10 Convincing reasons to visit Ghent, Belgium (part 1)

by Emiel van den Boomen on September 28, 2012

View on St. Bavo's Cathedral

Ghent is a rebel.
Ghent is a party.
Ghent is an architectural masterpiece.

Ghent is a true gem in the Flanders region of Belgium. Lonely Planet calls it “the best kept secret of Europe”. That will change, it’s no longer a secret as I hereby offer you the 10 most convincing reasons to visit this beautiful city! Walk with me through the historical city center, not only to watch architectural wonders but also to get a sense of the Belgian way of life. Let’s visit Ghent, Belgium!

1. Street view: an architectural feast

Walking through the city of Ghent is like walking through a historical painting, an architectural masterpiece of castles, cathedrals, churches and old merchant houses. Don’t forget to view the houses from above and go up the Belfry (Belfort) tower for an amazing view!

Famous view on Korenlei

View on roofs of Ghent

Sneak preview on 'Mini Big Ben'

Streetview Ghent

2. Discover why Ghents are called Rope Bearers (and find the hidden clues)

Ghent is a little rebel. People from Ghent are called rope (or: noose) bearers as they seriously rebelled against the regime of the Roman Emperor and Spanish King Charles (Karel) V back in 1539. Charles won and humiliated the people of Ghent by having them parade around town with white undershirts and ropes around their neck.  If you stroll the area around Prinsenhof you will find the famous statue remembering this humiliation. There are even restaurants and bars named after this and I am sure you will find more (hidden) references!

Rope bearers of Ghent

Ghents are known as rope bearers

Ghent, Belgium

Charles V wasn’t exactly the most friendly person for the people of Ghent, as this plaque in the wall near the statue shows: people who were decapitated, burned or even burried alive in those days….

Sentenced to death by Karel V

3. Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen)

This medieval castle is situated in the middle of the city! It’s a great place with superb views from the top. Your kids will have a fab time, but be careful when visiting the torture museum inside the castle…it’s not really for people with a weak stomach so to say.
By the way, don’t look strange if you encounter a knight…

Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen) in Ghent

Inside the Castle of the Counts

Ghent, Belgium

Knight at the Castle of the Counts

Interested to read more about Belgium on this blog? There are stories about visiting Mechelen with kids, the best Bed & Breakfast in Antwerp, and the Atomium in Brussels.

4. Klein Begijnhof

Klein Begijnhof (or Small Beguinage) is a beautiful small historical quarter. Walls surround the houses and the church, dampening the sound from the surrounding city. There are multiple quarters throughout the city of Ghent, most of them just outside the historical center. Because of that you will not encounter many tourists…

Klein Begijnhof

Ghent, Belgium

. Wonders of Ghent: unique and authentic shops

Around every corner you are going to find an interesting shop. Like The Fallen Angels: for all your old and vintage things. Or the flower shop where you can buy flower ice cream (!). The most interesting one was the old wallpaper shop, with designs from all the past 4 or 5 decades. It seems to be quite a famous shop and at least one-of-a-kind.

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent, Belgium

Ghent Belgium

That covers part 1 of my story about Ghent, but don’t worry, part 2 is available as well! Other blog posts about Ghent (and its cultural festivals): Cultural cocktail called Ghent.

Thanks to Visit Flanders for inviting me to visit this beautiful city as part of their Flanders is a Festival project.

View on Ghent

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Interested to read more about Belgium on this blog? There are stories about visiting Mechelen with kids, the best Bed & Breakfast in Antwerp, and the Atomium in Brussels.
  • I was very curious to discover Ghent and was not expecting it to be such a pretty city. I wish I had more time to visit more, and to experience the daily life, which looked so interesting. After Ghent, I went to Bruges but in all honestly, for as much as I liked the latter I found Ghent more special. I’d love to go back in Spring!
    Great photos by the way, Emiel.

    • Yes Simon, I wish I also had more time to explore (not only the historical city center but also other areas). Maybe we’ll meet again in Spring 🙂

  • Alastair McKenzie

    I’ve been to Ghent a couple of times (love it) but never seen the castle at Gravensteen. That’s a real castle-shaped castle. I bet it’s been used for a few movies!

    • Are you kidding me Alastair….you have never seen that castle? That’s a pity, but I’m sure it will be on your list next time!

    • Howard Treesong

      The castle is kind of hard to miss. It’s a bit of a presence in the centre of the city. When you go there ask whether they’ve seen any “schuune koeketiene” that day. I’d be surprised if they hadn’t noticed any.

  • monique at bringingtravelhome

    looks like a beautiful city. I have never been to Ghent (but to Bruges many years ago) thanks for the report – I’m looking for new places to discover in Europe! where to next emiel?

    • I hope to give you more European city inspiration in the coming year Monique!

