Ghent is a rebel.
Ghent is a party.
Ghent is an architectural masterpiece.
The city of 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!
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!
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!
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….
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…
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…
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.
“Real authentic Ghent noses! Traditional Belgian delicacy! Only…€ 5 for a bag!”
Of course I couldn’t resist buying these (quite expensive) Ghent noses (Ghentse neuzen). It’s indeed a traditional Flemish candy: cone-shaped with tastes of raspberry. The outside is hard, but the inside is very soft. You can buy them on the street at typical stalls selling only Ghent noses. My daughter loved them, my son didn’t care.
What else is nice? You can imagine: when in Belgium you have to eat waffles, chocolate and fries! I am not really talking haute cuisine here and I know it’s very stereotyping, but these are the snacks that Belgium (and Ghent) has become famous for.
My personal favourite: waffles! The smell of freshly baked waffles, on the side of the street. Oh man, a warm waffle with chocolate, sugar or honey, you can wake me up any time for one of these!
The city’s D&A: Doors & Alleys
You recognize the situation: a person is taking photographs of something. But what? You stop and look. Following the line to the point where the camera lens is aiming at, you watch….and see nothing, nothing special. What is the subject of this photo?
I am such a guy. I am that guy people look at when I take pictures of places and things that other find utterly boring. I just love details and typical sceneries that others tend to pass by.
My favourites are alleys and doors. In Ghent I passed many doors where paint was blistered off and other ones showing a true love for modern design. Every picture of a door has something mysterious and you want to know the story of people living behind it. Same goes for alleys: what is happening just around the next corner?
Drinks, company, smallest bar, students (Ghent is a party)
Ghent is a party. With 65,000 students (on a total of 250,000 inhabitants) it’s lively and full of action. In summer there are plenty of festivals, like the Ghentse Feesten and Odegand. De Ghentse Feesten is a truly popular event, drawing many people from out of town to Ghent. Maybe even too many?
There is no country in the world offering such a variety of really tasty (and strong) beers: Belgium. I spend one evening in the Dulle Griet where they offer a beer menu with 250 (or 150, but I forgot about the numbers) types of beer! Luckily I had my online friends on Twitter and Facebook to guide and advise me.
Entering The Dulle Griet you enter a lovely old bar. The smell of beer and wood covers you like a blanket. People at the bar, just enjoying a beer where nothing else is more important. The Dulle Griet is famous for one special beer (Max) that is served in quite an impressive glass. It’s a 1,2 liter tube held in a wooden rack. It’s so expensive, the waiter will ask for your right shoe as deposit. He will winch it to the ceiling and you will get it back only after finishing your beer.
Other bars that are more visited by locals are Pink Flamingo and Parels (a unique bubble bar, but absolutely not over the top or designed with the latest style trends!). Both are surely worth a visit.
Saint Bavo Cathedral and the Mystic Lamb (and the Belfry tower)
Back to history! Visiting Ghent without entering St. Bavo Cathedral is unthinkable. Before entering, go up the Belfry tower first (picture above), which is opposite the cathedral. You will have a great view of the cathedral. Once inside enjoy the great pieces or art that are displayed (there are audio tours available). I was impressed by the Altarpiece and La Bestia…
Ghent Alterpiece (or Adoration of the Mystic Lamb)
This is considered to be a Belgian masterpiece and one of the world’s treasures. It consist of 24 panels, showing God, Jesus, Virgin Mary, John the Baptist, Adam, Eve and of course the mystic lamb. Impressive painting…if the chapel with the original piece is closed, you can find a copy in the back of the cathedral…
Cool, an abstract form that reminds us of a wounded animal, standing on a pedestal and bathing in a pool of red engine oil…La Bestia by Bassiri dates from 2004 and is truly ‘emotionally-charged material’. For lovers of extreme art.
You know I’m a big fan of details and here’s one to be found near the entrance to the Belfry tower. This sculpture is called the Mammelokker and depicts the legend of a prisoner, Cimon, who is sentenced to death by starvation, but survives and ultimately gains his freedom thanks to his daughter Pero, a wet nurse who secretly breastfeeds him during her visits. For lovers of Roman legends.
Flanders (and specifically Ghent) is an important area for the design industry (first fashion but also furniture). Flanders is home to 12,000 design businesses and the design museum in Ghent is a great place to get introduced.
Ghent is just big fun!
Yes, I am over-enthusiastic, but great cities are intoxicating. I could choose city trips over any beach destination, you?
Ghent is a rebel. Ghent is a party. And yes, Ghent is also an architectural masterpiece.
Hope you enjoyed the reading and now go and put Ghent on your upcoming European itinerary! Even the Belgian national newspaper and website De Standaard linked to my story about Ghent in one of their weekend features.
“Look at how this over-enthusiastic blogger writes about Ghent”.
“Looks like we’re gonna be welcoming some more tourists in the years to come.”
Not only I wrote about that festive weekend in Ghent, also the Guardian and the Telegraph thought the city was well-worth the attention. I hope the people of Ghent are happy with all the attention as well. Yeah, must be!
Thanks again to Tourism Flanders inviting me for the trip to Ghent.
[…] Via Act of Traveling […]
[…] If you look for ten more convincing reasons to visit Gent, click on this link. […]
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! 🙂
[…] castle and impressive art galleries but small enough to retain the title of “hidden gem,” Ghent is a medieval treasure not far from the Belgian coast. Though the centre is largely car-free, once you reach the city you […]
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 🙂
[…] Click here to read Ten reasons to visit Ghent. […]
And I am visiting Ghent soon. You have made me really happy about my decision to make the visit 🙂 Thank yhou.
Woohoo! Have fun
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.
Will certainly do my best! And I’ll let you know how it went too
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
[…] spent some time in Ghent, Belgium in 2002, visiting a friend. My friend was out of town on one particular day so why not go and […]
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!
[…] https://www.actoftraveling.com/2012/09/10-convincing-reasons-to-visit-ghent-belgium-part-1/ […]
[…] guides to Brussels and Brugge, tailored just for this family – and a side trip recommendation to Ghent. And, it made me want to go […]
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!
Wow Ward, you are indeed a great promotor of the city! Thanks for leaving a comment here.
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!
I’m so proud to live in the middle of this city. Thank you for such a great blog!
Thanks for the compliment Jannah!
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!
I’ve been thinking about Belgium for a while, hope this year I will have the chance to make a trip there!
I hope so too Angela! Goo luck with all your travel plans.
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 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!
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 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 believe it Marc! Thanks for your comment.
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….
Thank you Emily!
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/
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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 🙂