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Ghent's MSK, the museum for fine arts | courtesy of Visit Ghent
Ghent's MSK, the museum for fine arts | courtesy of Visit Ghent
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The Top Museums to Visit in Ghent

Picture of Nana Van De Poel
Updated: 14 July 2017
Known as a thriving hub of culture these days, historic Ghent has several museums up its sleeve that are worth wandering around in for hours on end. These seven run the gamut from a daring temple for contemporary art to a low-key chamber museum honouring the everyday.
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MSK, the museum of fine arts

The old masters and the modernists stand shoulder to shoulder at Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts. Across the street from the S.M.A.K. Hïeronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Théo van Rysselberghe, James Ensor – they’re all present behind the Ionic Greek columns of the MSK’s stately façade. For an extensive collection of Belgian painterly talent throughout history, the MSK is only rivalled by Bruges’ Groeningemuseum.

Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:30am to 5:30pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Mondays.

Fernand Scribedreef 1, Ghent, Belgium

MSK | courtesy of Visit Ghent

MSK | courtesy of Visit Ghent

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STAM, the city museum

It’s not unusual to enter the first room of the recently renovated STAM and see people crawling around on all fours. The entire floor is covered in a luminous aerial map of the city, causing enthusiastic Gentenaars and travellers to drop down and seek out their homes, hotels or landmarks. It has proved an excellent way to excite people to further discover the bigger picture of Ghent. STAM focuses on the ancient city’s development from medieval merchant hub to a modern haven of culture, and does so on a remarkable site. Since 2010, the STAM has combined a 14th-century abbey with a 17th-century convent and a 21st-century expansion – quite the suitable combo for a museum telling the story of Ghent in chronological order.

Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm and Saturdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Wednesdays.

Godshuizenlaan 2, Ghent, Belgium

STAM Museum | courtesy of Visit Ghent

STAM Museum | courtesy of Visit Ghent

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The House of Alijn

Providing a counterbalance to the bird’s-eye view that the STAM provides, the more peculiar House of Alijn zooms in on the little things that make up everyday life. The rooms of a 14th-century children’s hospital have been transformed into authentic old shops, living rooms and a traditional puppet theatre that still puts on shows. It’s where to go to get a glimpse of how Gentenaars lived their lives in the 20th century, before the Internet or smartphones were around, when family pictures were still coloured sepia and home videos had clumsy dads’ wielding the camera. The place has a lovely courtyard and an old-fashioned Flemish café that serves Belgian beers.

Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm and Saturdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Wednesdays.

Kraanlei 65, Ghent, Belgium

House of Alijn | courtesy of Visit Ghent

House of Alijn | courtesy of Visit Ghent

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The MIAT

By now it has become clear that Ghent has a thing for acronyms when it comes to its museums. MIAT stands for Museum of Industry, Labour and Textile, and its red-bricked halls on the waterside knew a former life as Ghent’s old cotton mills. The stories of both man and machine are told here, partly through an imposing workers’ floor filled with textile machinery that still turns on for deafening demonstrations every day. Permanent exhibits show how Ghent thrived on textile, but also the effect the industry had on workers’ lives. On the fourth floor, a living historic printing shop remains in use by avid practitioners of the trade who put on weekly demonstrations. The MIAT’s rooftop provides an unexpectedly great panorama of the old city core.

Mondays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm and Saturdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Wednesdays.

Minnemeers 10, Ghent, Belgium

MIAT | courtesy of Visit Ghent

MIAT | courtesy of Visit Ghent

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S.M.A.K., the museum for contemporary art

Probably Ghent’s best-known museum, the S.M.A.K. hasn’t been afraid to rock the boat – literally and figuratively. In 2007, the museum for contemporary art closed its doors to break out some walls to be able to house a pirate ship and other monumental works for Paul McCarthy’s oeuvre restrospective. The wilful house of art originally opened in the Citadel Park with a boxing match, and has purposefully faded the boundaries between museum and city by putting in exhibits in the public space. In mid-2017, a refugee camp was put up in its white halls between art pieces by the Cobra movement. The whole thing was curated by illusive Swiss artist Christoph Büchel without too much publicity, and 12 refugees lived and worked in the museum for months on end.

Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:30am to 5:30pm and Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Mondays.

Jan Hoetplein 1, Ghent, Belgium

S.M.A.K. | courtesy of Visit Ghent

S.M.A.K. | courtesy of Visit Ghent

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Dr. Guislain Museum

As a former 19th-century madhouse, the Dr. Guislain Museum could have simply relied on chilling devices and an eerie atmosphere to draw crowds. Instead, the founders decided to use the grand complex and items at their disposal to follow in the spirit of doctor Jozef Guislain, who explored the place of the psychologically ill in society. The pioneer of modern psychiatry in Belgium pleaded for more humanity in the treatment of patients, an element that, as the comprehensive history on display here suggests, was sorely lacking. The large museum also has a permanent exhibit of international outsider art. It’s a little way outside the centre, but tram 1 conveniently stops right in front of it.

Tuesdays to Fridays from 9am to 5pm and Saturdays to Sundays from 1pm to 5pm. Closed on Mondays.

Jozef Guislainstraat 43, Ghent, Belgium

Dr. Guislain Museum | courtesy of Visit Ghent

Dr. Guislain Museum | courtesy of Visit Ghent

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Design Museum

Ghent’s Design Museum suitably combines an 18th-century patrician house with a sleek new wing. Walking back and forth between the two while taking in design objects from the 1890s until today is a guaranteed eye-pleaser. They’re currently presenting the work of one of Belgian’s most famous designers – Maarten Van Severen, and, while they work on a permanent exhibition, an exhibition is being showcased which leads you behind the scenes of the museum to demystify how a museum manages its collection.

Mondays to Fridays from 9:30am to 5:30pm and Saturdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm. Closed on Wednesdays.

Jan Breydelstraat 5, Ghent, Belgium

Courtesy of Design Museum