Ghent was such a chill city with a lot to explore. We only spent a day there, but it was certainly a day well-spent, with a variety of activities that gave us a peek into Ghent through the generations.
Getting around Ghent
Trains and buses travel frequently to and inside Ghent, so getting around is easy. The other cool thing is that the city center is car-free. Pedestrians and bicyclists should find this area an excellent place to enjoy the day.
Ghent lies west of Belgium, between Brussels and Bruges. By rail, you have two options for rail stops: Ghent-Dampoort and Ghent-Sint-Peters. The latter will be your best bet, because all trains that come through the city from elsewhere will go through this stop. From there, take a tram to downtown and spend the rest of the day strolling around the action-packed city center. At some bus and tram stops, you can pick up a free map of the city and public transportation lines.
Things to see in Ghent
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
We got off the tram at the Gent-Duivelsteen stop. We were drawn to an imposing-looking cathedral, which we found out was St. Bavo’s. Part Romanesque and part Gothic, it has stood in this place since the 10th century. It’s particularly famous for the altar panels inside, formally known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Some of the panels went missing during World War I, and there was a lot of intrigue about their recovery (one panel is still missing today).
We headed west from St. Bavo, past the Belfort and St. Nicholas Church, to the Korenmarkt. Literally the old corn market, this square is great for people watching from the cafés and taking in the city’s amazing architecture.
Definitely also try the cuberdon. This is a Belgian sweet also known as “the nose,” and is made from gum arabic. Traditionally raspberry-flavored, but we also tried a green apple variant. Cuberdon is soft and mushy inside, and hard, slightly crunchy outside. The inside begins to crystallize after about three weeks, which means that cuberdon usually can’t be exported successfully. So try it while you’re in Ghent!
Graslei and Korenlei
These quays line the river Leie, and along them are old guildhouses for the businesses that thrived when Ghent’s main industries came through the river. The buildings are fun to look at for their similarity, and yet diversity. Many details of original construction can still be seen, and they often give a hint of the type of guild that used to operate out of each particular building.
After snapping a couple of photos from St. Michael’s Bridge (from which you can also spot St. Michael’s Church), we had a lovely time just strolling the quays. You can take canal tours from boats here as well. We found a guy selling amazing street food in an alley between the quays and the Groentenmarkt further north– definitely give those kebab a try! They were the most amazing thing I ate in Belgium, no lie. We took our fries, kebab and bitterballen back to Graslei, sat along the side, and enjoyed our meal while watching people and birds.
As we continued exploring, we spotted a castle from the far side of the quays. This castle is called Gravensteen, and it is really pretty fun.
Entrance is 10EUR (about 11USD) for adults, 6EUR for people ages 19-25, and free for anyone under 19. Great deal if you’ve got kids, and they’ll have a great time poking around the castle too; we certainly did. It’s a medieval castle, built in the 12th century and carefully preserved.
The contents are a variety of medieval objects, including my favorite room: a collection of weapons, ranging from knives to guns. While not necessarily reflective of things that were in use in Ghent at the time, the exhibits were fun and the castle is easy to navigate. The view from the battlements is also quite impressive.
STAM is about a 30-minute walk from Gravensteen, south and back along the quays and the river. On a nice day, it was a very pleasant walk; if you don’t feel like it, you can easily take a tram or bus. It was the one museum we checked out in Ghent because it is dedicated to the city’s history and development through the ages.
They have a map room that has a cool scale model of the city, and along the wall are monitors with digital maps from different centuries, so you can compare what Ghent looked like between, say, the 1500s and now. You can even zoom in to specific areas and see what has changed and what has remained the same.
Other displays show artifacts from the city, including arts and crafts, tapestries, coins, and weaponry.
We enjoyed our day in Ghent and felt that we got a good introduction to its history and culture. I definitely recommend visiting this city. Even just spending a little time sitting along Graslei should be enough to admire some architecture and watch the medieval city continue to live and breathe into the 21st century.