There is no better way to describe this place, it truly is the gem of Belgium. Some may argue that Bruges is better since it is smaller and has lots of chocolate… but I for one honestly just loved Ghent. I did visit Bruges and really appreciated it, but still enjoyed my time in Ghent even more. Ghent (can also be spelled Gent) is a medieval town and the capital of East Flanders. This town has many historical attractions and beautiful places to see, not to mention all the beer. Best of all it has the most amazing castle surrounded by canals right in the city centre.
Fun to Explore
This town is wonderfully picturesque and you will find some beautiful building or cobbled street around every corner. We stayed in Ghent for a total of three nights and I am grateful for this as we were able to really explore. The city is quite large but also small enough to wander around on foot. We walked through this place… a lot! Luckily they also have a wonderful public transport system in place and when we could walk no further, we hopped on a tram (these were super convenient and went to most parts of the town). The city is so unique and the historic and modern infrastructure go hand in hand to create an interesting atmosphere. A must visit place for any history or even architecture lover, but there is something for everyone.
Great Places to Stay
Our first night in Ghent was spent in Hostel de Draecke in the old part of town (right around the corner from the Castle of the Counts). This allowed us an awesome starting point to discover this historic district. Like most hostels you are provided with only the basics and are even expected to make your own bed. However, it was such a clean and well-maintained place, that this didn’t bother us at all. We were also surprised to realize that there were just as many adults staying at the hostel as there were students. A really affordable stay in a great location, with friendly staff and a superb breakfast!
The other two nights were spent at the Ibis Centrum Opera Hotel that was situated perfectly between the city centre and Gent-Sint Pieters train station. This also allowed us the opportunity to better explore the rest of the town. We had such a pleasant stay at this hotel and although small, the rooms were much larger than we expected. We had just returned from camping at a festival for 3 nights, so the clean rooms, hot showers and soft bed felt like luxury to us. Best of all, the tram going towards the city or the station stops right in front of the hotel, which made it so easy for us to get around. However, the best part of our stay was indulging in their awesome all you can eat buffet breakfast!
As a history lover though, my first stop was the epic castle, that dominated the area (there is no way to miss it). The castle is well restored and dates back to the 12th century. You will find that it has everything you could want from a castle including a moat, turrets and a historic display of weapons and other devices inside. The view of Ghent from the top of the castle was absolutely stunning and you could easily see the mix of the old and the new from this vantage point. Across from the castle is a square that housed the De Oude Viismijn or the Old Fish market. This was one of the oldest markets in the city and the gate is beautifully decorated with a statue of the god Neptune / Poseidon.
We also stopped by at Groentenmarkt to have a look at the Great Meat Hall that dates back to the 15th century, when a law was passed that all meat sales had to be in a central place to ensure freshness. You will see that the meat still gets cured by hanging fom the rafters, as it was traditionally done. The rest of the hall has been converted in a cafe and provides areas to sample Flemish cuisine. We also strolled through one of the oldest parts of town, Patershol which was full of activity at the time as they were getting ready for a festival. A quaint area full of old buildings, cobbled streets and some of the best places to dine at in Ghent.
Another enjoyable but almost eerie visit was when we went to the Dr. Guislain museum of psychiatry. As a psychology student the idea of this museum was very appealing to me. As we entered the grounds of this old place though, there was definitely a strange energy about. The grounds and buildings were beautiful though and the actual exhibition was truly fascinating.
Just Wander Around
Besides this we spent a lot of time wandering through the streets of Ghent and got lost a number of times. However, this ended up being quite a fun experience as we discovered some pretty alleys, squares, buildings and got to see parts of the town that weren’t as ‘touristy’. Luckily it was easy enough to find our way once we put our minds to it and studied the map properly. I really felt at home in this town and was comfortable walking around day or night. The locals were really so friendly and helpful and seemed happy to have tourists wandering about their town. We also thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon spent in the beautiful, lush and green space of Citadel park, which is huge by the way!
Tips on visiting Ghent:
- There are a wide variety of accommodation options and I can highly recommend both De Draecke Hostel and Ibis Centrum Opera Hotel. For those on a very tight budget and for those who can afford a bit more.
- Make use of their public transport system such as the tram, buses and the canal tours. However, a walking tour is just as much fun and you are able to really enjoy and see all the sights.
- Purchase Ghent City Cards from Visit Gent to make your stay more affordable. You can choose a 48 hour card (€30) or 72 hour card (€35). These cards give you free access to most of the museums, attractions and monuments. You also get a free guided canal boat tour and free access and use of the public transport systems.
Most of all take the time to truly appreciate this medieval town, that somehow coexists with our 21st century world so easily and effortlessly.
Have you been to Ghent? What do you love about this town? Let me know in the comments below.
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Disclaimer: A big thank you to Visit Gent for providing us with two free 48 hour city cards that were a big help in creating this article. Our accommodations were not sponsored. As always all opinions are my own.