The Medieval Gravensteen
The charming city of Ghent in Flanders offers so much for the weekend visitor that you’ll be entertained for your entire Flemish mini-break and yearning for more. Especially for their delicious chocolates.
One of the first historic locations we visited in Ghent was the eye-catching Gravensteen. The grand imposing Castle of the Counts sits majestically in the heart of Ghent’s old town and is one of Ghent’s most iconic and beloved sites.
A little piece of advice we’d like to share while visiting Ghent is to buy a ‘CityCard Gent’. The card allows free access and discounts to many of Ghent’s attractions and open travel on trams and buses in the historic city centre. You’ll be hopping from one attraction to another throughout your visit. If you’re feeling energetic, you can even rent a bicycle free for a day.
Off to the fortress we go and our first opportunity to use our Ghent City Card.
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.
The ascent of the Castle of the CountsGhent’s imposing fortress
The wooden fortress gradually started to deteriorate and became very ineffective for the continued protection required for a citadel.
The magnificent Castle of the Counts that stands today was rebuilt in the 11th-century by Phillip of Alsace. It was constructed on a grander scale of Tournai limestone and became quite an imposing structure.
Progress didn’t wane, the Castle of the Counts was built higher, and the moat was extended. Thus, making Gravensteen a motte and bailey castle, a stone gatehouse was erected separating the inner and outer bailey.
Philip wanted the Castle of the Counts to create a formidable impression, and the central tower grew higher. The encircling ramparts included a staggering 24 watchtowers.
The decline of the Castle of the CountsCourts, cruelty, and cotton mills
In 1353, once the Counts of Flanders no longer chose to use the Castle of the Counts as a residence, its tumultuous existence continued and, unfortunately its decline too.
The Castle of the Counts took on the face of many guises; from the 14th-century until the 18th-century, the citadel was used as a court and prison. The Gravensteen became the principal location of justice in Flanders.
Where to stay Ghent
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.
Arriving at the Castle of the CountsAn audio tour like no other!
Another piece of advice we offer is not to take advantage of the humorous audio tour, it’s included in your ticket price, and it is hysterical.
It is voiced by the Flemish comedian Wouter Deprez; I’ve never experienced an audio guide as entertaining. You’ll be climbing the ramparts and in the depths of the dungeons with a smile on your face.
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.
Exploring the Castle of the CountsHead to the towering rooftop
You’re free to discover the Castle of the Counts at your own pace; just pause the audio guide as you wish; I’m sure Mr Deprez won’t mind and soak up the ancient citadel around you.
As you wander from room to room, you get a true feel of the enormity of the castle; for some reason, the fortress appeared quite compact to me from the outside, especially since it is the heart of the old town.
There are so many elements of the castle to explore, and the exhibition in the centre of the tower with glistening knight’s armour and shimmering swords is fascinating. The whole museum is so well managed.
As you wend your way up through the narrowing towers, the old stone steps almost look polished with the amount of wear and tear they have endured over the centuries.
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.
From the dungeons to the rampartsA medieval treat
On a more positive note, ensure you allow enough time to circumnavigate the castle’s ramparts. All around the battlement, you’ll see the watchtowers that were once used to keep a lookout for the oncoming enemy. Today you can spy on the boat trips below, taking visitors off for a cruise around the rivers and canals of Ghent.
It’s great strolling around the ramparts of the Gravensteen; a visit to an ancient castle wouldn’t be the same without it.
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