Having previously only visited Ghent on short day trips from Brussels, I was really looking forward to being able to devote an entire weekend to this beautiful city. Flat and compact, the city is easy to navigate on foot, the perfect way to soak up the sights of Ghent’s medieval centre. An aimless wander through town brought us to the waterway which led to the picturesque Graslei, lined with historic buildings and terrace cafés. We were treated to a lovely view of the passing tourist boats while making our way to Ghent’s oldest building, the Castle of the Counts, and the impressive Great Butchers Hall.
With the arrival of dusk we ventured north of the centre and stumbled upon the Oudburg, a gem of a street with a distinct charm. Lined with a raft of coffee shops, restaurants and cocktail bars, the narrow street was busy with nightcrawlers, giving it a fun and happening feel. We stopped in at a cocktail bar called Jiggers, which had been recommended by our B&B host. With its closed door and simple signage it would have been easy to miss had we not been forewarned that entry could only be granted by ringing the doorbell. We were greeted by a friendly young man who led us downstairs to the tiny bar packed with well-dressed, good looking clientele. We felt quite pleased to have gained access to this sophisticated underground drinking spot to enjoy a pre-dinner drink.
The following morning started with a visit to the flower market at the Kouter, where we explored the rows of colorful stalls of fresh flowers, flower bulbs and plants while locals enjoyed glasses of white wine at the Blauwe oyster bar. Next was a visit to St Bavo’s cathedral to view The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the famous Van Eyck brothers’ masterpiece. Although only two thirds of the original work are on display (the missing panels are currently being restored and have been replaced by black and white replicas), no trip to Ghent would be complete without a paying it a visit.
By the time I had taken my seat on the train, eaten my sausage sandwich and removed all the crumbs from my clothes, we had already arrived in Ghent. As we exited the train station we saw thousands of bicycles parked outside. I have no idea how anyone actually finds their bike in those giant parking bays. Bicycles are the the city’s main mode of transportation, just like Amsterdam – after all, we were now the Flemish part of Belgium.
Ghent has a beautiful historic quarter. We spent the first few hours wandering around the old town where all the action happens, discovering little alleyways and streets filled with shops, bakeries and bars. In the middle of the historic quarter lie the three towers of Ghent. The Belfry (which gives you the best view of Ghent), St Nicholas’ Church and St Bavo’s Cathedral which houses the famous Ghent Altarpiece. You can get a great view of all three from St Michael’s Bridge. It’s easy to get lost while crossing all the rivers and canals, but you’ll enjoy it even more when you get lost and have to stop for a beer at one of the many bars scattered around the city.
The highlight of the trip for me was seeing the old town at night – you’re really missing out if you don’t spend the night here. The buildings lining the canal were magnificently lit up and looked like something you see on a postcard. The award-winning lighting plan showcases Ghent’s medieval buildings in a new way, and is perfect for a romantic stroll along the canals and bridges.
I really enjoyed our stay in Ghent. Although it was compact there is plenty to see and do to fill a whole weekend. My main tips for a visit here: bring your walking shoes, leave your map behind, and get lost in in this beautiful city.