by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:18th April 2023

A Flemish city of culture, counts and chocolate

Visiting the delightful Flemish city of Ghent in Belgium is a must for your Flanders itinerary. Ghent is full of charm, warmth, and stunning architecture, and that’s before I even mention the meandering waterways.

Whether you’re heading to Ghent for the day or exploring the city at a more leisurely pace, you’ll find so many fascinating things to see and do in Ghent.

If you love discovering ancient cities, visiting castles and museums, or indulging in the local beer and chocolate, Ghent has you covered. There is something for everyone within these historic Flemish streets.

The city of Ghent is striving to lower its effect on the environment. It has the largest low-traffic pedestrian zone in Europe. This means strolling the ancient, cobbled lanes of the old town is a pleasure and a joy; all you’ll need are comfy shoes.

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I’ve compiled 15 must-sees for Ghent, and I’m sure you’ll discover some little gems for yourself.

Where is Ghent?

How to get to Ghent

- By Train
Start creating your own Ghent adventure by train and discover the cultural delights of this picturesque city at a relaxed pace. Explore the sites amongst the charming city streets.
In just under 3 hours from the UK, you can hop on the Eurostar to Brussels, change onto a Belgium National Rail train to Gent-Sint-Pieters, and your Flemish fun begins.

- By Car
If you’re venturing from the UK, jump on Le Shuttle and tour Belgium under your own steam.
Alternatively, it’s so easy to visit Flanders on a road trip. Rental Cars search multiple well-known car hire brands and find the best deals that suit you.

I love nothing more than planning a trip and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books.  I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

We used a previous version of this book to plan our Brussels mini-break, now you can grab the revised copy.

I can almost guarantee that as soon as you arrive in Ghent, you’ll head to the Old Town to admire the stunning architecture along the banks of the River Leie.

The two waterside quays along the Leie are Graslei and Korenlei. Although these striking quays were bustling today with visitors centuries ago, the two medieval ports would have been thriving with wrangling wealthy merchants and hard-working seafarers.

A view of the Graslei in Ghent, Belgium, at dusk from Grasbrug bridge across the River Leie
The Graselei

The magnificent gabled buildings that line the quays originally date from the Middle Ages. However, during the 18th and 19th centuries, these eye-catching façades were modified and restored as you see them today.

Dotted all along the quaysides are tempting cafés and bars, so ensure you spend a little time relaxing and enjoying an alfresco experience while admiring the stunning architecture and watching the world pass by.

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Before continuing, I thought I would inform you about the ‘CityCard Gent’. This handy travel card allows you free access and discounts to many of Ghent’s attractions and open travel on trams and buses in the historic city centre.
A selection of leaflets and Two Gent CityCards laid out on a table to provide plenty of inspiration for our visit to Ghent.
Visit Ghent with a CityCard Gent

The CityCard Gent is currently, as of 2024, €42 for 48hrs and €48 for 72hrs. We found it to be incredibly good value and easy to use. We hopped from one attraction to another throughout our visit.

If you’re feeling energetic, the Ghent city card also lets you rent a bicycle free for a day. We skipped this offer for fear of embarrassment.
Throughout this post, I’ll let you know where you can use your Citycard Gent.

Where to stay Ghent

Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere

Hotel Monasterium PoortAckere was a former 19th-century monastery located along ‘Oude Houtlei’ and was an incredibly peaceful day and night. The delightful hotel is only a five-minute stroll to the heart of historic Ghent.

We visited Ghent as part of a Flanders road trip, so the on-site car park was perfect and was chargeable at €25 per day.

Take a peek at our posts on the delightful cities of Mechelen and Leuven.

Following on from point one and keeping with the waterways theme, let’s jump aboard a guided boat tour and discover Ghent’s fascinating history at a relaxed pace.

We felt that the boat trip around Ghent’s waterways is almost an essential experience to embark upon. The guided boat tour is full of fascinating historical facts and handy tips for exploring Ghent on foot. It was also reasonably priced at €9.50 per adult.

A sight-seeing boat between the Korenlei and Graslei sides of the quay in the centre of historic Ghent.
A boat trip

Our boat tour was with De Bootjes van Gent and was offered in a choice of languages and lasted around 40 minutes.

I love a boat trip at the best of times as you gain a completely different perspective on a location. All the while taking onboard snippets of historical information while cruising along the charming waterways.

