Home City Breaks Discover the best things to do in Ghent, Belgium’s hidden gem

Discover the best things to do in Ghent, Belgium’s hidden gem

by Kat

Earlier this year, I spent five days exploring Belgium. Just a short trip from London on the Eurostar, Beligum has loads to offer and is extremely well-connected by train. It’s quick and easy to get around, even if you’re limited on time. I visited Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels in the short time I was there, but my favourite city by far was Ghent – a city that effortlessly blends historical charm with vibrant modern culture. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, art lover, or simply looking for some pretty streets to meander around, there is plenty to do in this underrated European city.

Explore Gravensteen Castle

A visit to Ghent wouldn’t be complete without exploring the Gravensteen Castle. Known as the “Castle of the Counts,” this medieval fortress dates back to the 12th century and offers a fascinating glimpse into the region’s history. We were recommended to get the audio tour by the tour guide on our riverboat trip (more on that below), and it did not disappoint. It’s narrated by a famous comedian in Belgium and it’s genuinely really funny, as well as being informative. The castle’s battlements also provide lovely views of Ghent, making it a must-visit for history buffs and photographers (or if you just fancy a laugh!)

Climb the Ghent Belfry

When I go away the one thing I love to do is climb a tall tower for a great view, so needless to say, this wasn’t the first belfry we’d climbed on this trip. However, it was the one with the best view. Gent Belfry stands at 91m, is the tallest belfry in Belgium and an iconic symbol of the city’s independence. Climbing the belfry’s 366 steps rewards you with a sweeping vista of Ghent’s medieval architecture and bustling streets. However, the good news is that (unlike Bruges) there is a lift up the last third! On your way up the tower, you also get to see the dragon weather vane and the impressive carillon with its 54 bells, which regularly ring out across the city.

Take a boat tour

Ghent is a city intertwined with waterways, and one of the best ways to experience its beauty is through a boat tour. These tours offer a unique perspective on the city’s historical buildings, charming bridges, and picturesque canals. As you glide along the water, knowledgeable guides share captivating stories about Ghent’s past and present. If you’re lucky, you might also get a very entertaining tour guide – ours had a wonderfully dry sense of humour and earned himself a generous tip from everyone!

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Visit Saint Bavo Cathedral

Saint Bavo Cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and an essential landmark in Ghent. Its stunning interior, with soaring ceilings, intricate stained glass windows, and exquisite artworks, is quite something to see. It is also home to a world-famous Renaissance artwork named, ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers. The piece has a fascinating history, with various panels having been lost and stolen a number of times (some are still missing). It was one of the artworks considered significant enough to be stored in the salt mines during World War II to protect it from bombing. Following the end of the war it was recovered by the Monuments Men and returned to its rightful place in the cathedral.

Stroll through Graffiti Street

For a taste of Ghent’s contemporary and creative spirit, head to Graffiti Street, officially known as Werregarenstraat. This ever-changing canvas showcases the talents of local and international street artists. The colorful murals and bold graffiti transform this narrow alley into a vibrant outdoor gallery. It’s a fantastic spot for photography and offers a striking contrast to the city’s historic architecture.

Visit Saint Nicholas’ Church

Another architectural gem in Ghent is Saint Nicholas’ Church, a beautiful example of Scheldt Gothic style. Located in the heart of the city, this church dates back to the 13th century and boasts an impressive facade, soaring towers, and a serene interior. Like so many of the churches in Belgium, this one also has an abundance of stunning stained glass windows, plus Its central location also makes it a convenient stop while exploring the city’s other attractions.

Ghent is a city that captivates with its rich history, stunning architecture, and vibrant culture. From the medieval allure of Gravensteen Castle to the modern artistic expression in Graffiti Street, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. In the space of just a couple of days it definitely made its way into my top 10 European cities.

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