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Ghent may not be as well known as chocolate-box pretty Bruges, but it is still a city worth paying attention to. Perfect for a weekend break, Ghent’s medieval architecture, museums and castles will give you plenty to see. History buffs will love exploring the less than angelic 12th century Gravensteen castle, notorious for its torture-filled past. If your tastes are less gruesome – there are plenty of fantastic views of the city to admire too. You can carry on your medieval escapades at the UNESCO world heritage site, Belfry Tower, to learn about the dragon and the history of the tower bells. 

Perhaps Ghent’s prettiest spot, Graslei and Korenlei offers a welcome respite from the city. Located on the river Leie, soak in the views with a canal boat cruise, enjoy a picnic and watch the sun set on St Michael’s Bridge.

If your stay happens to fall on a Thursday, then you don’t want to miss Donderdag Veggiedag aka “Veggie Day," Ghent’s all-day extravaganza of vegetarian dishes. Enjoy a vegan buffet at one of the many restaurants taking part or try out one of the veggie bars serving smoothies, juices and shakes.

Top 5 things to see and do

    • Gravensteen castle

      If you have time to see one castle, make sure it’s this one. Once used as a courthouse and a prison between the 14th and 18th centuries, the accused were held in dungeons, tortured by several different methods and even executed. The morbidly inclined will find the museum of torture devices on the top floor thrilling.

    • St Bavo’s Cathedral & The Ghent Altarpiece

      St Bavo’s cathedral, an 89-meter-tall Gothic building close to the city centre is one of Ghent’s most recognised landmarks. In this historical cathedral you’ll find religious artefacts, burial crypts and even a whale skeleton. Don’t forget to look out for one of the most famous paintings of all time - The Ghent Altarpiece -  also known as ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers.

    • Vegetarian restaurants

      In a bid to decrease meat consumption, in 2009 Ghent declared Thursday as “Veggie day” setting an example in Europe for encouraging healthy eating. Now you’ll find most restaurants offering tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu.

      Ghent has invested huge amounts of money into educating local chefs on the art of vegetarian cooking and students about the benefits of vegetarian food. So where to go?

    • Graslei and Korenlei

      The Graslei and Korenlei are two streets which reside on either side of the Leie river in the middle of the city. It’s a popular spot for tourists who want to take a stroll by the river, meet up with friends for a pint or simply people-watch.

      To make the most out of your visit, try sitting in one of the restaurants or cafes along the canal or grab a quick snack and head over to St Michael’s Bridge to admire the view.

    • The Belfry Tower

      The views from the top alone make this tower worth a visit. Located in the Korenmarkt, the UNESCO World Heritage site, Belfry Tower stands as one of the three towers of Ghent, next to Sint Baafskathedraal Cathedral and Sint Niklaaskerk. It has served several purposes over the years; first as city document keeper and then as a watchtower.

Local tips and insights

  • Check out the best graffiti spots by downloading the Sorry, Not Sorry Street Art Map, a guide of the city’s best street art.
  • Make sure to try some local dishes: Gentse Waterzooi, a delicious creamy chicken or fish stew and Kroakemandels, heavily salted peas which are deep-fried in oil and found at most Ghent festivities. 
  • Beer fans will enjoy visiting the Gentse Gruut brewery. If you have ever wondered how Gruut beer is made, this tour will give you the secret recipe and you'll even get to try some Ghent specialities like Breydelham, UUflacke and Gruut paté.
  • Vintage lovers should visit the House of Alijn museum to learn about a typical Belgian’s family life in the 1950s and ‘60s.
  • Shopping bargains will be found on the popular Vrijdagmarkt (Friday market). Be sure to get there early as it closes at 13:00.

Getting around

Public transport

The public transport system is well connected through a network of buses and trams. You can reach any destination you want from early morning to late evening.

You can buy tickets at a ‘Lijnwinkel’ or a ticket shop. You will also find ticket machines at Gent-Sint-Pieters railway station, Korenmarkt and Gent-Zuid. The same tickets can also be used for a day trip to Bruges or Antwerp. But before you get too excited – the tickets are not valid in Brussels. 

A €3.00 single ticket will allow you to make unlimited changes within 60 minutes. After that you can complete your journey but no longer make changes. Alternatively, a day pass (€6,00), three-day pass (€12,00) or five-day pass (€17,00) might suit you better.     

By tram

If you wish to travel by tram, lines 1,2 and 4 pass through the main city centre points.

Insider tip: If you want an all-in-one Ghent experience – it might be worthwhile buying the Ghent CityCard. It allows you to travel for free to all the top attractions and it includes one guided tour by boat and a one-day free bicycle rental.

You can buy the 48 hours CityCard for €30.00 and the 72 hours one for €35.00.

Image credits: © Shutterstock; © Shutterstock; © Stad Gent- Dienst Toerisme; © Stad Gent- Dienst Toerisme; © Stad Gent- Dienst Toerisme; © Shutterstock; © Shutterstock; © Stad Gent- Dienst Toerisme