On the trip, you’ll sail along the River Leie, passing by the medieval merchant’s buildings along Korenlei and then meandering onto the Lieve canal, passing by the eye-catching Castle of the Counts.

This boat tour is included in your ‘CityCard Gent'.

Tourist Information

If you’re tempted to visit Ghent, the local tourist office provides some highly useful information and handy pointers for around the city. They can be found at Sint-Veerleplein 5 in the old Fish Market.

We also found that the Visit Flanders website gave some extremely handy pointers when planning your trip to Ghent.

The centrepiece of Ghent is the ancient, moated Castle of the Counts, also known as Gravensteen. Good news this visitor attraction is included in your CityCard Gent.

The Castle of the Counts certainly packs a punch and stands so boldly in the heart of Ghent. The Gravensteen has witnessed many footsteps pass through its gatehouse, some friends and some foe.

The striking castle has undoubtedly had a turbulent life. It is now the only remaining medieval moated castle within the region of Flanders with its defences intact.

The Gravensteen stone medieval castle is a must-see in Ghent, Belgium. This view is of the water in front of the castle walls with the keep in the centre.
The Castle of the Counts in Ghent

The Castle of the Counts can trace its roots back to Roman times when it was a settlement on the river. However, in the Middle Ages, the castle was transformed from a wooden fortress into a sturdy citadel; built entirely of stone.

The Counts of Flanders were responsible for the extensive makeover of the castle. They erected the 24 prominent towers, which you can still see today.

Visiting the Gravensteen was one of the highlights of our trip to Ghent, and the tour was brought to life by the audio guide included in the visit. I’ve never experienced an audio guide so entertaining; it was voiced by the Flemish comedian Wouter Deprez.

If you’re heading off on a Belgium adventure, then grab a copy of this DK Eyewitness book. I love planning road trips and these guides are so helpful.

I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more of the back roads.

If you’ve seen the famous movie Monument’s Men starring George Clooney, then you’ll be familiar with the turbulent journey and the tale of ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, Ghent’s Altarpiece.

We highly recommend you use your CityCard to obtain a discount on the AR (augmented reality) tour of the Ghent Altarpiece. The AR experience was one of the highlights of our trip; this isn’t usually something we would do; however, it was incredible. You almost felt like you could touch the images in front of you.

The Ghent altarpiece behind its protective screen in St Bavo’s Cathedral.
The Altarpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent

The world-famous masterpiece ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ was painted by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck in 1432.

As you are effortlessly guided around the cathedral's crypt, the artwork's story is told in fascinating detail throughout the augmented reality tour. All 18 biblical panels are explained, just as if the artists were inviting you into their studio.

The back of Janis wearing her AR headset while experiencing the tour of the Mystic Lamb in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent.
On the A.R. tour in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent
As the A.R. tour concludes in the cathedral’s central nave, you can see the splendid triptych fully restored in all its glory. It is an astonishing masterpiece, and unbelievable that it has survived many centuries and many thefts.
While exploring a city, it wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t search out the local street art and statues, and Ghent certainly has its fair share. We love ambling around the streets spotting the resident artwork; it is often so vibrant and can also tell quite personal stories.
Amateur street art along ‘Graffiti Street’ in Ghent, belgium
Ghent Street Art

Not only does Ghent have numerous pieces of street art illustrated around the historic city, but it also has its own ‘Graffiti Street’. Which is a must to visit if street art is your thing.

‘Graffiti Street’ is along Werregarenstraat, and this narrow alley is awash with the tiniest and the grandest of graffiti. If, like us, you love spotting street art, then download a copy of the ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’ street art map; as of 2023, you’ll have 223 to find.

Three little statues above a doorway of a naughty boy and his two sisters, better know as a Manneke and Meisje Pis in Ghent, belgium
Manneke Pis & Meisjes Pis

Did you know that it isn’t just Brussels that has a Manneke Pis? Ghent has one, too. His name is Nestor, and two Meisjes Pis squat on either side, who are his sisters Lena and Luna.

These three fun characters can be found along Kraanlei.

