Complete Guide: 9 Exciting Things to Do in Ghent, Belgium
Ghent is one of the oldest and largest cities in Belgium. With quirky bars and restaurants to world class museums and medieval architecture, this city has lots to offer for all kinds of audiences! And in case you’re planning a trip to this wonderful port city soon, this guide is here to help you out. Scroll down to find my complete list of things to do in Ghent, as well as exciting info about where to stay, which tours to take, where to eat and more. Lots more!
Let’s dive right into it and find my best recommendations for the top things to do in Ghent:
Why visit Ghent, after all?
Never heard of Ghent before? Well, I’m sure you’re not the only one. But this means you have no idea what you’re missing! Ghent (or Gent in Dutch) is a charming city in Belgium renowned for its numerous classified buildings. If you ask me, it’s one of the top hidden gems of this beautiful country!
Even though you might not expect it, there are SO many things to do here – beautiful architecture, canals, and incredible food! Plus, Ghent is very pedestrian-friendly, which means you can visit all those incredible places during a long walk. I totally recommend spending more than one night in order to completely soak in everything that this wonderful destination has to offer. A weekend would be best!
9 Best things to do in Ghent, Belgium
Cathedrals, three impressive towers, canals, bridges, squares and more. Here are the best things to do in Ghent in my opinion:
1 - Gravensteen Castle
This is one of the landmarks of the city and definitely one of the best things to do in Ghent! Gravensteen Castle (or the Castle of the Counts) is an impressive castle to explore. It’s dating from the 12th century and it was built for none other than the Count of Flanders. In later years, it was used as a cotton mill for a short period of time.
The awesome thing is that the castle has been incredibly well maintained and is the only castle in Flanders to have an intact defence system and moat! There’s a lot to be explored here – the castle’s gatehouse, ramparts, keep, count’s residence and stables are all open to the public. I recommend you head down to the castles pantry as well in order to see the unique collection of torture equipment on show.
Price: 10€/person for adults. Kids under 18 years old can enter for free.
TIP: Don’t forget to check out the rooftop as well if you want an amazing view of the entire Ghent city!
2 - St. Bavo’s Cathedral
St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal) is another iconic cathedral in Ghent, dating from the 11th century! Why is it so famous? One of the main reasons is that Charles V (the Roman Emperor) was baptised here. Another reason is “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” which can be found here – an iconic Ghent altarpiece painted by Jan van Eyck and Hubert in the 15th century. It is said to be one of the earliest oil paintings in the world!
Price: 4€ to see the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Visiting the rest of the cathedral is free.
3 - St. Nicholas’ Cathedral
Yes, yes, another cathedral on my list of Ghent attractions, but they’re all worth it, trust me! St. Nicholas’ Cathedral dates back to the 13th century and is built in a Scheldt Gothic style. This impressive landmark is located in Ghent centre, in front of the Korenmarkt (Wheat Market), a beautiful square. By the way, the central tower of Saint Nicholas’ Church is one of the three main towers of Ghent and is an iconic part in the city’s skyline!
4 - Ghent Belfry
Prepare for the tallest belfry in all of Belgium and one of the best places to see a panoramic view over the city! The Ghent Belfry is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the three towers that overlook the city centre. At 91 meters tall, it is said that Ghent Belfry’s dragon (a copper one, not a real one for sure!) watches over the city and guards the belfry. Once used as the main watchtower of Ghent, visitors can now climb to the top of the bell tower for views of the city. Don’t worry though, you can take the lift to/from the first floor!
Price: 8€. You can purchase your skip-the-line ticket in advance here.
5 - St. Michael's Bridge
St. Michael’s Bridge (or Sint-Michielshelling) is another landmark of the city and a great place to go if you want to capture some postcard-worthy photos of medieval Ghent. Why is it so special? Here’s the catch: from this bridge you can spot most of the city’s main sites – Gravensteen Castle, St. Michael’s Church and the three famous towers of Ghent: Ghent Belfry, St Nicholas’ Church and St. Bavo’s Cathedral.
After going to St. Michael’s Bridge I also liked walking down the Graslei (river quay) to check the impressive architecture of the riverside buildings. A must-do!
6 - Graslei & Korenlei
A walk along Leie River is definitely well-worth if you want to see Ghent from a different perspective! Grasley and Korenlei literally means the “Grass Quay” and the “Corn Quay”. These two beautiful quays located along Leie River are located right in the centre of Ghent and they’re the perfect place to go for a cup of coffee and people watching. Plus countless photo opportunities, as this is one of the most photographed places in the entire city – and with good reason.
7 - Geeraard de Duivelsteen
Geeraard de Duivelsteen, also known as the Castle of Gerald the Devil, is a gothic castle from the 13th century. The building has survived through multiple renovations and has been used as a knight’s residence, an arsenal, a monastery, a school and a bishop’s seminary. Yes, it has an impressive history and it is definitely a must on your Ghent itinerary!
