If you haven’t heard about this intriguing city, then you are not alone. Ghent is probably one of Belgium’s most underrated cities, and it’s also one of the most aesthetically beautiful. Brussels, Bruges, Antwerp, they might be impressive, but as far as I’m concerned, they don’t have anything on Ghent. It’s always nice when you go to a place that exceeds your expectations, and that’s exactly what happened to me on my Ghent getaway. But, this was so much more than just “another trip” for us. We went to visit my boyfriend’s family (from his mom’s side). His mom is originally from Belgium but moved to South Africa in her teens.
It was a truly special trip and one in which we also got to explore one of the most beautiful European cities that I have ever been to. A stunning port destination located on the North-West side of Belgium, Ghent deserves so much more than just a one-night-stay. From beautiful castles to exquisite restaurants, tasty (and potent) beer to delicious waffles, and sparkling canals to beautiful architecture, you will be busy from dusk to dawn, for days on end. You will need at least 3-days for a Ghent getaway, if you really want to explore the city. Read further for my top suggestions.
Things to do on your Ghent getaway
We were very fortunate with the weather and took full advantage by going on a canal cruise. This was probably my favourite part of the trip. I’m a sucker for boats, sunshine, and water so this might not be for everyone, but it’s certainly one of the best ways to see the city. Because there are so many different boats, there is no need to book in advance. The canal cruise is also very well priced at only 7 EUR a ticket. You can simply show up on a sunny day and purchase your ticket from any of the companies located along the water. You will also have a guide accompanying you on the tour, giving you insight into the history of the city.
Gravensteen, also known as the “Castle of the Counts,” is another must-do activity to add to your list. At only 10 EUR entrance fee, you can’t really miss out on this. Dating back to 1180, this incredible structure now houses the Arms Museum and the Museum of Judicial Objects. Fascinating items include the guillotine and “Mask of Shame,” but for me, the best part is the 360 degree rooftop view of the city.
Another thing that you should certainly do, is try the local belgian beer. I’m not a beer drinker, but Peter is and he absolutely loved it. In fact, he’s made the big and bold claim that belgium has the best beer in the world (and we have been to Germany)! There are thousands of beers to try in this little country that is renowned for their beer. His favourites were Delirium and Duvel which each contained an alcohol content of 8.5%. Yes, the alcohol content in belgian beer is exceptionally high. It can range anywhere between 5% and 12%. Apparently it’s really good though!
You should also make your way over to Graslei & Korenlei, which translates to Grass Quay and Corn Quay. This is one of the most picturesque areas of the city and lies at the heart of Ghent. The quays stretch along the Leie river with Graslei and its medieval buildings on the right bank and Korenlei to the left. This area is surrounded by many cute little cafes and restaurants and is a great place to enjoy a cocktail or maybe a morning coffee. You can get some great photos here that really capture the essence of Ghent.
Lastly, if you find yourself on a Ghent getaway, you should have a meal at Restaurant De Graslei. Located close to the very charming Graslei & Korenlei area, you will find this exquisite spot. The food is amazing, the service is good, the setting is beautiful, the view is great and the prices are even better. We enjoyed a two course meal for just 13 EUR each. They have a wide-range menu that offers just about anything for anyone. We really enjoyed the restaurant and would definitely return next time we find ourselves in Ghent.
What to eat on your Ghent getaway
Where do I even start? Well, Chocolate, waffles, and crisp fries with mayonnaise – you can’t leave Belgium without trying these Belgian classics. Ghent is the place to be for a good time and great food. So really there is no better place to be in Belgium when it comes to stimulating your appetite.
Waffles are a belgian classic, but make sure that you get the real deal. You can obviously get waffles just about anywhere in the world but nowhere does it quite like the Flemish. However, we were warned about “tourist traps” that don’t quite do it the Flemish way. So be sure to find a proper waffle house. We went to Tea-room Wally in the city centre and it was incredible. The traditional belgian waffle is nothing like the calorie-laden version served with gallons of syrup in the rest of the world. Instead, in Belgium, the waffle itself is the treat, because it is so well made.
The crisp fries, often served with mayonnaise is another Belgium classic. Also known as pomme frites and Belgian fries, a similar version, is the french fries which, of course, are found all over the world. But again, nobody does it quite like the Flemish. The trick to belgian fries is actually very simple; they are double-fried. First they go through the cooking process, then they need to cool down and finally, just before serving, they are fried again to make them crispy and golden brown. The correct type of potatoes and choice of frying oil is also very important. Sounds tasty doesn’t it? That’s because it is. You will never want to eat McDonalds french fries again.
Lastly is the Belgian chocolate. Who doesn’t love chocolate right? Well, if you happen to be part of the worlds minority population that isn’t a fan, Belgium will probably change your mind. Once again, another thing that this tiny little country does better. Once you’ve tasted the Belgian chocolate, you will feel really cheated by your favourite, regular supermarket version. One of the best chocolate shops to check out on your Ghent getaway is Neuhaus. This is one of those rare local chocolatiers still making its wares in Belgium.
Getting to and around Ghent
Getting from the airport
We flew into Brussels airport and despite doing no prior research, found it relatively easy making our way to Ghent. If you are a little more organized than us, you can buy tickets in advance from Belgian rail. The train trip from Brussels to Ghent will cost around 16 EUR and should take you just under an hour, depending on where in Ghent you are travelling to. You can also fly into Bruges, from which you can expect a train trip of approximately half an hour, or Antwerp which would take you just over an hour on the train.
Bus and tram system
Once you are in Ghent, you should find getting around easy. There’s a bus and tram system that runs throughout the city. Tickets are cheaper if you buy them from the ticket machines, at a kiosk, or online, rather than directly from the bus or tram.
This is also a very walkable city. The walk from the main train station of Ghent – St. Pieters to the city centre will only take you about 20 minutes. Once you in the city centre everything is in close proximity and walking would be your best option for exploring.
Travel tips for a Ghent getaway
- Gentse Feesten: If you’re into the whole festival thing, then the best time to visit Ghent is July. During this time, the city turns into a massive festival where performances of every kind take place everywhere for 10 consecutive days. This is also a mostly free festival.
- Known as the vegetarian capital of Belgium due to the amount of places where you can find vegetarian and often vegan meals, Ghent is keeping up with the times.
- I found the flemish people to be exceptionally friendly. Also, the English seems to be good. So while it’s always great to learn a few local phrases, no need to stress about a language barrier.
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