After visiting the Castle of the Counts and wandering along Kraanlei, stroll back a couple of lanes to the Patershol district of Ghent. This tiny region of Ghent truly feels like you’ve stepped back into the Middle Ages.
The quiet, narrow, cobbled lanes of the patershol district of ghent in belgium
Lanes around Patershol
Strolling around the narrow cobbled lanes, you feel like you’ve discovered another side of Ghent and one that is awash with history. Slender, colourful houses stand shoulder to shoulder, streetlamps hang above wooden doorways and gabled rooftops peer across at one another. You can only imagine the fascinating tales these ancient streets could divulge.
The facade of the amadeus restaurant in the patershol district of ghent in flanders
Amadeus in Patershol
Around the lanes of Patershol are some fun bars and restaurants, one restaurant in particular we enjoyed was Amadeus, the place to go in Ghent for ribs.

Yay, another historical sight you can use your Ghent City Card with. Ghent’s towering Belfry is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site and forms one of the Belfries of Belgium and France.

Three towers stand proudly in a row across Ghent’s skyline, and the medieval Belfry is nestled in the middle between St. Nicholas Church and St Bavo’s Cathedral.

The view of ghent's histroic cloth hall with the city's belfry in the background set against a deep blue sky
Ghent Belfry and Cloth Hall

The magnificent medieval tower stands around 310ft (95 metres) high and is the tallest Belfry in Belgium; at its feet is a stunning Cloth Hall built in 1907; however, the original Belfry was erected in the 14th-century. On the corner of the Cloth Hall is a jailer’s house.

Head to the top of the Belfry, and you’ll get to see the incredible view across the Ghent skyline and experience a similar sight that the local nightwatchmen would have seen centuries ago while on the lookout for fires.

Ghent has two art galleries located in Citadel Park, south of the historic city centre. The first is MSK – Museum voor Schone Kunsten; this delightful gallery is the oldest museum in Belgium and in 2023 celebrates its 225th anniversary.

The MSK Gallery is a museum of fine arts. It is home to many pieces of magnificent artwork by Belgium’s old masters and its modern-day contemporaries. There is so much to see in this gallery; you could easily spend hours exploring all the rooms and their collections.

Janis is looking at a painting in the Museum of Fine Arts, also known as MSK, in Ghent.
Enjoying the MSK in Ghent

Keep a look out for the different exhibitions which are on display in the gallery. We caught the collection from Albert Baertsoen, a Ghent born artist. I really enjoyed the many pieces of work by Albert Baertsoen, particularly his pieces of London during his time in London during WWI.

Just opposite MSK is the contemporary art gallery S.M.A.K. - Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele. Unfortunately, due to timing, we didn’t get a chance to visit S.M.A.K. Still, once again, its collection and exhibitions look fantastic.

Both MSK and S.M.A.K are free to visit with your Ghent City Card.

Ghent has many interesting museums to visit, from the Museum of Industry to the majestic Hotel d'Hane Steenhuyse, home of the wealthy d’Hane Steenhuyse family.

We headed to STAM, the Ghent City Museum, a wonderful place to discover heaps of in-depth knowledge about the medieval city of Ghent.

A room in the Ghent City Museum full of items from the renaissance period of ghent's history.
Inside the Ghent City Museum

Throughout the museum, you’ll uncover fascinating facts about the charming city from its ancient past through its cloth-making years, interweaving stories with its neighbouring lands and modern-day Ghent.

The Ghent City Museum has recently been refurbished, including new exhibitions, artefacts, and a children’s activity trail.

STAM is also included in your CityCard Ghent.

As Ghent has made a considerable effort towards lowering emissions, most of the historic city centre has been pedestrianised. This makes exploring the city on foot so easy; just keep a lookout for cyclists.

There is no better way to get to the heart of a city than grabbing some comfy shoes and taking to the streets. You really get a feel of the location and often spot some quirky aspects that you may have otherwise missed.

The Fish Market as seen from the Grasbrug bridge in the centre of Ghent at dusk.
Old Fish Market
The architecture in Ghent is beautiful, especially along the waterways; however, there are some truly delightful squares too. Just north of the historic centre is the grand square of Vrijdagmarkt, and opposite the Castle of the Counts is the picturesque square of Sint-Veerleplein (Old Fish Market). In Sint-Veerleplein, why not take a rest and enjoy one of the surrounding cafés? The tourist information is in this square too.
The modernist City Pavilion in the centre of Ghent, also know as 'the sheep pen'.
City Pavilion - ‘the sheep pen’

Another couple of charming places to visit are Sint-Baafsplein, a lovely open space in front of St. Bavo’s Cathedral and a few steps away is Poeljemarkt. It’s in Poeljemarkt that a modern twist has been added to Ghent’s architecture, and that is the ‘City Pavilion’ known locally as the ‘the sheep pen’.

