An attention-grabbing piece of the Middle Ages smack dab in the city centre, the massive Gravensteen (‘Castle of the Counts’) boasts battlements, turrets, winding staircases of stone and even an intact moat. The stronghold used to be a significant seat of power for the Brabant counts, a fact emphasised by the suits of armour in the halls and the intact torture chambers below.
Castle of the Counts, Sint-Veerleplein 11, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 225 93 06
At De Vooruit, the socialist spirit is everywhere. This grand 1913 socialist palace on the Leie River used to house a cinema, a party hall, a restaurant, a café and more for the Ghent everyman. After a century and period of decrepitude after World War II, De Vooruit still breathes the same atmosphere of inclusion through culture thanks to movie showings, concerts, readings and more, and its spacious renovated café has again become a favoured hangout in which locals like to unwind. That’s if the sun isn’t out and everyone isn’t lounging on the newly minted roof terrace by DIAL architects, who cleverly added a floating vertical garden above.
De Vooruit, Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 23, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 267 28 28
Victor Horta was actually born in Ghent before he turned Brussels into his architectural playground, but it wasn’t the godfather of Art Nouveau that gave Ghent its most prominent townhouses in that style. That would be Achilles Van Hoecke-Dessel, who plopped a number of them down on the Kunstlaan and the Kattenberg, most notably number 41 on the former. Hoecke-Dessel designed this 1903 creation for himself, complete with a grand – and yes, hobbit-reminiscent – front door and detailed cast-iron balcony.
Functioning as an advert for the trade, Ghent’s Bricklayer’s Guild House is a famously lovely sight, which is also why there are two of them: a copy located at Graslei number 8 and the original at Sint-Niklaasstraat 2. Since people thought the 16th-century original was lost, the city installed a copy to spruce up the city’s yesteryear glory for the 1913 World Fair. In 1976, however, the Gothic Guild Hall, built by actual mason hands, was discovered behind a couple of nondescript walls during renovation works across the street from St Nicholas’ Church. Six dancing figures, which swirl with the wind, now stand on the original’s top.