10 Memorable Things to Do in Ghent: the Gem of Belgium | The Invisible Tourist

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” ~ Aristotle.

If you haven’t heard about this intriguing city, you’re not alone. I first heard about Ghent from a Lonely Planet guidebook as I was planning my first trip to Belgium. After a flicking through its chapter I quickly realised there were so many interesting things to do in Ghent – this enchanting city was demanding my attention!

Why visit Ghent?

When it comes to Belgium, you really can’t get much better than Ghent. Sure, we’ve all heard of the big drawcards offering up something unique: Brussels is home to European Parliament and comics, Bruges is the fairytale “Venice of the North” and Antwerp is Belgium’s historic diamond and Art Deco capital.

Despite no other city in Belgium having as many classified buildings as Ghent, you probably haven’t heard of her. So, where does she fit here?

You may be surprised to learn that Ghent (Dutch: Gent) is actually the largest city of the Flanders region in Belgium after Antwerp. This stunning port destination is located in the country’s north-west and easily accessible from numerous cities.

Ghent, Belgium

What to expect in Ghent 

Construction began in the mid 7th century due to the strategic location where the Leie & Scheldt rivers met. This meant that from the 11th to 16th centuries Ghent was one of the most important cities in Europe during the Dark Ages (and bigger than Cologne or Moscow!). Today, Ghent is bursting great food, beer and ample history to uncover if you give her the time.

The tourist board is right when they say “more than a one night stay” – there are so many things to discover, you couldn’t possibly do it all in a single day. From beautiful castles to famous fruity beers, intriguing architecture to sparkling canals, medieval structures and (strange to me) frittes with mayonnaise, Ghent has something for everyone. What’s not to like? If you’re as intrigued as I was, read on for more!

 This Ghent attractions and tourist guide will cover:

  • Top things to do in Ghent video
  • Where to stay in Ghent
  • Top 10 things to in Ghent
  • Bonus things to do in Ghent, if you have extra time
  • How to get to Ghent
  • Where to find more information on Ghent

This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

10 Memorable Things to Do in Ghent: The Gem of Belgium | The Invisible Tourist
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 Where to stay in Ghent

With a mid-range budgetHotel de Flandreis a gorgeous restored 19th century building in the heart of the city centre. Couldn’t beat the location! Rooms very clean, tidy and comfortable. Only a few moments walk to Graslei & Korenlei, Gravensteen and Patershol. My travel buddy and I had a great view of the Medieval Towers of Ghent from our window!

You can findalternative hotels in Central Ghent here.
Read more reviews and compareGhent hotel prices here.

ROOM TIP: If booking Hotel de Flandre, request a room on a high floor to be treated to the view below!

 

View from my window in Hotel de Flandre

16 memorable things to do in Ghent, the gem of Belgium

I recommend spending 3 days in Ghent to see all the sights below (including the bonus ones!) without having to rush so you make the most of your visit to this enchanting city.

1. Discover life in medieval Ghent at Gravensteen

Also known as “Castle of the Counts” in Dutch, this incredible structure was built in 1180. Today it houses the Arms Museum and the Museum of Judicial Objects. These display various weapons used in warfare and other contraptions used for punishment and torture during medieval times.

Interesting items include the guillotine and “Mask of Shame”. Not for the faint-hearted! To conclude your visit, make sure you go to the rooftop for 360° views of the city and one of the few places you can see the 4 Medieval Towers of Ghent piercing the skyline.

You can find out more about its fascinating history here.
COST: Adults €12

Gravensteen, Ghent

Things to do in Ghent: Visit Gravensteen

2. Admire the picturesque St Michael’s Bridge (Sint-Michielshelling)

Perhaps one of the most picturesque areas in Ghent, it’s a great place to gaze at the surrounding architecture and down the river to Korenmarkt (Wheat Market).

The angle of this bridge means it’s the only place you can see the Medieval Towers of Ghent – St Nicholas’ Church (Sint Niklaaskirk), the Belfry of Ghent and St Bavo’s Cathedral – all aligned for a great photo opportunity. Don’t forget your camera!
COST: Free

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3. Marvel at the beauty of St Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal)

This historic 11th century icon of Ghent was a major factor in my decision to visit. Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) was baptised there! 