I get the impression that the locals either love it or hate it, but it’s certainly a conversation piece.

A little further out of Ghent’s historic, bustling city centre is the tranquil Great St Elizabeth Beguinage; this peaceful community feels like a world away from city life. The Flemish Beguinages are recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Beguines were single women who lived in a self-sufficient Catholic community and took no religious vows. The ladies lived modest lives and supported the sick and disadvantaged within their surroundings.

The red brick buildings that line the lanes of Great St Elizabeth Beguinage on the edge of Ghent
The lanes of the Great St Elizabeth Beguinage

Although no religious vows were taken, the residents had to abide by the rules of the Beguinage whilst living there. They lived by the three main rules: obedience to their superiors, chastity, and austerity. The beguines also had to earn their own living.

You are free to stroll around the walled community, which is a place of peace and serenity. Incredibly in less than two years between 1873 and 1874, 80 houses, 14 convents, a chapel, a church, a communal house, and an infirmary were built.

Hopefully, you’re visiting Ghent on a mini-break and staying for an evening, as Ghent honestly does look stunning at night.

Many of Ghent’s historic buildings and bridges are illuminated of an evening, and the quaysides of Graslei and Korenlei look beautiful. All the distinctive gabled Merchant Houses are lit and look quite enchanting.

A view of the Graslei in Ghent, Belgium, at dusk from Sint-Michielsbrug bridge across the River Leie
The Graslei in Ghent at night

It’s such a pleasure strolling around the ancient streets by the Gravensteen, passing by the bustling square of Ghent’s old Fish Market at St-Veerleplein, and ambling beside the Lieve Canal and the River Leie.

And why not finish your evening in one of Ghent’s welcoming bars?

Without a doubt, when I think of Belgian cuisine, my immediate thought is of chocolate, and why wouldn’t it be? The Belgians make chocolate so well.

However, if I can drag myself away from the chocolateries, there are a few savoury dishes to be sampled; it’s not all frites and mayo.

A bowl of waterzooi stew, a typical flemish dish, served in ghent, belgium
A bowl of waterzooi

One particular dish I enjoyed was Waterzooi, a local Ghent stew. It was historically made with fish; however, chicken is now used, accompanied by plenty of finely chopped vegetables.

Gary and I can highly recommend a classic Belgian dish, a vol-au-vent filled with a creamy chicken stew, mushrooms, and also tiny meatballs; it’s rather filling but delicious.

And another super tasty dish is Carbonnade Flamande. This a rich beef and beer stew; it’s pretty hearty and perfect for the year's cooler months.

Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in Ghent

Ghent is committed to being an environmentally friendly city. Therefore, if you are driving your own vehicle to Ghent and it is not registered in Belgium or the Netherlands, then you will need to register it. Use the LEZ Gent website for peace of mind.

It is simple to do and free of charge; it is IMPORTANT to do this; otherwise, you will incur a fine. All the required details for UK drivers should be on your DVLA logbook/V5C document.

This is more Gary’s scene than mine; however, it appears that slow and steady is the name of the game when drinking Belgian beer, as their alcohol percentage levels are usually relatively high.
A glass of beer and a bottle behind a beer encyclopedia, or beer menu, inside a bar in the flemish city of ghent.
Belgian Beers

The locals genuinely appreciate their beers in Belgium. They appear to have a flavour and a style to suit every palate. Whether it’s crisp, a fresh beer you are after, a dark and punchy Trappist ale or even a fruity little number, you’ll find it in Belgium.

A couple of sour beers that Gary particularly enjoyed were the Rodenbach Classic and a Duchesse de Bourgogne.

Often Belgian beers are used in cooking, so it makes pairing your drink with your meal very easy.

Our video of Ghent

We have created a little YouTube video of Ghent.  Why not take a look?

Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

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This article was produced in partnership with Visit Ghent and Visit Flanders in exchange for an honest review and an account of our personal experiences.

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