8 - Vrijdagmarkt
Vrijdagmarkt (literally meaning the “Friday Market”) is a place of history and tradition. This is one of the main squares in Ghent’s historic centre and, as the name suggests, you can find a market here each Friday – ever since the 12th century! The entire square is lined with 18th century guildhalls that are now home to restaurants and bars. In the middle of the square stands a statue of Jacob Van Artevelde, a man who sided with England during the Hundred Year’s War and died in the square in 1345.
TIP: While you’re there, you might want to consider a visit to Dulle Griet for a drink. They have a beer called “Max” that comes in a boot-shaped glass and I think that’s oh-so-Belgium! It doesn’t get any better than this when it comes to drinking a pint.
9 - Take a canal cruise
Okay, we’ve done quite a lot of walking on the streets of Ghent until now in order to take a look at the famous Saint Nicholas Church, the Belfry of Ghent and St. Bavo’s as well, but what if I told you there’s another way of exploring the city’s highlights? Yes, I’m talking about a canal cruise! Pick a sunny day and head over to the multiple locations in the city that organise canal cruises and start your adventure of admiring some beautiful buildings and learning more about Ghent city’s history. Or you can book your canal cruise in advance by picking one of my suggested tours below:
Extra things to see in Ghent to add to your list
Now that you know all about the best things to do in Ghent that are definitely unmissable even though you only have one or two days in the city, let me expand that list a bit and suggest some other unique things to see in Ghent if you have more time:
- Street art – Surprisingly or not, Ghent is full of awesome street art! The best place to go for numerous street art pieces is the Graffiti Alley and along the canals as well – or you can download this Street Art Walk and follow the itinerary. By the way, one of the most famous street muralists of Ghent is ROA and you can see his work all over the city.
- Great Butcher’s Hall – Unusual things to do in Ghent, anyone? This is a place of history, dating from the Middle Ages (15th century) where you can see various types of ham hanging from the ceiling. Everything’s made according to an ancient recipe! After you’ve seen the ham, you can buy some traditional regional produce on-site to take home as souvenirs.
- Citadel Park – A relaxing oasis to escape the tourist areas in the city center. Make sure to plan ahead, as the park is located around half an hour walking from the centre. You can find more info about it here;
- Hot Club Gent – A super nice jazz bar located in the centre of Ghent where you can go to listen to some music and drink some good Belgian beer;
- The House of Alijn – this is the only almshouse in Ghent, transformed into a museum. It’s one of the best places to go if you want to see how locals lived in Ghent in the past!
- Ghent Illuminated Walk – if you want to see Ghent in the evening/night where it is beautifully illuminated, then taking this self-guided walk is an excellent idea. Trust me, Ghent is equally beautiful at night! You can download the Ghent Illuminated Walk here.
- Ghent Festivities – if you’re lucky enough to visit Ghent in July, during Ghent Festivities (a 10-day cultural festival), then you’ll have SO much fun joining the exhibitions, concerts, street performances, parades and more. Plus lots of Belgian beer, of course. It’s well worth it!
- MIAT Museum – the best place to go if you want to learn more about Ghent’s industry – from 250 years ago until the present times.
BONUS: Best tours of Ghent
I know that there are SO many things to do in Ghent and just the thought of organising your itinerary may seem exhausting. So why waste precious time doing it when you can book some organised tours? I really love this idea and I think tours are an excellent solution because you’ll have an entire itinerary organised for you and you’ll also be joined by a professional local guide that will offer you lots of precious insights. It’s a win-win situation!
If this sounds like your type of thing, here are my recommended Ghent tours!
CITY TOURS IF YOU’RE ALREADY IN GHENT:
- Private 2-Hour Walking Tour – if you only have a short time in Ghent;
- 50-Minute Medieval Center Guided Boat Trip – if you want to see Ghent from a unique perspective;
- 3-Hour Guided Urban Mountain Bike Tour – a Ghent city tour for active travellers;
- Ghent: Discover Belgium’s Beer World with a Young Local – if you’re all about tasting some excellent Belgian beer!
- Authentic Belgian Cuisine: Cooking Lesson and Meal with a Local – for all the foodies out there;
- Private Chocolate Tour with a local guide – chocolate day, anyone?
DAY TRIPS TO GHENT:
Should you get a Ghent City Card?
Yes, there’s also the option of buying the Ghent CityCard and I think you should consider it if you know you’ll be spending more than one day in Ghent and you want to make the best of your time here.
Why is it a good idea? In short, the card offers you free entry to all Ghent tourist attractions and museums, a boat tour, plus free bike rental for a day. Sounds pretty good, right? The price is 38€ for the 48-hours card and 44€ for the 72-hours card.
TIP: If you’re planning on visiting Ghent on a family trip, I think there’s no point in buying the Ghent Citycard for the little ones as well, as people under 18 years old have free entrance to most paid attractions anyway.
