Summer holidays are coming soon! Why not choose Ghent? Some time ago Lonely Planet called it Belgium’s best-kept secret. A perfect moment would be the long weekend around 21 July, because we’re having the Belgian national day.
You will be here during the famous Gentse Feesten (14-23 July)! During this ten-day event the whole city is one big party, with music, food stalls, street theatre, but most of all, it brings people together from everywhere in the world, all having a good time.
The easiest way to come to Ghent is by train. From Gent Sint-Pieters Station it is a nice 25 minutes stroll to the city center, or you can take the tramway.
Bike rental is available at Max Mobiel, conveniently located behind the train station. If you nevertheless come by car, the easiest way is to leave it at the underground B-parking under the train station.
What makes this city such a great place to visit and to live?
Old & New
In the city center you can find an astonishing number of medieval buildings. Ghent was flourishing during the Middle Ages and luckily quite a number of historic edifices have been preserved.
If you walk or cycle over the St. Michaels Bridge you have the best view on the three famous towers; the Belfry Tower, St Bavo’s Cathedral (home of the world-famous altarpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”) and St. Nicholas’ Church.
The Graslei is one of the nicest places in town to be at on a sunny day, not only for the many restaurants and terraces, but most of all for the nice atmosphere. Locals and tourists all gather to enjoy a drink and snacks. And all this in an amazing setting, next to the canal and with a view on the beautiful guildhalls.
On the Korenmarkt you cannot miss the Old Post Office. Do go inside. Nowadays it houses a Pain Quotidien, a Belgian chain of bakery-restaurants, that serves delicious food, a supermarket and trendy shops such as Sissy Boy.
The Castle of the Counts dating from the 10th century is also located in the city center. You can hear more about the castle when you book a boat trip on the canals or watch it from the Veerleplein. Or you can visit it.
On the other side of the street, you’ll find the Tourism Office, next to the Old Fish Market. The friendly crew will do their uttermost to answer your questions and hand over city maps, including the useful Use-It map (with tips from locals) for those young at heart.
The Patershol neighborhood consists of many small streets where you can walk into five centuries of history. There are many restaurants situated in the old houses and it’s the perfect place to wander around in the evening, and have dinner. What about having a drink afterwards at Rococo, a cozy candlelight bar?
You haven’t been to Ghent if you haven’t’ seen the Vooruit. This historic masterpiece was once the event location of the labor movement. You can either have lunch or dinner (veggie options available), or attend a cultural event. It’s one of those places where everybody feels directly at home. And the hip terrace is one of the best in town.
Strolling to Ghent you can’t miss De Krook, the new impressive city library. Best time to see it is at dusk when it is illuminated.
Already lots of people find their way to our Grafitti Street. Officialy called the Werregarenstraat, it is a narrow street in the city center where artists are free to spray paint the walls as they like. The artwork changes constantly.
Coffee & cake, healthy lunch or gastronomic dinner
Once again Ghent has it all. Being named the Vegetarian European Capital, you can imagine it has its share of veggie and vegan options. Our favorite is Barbiet, a cozy place owned by Maxime & Christophe who serve original, flavorful, international-inspired meals.
Ready for some people watching on a terrace, accompanied by an organic drink and snack? Moor&Moor is the place to be. Owner Yves wanted to bring back the local grocery store. And with success!
Coffee is always a good idea and Ghent will neither disappoint on this subject. Het Moment, with barista Valentina serves a nice cuppa coffee and has two terraces (one courtyard) or Full Circle Coffee, completely vegan with snacks from local entrepreneurs.
Madam Bakster, owned by Laura, student entrepreneur of 2016 and boyfriend Kobe, serves delicious homemade vegan & guiltfree cakes.
At Simon Says, a coffee bar in the Patershol, the nice crew takes care that you’ll never leave without a smile.
But Ghent is also where the Flemish Foodies started, offering a creative rock & roll food alternative to the classic restaurant scene. OAK, J.E.F.F. & Publiek are all part of that movement, each with its own very specific touch. For more gastronomy VOLTA and its stylish bar is a good option. Or go to stylish Pakhuis, good value for your money and an impressive setting. Reservation is essential.
