Ghent in Belgium is a truly magical city. Full of medieval architecture, pretty canals and unique statues, you’ll love a visit to Ghent, even if it’s only a short one.
It’s possible to see many of the city’s top sights in just one day, however, a long weekend is best if you want to see and do more without rushing.
As inspiration for your trip, we’ve listed 12 of the best things to do in Ghent below… you should make an effort to tick off as many of these as you can in order to see just how much Ghent really has to offer.
12 Best Things To Do in Ghent
1. Visit Gravensteen (aka “Castle of the Counts”)
Gravensteen is one of Ghent’s biggest draws. Dating back as far as 1180, it’s a very typical medieval castle but one with a varied history. Originally used as a residence of the Counts of Flanders until 1353, it has since been used as a court, prison, mint and cotton factory. Restored between 1893 and 1903, it now houses a museum specialising in torture objects and tools, as well as weapons and armour.
2. Photograph Geeraard de Duivelsteen (aka “Castle of Gerald the Devil”)
Despite its name, this 13th century fortress has never been the home of the Devil. Instead, it has been used as a knight’s residence, arsenal, monastery, school, prison, mental asylum and bishop’s seminary. Unlike Gravensteen, you can’t go inside Duivelsteen, however, you can admire and photograph its medieval architecture from the outside. Personally, I thought it was even more mesmerising than its more popular counterpart!
3. Head to the top of the Belfry (aka “Het Belfort van Gent”)
If you’re interested in seeing Ghent’s rooftops and views from above, then a trip to the top of the Belfry (aka “Het Belfort van Gent”) is a must. It’s the tallest belfry in all of Belgium and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s open every day, bar Christmas and New Year’s Day, and only costs €8 per adult.
4. Buy a coffee or hot chocolate and people watch
Compared with more touristy cities like Brussels and Bruges, Ghent is much more sleepy in comparison. This makes it the perfect place in Belgium for chilling out in a coffee shop somewhere to watch the world and people go by. One of our favourite places we visited was Koffeine along Lange Kruisstraat (not far from the Belfort). Their prices were great, the hot drinks were of superb quality and it had such a charming and laid back atmosphere inside!
5. Admire all the medieval architecture
Whether you choose to pay to visit Gravensteen, or simply wander around the city in search of all the medieval architecture on offer here, either way, you’ll quickly notice that Ghent is – by far – one of the most unique and historic cities you ever did see. Take your time, take to the streets and simply let yourself lose track of all time.
6. Walk along the canals and rivers
Ghent is a port city, which means there are a number of canals and rivers that wind their way through the city. In fact, the canals stretch for over 19 miles! Although you can hop on a boat ride during the warmer months, there are also a number of paths and walkways that follow the water too. This makes for a rather charming walk and offers lots of unique views of the city’s buildings.
7. Hunt for Ghent’s many churches and cathedrals
Ghent has a number of churches and cathedrals within the city. Some of the most popular ones include Saint Bavo Cathedral, Saint-Nicolas’ Church and Saint Michael’s Church. There’s a great walking tour on GPS My City, which guides you through all of Ghent’s sacred buildings in about 4 hours. You can find it here.
8. Stroll through Citadelpark
Citadelpark can be found close to Ghent’s railway station, which means you could choose to stroll through the park when you first arrive. It’s one of Ghent’s larger parks and is home to all manner of trees, fountains and statues for you to marvel at along the way.
9. Kiss on St Michael’s Bridge
Offering 360-degree views of Ghent’s top attractions, St Michael’s Bridge has often be listed within romantic guides and things to do in Ghent. Although many couples leave love padlocks here, we believe in leaving no trace, thus, a kiss says how much you love each other without affecting the city. St Michael’s Bridge is also the only place in the city where you can see all three of Ghent’s famous towers lined up neatly in a row… magical!
10. Admire the Old Fish Market gateway
Facing famous Gravensteen is Oude Vismijn, aka the Old Fish Market. Here, you’ll find a grand baroque gateway, which is dominated by a trident-bearing Neptune. Adorning the gateway are also the allegorical figures of the Scheldt (represented by a man) and Leie (represented by a woman) rivers. Fish was sold in the market beyond this impressive entryway until 1966; today, it’s home to a restaurant and the Ghent Tourist Information Centre. But our advice is to forget all that and just admire the architecture… it’s truly beautiful!
11. Head to a Christmas market in winter
We think city breaks are simply magical during the winter months. There are often fewer crowds, cheaper prices and a festive spirit in the air. And Ghent in Belgium is no different. At Christmastime, over 150 wooden chalets spread out from Sint-Baafsplein, along the Botermarkt and Klein Turkije to the end of the Korenmarkt, selling everything from authentic crafts and pretty trinkets, to warm mulled wine and tasty street food. It usually runs from around the second week of December through to the first week of January, although dates vary each year.
12. Take a day trip to Bruges or Brussels
One of the best things about Belgium is that the major towns and cities are all interconnected by a reliable, fast and affordable rail network. Ghent is almost exactly halfway between both Bruges and Brussels and only takes about 30-40 minutes to get to each from Ghent. Therefore, a day trip (or two) is totally doable even if you’re only in Ghent for a long weekend, and it’s most definitely worth it.
How to get to Ghent
The nearest airport to Ghent is the Brussels Airport. From there, it’s either 50 minutes by car, or an hour by train (passing through Bruxelles Central Station).
Alternatively, if you’re planning on visiting Belgium by using the Eurostar – a very easy and convenient way of travelling – then Ghent is only about 40 minutes away by train. You can even catch a train from Bruxelles Midi station, which is where the Eurostar disembarks, making this an even simpler way of getting to Ghent.
If you find yourself in Bruges instead, then Ghent is just 30 minutes away by train, with trains running at least every hour.
When travelling by train, make sure you click on the ‘special offers’ button when buying your ticket. You may be surprised at some ticket prices. We found out that on the Sunday we were travelling, we could get anywhere in Belgium for just €5!
Hopefully we’ve given you a bit of inspiration ready for your own trip to Ghent. Are you planning on visiting anywhere else during your trip? We’d love to know what your plans are! Just jot down a few notes below for us…
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