Where to stay in Ghent, Belgium
If it’s your first visit to Ghent or you only have a couple of days to explore, you’ll want to stay in the city centre. This is where you will find the majority of the attractions in the city, all within walking distance. As Ghent is a less popular destination than Brussels or Bruges, you’ll be able to find some great value hotels – check out some of my best finds below.
MY EXPERIENCE: We stayed at the NH Belfort during our visit. The location is unbeatable, only a stone’s throw away from the city hall and easy to walk everywhere, making it one of the best hotels in Ghent. The rooms are modern and spacious and the hotel has underground parking which was a selling point for us as we were road tripping across Belgium.
MORE HOTELS IN GHENT:
Best restaurants in Ghent & what to eat
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you simply CANNOT go to Belgium and not indulge in their food. It would be a sacrilege! That being said, here are the most iconic, traditional foods to try while you’re in Ghent, plus recommendations for ah-mazing places to eat each of them if you want the “real deal”:
Etablissement Max – this is my go-to place for waffles in Ghent. They do the fluffiest classic Belgian waffles EVER and you can choose from different toppings to snazz them up. Personally, I’m all about the melted chocolate, strawberries and cream.
Frites Atelier may be the fanciest place I have ever been that specialises in fries, but wow are they good! They offer some of the best frites I have ever had (and that is saying something as I am OBSESSED with all things potato!). Famous for their gourmet sauces, you have got to try the deep truffle sauce, although their classic mayonnaise is also insanely good solo. In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger – I’ll be back!
TRADITIONAL BELGIAN FOOD
‘t Oud Clooster serves traditional Flemish dishes with a modern twist. The space is set up to be cosy with a speakeasy kind of vibe. Think cocktails and croque – T’Oud Closster is a great, trendy spot to taste some of Belgium’s typical flavours. The food is served in generous quantities so come with an appetite!
Bobonne Cuberdon. Cuberdons are the specialty sweet of Ghent. These pyramid-shaped treats come in multiple colours and favours, typically containing a jelly center with a soft raspberry inside. They are also affectionately called “little noses” due to their shape. You can find them in street stalls all over the city, but Bobonne Cuberdon is definitely my go-to place for these.
Cafe Folklore. Kroakemandels are deep-fried peas in oil, served with plenty of salt on top. They’re a delicious snack and a must-try while you’re in Ghent, especially during Ghent Festivities. Other than the festival, you can eat this snack all year round at Cafe Folklore.
Luv L’oeuf – this is an all-day breakfast place in the centre of Ghent with a focus of perfectly pretty presentation. Think avo toast, waffles and pancakes with drizzles of sauce, sprinkles of seeds and a scattering of edible flowers. Each plate is created to appease your eyes as well as your taste buds. This great place gets pretty popular so make sure you’re prepared for long queues or head there early to avoid them.
Le Botaniste. I love the menu at Le Botaniste; from green bowls of goodness, to hearty stews and fresh salads. They focus on healthy vegan options and even have a list of vegan wines to accompany your meal.
How to get to Ghent
First of all, where is Ghent located?
Ghent is located in the Flanders region of Belgium, in the Northwestern side of the country. It is actually the capital of East Flanders province and the third largest city in Belgium. Ghent is less than 1 hour away from Brussels Airport by train and it’s not far from Bruges and Antwerp either. It’s basically half-way between Bruges and Brussels, the capital.
And here’s a Ghent map so you can clearly understand its location:
If you were wondering how to get to Ghent from other cities of Belgium, here’s a breakdown of the distances, times and prices you’ll need to know in order to plan your itinerary:
HOW TO GET FROM BRUSSELS TO GHENT. 58 km. 30 minutes by train. Around 11€ for the one-way ticket.
FROM BRUSSELS AIRPORT TO GHENT. 55 km. 1h10’. Around 18€ for the one-way ticket.
FROM BRUGES TO GHENT. 53 km. 25 minutes by train. Around 9€ for the one-way ticket.
FROM ANTWERP TO GHENT. 60 km. 1 hour by train. Around 11€ for the one-way ticket.
TIP: In case you’re excited to discover more of Belgium and you want to take your time to explore this wonderful country, I recommend renting a car and doing a roadtrip. Personally, we took our own car across the Eurotunnel from London and visited Brussels, Ghent and Bruges along the way. I loved our experience on the roads of Belgium and I definitely recommend you try it too!
That’s it, this was my complete Ghent guide – one of the most underrated cities in Europe! People from all around the world travel to Ghent yearly in order to admire its cathedrals, canals and charming streets and to indulge in its amazing gastronomy. In case you decided to do the same, this article has everything you need to know before going! From what to see in Ghent to the best restaurants and hotels, I’ve compiled all the information I learned about this destination while I was there in this complete piece. Now you’re ready for the perfect Ghent city break!
I have two more things left to say: prepare to fall in love with Ghent. Irremediably. You’ll even want to go back. ASAP. Plus, get ready for a lot of walking, as there is so much to see and do!
If you want to explore more destinations in Belgium, I recommend clicking here to read all about my adventures in the heart of Europe.