This is where you’ll find The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. The significance of this alterpiece is definitely reason to visit as it was painted by the great masters Hubert and Jan van Eyck around 1432. Unfortunately the ‘Just Judges’ panel was stolen in 1934 and is yet to be found. 

You can take a closer look and find out more about the Ghent Alterpiece here.
COST: Adults €4

4. Be amazed by St Bavo’s Abbey (Sint-Baafsabdij)

Anyway, this abbey sure made up for the fact I couldn’t visit the cathedral. It was a very sobering feeling walking around these grounds knowing it’s history dates back to the 7th century. Unfortunately during the Revolt of Ghent in 1539 much of the abbey was torn down by Charles V. What’s left has been taken back by nature and it’s amazing that any of the structure is still standing!

St Bavo’s Abbey is not open to the public every day to help preserve it, so be sure to check here first.
COST: Donation

TIP: Please remember to “be invisible” and respectful during your visit to help preserve this gift from the past.

St Bavo's Abbey, Ghent

St Bavo's Abbey, Ghent, Belgium

5. Spot the iconic Ghent Belfry (Belfort)

Standing at 91m high makes this UNESCO World Heritage belfry the tallest in Belgium. During my visit it chimed out theme songs to The Simpsons and Pirates of the Caribbean, which echoed across the city. Pretty cool, huh!

You can also climb to the top for magnificent views and to see the copper dragon that has been watching over the city and guarding the Belfry since the 14th century! More info on opening times here.
COST: Adults €8.00

Ghent Attractions: Belfry (Befort Tower)

6. Enjoy a the sights along Graslei & Korenlei

Arguably the most beautiful place in the city, the Graslei (Grass Quay) and Korenlei (Corn Quay) lie at the very heart of Ghent. These quays stretch along the Leie river with Graslei and its unique medieval buildings on the right bank, Korenlei along the left.

It’s also considered one of the oldest locations in Ghent and is a popular meeting place with many café’s to be enjoyed today.
COST: Free

Things to do in Ghent: Graslei & Korenlei
A canal cruise in Ghent is a must

7. Go shopping amongst stunning architecture in Patershol

Patershol is a picturesque little neighbourhood beneath the Castle of the Counts dotted with restaurants and boutique specialty shops. The cobblestone alleys here have remained unchanged since medieval times which makes you feel like you’re part of a storybook – go and get wonderfully lost!
COST: Free

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8. Enjoy a drink or meal at Vrijdagmarkt

“Vrijdagmarkt” translates to Friday Market. You may have guessed by this title that market stalls have been hosted here each Friday since the 12th century. What a tradition! Today it’s a bustling meeting point for locals and visitors alike and market stalls are held on Friday mornings and Saturday afternoons.

Admire the buildings in the square and see if you can find one of the skinniest buildings in Ghent! Vrijdagmarkt has a buzzing atmosphere especially in late afternoon with cute Belgian pubs and restaurants in abundance. Keep an eye out for Tavern Dulle Griet, a famed café that serves more than 350 Belgian beers, the largest collection in Ghent!

What to eat? Be sure to try a traditional Flemish dish, “waterzooi“. This delicious meal originated in Ghent and is a Belgian delicacy!
COST: Free

Things to do in Ghent: enjoy a Belgian beer in Vrijdagmarkt

Which brings me to…

9. Try Local Belgian Beers

Beer is renown in Belgium and there are thousands to try. So if you aren’t a beer drinker, you’re actually going to love this. Yes, I know that sounds contradictory but hear me out! I’m not a beer drinker myself but in Ghent after one sip of a Lindeman’s Apple beer, I was hooked. By hooked I mean a bit OBSESSED!

It’s not heavy and doesn’t even taste like beer. Woohoo!

There are a variety of fruity flavours such as Raspberry (Framboise), Peach (Pêcheresse), and Cherry (Kriek). You can find Lindemans throughout Belgium but I enjoyed it more often in Ghent than I did in Bruges or Brussels. I think it was down to Ghent’s more relaxed atmosphere.

COST: Maybe your head!

TIP: Be warned – Alcohol content in Belgian beer can range anywhere from 5-12% so it will catch up with you faster than most other beers!

