As a day trip from Brussels (only a half-hour train), I’ve found that either many people haven’t heard of Ghent, preferring to explore the chocolate box streets of Bruges, or they adore Ghent so much that when a blogger (me) visits, they spam them via instastories with recollections of days spent there and memories made. True story. Disclosure: I was a press guest of VisitFlanders in Ghent, but all planning, mischief and thoughts are all mine.
Luckily an invite to explore Ghent appeared in my email inbox, so I gleefully accepted, hopping on the Eurostar one sleepy morning, and spending a long weeked gambolling through the streets (under blues skies and then grey clouds.)
As guests of the tourism board, we were given city passes which allowed us to hop on the local transport (trams & busses), pop in and out of the museums and climb aboard a canal cruise, exploring the city by water.
Galavant through the Gravensteen
We didn’t galavant so much as gallop up through the castle, so intent we were on completing a challenge to the top, but strolled back down through exhibitions. The exhibits share the history of The quintessential 12th-century stone castle, which comes complete with moat, turrets and arrow slits.
And the view from atop the towers? Well, it’s ok I guess.
Hop onto a canal cruise
Sit back, relax, and let the world glide by. The 40-minute tour included in the city card takes in the city by canal, led by a knowledgeable driver/guide and is a lovely way to get to know the city a little bit better. There are also other operators, a couple of whom offer picnics as you float through the medieval city.
I was so tempted to jump into the drivers seat. So tempted.
Explore the Street Art
With a thriving weekly student population, there is a fun vibe to the city (and loads of entertainment) but notably, the streets are strategically decorated with street art of every kind.
From local graffitti artists to commissioned works featuring medieval art…
…all the way through to intriguing statues lining the canals. It’s a feast for the eyes.
Nurture your sense of wonder and wander through a couple of museums
There are so many museums in Ghent that it was hard to choose which ones to visit. In the end, I let my feet decide and visited the Design Museum (which was also close to our hotel.)
It was intriguing, slightly mischevious and full of interesting exhibits.
We also nipped into the STAM museum to learn about local history, the medieval Sint-Pietersabdij Gent which has its own vineyard and classical art, and scooted up the Belfry for 360° views of Ghent city. There are also several beautiful churches that need to be visited to be believed, their spires soaring above the city majestically.
Tour the local breweries.
This is definitely a must-do, along with enjoying frites, eating local chocolate and nibbling fresh waffles under a mountain of freshly whipped cream. It’s the law.* (Fuller gastronomic guide to Ghent here.)
As a European city break, Ghent was a lovely combination of being able to relax and explore. For the most part we didn’t even need to hop onto transport, being able to rely on our feet to discover much of what the city had to offer visitors. For more inspiration, see the tourist site here.
Do you pre-plan your visits or see what happens when you get there?
* Not really, but if you don’t, you’re missing out.