In Ghent, time seems to move slowly, and the city’s laid-back vibe lends itself perfectly to the relaxed breakfast and brunch experiences on offer here. Whether it’s an offbeat tea room, a rustic, century-old bakkerij or a lively brunch hang-out, the following places know a thing or two about starting the day off right.
Depending on whom you ask, the concept of Belgian breakfast can vary from one person to the next. “There isn’t really a standard Belgian breakfast; we mainly steal ideas from neighbouring countries,” says Christopher Joseph, co-owner of Ghent-based café Simon Says. But as much as it’s all about personal preferences, the consensus seems to point towards some combination of freshly baked koffiekoekjes (pastries), fabulous coffee and locally sourced savoury items, such as ham, eggs and cheese – in other words, simple things done right. So, grab a croissant from the city’s oldest bakery, or if time is on your side, linger over a morning meal at one of the best breakfast and brunch spots in Ghent.
Bakery, European, $$$
Even though Himschoot has expanded to include second and third locations in Dok Noord and Sint-Martens-Latem, its first location in the historical Groentenmarkt still makes it a regular haunt for many. Opened in 1880, this authentically charming Ghent institution is known for its unwavering commitment to traditional recipes and its expertise in all things baked. The bakkerij (bakery) itself is a little bigger than your regular hole in the wall, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its excellent selection of baked goods, ranging from sweet to savoury and everything in between. Make sure to try its Flemish specialities, such as mattentaart (cheesecake surrounded by puff pastry) and pain à la grecque (milk bread with brown sugar and cinnamon).
The interior of Clouds in my Coffee fuses warm, rustic charm with a minimalist edge | Courtesy of Clouds in my Coffee
Sitting in what was once an elementary school in the culturally diverse Dampoort neighbourhood, Clouds in my Coffee is part of Veva van Sloun and Jan Wauters’s Clouds9000 project, which includes a design shop, a gorgeous B&B and creative spaces for hire. The café itself fuses warm, rustic charm with a minimalist edge, which is enhanced by a terrace filled with lush plants and pastel-hued seats. As for breakfast, start with ‘Le Petit Bird’ (coffee or tea plus a croissant) or treat yourself to its best-selling ontbijt de luxe (luxurious breakfast), ‘I Love You A Latte’ (€14.95 (£12.80), inclusive of a glass of cava). Espresso drinks start at €1.90 (£1.65), and you can pair it with a selection of cakes courtesy of renowned Belgian pâtisserie Les Tartes de Françoise.
If you’ve ever wondered what Ghent’s food scene is like, a stroll down Vlaanderenstraat will give you a fairly accurate overview of what the city has to offer. As a one-stop destination for foodies of all stripes (and budgets), a Michelin-star restaurant and a Gault & Millau-certified chocolatier happily co-exist with a kebab joint and a slew of international eateries. On its top corner, you’ll find Den Hoek Af – a breakfast, brunch and cocktail spot complete with a vintage-store vibe and a street-side terrace. Breakfast here ranges from no-fuss options, including pastries, yoghurt and muesli, to something a little more elaborate, such as groot ontbijt (a big breakfast of fresh juice, coffee, yoghurt and fresh berries, plus organic bread with spreads and a choice of pastry).
Situated a quick 10-minute walk from the city centre, Gust is the perfect spot for those looking to enjoy their breakfast or brunch away from the crowds. Step inside the gallery-like space, and dive into its all-day breakfast offerings that taste as exciting as they sound. Try crowd-pleasers such as half an avocado with an organic runny egg, cauliflower, dukkah and chimichurri or choose from one of its breakfast combos for a more fulfilling feast. Caught between meals? Grab a friend and indulge in the ‘naughty brunch’, starting from €22 (£19) per person. And if you’re so inclined, throw in an extra €4.50 (£4) for a glass of prosecco, a mimosa or a pompelosa (prosecco with grapefruit juice).
With its location on the car-free, pedestrian-friendly backstreet of Walpoortstraat, Pain Perdu enjoys the kind of gezelligheid (a Dutch phrase that loosely translates to ‘convivial cosiness’) that can’t be found elsewhere in the city centre. Inside, wooden floors and hanging plants add to the cosy atmosphere, with a spacious back garden thrown in for those warmer days. While the café’s signature pain perdu met bruine suiker en ahornsiroop (french toast with brown sugar and maple syrup) comes highly recommended, a zout ontbijt (savoury breakfast) is also available for those with less of a sweet tooth. Looking to indulge? At €27.60 (£23.70), its brunch served with a glass of cava is an excellent choice.
Venture slightly away from the ever-buzzing high street of Veldstraat and tourist attractions such as Het Belfort van Gent, and you’ll stumble upon the coffee haven that is Take Five Espresso Bar. Opened in 2016, the café combines owner Alexis Ywaska’s passions for coffee and jazz, and the fusion has struck a chord with young and old alike. Apart from top-notch coffee (try its famed 12-hour cold brew or AeroPress), simple breakfasts are another area where it excels. Crowd-pleasers include overnight oats with seasonal fruits, and broodmandje (a basket of toasted raisin bread and wholemeal bread served with butter, jam or home-made chocolate spread). Head to the second floor where you can plop down on one of its plush couches facing floor-to-ceiling windows.
A grocery store, a café and a coffee-roasting shop rolled into one, Moor and Moor fully lives up to Ghent’s green credentials, with its five-point ethos that champions all things pure, tasty, organic, meat-free and ecological. Naturally, the concept carries over to its vegan-friendly breakfast options, such as toast and avocado, home-made granola and soy yoghurt. Order and pay (by card only) at the counter, and choose your seat in the lofty mezzanine level – a space dominated by 1960s retro tile floors and sultry red stools. There’s also an outdoor seating area should you fancy catching some rays or watching the crowd of Jakobijnenstraat go by.
Simon Says is set in a 1904 Art Nouveau building | Courtesy of Simon Says
Perched on the corner of Sluizeken, just off the Patershol ancient quarter, Simon Says has long been fuelling many a Gentenaar’s mornings. The breakfast menu is extensive, and the hospitality is of the kind you will want to write home about (no surprise there as owners Simon and Christopher also run a two-room B&B under the same roof). The café, which is set in a 1904 Art Nouveau building, goes by a “low on food miles and high on taste” philosophy and gets a nod of approval from Ghent’s residents, including local café Pain Perdu manager Lot Dewaele. At Simon Says, you can construct your breakfast by choosing items from ‘Sweet’, ‘Savoury’ and ‘Healthy’ categories, or have the best of all three worlds by opting for one of its sets, starting from €8 (£6.90).
Having breakfast at Maison Elza on the charming cobblestone strip of Jan Breydelstraat is an experience unto itself. Named after and inspired by owner Freddy Bové’s grandmother, the eatery previously known as House of Eliott boasts a classic Parisian bistro facade and a wonderfully kitsch interior that exudes 1920s nostalgia. In the kitchen, Magda whips up an assortment of breakfast formulas and to-die-for eggs benedict with a choice of cooked ham or smoked salmon (high tea is also available from 2.30pm). Grab a seat by the window or on a canal-side terrace for a view of the Gravensteen and the Oude Vismijn.