 Ghent Beer & Sightseeing Tour

One of the best ways to learn more about local life is though cultural experiences! If you’re a beer lover or want to sample Belgian beer whilst exploring the city, this Ghent beer & sightseeing tour will be for you.

Spend an afternoon bar hopping around hidden taverns throughout the city with a local guide who can also answer any questions you have about Ghent. To top it off, the tour includes a canal cruise and chocolate tasting, too. But if you prefer, this dedicated chocolate tour in Ghent could be for you!

Things to do in Ghent: Try Belgian Beer | The Invisible Tourist

10. Discover a different perspective of Ghent on a canal cruise

Canal cruises are a must in Ghent as they are a wonderful way to see and learn about the city from a local’s interesting perspective. Spending a few days in Ghent means you can choose a fine weather day during your visit to get the most out of the boat tour.

There are a few locations over the city where you can hop on board and your captain doubles as your guide. Simply choose a location, pay for your ticket, wait for the next boat and enjoy! If you enjoy being organised like me, you can purchase tickets in advance for a Ghent canal cruise here.
COST: Adults approx €7.50 ea

10 Things to do in Ghent: The Gem of Belgium | The Invisible Tourist

Canal Cruise

11. Citadel Park

If you need an escape from the bustle of the city make your way down to Citadel Park in Ghent’s south. Keep in mind it’s a leisurely 25min walk from the city centre or you can catch Trams 21 or 22 (18mins) if you prefer. More info on the gardens here.

12. Castle of Gerald the Devil (Geraard de Duivelsteen)

13th century fortress where the Devil never actually resided. The castle has a chequered past – Throughout history it has been used as a knights’ residence, an arsenal, a monastery, and a school and a fire station to name a few. More info here.

Castle of Gerlad the Devil
Castle of Gerald the Devil

13. Great Butchers’ Hall (Groot Vleeshuis) on Groentenmarkt

Restored butcher’s hall from the 15th century. Today you can see traditional Ganda hams hanging from the roof whilst you enjoy lunch or coffee with an assortment of local sweets.

14. Hunt down street art

Ghent has several street art hotspots where you can catch a glimpse of Van Eyck-inspired works, meander along Graffiti Alley, and spot creativity along some canals. Take a look at where to find street art in Ghent here.

TIP: To make things easy, take a street art cycling tour around the city with a local to show you hidden spots!

15. Enjoy a scavenger hunt around Ghent

If you love riddles, finding clues, solving challenges and love using your imagination, a self-guided scavenger hunt in Ghent may be up your alley! 

16. Saint Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk)

One of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, this 13th century church was constructed to replace an earlier Romanesque structure. Built in Scheldt Gothic style the church features blue-gray stone from the Tournai area. It is one of the 4 Medieval Towers of Ghent.

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How to get to Ghent

Ghent is easily accessible by train from Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp via Belgian Rail.

  • From Brussels: 30 minutes from Bruxelles-Midi Station. Cost: Adult €9.20 one way
  • From Bruges: 25 minutes from Brugge Station. Cost: Adult €6.80 one way
  • From Antwerp: 1 hour from Antwerpen-Centraal Station. Cost: Adult €9.90 one way

LOCAL’S TIP: If you’re arriving from Antwerp, alternatively you can stop at station Gent-Dampoort, which will shave 10 minutes off your travel time. It’s a nice 15 minute walk from there to the city centre and you’ll see all the towers approaching from that alternative angle!

You can buy tickets online in advance via Belgian Rail (be sure to confirm the prices there) or simply purchase your tickets at the train station, as I did without any issues.

More information on Ghent

If you would like more information about Ghent that may not be mentioned in this post, you can book a walking tour in advance. I personally made my own walking tour with the research I found, but if you prefer a guide you can find out more information here on different types of Ghent walking tours and more!

Overall, you can see Ghent is worth more that just one day of your time. With some of the richest medieval history in Europe, Ghent still continues to stun today and is very underrated in my opinion!

Have you been to Ghent? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below! If you’re after more inspiration, be sure to check out my all my articles on Belgium or Europe itineraries and guides.

If you found this helpful, please share it on Facebook, follow me on Instagram, TikTok or don’t forget to pin it to Pinterest!

