With flower markets and covered food halls open every day, Gentenaars’ lives are already spiced with market fragrances and flavors during the week. Come the weekend, though, and this historic canal city gets really spoilt for choice, as brocanteurs, artisans, and booksellers stream into the squares and waterside alleys, inviting you to spend the day leisurely strolling from one lively market to the next.
Flower Market on the Kouter
A smattering of florists is present every day on this spacious square that was chosen by the 19th-century bourgeoisie as their favorite space for a leisurely walk, but Sundays are special. Ghent’s tradition of selling flowers on the last day of the week originated in 1772, and the town has kept the fragrant tradition up ever since, earning the Kouter the nickname “Garden of all Gentenaars.” Sundays are, thus, still the liveliest day, with the market expanding greatly and often a brass band playing on the Kouter’s eye-catching 19th-century cast-iron kiosk. Sundays are also the day when locals come to slurp oysters and champagne outside the picturesque Blue Kiosk. On the square’s edge, the charming independent bookstore Paard Van Troje makes a mighty espresso and carries an English section.
Further bookworm rummaging happens at the Ajuinlei on Sundays. Here, dozens of tables are put up by the waterside to support the weight of hundreds of books. Sometimes a bit tattered, yellowed or with notes from a previous owner in the margins, most of the items are secondhand and make great bargains. Founder Thierry Bonnaffé imagined a community like the bouquinistes of Paris, who sell their literature on the banks of the river Seine, gathering at Ghent’s Leie, and he wasn’t far off. It’s a quaint charmer of a market that makes the stroll from the Kouter to the Groentenmarkt a joy.
After a scenic walk along the river Leie, the Groentenmarkt (literally “Vegetable Market”) reveals itself. This market is where it’s at on Sundays for not only local artisan objects such as ceramics but also Ghent’s signature “neuzekes” or cuberdons, a purple, cone-shaped candy that has two cart vendors in a minor dispute about whose treats are “the most authentic.” Also popular are the spices and mustards by Tierenteyn, sold behind a beautiful dark green façade in a shop with the original 1860s interior (closed on Sundays). On Fridays, the square honors its name by transforming into a market bursting with biological (organic) fruits and veggies, very much in the Ghent spirit.
Organic market: Fridays from 7:30 am to 1 pm
Artisan market: Saturdays and Sundays from April 1st until September 30th, 10 am to 6 pm; on hold during the Ghent Festivities
Nestled in the lap of Ghent’s monumental St. Jacob’s Church sits one of Belgium’s oldest flea markets. Brocanteurs have been peddling their curiosities in between old sycamore trees here for as long as the Gentenaar can remember. To keep up the spot’s reputation as a brocanteur haven, a place for a good banana box rummage between old cameras and Jesus figurines, vendors cannot sell clothing and shoes. Over time, small bric-a-brac shops have opened around the square, making it even more of a vintage hunter’s destination.
Sauntering onwards from the more intimate St. Jacob’s, it’s a three-minute walk to the stretched-out Friday Market, occupied by seemingly endless rows of stalls every Friday and Saturday. The square was named for its traditional weekly market where everything is for sale, ranging from farmer’s produce to vintage lamps to cleaning products. It’s a staple for locals who like to inject a little liveliness into their weekend shopping. Besides two imposing 19th-century socialist palaces and older guild houses, terraces that fill up at the first hints of sunshine line the whole area.
Fridays from 7:30 am to 1 pm, and Saturdays from 11 am to 7:30 pm
Following in the footsteps of cities such as Rotterdam and Barcelona, Ghent opened up its own version of a contemporary indoor food market in February of 2017. The twist? This modern culinary paradise sits inside a 16th-century religious temple. The gorgeous white-walled Baudelo Chapel now worships at the altar of gourmet avocado toast, quality beef, and homemade croquettes. In total, 16 small-scale restaurants and aperitif places present the Gentenaar and his visitor with dishes familiar and new—Malaysian, Lebanese, Portuguese, Russian, etc.—in a marble-and-wood setting to unashamedly gawk at while sipping wine and slurping oysters.
Every day from 11 am to 10 pm
Looks like it's closedHours or services may be impacted due to Covid-19
Another covered food market but more intimate, and with a penchant for lunch rather than an aperitif, the Lousberg Market is home to four local businesses. Hailed organic dairy farmer Het Hinkelspel’s shop is one of them, as are bread experts Copain and biological veggie salesmen de Vroente. A cantina run by two sisters who share a love for vegetarian cuisine uses all the ingredients of those three vendors mentioned above and more to turn out healthy takeaway or dine-in meals.
The biggest market in Ghent is also the one that travelers may not know about. The Sunday market in Ghent’s Ledeberg quarter, located southeast of the city center, is where locals go to chat with acquaintances or vendors while chickens roast away on the spit. There’s no special treasure to be sniffed out except for flowers or perhaps delectable goats cheeses from organic farmers, but couleur locale? Ledeberg has that in spades.