  • Tim Sacd

    If you come to Belgium, try to get a “Best of Belgium”-guide. Most libraries in e.g. Brussels (Press Shop) sell them. They’re part of a series “Collection Beautiful Belgium”. They’re beautiful picturebooks, and contain about 90% of the Belgian touristical highlights. It’s relatively cheap if I remember well. If you go to Brussels, try “Place St. Catherine” and it’s restaurants.

    • OK Tim, I know I have to spend more time traveling in beautiful Belgium….and it’s so close!

  • You are completely right Herman! I would love to return to discover the more unfamiliair places in Ghent. That particular weekend I had only 2 days to visit Ghent which included the Odegand festival. Normally I travel more slowly and really get to know a place, but this particular time it didn’t work out like that. Next time for sure and thanks for the link.

  • Mark V.

    As a person living in Gent, I can add that the Use-it guide has a detailed overview of many little places to visit: http://www.use-it.be/ghent/map/

  • Emily Cannell

    I`ve just added it to my list of must sees. What a beautiful place! I`m still amazed at your India and Thailand pics….

  • Marc Van Poucke

    I hope you will believe it… I have shown Ghent to a Parisian couple, also living in Brussels. They were so enthousiast that they came back the next day with their bikes, to continue enjoying the city…

  • I studied in Gent for a year, and am quite in love with this place too. Beautiful, historical heritage buildings, and amidst it all we are surrounded by gezellig (atmospheric) cafe’s and of course cyclists everywhere! I used to picnic by the Grazelei river back then when it was warmer. Love this gorgeous city. People there are generally nicer and more open too.

    • You must have had a great year Lily and thanks for describing the atmosphere so well.

  • I have been to Antwerp Dennis, but not having the time to really discover the city. I know from others that after visiting Brugges and Antwerp, they still prefer Ghent!

  • Oc

    I lived in Ghent for 2 years. The city has a great jazz scene, a great music scene period. There’s live music every night of the week. Make sure to visit the Friday market and the Sunday antique market both in the city center…..or in Dutch het stad centrum. The design museum, The SMAK, LOGOS for experimental music.

    • Thanks for your additional suggestions! I loved the design museum and will show a bit of that in part 2 of this post.

  • I’ve been thinking about Belgium for a while, hope this year I will have the chance to make a trip there!

  • Arlette Haggarty

    once you have visited Gent you will see how wonderfull and madgical the place is, warm friendly people, food is fantasic, the beer and all its different sorts, but the bars and cafes and to sit outside and sip away with you favourite beer,wine,coffee whatever just watching the world go by is fantastic try it you will love it and if not well stay at home as you will never be happy if you do not like here

    • That’s a great way of describing the way to enjoy a city like Ghent, thanks Arlette!

  • Pingback: 10 Convincing reasons to visit Ghent, Belgium (part 2)()

  • Jannah

    I’m so proud to live in the middle of this city. Thank you for such a great blog!

  • Judging from your pictures, I know I would fall in love with Ghent at the first sight. Every corner seems so beautiful, and since I have a penchant for old buildings, this city is just perfect!

  • Wow Ward, you are indeed a great promotor of the city! Thanks for leaving a comment here.

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  • What a gorgeous post. Your pictures are incredible… but alas- you just added one more place to visit on our (ever growing) list! I don’t know if I should thank you or not since we’re down to only a year and a half left 🙂

    • I’m so sorry Farrah! LOL Only a year and a half left…you have to be quick indeed. Luckily all these places are within driving distance from where you live… big advantage of Europe!

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  • TCullen

    Passing through in a few weeks for work. I will only have about four days in Belgium and torn between Brussels and Ghent. Would it be better to stay in Ghent and take a day trip to Brussels?
    Are there Absinthe bars in Ghent?

    • Would be a great idea to stay in Ghent and go to Brussels for a day trip. You can even go to Bruges for a day trip as well!

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  • Sonia Franco

    wow! seeing these very nice and lovely structures of Ghent, made me wish that i can visit this fantastic place! Can’t wait to see and read things about your postings for part 2 of it! Thanks!

    • Thank you for leaving a comment. Part 2 is published already. And if you love these structures, have a look at my post about Mechelen! Bye

  • Rachel Williams

    One place I definitely have to visit! On my bucket list!

    • Thanks for your comment Rachel! Glad you liked the post. Hope you make it to Ghent someday.

      • Rachel Williams

        Will certainly do my best! And I’ll let you know how it went too

  • pinash

    And I am visiting Ghent soon. You have made me really happy about my decision to make the visit 🙂 Thank yhou.

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  • Great photos of a wonderful city. When visiting a few years back we totally missed the Castle of the Counts… I think we have to go back soon.

    • Thank you Yvonne! Strange that you missed the castle..but indeed, you now have a good reason to go back 🙂

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  • itsabrewtifulworld

    I mentioned your blog in a post I’ve done on Gent. I hope you approve!

    • Sure! Thanks so much and glad the post inspired you (at least to find another beer! 🙂

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