15 things to do in Ghent: The free, the fun and the tasty
Sure, you can spend just one day in Ghent and have enough time to see the most important Ghent sights, but why settle for that? There are so many things to do in Ghent, and cramming them all into one day would just be a shame. We spent a whole week in Ghent, and we could have easily have spent one more. See, it’s not only what you can see and do in Ghent, it’s also how cool this city is. How much you relax when you sit in a bar with a cold Belgium beer in your hand overlooking the river Leie. And how content you feel with life when you take a stroll in one of the small streets and hear people laughing and talking. If you want to see Ghent: Yes, you can do it in a day, but if you want to experience Ghent, then you have to spend at least a few days in the city.
Ghent is the largest city in the East Flanders province in Belgium, and it is located in the northwestern part of the country. Approximately 250.000 people live in Ghent, and the currency is Euro. Find exchange rates her: Currency Most credit cards are accepted, but remember – it’s always good to have a little cash in the pocket.
Getting around in Ghent is really easy as it is well connected by public transportation. We lived close to the city, so we walked or jumped on a bike when we had to go into town, but you can also get around by bus or tram. Or hire a taxi – or jump on a boat. There are a lot of options, but we highly recommend jumping on the iron-horse as it is a really good way to see the city. It is also super easy to get around Ghent on a bike. If you want to explore the city by bike, check this link out: Ghent on two wheels.
Why spend more money than you have to? The Ghent CityCard is worth considering buying if you are staying in Ghent for more than just one day and want to make the most of your time. The card gives you free access to all the sights, monuments and museums in Ghent, lets you borrow a bike for free for one day and includes a boat tour. The price is €30 for 48 hrs – €35 for 72 hrs. Find more info on the card here: CityCard.
With that in place, you should be ready to find out why everybody raves about Ghent. It’s “a hidden gem”, we are told, it’s “Belgium’s best-kept secret” and everybody loves the “vibe”. Well, yes, after a week in Ghent, we do too, and you will as well if you follow this Ghent itinerary. The itinerary describes the 15 best things to do in Ghent.
Ghent sights: 15 things to do in Ghent, Belgium
Just so you have an idea which 15 things we will be covering. Maybe some of them are more interesting to you than others:
3: The Belfry of Ghent
4: St. Michael’s Bridge
5: The Ghent Festivities
6: On two legs
7: St. Nicholas Church
8: Great Butcher’s Hall
9: From the water
10: Graslei and Korenlei
11: Street art by ROA
12: Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
14: The Ghent Light Walk
But you can’t do any sightseeing on an empty stomach, so we threw in three restaurant recommendations at the bottom of the post.
1: Visit Stadshal Ghent
Stadshal Ghent was designed in 2012 by the partnership Robbrecht and Daem and Marie-José Van Hee to serve as a modern covered hall for concerts and events. The walls and roof are clad in wood, and there are 1,400 windows in the walls and roof.
The building really stands out as it is located in a part of town that is dominated by old buildings. In December the area under Stadshal is turned into an ice rink.
Where: Emile Braun square
2: Drink beer
Belgium is beer-country, and Ghent has an abundance of restaurants and bars with a wide variety of old and new Belgium beers. Don’t hold back, but be careful. Belgium beers are usually quite strong.
If you are driving and want to fill up the car with a couple of cases of those golden drops before you head home, you can do so at De Hopduvel. The shop is close to the city centre, the prices are good, and the wide selection of quality beers will satisfy any beer-enthusiast.
Where: Coupure Links 625
Price: Depends on how many you want
3: See Ghent from above
The Belfry of Ghent is one of three medieval towers overlooking Ghent’s old city center. The Belfry is 91 meters tall, which makes it the tallest belfry in Belgium.
The tower was built in 1313 and is inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The two towers next to the Belfry of Ghent belong to Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church.
Price: € 8
4: Be amazed at St. Michael’s Bridge
The view from St. Michaels’s Bridge (Sint-Michielsbrug) is like no other. Kind of otherworldly, actually. From the bridge, you have the most spectacular view of Ghent, and you get the sense that the whole city is opening up to you.
From the bridge, you can see St. Nicholas’ Church, Graslei and Korenlei with the Old Fish Market, the Castle of the Counts and St. Michael’s Church – just to name a few of the most popular sights in Ghent you can see from the bridge.
5: Have fun at the Ghent Festivities
The Ghent Festivities, or Gentse Feesten as the locals call it, is an excuse to let your hair down, listen to music, laugh, drink beer and dance until night turns into day. The Ghent Festivities attracts about two million visitors every year and is a ten day long feel-good marathon of performances, music, street-theatre, exhibitions, animation for children, fairs, parades and much more.
Price: Free (hmmm….in theory at least)
Other cool festivals:
6: Take a walk
Sounds boring? Well, it isn’t. It’s really one of the best things to do in Ghent if you want to get the feel of the city. Everywhere you go there are cozy nooks, blooming flowers, beautiful old buildings and people chatting away over a nice beer. One of the most interesting areas on foot is the old neighborhood Patershol. It used to be occupied by leatherworkers back in the day, but then it became a slum nest. Due to a big renovation in the 1980s, Patershol is today an attractive and bustling neighborhood with a lot of bars, galleries etc. At Kraanlei in Patershol, you pass the two picture-perfect houses. Be sure to bring your camera.
But you should really not limit your stroll to Patershol if you enjoy looking at old buildings. There are so many beautiful and interesting old houses in Ghent. From our perspective, taking a walk is really one of the top things to do in Ghent.
7: See St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk) is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent. Construction of the church began in the early 13th century and continued through the rest of the century.
