I love living in Europe. It’s not uncommon for me to decide on an ordinary Saturday that I’m going to drive to another country. Ghent is a great option for a day visit or even a weekend stay. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s super affordable. Here’s my city guide to Ghent with the ultimate must see & do’s!
1. Boat ride
I know it’s super touristic, but I just love boat trips! In my opinion there’s no better way to spend a sunny day. Sure, you’re packed onto a boat with twenty other tourists whose legs are sweating against yours, but there’s still something about admiring a city from the water. And the nice thing is that you learn a lot about the city’s history at the same time, which is always my favorite part of visiting a city. There’s two boat companies in Ghent, and I went with De Gentenaer. It was a good experience: they sail a lot of times during the day and they give you clear extensive explanations.
2. Climb Belfort
You can’t miss it: of the three churches built in a row in the centre of Ghent, the Belfort tower is the one that stands out. The construction started in 1313 and over the years the church has had different rooftops. Sometimes they were made out of wood, sometimes out of iron. Though the adjacent Sint-Niklaas church used to be the lookout point, Belfort deserved that title later on. You can visit the tower, this way you’ll learn all about how the building was made and the societal importance it still has. Thank god you don’t have to climb all the stairs yourself: there’s an elevator for that. Once you’re at the top, push yourself through a really small alley and voila: the most beautiful view of the whole city of Ghent.
You’re not allowed to take photos of the painting, therefore just 1 photo… Sorry!
3. Ghent Altarpiece (the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb)
Believe me… I don’t like art all that much. I appreciate it, but one afternoon a year of visiting museums and I’m pretty much done. I’m a barbarian, I know. But then I got myself a CityCard Ghent, that gives you free access to all museums. And then I heard about 20 different locals tell me that this painting is the raison d’etre of Ghent. So in the end we got our butts into the church. And… I was converted. I’m serious. What a beautifully detailed painting. It’s almost like a photo, that’s how sharp and colorful it is, and so many different things going on! The guide on the audio tour told us exactly what everything in the painting stands for. And then it turns out that almost every splatter of paint has a meaning.
4. City centre
The city centre of Ghent is really nice. That’s about as much as I can say about it. As soon as the sun starts shining all the Belgians crawl out of their caves and settle down at one of the many terraces to take in the sunshine and have a tasty Belgian beer. My kind of life.
Ladies and gentlemen: here’s a video of me having a taste of some real Belgian Neuzekes. Please mind: I had no idea what it was and what it would taste like (the video is in Dutch but still, you’ll get the idea). Neuzekes are a special type of candy from Ghent. You can get them at basically every tourist shop, and I always say: you only get to know a city really well if you know its kitchen! A whole bag of Neuzekes was a bit too much in my opinion (I think they taste a bit artificial) but you definitely have to taste one or two when you’re in Ghent. The outside of the Neuzekes are hard, while the inside is some sort of jelly. Because they expire after about 3 weeks, they’re not being exported so you’ll only find them in Belgium.
6. Having lunch at True Beans
Running a website full of hotspots must be super glamorous, but also a hell. I’m really not good at it: finding the coolest and hippest places in a city. The real hipster spots where you drink biological coke from a tea cup with stuffed animals in the corner. Now True Beans doesn’t have any of those, but it’s still ridiculously hip. I accidentally discovered it when me and Marieke were on our way to Gravensteen. True Beans had just opened its doors five days earlier, and they hadn’t hung up all the decorations yet, but you could immediately see it was a great spot. And you could taste it too! The club sandwich with salmon was superb, and if you order a green tea not only do you get a Neuzeke, but also a cookie and a chocolate bonbon. Brilliant.
7. Visiting Castle Gravensteen
Castle/Stronghold Gravensteen has a real castle-y name (literally it would be ‘Castle Gravestone’) so I was excited straight away. When we got there and Marieke yelled out: “I’ve been here before!” and then: “I’ve been here twice before!” it could only mean two things: A) it’s not a memorable castle, B) she has a bad memory. Luckily (sorry!) it turned out to be the latter, because not often I’ve seen a castle that stood through time so beautifully. The castle originates from around 850, but the real start was made from 1180. And you definitely don’t notice that at all. Usually when a castle is this old you’re mostly walking through ruins, but this castle has been totally preserved. Beautiful. This way you can imagine what life must’ve been like inside the castle. The interesting information signs in every room definitely give you a helping hand. What I found most interesting was the torture chamber, where there was an exhibition about medieval torture instruments. Super fascinating!
8. Staying at Hostel Uppelink
So… you get a beautiful view from castle Gravensteen and from the Belfort tower. But nothing tops the view from Hostel Uppelink, located in the heart of Ghent, with its three beautiful churches and old houses with step-gables along the canals. The hostel is clean, cozy and your stay will hardly cost you anything.
9. Watching boats drift by at the Graslei and Korenlei
What more can I say? There’s no better way than to spend an hour sitting at the water and watching boats drift by. What’s nice too is that you’ll find a lot of locals sitting by the water side having an ice cream and catching up with friends.
10. Taking pictures at the St Michiels Bridge
If you want to play fashion blogger for a bit (like me): this is your hot spot. If you don’t feel the urge to take photos of your outfit, you can also just take pictures of other things at the St Michiels Bridge. Without a doubt the most beautiful spot in Ghent, you’ll find more than enough pretty things to take photos of. Ghent is so pretty!
I was in Ghent for only one full day, so I didn’t manage to do that much. If I were to go back, these are the things I’d like to do: a history tour, visiting the monasteries, discover the House of Alijn and visit the Museum Dr. Guislain: a museum about psychiatry. There’s more than enough to do in Ghent! I’d highly recommend it for a weekend getaway.