Until next time,

The Invisible Tourist


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10 Memorable Things to Do in Ghent: The Gem of Belgium

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10 Things to do in Ghent: The Gem of Belgium | The Invisible Tourist
10 Things to do in Ghent: The Gem of Belgium | The Invisible Tourist
10 Things to do in Ghent: The Gem of Belgium | The Invisible Tourist

46 Comments

  1. Hi Alyse.
    My husband and I visited Bruges a couple of years ago and loved it.
    My favourite city in our six week trip of Europe.
    We are visiting Belgium again next April and wondering if we should go back to beautiful Bruges or visit Ghent?
    I would love your advice.

    1. Hi Toni, that’s so great to hear you enjoyed Bruges 😃
      I would say if you’ve done Bruges, definitely give Ghent a try. There is enough to spend 3-4 days there alone for a first visit!
      Personally, I had high expectations for Ghent and they were far exceeded, especially St Bavo’s Abbey. It’s remarkable history is worth a trip in itself.
      However if you’re heading back to Belgium, why not visit both! They are only 30mins apart via train, so you could pop back to Bruges one day and enjoy the nostalgia.
      I hope this helps and you have a fantastic time in Belgium again!

    1. I’m so glad you found them helpful, Colin! Thanks for your comment and I hope you have a wonderful time in Ghent 😃

  2. Great and beautifully described article. Ghent actually grabbed my attention during my trip to Belgium. Despite being Belgium’s oldest city, it is small enough to explore in a day but also big enough to experience a vibrant culture. This article helped me a lot planning a day itinerary to Ghent. Thanks!!!

    1. I completely agree, Alexander! So glad to hear this helped you plan your Ghent itinerary and had a wonderful time there. Thank you for your comment!

  3. Ghent was my favorite city in our week-long stay in Belgium and a surprising gem. A real and approachable city – with landmarks all around, very friendly residents, wonderful food and beer! The college gave it an extra amount of vibrancy. I would highly recommend.

    1. Ghent has such a welcoming vibe, doesn’t it? So glad to hear you enjoyed your visit! Thanks for your comment, Mike 😃

  4. We stumbled upon Ghent by accident. Our bike/barge trip was leaving from there. We had great beer and Kriek in the town square, walked along canals, and just generally enjoyed the lack of crowds in this Belgian city.

    1. Sounds like you had a wonderful and spontaneous time in Ghent 🙂 Really glad to hear you enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks for your comment!

  5. This is a great blog and we very much enjoyed Ghent until we were sold mouldy strawberries with a waffle. When we told the shopkeeper he threw them at my 63 year old disabled wife. Police were called. Read Trip Advisor as reviews indicate that this sort of behaviour is common as is over charging. Bullying behaviour has to be called out every time. Thanks

    1. So sorry to hear you had that experience, Mike! That’s no good and I hope it doesn’t tarnish your view of the entire city.

  6. Great article – Ghent has definitely made my list. I’ve mostly been exploring Asia, so I don’t speak any of the European languages (besides English!). How easy is the country to navigate if all you’ve got is English and Japanese up your sleeve?
    cheers

    1. So glad to hear Ghent has made your list, Hannah! I’ve visited a few cities throughout the Flanders region (Brussels, Bruges, Damme and Ghent) and found many Belgians I encountered spoke enough English that I could get my message across. Of course, I would always greet them in Dutch/Flemish (Hallo), and use Dutch/Flemish words for niceties such as please (alstublieft) and thank you (dank u).

      French is also widely understood in Flanders, but spoken more in the Wallonia region. If you’re heading to cities in Wallonia French will be more useful so I’d suggest learning a few little phrases. A majority of restaurants in the bigger cities have English menus as well. You be perfectly fine! 🙂

  7. Amazing architectures, probably one of the best I’ve seen. Imagine riding boats while watching wonderful views. I wish to visit this beautiful place.

  8. I have recently returned from a long weekend in Belgium with my partner. We spent a day in Ghent during the trip and I fell massively in love with the place. I totally agree with you saying you need more than a day and intend to return to explore and spend more time in this stunning city.
    I loved reading your blog (wish I had seen it prior to the trip) I’m totally inspired by the place after visiting but reading this fills me even more desire to go back.
    Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Katie! I’m so happy to hear you love my blog and you’re inspired you to go back to Ghent 🙂 I hope you enjoy your next visit even more!

