Not many consider Ghent as a city to visit during their time in Belgium. However, I am here to convince you that Ghent deserves a spot in your itinerary and makes for a wonderful day-trip from either Bruges or Brussels. If you want the charm of Bruges, without the crowds or a young, trendy bar and cocktail scene, then Ghent is the city in Belgium for you.
In this post, I am going to show you top 11 best things to do in Ghent in a day-trip!
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- What To Expect When Visiting Ghent
- How to Get to Ghent, Belgium
- Top 11 Things To Do in Ghent on a Day Trip
- 1. Admire the St. Michaels’s Bridge
- 2. Walk along the Graslei and Korenlei
- 3. See Ghent from a new perspective on a Canal Boat Tour
- 4. Visit the Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen)
- 5. Try Local Belgian Beer
- 6. Shop the Market at the Vridagmarkt
- 7. Climb the Belfry of Ghent for the Best View
- 8. Admire St. Nicholas’ Church Gothic Architecture
- 9. Visit the Altarpiece at Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
- 10. Try Local Belgian Dishes at the Great Butcher’s Hall
- 11. Visit the Design Museum Gent
- Map of the Top Things to Do in Ghent
- Where to Stay in Ghent
What To Expect When Visiting Ghent
Ghent may feel like a small city compared to Brussels, but it is actually the second largest city in Belgium. Much like Bruges, Ghent is a medieval town that will make you feel like you have transported to another time.
Due to its strategic location where the Leie and Scheldt Rivers meet, Ghent was one of the most important cities in Europe during the 11th through 16th centuries. If you can believe it, Ghent used to be a larger city than Cologne or Moscow!
Ghent is also a university town, so mixed in with all the medieval architecture, you will find some very trendy bars and places to hang out.
When visiting Ghent, you will hear Dutch, French and English all widely spoken. It is relatively easy to get by only knowing English, but learning a few phrases in Dutch would go a long way.
How to Get to Ghent, Belgium
If you need guidance on renting a car in Europe, check out my international trip planning guide.
However, my favorite way to travel within Belgium is by train! The country is very well connect by trains which are pretty cheap. Here are some of the most comment routes to get to Ghent by train:
Getting from Brussels to Ghent by Train
There is a direct intercity (IC) train that takes you from Brussels, Bruxelles-Midi station, to Ghent, Gand-Saint-Pierre station, in 28 minutes. This is the best and fastest way to get in between the two cities.
Train Cost: The Brussels to Ghent train costs about 10 EUR one-way.
Getting from Bruges to Ghent by Train
There is a direct intercity (IC) train that takes you from Bruges, Brugge Station, to Ghent, Gand-Saint-Pierre station, in roughly 30 minutes. This is the best and fastest way to get in between the two cities.
Train Cost: The Bruges to Ghent train costs about 8 EUR one-way.
Getting from Antwerp to Ghent by Train
There is a direct intercity (IC) train that takes you from Antwerp, Anvers-Central Station, to Ghent, Gand-Dampoort station, in roughly 50 minutes.
Train Cost: The Antwerp to Ghent train costs about 1- EUR one-way.
Top 11 Things To Do in Ghent on a Day Trip
1. Admire the St. Michaels’s Bridge
One of the best entrances to the city of Ghent is to walk over the St. Michael’s Bridge. From here you have a view to the north of the Graslei and Korenlei, and the Gravensteen, Saint Nicholas’ Church, and Saint Bavo’s Cathedral as a stunning backdrop. This is a great viewpoint to get introduced to the architecture of Ghent.
The canal boat tours are right around the corner from this spot – so definitely check it out!
2. Walk along the Graslei and Korenlei
The area on the right bank of the Leie River, the river encompassing the historic center of the city, is known as Graslei. The area of the left bank of the Leie River is known as Korenlei. This is described as the most scenic area in all of Ghent and was historically part of the medieval port.
Today, this area is a cultural center of the city, with a high concentration of cafés with outdoor patios, museums, and original medieval architecture. Make sure to take your time enjoying the architecture in this area, it is truly unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
3. See Ghent from a new perspective on a Canal Boat Tour
If you want to get off your feet for a while and see the city from a new vantage point, a canal boat tour is for you. From our experience, the guides are also extremely knowledgeable and conduct the tours in multiple languages. We did not make a prior reservation or purchase tickets in advance.
There are plenty of boat tours and operators that you should be able to join a tour without much planning ahead. Many of the tours pick up and drop off along the Graslei and Korenlei. You can read more about the different boat operating companies, locations, and pricing here.
We enjoyed our canal tour experience with De bootjes van Gent – Rederij Dewaele. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and they even provided us blankets to bundle up since it was a little chilly in February.
4. Visit the Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen)
The Gravensteen is a moated castle in the heart of Ghent that dates back to the middle ages. In the 10th century, the castle was built by Phillip of Alsace to resemble crusade castles he had seen during the 2nd crusades.
The castle has been largely restored since then and now offers tours of the inside. Make sure to visit the Museum of Torture and climb to the top for a great view!
5. Try Local Belgian Beer
Stopping for a local Belgian beer is a must for any stop in a Belgian city! A few bars in Ghent are worth a mention:
Dulle Griet, Vrijdagmarkt 50
With a selection of over 500 local and international beers, this cozy spot would be a perfect addition to any day trip itineray in Ghent.
Geus van Gent, Kantienberg 9
De Geus van Gent is located right next to the water just around the corner from Sint-Pietersplein which is a little further out from all the tourist areas. Here you can enjoy 20 beers from the barrel, a cozy atmosphere and live music.
