More eclectic than its neighbours Antwerp and Bruges, Ghent dares to mix up the genres and blur a few boundaries. Roman, medieval 19th century industrial and uber high-tech contemporary design blend in a unique and harmonious way. The birthplace of Charles I & IV of Spain who was to rule over much of Europe, Ghent is the cultural capital of Flanders and the second largest port in Belgium.
Get the feel of Ghent as you stroll along the Graslei in the medieval town centre. This was the old port area, and you will see some interesting historic houses beside the river Lys. Blend in with the locals: sit for a while at a cafe and watch the world go by. There are numerous beautiful churches in the pedestrianised centre, take your pick. The Saint Bavo Cathedral, with its monumental Gothic tower, contains some rare treasures, including the famous Ghent Alterprice by the van Eyck brothers, which is one of the most important alterpieces in Europe. Several of its panels were fought over by Germans, French and Belgians, and at one point the whole alterpiece was seized by Hitler. The early Gothic Saint Nicholas' Church, much of which dates back to the 13th century, is built of gunmetal grey stone from Tournai and boasts some impressive flying buttresses and an important organ.
Perhaps it's because it is isolated by the waters of the Lys and the Lieve that time seems to have stood still at the Gravensteen , or "Castle of the Count". Built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace, it was the residence of the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century. Its impenetrable walls rise sheer out of the water, and with its battlements and round towers perched up high, it is a historical gem.
The nearby medieval streets of the Patershol are stuffed with traditional and local restaurants.
After dark, Ghent resembles a fairytale city, particularly during the Festival of Light in winter. Artists and engineers create a magical route which guides you through the historic centre.
During the Ghent Jazz Festival in July, you'll hear all kinds of styles rubbing shoulders: from classic to contemporary, just like the city itself, the eclectic styles serve to complement each other. If there's an unmissible moment in Ghent, it's got to be the Gentse Feesten music and theatre festival, where you'll find over 700 performances, numerous special exhibitions, guided tours and a huge firework display, all in celebration of the glorious cultural life of Ghent.
De gare à gare