  9. Thanks for sharing your tips on Ghent. I am travelling there in 2 weeks, and I hadn’t done any research on the city until now. Everything you suggested sounds great and my oldest son mentioned that it looks interesting. My husband and I are traveling with our 3 kids ages 9years, 5 years and 10 months. The walking tour sounds wonderful so I will check that out for sure. I stumbled across your blog via Pintrest. We are taking the kids to Morocco, Greek Islands and Spain in May so I’ll be checking out your blog for more tips!

    1. Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Erin! I’m sure your children will love Ghent, especially Gravensteen. It sounds like you have some wonderful trips coming up, good on you. I’m working on some content for Spain and Greece so I hope to see you back here soon 🙂 Have a wonderful time away with your family!

  10. This was so helpful, thank you! I was researching day trips from Brussels and Ghent looks like the winner – the architecture is insane!

    Natasha T.

    1. I am so happy to hear this helped you in deciding where to go for your day trip! The architecture was one of my favourite things about Ghent, I could just stare at it all day. Enjoy your trip and thanks for your comment, Natasha!

  11. We skipped Belgium on our last trip and this handy little guide alone is making me regret it. Our next trip includes Ghent, and I’m so glad!

    1. It’s an easy place to skip past but once you visit you realise there is so much there! Hopefully you’ll love Ghent as much as I did 🙂 Have a wonderful trip, Rob!

  12. Ghemt looking perfect to visit and love to explore this city. You just gave me a great reasons to plan a trip for Ghemt. Great.

    Thanks for sharing!

  13. Ghent seems like the perfect weekend getaway. I love the medievel architecture in your photos and would love to take in the 360 degree view from Gravensteen. I love that the belfry was chiming theme songs. How cool is that? I love communities like Patershol and can picture myself shopping in the boutiques. Definitely putting Ghent on my bucket list!

    1. You’re right, Heather! The chiming was a pleasant surprise, especially from a belfry that dates back to 1380 AD ? Glad to hear you’re adding Ghent to your bucket list!

  14. Can’t believe I had not heard of Ghent. It looks like a place I would love. Charming old buildings, beautiful abbey, and local beer!

  15. I love visiting old towns and cities of Europe and Ghent seems perfect for me! I love the old buildings, streets, churches and specially the fort. You captured it all beautifully 🙂

  16. Perhaps I should stop reading travel blogs! Every time I find a new city to put on my bucket list, I groan because I may never get to them all! Here is yet another place I had not heard of before. But now that I have, I’d certainly like to visit in person! I love the historic medieval buildings, and the art panels you described would be fantastic to view. What a great place to explore!

    1. You and me both, Tami! The more I cross off my bucket list the more I seem to add on there… Hrmm. If you’re a fan of medieval buildings then it sounds like you’ll fall in love with Ghent ? I hope someday you get to explore it too!

  17. Would love to visit here and try some local beers! I hear it’s even better than the german ones.
    The abbey looks really marvellous with all those details. From your pics, Ghent looks like a really charking destination!

    1. You’re right about the beers, Darlene! There’s something about Belgian ones that are more enjoyable (for me it was the fruit beers, heh). St Bavo’s Abbey is one of the most special structures in Ghent, in my opinion. I hope you get to visit someday!

  18. I’ve never been to Ghent but it seems similar to Bruges where it is really cute and quaint! I love the architecture of Belgium!

    1. I agree, Belgian architecture is a dream! It’s similar to Bruges but I felt it was a bit more laid back and less touristy. Thanks for your comment!

  19. I will admit that I have only heard of the name of Ghent but know nothing about it. All that beautiful architecture and that unbelievable abbey make me wish I was there now. Glad you recommended a free walking tour because I love those things. I always learn from the locals cool facts and unique places not known to most tourists

    1. So glad to hear I inspired you, Eric! You’ll just have to go and see it in person someday. And you’re right, walking tours are a wonderful way to see a city – local knowledge is key!

  20. I love GENT and have been there many times but my favourite thing to do there is to check out the bars beside the canal. So much to choose from (ale wise). And the locals are great. Love this student city 🙂

    1. The bars are great aren’t they? Especially with all the different types of Belgian beers to try as you say! Thanks for your comment 🙂

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