With its medieval town square, picturesque waterways and sky-scraping belfry, Ghent is cut from much the same cloth as nearby Bruges. But the port city has a personality all of its own, thanks in no small part to its university crowd that keeps things lively and interesting. A day trip from Brussels is a no-brainer: direct and frequent trains from Midi station take just half an hour. But it’s worth staying a day or two to soak up the city’s laid-back, bohemian atmosphere. Evenings here are particularly enticing: though its historical centre is compact, Ghent packs in an impressive number of cocktail dens, gin bars and top-notch jazz joints.
To get your bearings, start with an amble along the Graslei and Korenlei, two elegant quays lining the banks of the Leie river. Housed in an imposing 18th-century mansion, the Design Museum is worth a visit for a quick glance at the history of Belgian design. With its moat, fortified turrets and underground dungeons, Gravensteen Castle – the Castle of the Counts of Flanders – is impossible to miss. Once you’ve explored its 11th-century grounds, make time for a wander around the neighbourhood. From tempting bakes to street art and inviting bars, here’s our pick of the best of modern-day Ghent.
Just beyond Gravensteen’s crenelated walls, this bijou café’s squeezed into one of Kraanlei’s narrow townhouses. It’s known for its namesake owner’s bakes, from red-velvet blondies to slabs of speculoos cheesecake. Portions are generous, so arrive hungry. If you can find a table, it’s an excellent spot for brunch – which, come the weekend, spans French toast, pancakes and more.