Leave your city clothes in Brussels, put on your walking shoes, and head to Ghent. In the late Middle Ages, Ghent was one of the largest and richest cities in northern Europe, and its luscious collection of medieval architecture is a great reminder of that period. Complete with picturesque canals, Ghent is a more authentic alternative to the famous town of Bruges.
A Castle and Street Art
Ghent has a large pedestrian zone, making it very friendly to people on foot or bicycle. As you’re navigating through the cobbled streets, make a stop at Gravensteen Castle. This 12th-century gem has everything you want in a castle: a moat, turrets, and even an exhibition of medieval torture devices.
While you’re out and about, keep an eye out for some street art, too. Some of the world’s most famous street artists, such as ROA and Bué the Blue Warrior, are from Ghent. Check out Werregarenstraat, also known as Graffiti Street, for some serious Instagram material.
Canals and The Belfry
If you’re tired of walking, head towards the canal, where you can find numerous companies offering boat tours. The trip lasts about 40 minutes and gives you a different view of the city, plus some historical facts from the guide.
Climbing to the top of the Belfry is one of the most popular things to do in Ghent. At 91 meters, the 14th century, UNESCO-listed bell tower is the tallest in Belgium. However, the view from St. Michael’s Bridge is no less astonishing. Moreover, you can see the whole skyline from here, including the bell tower.
St. Bavo Cathedral and The Mystic Lamb
Visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral to admire the beautiful stained-glass windows, the Roman crypts, and The Conversion of St. Bavo by Peter Paul Rubens. But the biggest treasure here is Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as The Ghent Altarpiece.
This masterpiece’s past is so intriguing that George Clooney even made a film about it. The Monuments Men tells the story of a platoon in the Second World War that rescued the famous piece of artwork from Nazi thieves.
Museums in Ghent
Ghent has a considerable share of museums. The Design Museum Gent pays tribute to the fathers of Art Nouveau, Paul Hankar and Victor Horta, the latter of whom was born in Ghent. The permanent collection contains interiors from the 17th to the early 20th century.
No less noteworthy is the Museum of Fine Arts, with paintings from Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, and many other Flemish masters. And of course, there’s the City Museum for Contemporary Art, or S.M.A.K., featuring artwork from the 20th century, including Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol.
Food and Souvenirs
Brussels may be the center of the European Union, but Ghent is the capital of vegetarians. Ghent has the world’s largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita. Despite that, the most significant foodie spot in the city is the Great Meat Hall, or Groot Vleeshuis. This grand old market hall, where a giant piece of ham hangs like a chandelier, offers the freshest and finest of local Flemish produce. You can even have lunch here.
For a tasty souvenir, consider cuberdons, or Ghent nouse (Ghent nose), as they’re called in Dutch. These purple, raspberry-flavored, nose-shaped candies are made with gum Arabic and are a treat for any sweet tooth. The story goes that a pharmacist from Ghent had discarded a failed medicinal preparation, but he found that a few days later a crust had formed over the mixture, while the core was still liquid. And that’s how cuberdons were born.
© 2018 Jeremy East
Peter on August 08, 2018:
I'd Love to Visit Some day !
Liz Westwood from UK on March 27, 2018:
I really enjoyed this article. It brought back good memories of a visit to Ghent a few years ago.