Het Waterhuis aan de Beerkant, Groentenmarkt 9
Het Waterhuis aan de Beerkant is located near the historic Ghent city center and likely will pass by if you take a canal cruise. They sell many different beers, including three homemade brews, and have small snack plates including cheese and mustards to pair nicely with their beers.
6. Shop the Market at the Vridagmarkt
The Vridagmarkt is a major square in Ghent names for the Friday markets that have been held here since the middle ages. This is one of my favorite things to do in ghent if you happen to be in town on Friday, as the market still takes place even today on Fridays!
Make sure to try some local flemish dishes like frites or fries, which are often served with mayonnaise or mussels! Another specialty to be on the look out for is the Ghent Waterzooi which a stew made of fish or chicken, carrots, leeks and potatoes, herbs, eggs, and cream always served with bread. If you really like your veggies, make sure to try the Flemish white asparagus that is native to this region.
7. Climb the Belfry of Ghent for the Best View
The Belfry of Ghent, or Het Belfort van Gent in Dutch, is a UNESCO World Heritage that you cannot miss. Only a short walk from the St. Michael’s Bridge, it is open everyday from 10am to 6pm. Legend has it that a dragon has lived in the tower since 1377 and keeps an eye on the city. Climb all the way up the stairs for the best view over Ghent.
You can book your tickets to the Belfry of Ghent in advance here.
8. Admire St. Nicholas’ Church Gothic Architecture
One of the oldest and most famous landmarks in Ghent, don’t miss out on at least walking by the St. Nicholas’ Church when you are in Ghent. This isn’t hard to do because it is very centrally located to the St. Michael’s Bridge and the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral.
The central tower of the Nicolas’ Church used to serve as the observation over the city and carried the town bells until the neighboring belfry of Ghent was built. These two towers, along with the Saint Bavo Cathedral, still define the famous medieval skyline of the city center.
If you take a peek inside the church, make sure to check out the Organ. It is the treasure of the St. Nicolas’ Church and was built by the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
9. Visit the Altarpiece at Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
Located in the lively center of Ghent the spires of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral cannot easily be missed, even by the most distracted visitor. The main masterpiece that you can see within Saint Bavo’s Cathedral is the Ghent Altarpiece. The altarpiece was painted by both brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, the greatest painters ever in Belgium. In addition to the altarpiece, there is a manuscript which contains the four gospels. It is the oldest preserved book in Belgium from the 9th century.
In order to visit the Ghent Altarpiece, you can buy tickets online here. The cathedral can be visited without a ticket. Also, once you have exited the cathedral, make sure to walk by the statue of the Van Eyck Brothers nearby.
10. Try Local Belgian Dishes at the Great Butcher’s Hall
The Great Butcher’s Hall (or Groot Vleeshuis in Dutch) is a 15th century indoor meat market converted to a restaurant. The restaurant has a unique atmosphere with ham legs hanging from the original wooden ceiling.
You can find all kinds of local East Flemish dishes here that are native to this region. Check out the menu at the Great Butchers Hall.
11. Visit the Design Museum Gent
The Design Museum Gent is truly something to experience. The collection includes applied arts and design dating from 1450 to present, from all over Belgium and internationally. It is the only collection in Belgium to display an intelligible and coherent image of trend-setting design starting from Art Nouveau. The collection also includes Art Deco, Modernism, and organi-design pieces.
If this does not sound like your kind of museum, here are some other notable museums in Ghent worth a visit:
- Museum of Contemporary Art Ghent (SMAK)
- Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Fine Arts Museum)
- Stadsmuseum van Gent (Ghent City Museum)
Map of the Top Things to Do in Ghent
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Where to Stay in Ghent
If you want to stay in Ghent for more than one day, here are some great options for hotels to stay based on your budget!
1898 The Post – Luxury Hotel
Photo via Expedia.com | Book here
1898 The Post is a boutique hotel that is located in a historical post office building. Each room is thoughtfully decorated with antique furniture but a sleek-modern design. Each room has king-sized beds, high ceilings, and spa bathrooms.
There is a shared area, with an open fireplace overlooking Ghent. Here you can enjoy an American buffet breakfast, a selection of fresh and seasonal light dishes for lunch, and homemade pastries for afternoon tea.
The hotel also has a highly rated cocktail bar called The Cobbler. This is one of the coolest cocktail bars in town!
Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel Gent – Mid-Range Hotel
Photo via Expedia.com | Book here
This is an incredibly stylish and luxurious hotel with a terrace overlooking all of Ghent. There is a restaurant and bar on site if you feel like staying close to your room for the evening. If you are coming to Ghent by car, the hotel also offers private parking on site.
B&B Hotel Gent Centrum – Budget Hotel
Photo via Expedia.com | Book here
You can’t beat the location of this B&B for the price. Just a 3 minute walk from the city center, this hotel is a perfect place to call a home base for sightseeing. The hotel has all the basics, and based on the review the rooms and beds are very comfortable.
Hotel Astoria Gent – Budget Hotel
Photo via Expedia.com | Book here
A great budget hotel option, Hotel Astoria Gent is a family hotel located just 5-minutes from the train station. There is a quiet garden with terrace for guests to enjoy.
The hotel has a hotel bar for drinks and a lounge area to relax. Located slightly outside of the city center, you can easily reach the city center with tram 1 that departs from the train station.
I hope you have an amazing time in Belgium and Ghent! If you are planning a trip and have any questions, drop a note in the comments below. Have you recently been to Ghent and have any must-do’s to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
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