Ghent: A guide to Belgium's most charming city
Updated: Sep 17, 2022
Ghent is the most charming city in Belgium in our opinion. Often compared to Bruges, it has beautiful buildings, 2 rivers, and an important history. During the Middle Ages, Ghent was a wealthy and prominent city-state mainly due to the manufacturing of cloth made from English wool. Today, it’s a university town and cultural hub full of amazing architecture, such as the 12th-century Gravensteen castle. From towering churches to detailed statues and peaceful canals, there are hundreds of charming views to take in here. In this article, we'll break down how to get to Ghent, everything you need to know before going there, where to eat and drink, where to stay, and the best things to do in Ghent.
Check out our video about Ghent to get a sense of what it's like there!
How to get to Ghent
The city of Ghent is located in the northwest of Belgium, at the confluence of two rivers, the Leie and the Schelde. Ghent has a perfect location. It is only 50 kilometers from Brussels, 50 kilometers from Bruges, 55 kilometers from Antwerp, and 65 kilometers from Ostend. You have the option to fly into 3 different airports when visiting Ghent.
You can fly to Brussels Airport, take a train to Brussel Central, and then another train to Gent Sint Pieters. This will only take you an hour. Book your flight with Skyscanner to get the cheapest options!
Another option is flying to Ostend-Bruges International Airport, taking a shuttle to Ostend Station, and then a direct train to Gent Sint Pieters which takes 40 minutes.
The last option is flying to Lille Airport, taking a shuttle to Lille Flandres, a train to Kortrijk, and then a train to Gent Sint Pieters. The train journey will take you an hour and 30 minutes. If you don't want to take a train from the airport you can rent a car through rentalcars.com.
Use our map below to get directions to Ghent as well as directions to the best things to do there, which we mention later in this article.
Important things to know before you go to Ghent
The best time to visit Ghent is between June and October. The weather is best from June to September, but October is the month when all the students come back to the city so the atmosphere will be amazing. In October, the weather will be less ideal but the students will be back in the city because the university has started again. This means the atmosphere in the city will be buzzing.
Flemish is the main language spoken in Ghent. It is very similar to Dutch. Most people (especially in the tourism sector) will also speak French and English.
Ghent is safe, especially in the center and during the day. In the evening, be aware of drunk people. Be cautious when going to the Brugse Poort, het Zuid, the Overpoort (if you're partying there just watch out that you don't get involved in fights), and all the parks at night.
Try and visit Ghent on the first Sunday of the month. All the stores will be open and the busses and trams will be free. The center of Ghent is not big, so you can walk everywhere. However, the station is pretty far from the center so we recommend taking the tram (line 4) which is normally €2.50/per person for one ride. It's free on the first Sunday of the month.
Where To Stay In Ghent
Budget accommodations in Ghent
Medium-priced accommodations in Ghent
Premium accommodation in Ghent
Where to eat and drink in Ghent
Where to eat in Ghent:
Bridge: has amazing meat stew
Frituur Tartaar: very good fries in the center of Ghent
Chocolatier Deduytschaever: has won multiple prices for their chocolate
Chocolaterie Vandenbouhede: has the craziest flavors of chocolate
't Klokhuys: has all the specialities of Ghent and Flandres such as Gentse Waterzooi, Flemish meat stew (stoverij), and much more.
O'yo: a healthy place for brunch and lunch with lots of vegan options
De Kastart: best pasta in the city
Amadeus: unlimited spare ribs
Where to go for a drink in Ghent:
Dulle Griet: has the biggest selection of beers in Ghent
Het Spijker: one of the most popular bars for students
Ghent Gruut Brewery: a brewery in the center of Ghent where you can try the beer
Barazza Café: has a cozy terrace next to the river
Best things to do in Ghent
There are so many things to do in Ghent that sadly we couldn't include them all in our list. We do want to mention the following attractions/things to do because they are also really fun.
De Krook (especially at night when the lights are on)
City bike tour
STAM Ghent City Museum
Now, let's move on to the best things to do in Ghent!