8: Look at hanging hams at the Great Butcher’s Hall
Hams hanging from the ceiling, really? Yes, it seems so. The Great Butcher’s Hall dates back to the 15th century and was a place where meat was inspected and traded. Back in the Middle Ages, it was illegal to sell meat door-to-door, so everybody who fancied a big steak gathered here. A lot has happened since the Middle Ages, but ham is still salted and hung up to dry from wooden rafters in the Great Butcher’s Hall today – and still according to the age-old recipe.
After you have taken a look at the flying hams, why not let your inner foodie loose. East Flanders has more than 175 traditional regional products, and you find them all in the Great Butcher’s Hall.
Where: Groentenmarkt 7
9: Jump on a boat
Experiencing Ghent from the water is an absolute must. Seeing the city from a different angle is not only fun for you, but also for your kids…if you have some – and brought them. Get more info on price, the different boat tours and so on in this post: Activities for kids in Ghent.
10: Let your jaw drop at Graslei and Korenlei
Graslei is probably the most photographed place in all of Ghent – and with good reason. The unique row of historical buildings at Graslei oozes history and is a legacy to the status the city used to have as an important trade centre in Europe. A couple of centuries ago this was the place to be if you needed to get goods in or out of the city, or if you were in need of transportation to a nearby village or city. Today the Medieval Port is said to be the pride of the people living in Ghent, and tourists flock to Graslei to see the beautiful old buildings reflected in the river. Across from Graslei, on the left bank of the Leie river, you find Korenlei.
11: See street art by Roa
You can’t really go to Ghent and be into street art if you don’t seek out the works of Roa – a famous muralist from Ghent. Not a lot is known about ROA – except that he values his privacy, but you can find his work in major cities such as London, New York, Berlin, Madrid, Moscow and so on. Roa is known for his strong obsession with animals and rodents which are often depicted in his murals. He paints with spray paint or acrylic paint
Where: The Stork: Hagelandkaaj 39, Dampoort. The Raven: Ketelvest 73. Four Rabbits: Tempelhof 28. The Sleeping Buffalo: Kapelaanstraat.
12: Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
If you’re interested in art, you should set some time off to visit Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and see the painting “The Mystic Lamb” by Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck. It’s the principal work of the Flemish school in the 15th century and has lived a tumultuous life since it was finished in 1432.
When: Find opening hours here: The Mystic Lamb
Price: € 4 (audio guide is included)
13: Visit Gravensteen
Gravensteen, also known as Castle of the Counts, was built in the ninth century by Arnulf I (918–965), Count of Flanders. It has everything you dream of if you are into knights, bravery, moats and swords. It’s a really fun and interesting place to visit for adults as well as children – which is why I have already written about this medieval wonder in this post: Fun things to do with kids in Ghent.
14: Do the Light Walk
The Ghent Light Walk, or Ghent Illuminated Walk (people call it different things), is a two-hour evening walk that takes you past 30 of 50 beautifully lit buildings in the city centre. Read more about it in this post: The Ghent Light Walk. It is quite spectacular.
15: Eat chocolate
Belguim makes some of the best chocolate in the world, and in some stores, the tasty nuggets are displayed like diamonds in a jewelry store. Goodbye crappy chocolate, and hello little morsels of joy! The price can be a bit steep, but the difference between eating good chocolate and bad chocolate is that you don’t need to shove it down your throat to satisfy your craving if you choose the good chocolate. A couple (maybe four) of pieces should do it.
Some nice chocolate stores:
Where to eat
One of our favourite things to do when we are travelling is to eat. You should experience a new place not only with your eyes but also with your taste buds, we think. We like to try local foods and gobble down unknown dishes to see if we like them. The food in Ghent is not so different from the food in Denmark, but they do have a few specialities like Gentse Stoverij (beef stew in dark Flemish beer) and Gentse Waterzooi (chicken stew).
We brought kids, so we had to make mealtimes child-friendly, which is why we also went to an Italian restaurant. Anyways – here are three restaurants we really liked:
You find Aba-Jour in Patershol, one of the must-see neighbourhoods in Ghent – pretty convenient, right! The restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, but don’t let that fool you. If you go through the restaurant, you find the most charming, flower-filled terrace with a perfect view of the river Leie and all the boats on it. Aba-Jour specializes in Ghent food and beer gastronomy, and the selection of new and old Belgian beers will make your head spin without having even touched a drop of that golden, fizzy liquid. The food is well-made and flavorful, and the atmosphere is relaxed, yet intimate.
If you bring kids, place them on a chair close to the water with a piece of bread, and they’ll have a great time feeding the ducks. While they have fun, you‘ll have time to relax. Win-win! We found the service at Aba-Jour efficient and friendly, and our food, a beef-stew with fries and a salad, a steak with fries, gorgonzola sauce and fries, tasteful and filling. So were the beers…ahhh, the beers!
Where: Oudburg 20
Price: Higher end of medium priced
2: Holy Food Market
The Holy Food Market was inspired by food halls in Barcelona, Rotterdam and Copenhagen, and it certainly has that modern food hall feel to it. It’s located in the 16th-century Baudelo chapel, so don’t forget to give thanks for all that lands on your plate.
There are 16 different food stands in Holy Food Market. We tried four of them, and they were all good. Very good!
Where: Beverhoutplein 15
Price: Higher end of medium priced
3: Osteria Delicati
Osteria Delicati is an Italian restaurant recommended to us by friends who live in Ghent, so of course, we had to go. “Good Italian food,” it says on Ostereia Delicati’s homepage, and that’s exactly what you get: good, solid Italian cooking with a lot of flavor. The dishes are simple and authentic, and the atmosphere is very “Italian”, meaning it’s okay to bring your kids, and it’s okay to show your emotions, If something is funny, you laugh, and if something doesn’t sit right with you, you say so. While you can have a really good meal, it’s also okay to just pop in for a glass of wine.
Where: Drabstraat 17
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