9 279 44 77
An elegant affair lying on the banks of the river Leie, Hotel Onderbergen strikes just the right balance between price and quality. The family-owned boutique establishment is a stone’s throw from the shopping district, and its Irish restaurant Patrick Foley’s makes for a nice change of pace from the typical French cuisine at most venues.
Average price: €85/night
Hotel Onderbergen, Onderbergen 69, 9000 Ghent, Belgium +32 9 223 62 00
With a view of the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, wooden beams and comfortable vintage furniture, the fairly new Ganda Rooms & Suites is an appealing option with an especially historic feel. Owners Annik and Kristof have opted for a special mix between hotel and B&B in their 18th-century town house, combining professionalism with homemade cookies and a warm, personal approach.
Prices start at €130/night
Ganda Rooms & Suites, Houtbriel 18, Ghent, Belgium +32 9 330 20 22
Chef team Matthias Devos and Jakob Everaert have designed Vos to be a high-concept restaurant that pleases families and friend groups with pleasant foodie evenings. No need to have food-envy of your tablemates when the dishes arrives – a tapas-like sharing style is key here, and every meal is composed of several tiny dishes, all intended to be enjoyed contently as a group.
Vos, Zwijnaardsesteenweg 6, Ghent, Belgium +32 9 398 81 09
Ghent has kept itself busy over the past decade building a strong gastronomic reputation; a shining example of this foodie wave is Volta, where young talent Davy De Pourq stands at the stove. A former electric power station where the industrial vibe still lingers, Volta is now home to De Pourq’s seasonally bound kitchen full of local Flemish goodness with a modern twist.
Volta, Nieuwewandeling 2B, Ghent, Belgium +32 9 324 05 00
A clever name – literally translated to ‘cucumber time’ but also the Dutch term for silly season – is combined with vegan joy at Komkommertijd. The cozy venue boasts a plentiful buffet without using any eggs or dairy and keeps things fresh by changing up the menu daily.
Ghent loves a good cup of soup, as proven by the many take-away and sit-down places that have popped up in recent years. Hotspots that have locals lining up around the block are Soup’r in the Sint-Niklaasstraat near the Korenmarkt and Souplounge, close to the Vrijdagmarkt.
Souplounge, Zuivelbrugstraat 4, Ghent, Belgium +32 9 223 62 03