Ghent city breaks
Explore Belgium's best-kept secret
Making the most of your weekend in Ghent
Often overlooked in favour of Bruges and Brussels, Ghent's mix of medieval architecture and museums – not to mention its striking castle – should put it high on the list for a weekend away.
And that's before you sample the waterfront bars and cafés, summertime boat trips or twinkly wintery lights, and of course the local Belgian beer.
Recently, Ghent's also been leading the charge in meat-free eating. Veggies and vegans will be spoilt for choice, especially on Thursdays, which is a city-wide 'Veggie Day'. Take your pick of vegan buffets and friendly bars serving veg-packed smoothies, juices and shakes.
It's easy to visit Ghent with Eurostar. Simply book an Any Belgian Station ticket, then switch to a local train when you arrive at Brussels Midi/Zuid.
Things to do in Ghent
Wondering what to do in Ghent? Whether you're into ancient monuments, art and artefacts, or watching the world go by from a waterfront café, this pretty medieval city has it all.
There are things to see in Ghent at every turn and the city's quite compact, so follow your nose and you can't go far wrong.
Sint-Veerleplein 11, 9000
Looming menacingly over the River Leie, Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts) is hard to miss.
The current castle dates back to 1180, when it was the residence of the Counts of Flanders. After the Count moved away in the late 14th century, the site spent nearly 400 years as a courthouse and a prison.
There, the accused were held in dungeons, tortured and 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, with its imposing tower, is one of Ghent’s most recognised landmarks.
Inside, you’ll find all manner of religious artefacts and even a whale skeleton. And don’t forget to look out for one of the most famous paintings of all time, The Ghent Altarpiece.
Widely known as the first great oil painting, its history is marred by intrigue and scandal. It's been bought and sold all over Europe, damaged by fire and is one of the most stolen artworks of all time.
Graslei and Korenlei
Graslei and Korenlei are the streets that trace either side of the River Leie in the middle of the city.
Both banks are popular with tourists and locals who want to take a stroll by the river, have a pint with friends or simply people-watch.
Punctuate your walk with drinks and snacks at the restaurants and cafés along the way, or grab something to go and head to St Michael’s Bridge to admire the view.
Rising high over Korenmarkt, the Belfry has served several purposes over the years; first as the city's document store and then as a watchtower.
These days, the bell (nicknamed 'Roland') no longer chimes to warn locals of impending danger, but to mark each hour, along with a cheerful carillon of 54 bells, if you stop by on a Sunday morning.
Climb the stairs to enjoy the view from the top, or hop in the lift, if you'd rather not navigate the narrow spiral staircase.
Best insider tips for Ghent
Explore the city's street art – Check out Ghent's top graffiti spots by downloading the Sorry, Not Sorry Street Art Map.
Tuck in to traditional Belgian food – Gentse Waterzooi is a delicious creamy chicken or fish stew, while Kroakemandels, heavily salted peas deep-fried in oil, are found at most Ghent festivities.
Try the local brew – After a guided tour of the Gentse Gruut brewery, stop for a sample of the local speciality, gruut beer. Made with herbs not hops, it's an ancient brew enjoying a modern revival.
Step back in time – Vintage-lovers should visit the House of Alijn to learn about typical Belgian family life in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Bag a bargain – if you're after cut-price shopping, head to the popular Vrijdagmarkt (Friday market). Be sure to get there early as it closes at 1pm.
Best restaurants in Ghent
When deciding where to eat in Ghent, you can opt for everything from fresh seafood to Michelin-starred dishes, via creamy cheesecakes and of course, the city's famous vegan scene.
So pack your appetite and let's explore a few of our favourites.
Kraanlei 13, 9000
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 Biscoff cheesecake.
Portions are generous, so arrive hungry. If you can find a table, it’s an excellent spot for brunch or afternoon tea, complete with delicate finger sandwiches and the option of a glass of fizz.
De Blauwe Kiosk
Despite being a fair few miles from the sea, Ghent is known as one of the best places in Belgium for oysters.
While you could stop off at a restaurant to indulge, De Blauwe Kiosk will make for a more memorable meal.
Head to the Kouter on a Sunday morning to soak up the fragrance of the flower market, stroll in the sunshine and pick up fresh oysters and champagne at the quaint blue kiosk.
The former newsstand is now something of a Ghent icon, and you'll find the surrounding tables crowded with locals and visitors alike every weekend.
Brabantdam 100, 9000
In a bid to decrease meat consumption, in 2009 Ghent declared every Thursday 'Veggie Day'.
The idea caught on, and you'll now find most restaurants in the city offering tasty vegetarian and vegan dishes through the week.
Using fresh, locally harvested veg, the team at Lokaal whip up a delicious sharing menu every evening, along with a simple, ever-changing lunch option and their famous BlikiBurger (a vegan take on the traditional Belgian Bicky Burger).
K. M. Hendrikaplein 6, 9000
With a focus on organic veg, fair trade produce and locally sourced ingredients, this friendly, plant-based café is a delicious pit-stop during a day out in Ghent.
Stop off for a hearty soup or sandwich, or hit the colourful buffet and pay by weight for what you eat. Big appetite? Grab a golden plate and dive into all-you-can-eat vegan goodness.
While you're there, wet your whistle with a homemade lemonade or explore the beer and wine list.
Hoogstraat 167/001, 9000
Headed up by Italian-Brazilian chef Marcelo Ballardin, this one-Michelin-starred hot spot serves up internationally inspired dishes, blending classic Italian flavours with the freshness and spice of Asian cuisine.
The seasonal seven-course dinner menu features five exquisite starters, followed by a main and dessert, or you can pop in for a five-course lunch.
Everything's served up in a relaxed, modern setting where pretensions are left at the door.
Frequently asked questions about taking a city break in Ghent
Ghent castle is open every day from 10am to 6pm, with the last entry at 4.40pm. Kids under 12 go free and there are discounts for groups, schools and students.
When you travel with Eurostar to Ghent, you can save money by booking your train and hotel together.* Find out more
You can buy tickets on arrival, but to avoid the queues and be sure you'll get in, book in advance online.
A five-minute stroll from Gravensteenyou'll find Werregarenstraat, an officially designated space for the city’s street artists. Stretching two blocks, the cut-through’s become a kaleidoscopic, ever-changing canvas, where even the pavement’s scrawled with tags.
Cross the other fork in the river and a short stroll will take you to the Tinnenpot Theatre. This Tardis-like cultural complex boasts a freewheeling programme covering everything from experimental theatre and cabaret to classical recitals, via flamenco and foot-tapping fiddle quartets – with tickets very reasonably priced.
For a drink with a view, head to De Alchemist, right at the foot of the castle. On sunny afternoons, its pavement tables are perfect for people-watching, while candles flicker in the cosy, wood-panelled bar. There are Belgian beers on draught, but the specialty here is gin, with a connoisseur’s array of blends.
Like most cities, Ghent can be enjoyed throughout the year. The summer brings warm days and waterside strolls, along with boat tours and rafting trips. And in July, Gentse Feesten hits town, with ten days of music and theatre at every turn.
With winter comes the traditional Christmas market, usually accompanied by a Ferris wheel and a merry-go-round or two. And of course the opportunity to cosy up with some warming, traditional Belgian foods like Gentse Waterzooi, a delicious creamy stew with chicken or fish.
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Once one of Europe’s leading cities, Ghent still has much of its ancient charm, with narrow cobbled streets, quirky shops, friendly cafés and a packed event calendar.