If you have no clue what to eat, you might want to go to the Holy Food Market, where young entrepreneur Ladislas, created his version of a mercado as seen in Barcelona, Lisbon and other cities, in an old abbey. It will be difficult to choose between Lebanese, Russian, Italian, Malaysian and other specialties.
Being in Belgium, chocolate is probably on your mind, don’t forget to pay a visit to patissier & pastry chef, Joost Arijs to see and taste his wonderful creations. For sweet cravings, Julie’s House is also a favourite with her famous cupcakes.
Beer lovers can visit the Gruut City Brewery, founded in 2009 by Annick De Splenter. The Trollekelder, near the St Jacobs church, is the place to be for Belgian Beer tasting. It is a cosy old-fashioned pub with more than 200 different beers.
At the Ajuinlei you will encounter the book market and the little book caravan selling coffee, or if you prefer an apéro, Apéro d’Oc is the perfect place, even better if you are able to grab a chair in the sun.
On the Kouter there is the flower market, adding even more colour to the city. And there is the beautiful bookshop Paard van Troje where you also can have coffee. Ready for more? Go to the cozy flea market at Sint Jacobs (also on Friday and Saturday mornings). At café Montparnasse you’ll think you’re in Paris while you enjoy a coffee on their cosy terrace.
If you have a bicycle you might want to have a ride to DOK Gent. It is the spot where locals meet to have a drink in the garden while the kids play but it’s also the place to be for concerts, exhibitions, flea market on Sunday and more.
On the water
Ghent is definitely a city to see from the water. Different companies offer boat tours on the canals. Or you can rent your own boat, there is even a company who rents electric boats. No licence needed. The city of Ghent organizes guided canoe or kayak tours, where you sail from picturesque Afsnee to the city centre.
Or do your own thing and rent a kayak at Kajaks Korenlei.
In the mood for shopping? Avoid the Veldstraat and Langemunt, where you will only find those big brands which you can find in every big city. Instead go to the Mageleinstreet, Korte Dagsteeg & Voldersstraat for the nice boutiques. Onderbergen also has some nice ones, such as Illinois, with comfy streetwear, A.PUUR.A offers beautiful clothing & interior objects and Huiszwaluw and Ydee with trendy interior wanna-haves. At last the Vlaanderenstraat has some fancy shops for the fashionistas. Don’t miss Twiggy, a multibrand boutique for men and women. Their experienced staff will help you find what you are looking for.
Looking for a present? Then I would recommend, Helen B, a tiny shop near St Jacobs, that sells handmade (by Helen) porcelain and other cute stuff, made by her friends.
Silence in the city
I don’t know about you, but I love to discover parks and hidden quite places on my trips. My favorite zen places in the city are the Stiltekamer (Silence room), a space filled with plants, sofas an most of all silence, in the pop-up NEST in the former city library, the beguinages, the orchard behind the St Peters Abbey (great place for a picnic too), under the Weeping Willow in the Lievekaai and the COURTYARD OF HOTEL D’HANE STEENHUYSE (this summer the EAT LOVE restaurants will have a pop-up bar at this location).
Eva Mouton (Ghent artist) drawing showing how Dutch women communicate (versus Flemish).
There is so much to see that maybe you won’t get the chance to see the inside of a museum. Nevertheless, here are some recommendations for museums.
Huis van Alyn is located in the only remaining almshouse. If you want to experience how people live in the 20th century. This is the museum for you. There is also a lovely courtyard and café. Recommended to visit with kids.
STAM is the museum telling the story of Ghent from medieval times until the flourishing creative and cultural city it has become. After your visit you can relax in the cosy STAMcafé.
The Design museum offers an international design collection. It is located in the Jan Breydelstraat, a typical street in Ghent with charming restaurants and shops.
S.M.A.K. ever surprising and unique is where to go for contemporary art. It is located in the Citadel Park, perfect for a stroll after your museum visit.
Best places to be for music and drinks in the evening are Vlasmarkt, Oude Beestenmarkt and Bij St Jacobs. In the mood for cocktails and tropic atmosphere I would recommend Hasta Mañana or Polé Polé in the Lammerstraat. Or during the Gentse Feesten, the whole city!
So many great things to see and experience, but honestly what makes this city so special are the people! Easy-going and friendly, they will make sure you will feel welcome and make your visit unforgettable.
Text: Véronique & Mike
Photos: Mike & Véronique