7. Try the local delicacies
One of our top recommendations for things to do in Ghent is to try the local delicacies. Belgium in general has tasty food and drinks, such as waffles, french fries, and Belgian Beer. But in Ghent specifically, you can try Delirium Tremens. It’s one of the best beers in Belgium and is brewed about 15 minutes outside the city center. We also recommend a tasty local candy called a “Gentse Neusje”, which looks like a human nose, but tastes like heaven. And finally, you have to try a “Julientje”. A Julientje is a dish with fries, mayonnaise, flemish stew saus (stoofvleessaus), satékruiden, viandel, and crispy onions. It was invented by de Gouden Saté in the party street of Ghent, the Overpoort.
6. Walk around Patershol
Patershol is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in all of Ghent. With unique architecture, well-preserved cobbled streets, and serene views of the canals, this is a must-visit spot. Walking around here will make you feel like you’re back in the Middle Ages. There are also many cozy pubs in this area to enjoy.
5. Free walking tour of the historic center
At number 5, we recommend taking a free walking tour of the city. Starting at Hostel Uppelink next to the Saint Michaels Bridge, you’ll learn all about the history of Ghent. Including how Ghent came to be one of the largest towns in Northern Europe in the 13th century. On the tour, you’ll stop by some of the most famous tourist attractions in all of Ghent. This includes the three main churches (Saint Nicholas Church, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, and Belfry), the City Hall, Gravensteen Castle, and the Graffiti Street where it is legal to spray graffiti. The free walking tour finishes in front of the St. Bavo’s Cathedral. This is where you can find The Ghent Altarpiece, which is also called the “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. It’s worth checking it out inside the church! This artwork was created in the 15th century and is considered a masterpiece of European art.
4. Visit the Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen Castle)
The Gravensteen Castle, also known as Castle of the Counts, towers high above the canal. The current castle dates back to 1180 and was the residence of the Counts of Flanders until 1353. During the industrial revolution, it was even turned into a cotton mill at one point. Now, the castle is a museum and a major landmark in the city. We highly recommend doing the audio-tour that is both funny and interesting.
3. Chill at Graslei or Korenlei
The touristic hotspot of Ghent is definitely the Graslei or Korenlei. Located directly across from each other on opposite sides of the river, these two quays are part of the medieval port that hosted ships since the 11th century. Take a moment to appreciate the details in the buildings here, such as the swans on the Marriott hotel at Korenlei. The swan swimming to the left symbolizes women, whereas a swan swimming to the right alludes to drinks. The fun part about the Graslei and Korenlei is that it is a place where tourists and locals get mixed together. During lunchtime in the school year, you'll see that it is full of students eating their lunch while during the vacations it is full of tourists and locals enjoying the sun and architecture.
2. Enjoy The Festivities
Ghent is known around Europe for having some of the best festivals during holiday months. In the winter for the last few weeks of December, you can enjoy a cozy Christmas market. At the market, you will find warm glüh-wine, a variety of jenever shots, waffles, rides, and an ice skating rink. In the summer, Ghent transforms the downtown center into the Gentse Feesten. For 10 days at the end of July, over 1 million people flood the streets to enjoy free concerts at multiple stages throughout the city. The good vibes are flowing here all day long and you won’t have a shortage of entertainment options to choose from.
1. Kayak or boat tour on the river
One of the best things to do in Ghent is to take in the views from the canals. You have two options to do this. One is to rent your own kayak and go at your own pace. In this way, you can take your time at each spot depending on how long you want to stay there. To rent a kayak, head to Hostel Uppelink. The other option is to do a 50-minute guided boat tour. Here, you’ll get a short history lesson while you admire Ghent's most famous sights from a unique view on the water. The tour is conducted in English, Dutch, and French and is a great option if you just want to relax on the water and take in the beauty of the city. You can save time by pre-booking the medieval boat tour here.
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Other Top Ghent resources:
If you're looking for some other information on Ghent and the best things to do there, here are some great articles that will help you:
10+ memorable things to do in Ghent: the gem of Belgium by The Invisible Tourist
17 Best Things to Do in Ghent by Travel Addicts
19 Fun Things To Do In Ghent, Belgium For Any Kind Of Weather by Wonderful Wanderings
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