For us, Ghent is one of the nicest cities in Belgium. The compact city with a beautiful medieval centre is nice and cosy. You can stroll around and enjoy the richly decorated facades along the quays. Compared to Antwerp and Brussels, Ghent is still quite quiet. That’s why a city trip to Ghent is definitely worth it!
A piece of history
Already in the Celtic period there were several settlements in the region. The name Ghent also derives from the Celtic Ganda. It was given that name by the estuaries of the Scheldt and the Lys.
In the Middle Ages, between 1000 and 1550, Ghent was the largest city in the Netherlands. In the 16th century, Ghent played an important role in the rise of Calvinism. At the end of the 18th century, Ghent was the first city on the European mainland where industrialisation began. The use of mechanical spinning machines led to a flourishing textile industry.
A city trip to Ghent: the top sights
We can certainly advise you to stay in Ghent for more than a few hours. Because there’s so much to see and do that you’re bound to miss out on some highlights. So, plan a city trip in Ghent for 2 days. Then you can enjoy the city to the fullest.
Exploring facades on the Graslei and Korenlei
Along the river Lys you will find the most beautiful guild houses on these quays from the flourishing history of the city. One of the most beautiful is the Gildenhuis van de Vrije Schippers on Graslei 14. Pay special attention to the beautiful decorations of bunches of fruit on the facade. Though other buildings, such as the Cooremetershuys and the korenopslagplaats – also called the spijker, are beautiful. The spijker is the oldest building on the Graslei. From the 12th century onwards, corn stock was stored here for centuries.
The beautiful Grasburg over the Lys takes you from the Graslei to the Korenlei. Here you have a beautiful view on both quays. It’s one of the most photographed spots you’ll see during your city trip to Ghent. You will find wonderful places for a moment of rest on the many terraces on the quayside.
The imposing Castle of the Counts dates from the 12th century. It is the only remaining medieval moated castle with an almost intact defence system in Flanders. The castle houses a special collection of instruments of torture.
The castle has been beautifully restored and therefore gives an excellent picture of knightly life in former times. You can also watch a nice movie during your visit. It shows a special costume drama.
If you want to take a nice picture of the castle, it is best to do so from the nearby St. Widostraat. From here you have a beautiful view of the castle.
Boat trip on the Lys
What could be better than enjoying the splendour of Ghent’s many historic buildings from the water? Especially on a sunny day, this is the best way to experience the beauty of the city. Meanwhile, you will learn a lot about the various guilds that the city has known and the beautiful buildings that they have built.
You can only take a boat trip through the Ghent city waters. If you have more time, you can consider taking a larger tour where you can see the surroundings of Ghent.
Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
Already in the 8th century this church stood in the centre of Ghent. However, it was destroyed by the Vikings and rebuilt on this spot in the following centuries. Of this, only the crypt from the 12th century has been preserved.
Saint Bavo’s Cathedral is home to numerous art treasures. Of these, the high altar, the pulpit, the Gothic chandelier and the tombs of the bishops are magnificent but most visitors come for “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, a masterpiece by the famous painter Jan van Eyk. For non-art lovers, this is still a fantastic work of art to see because of the use of colour and the beautiful details. You could look at it for hours!
View over Ghent from the Belfort
This tower is the mascot of Ghent and is on the UNESCO world heritage list. It proudly towers over the city, flanked by Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and St. Nicholas’ Church. Together with the Cloth Hall, the Belfry used to be the important trading centre for textiles in the region.
Fortunately, you don’t have to walk all the way up to enjoy the view over the city. Most of it is easily reached by a lift. Once upstairs you’ll get a fabulous view.
Every Sunday morning you can hear the city bell ringer at work. In addition, every first Friday evening of the month you can enjoy a bell concert. In the summer months this unique event takes place every Saturday evening.
Museum of Fine Arts (MSK)
The beautiful neoclassical building looks from the outside like a Greek temple. The museum exhibits works by important Flemish and Dutch masters from the 14th to the 20th century. The strength of MSK is the diversity of its collection. Never before have the old masters and modernists hung so perfectly side by side as in this iconic museum building.
In 2020 Ghent will be under the spell of the year of Jan van Eyck. MSK pays tribute to Jan van Eyck with the ‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ exhibition. Worldwide, only about twenty of the artist’s works are preserved. A large part of these can now be seen in MSK, where they are shown alongside works by his most talented contemporaries. More information on the year of Jan van Eyk in Ghent.
Saint Peter’s Abbey
This Benedictine abbey was founded in the 7th century by Saint Amandus. In the 14th and 15th centuries it grew into a real abbey village, with farms, gardens, houses and lands. The abbey owed its prosperity to the privileges it had obtained and to the taxes it was allowed to collect on its land.
The beautiful abbey garden with vineyard and ruins is a wonderful oasis of peace in the city. It is not for nothing that many students from Ghent come here to enjoy or study. Be sure to make use of the digital tour of the abbey. The highlight is the painted ceiling of the monks’ dining room.
Ghent University Plant Garden
The Citadelpark is a park in Ghent on a ridge between the rivers Schelde and Lys. This city park was built in 1875 on the spot where the Dutch Citadel of Ghent used to stand. The citadel, one of the largest and most modern of its time in Europe, has the botanical garden of the University of Ghent as a landmark. You can see more than 10,000 species of plants blossoming here and some of them can be found in the tropical greenhouses of the botanical garden.
An evening walk through the old town
A walk along the quays along the river Lys during the day is already a special experience, in the evening light it is even more beautiful. Ghent has a special form of illumination in the historic city centre. The city has already won several awards for light art with this lighting plan.
For an evening stroll past the most important buildings, you could easily spend an hour or two. The route takes you past numerous places where a sophisticated play of light shows the sights at their best. Use the enclosed route description for the evening walk through Ghent. You can do this walk on your own or with a guide.
More highlights for your city break to Ghent
We’ve just briefly described what we think are the best highlights. But there is much more to see and do in the city. If you have planned a city trip to Ghent of 2 or more days, you can certainly visit the Town Hall, the House of Alijn, the Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textiles (MIAT), the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art (SMAK) and the Friday market.
You can of course daydream about all you’ve seen on the many pleasant bar terraces along the river Lys while enjoying a delicious special beer. If you are in Ghent, you can also try the famous “Neuzekes”. These sweets, also called cuberdons, look like a big nose. On the outside they are hard and, on the inside, you can taste a kind of jelly with a raspberry flavour. Because the candy has a limited shelf life, you can only find them in Belgium. They are not exported.
Ghent city break: practical matters
- Ghent lies at the intersection of the E17 and E40 motorways and is easily accessible by car. Because Ghent city centre is considered a low-emission zone (LEZ), every vehicle with a foreign number plate must always be registered. This can be done online and is free of charge.
- With two railway stations in the city, Ghent is also easily accessible by train.
- With the Ghent City Card, you can use public transport in the city free of charge. In addition, you get free admission to a number of museums and attractions. With this card, you can easily earn back the card, which is available for 48 or 72 hours.
- The city has plenty of accommodation in all price ranges, from simple hostels and intimate B&Bs to luxury boutique hotels. Here you’ll find an overview of hotels in Ghent.
- For a delicious dinner you don’t have to search long in Ghent, there’s plenty of choice. On TripAdvisor you can easily find a restaurant of your choice.