I’ll be the first to admit I had never even heard of Ghent before visiting Belgium. When planning our trip, a friend recommended we spend at least a day here, so I booked a hotel room on a whim and told Alex, “We’re going to Ghent!” And it turns out, Ghent is one of the most charming European cities we have ever visited. It has such charm with its Dutch architecture, beautiful canals, and narrow cobble-stoned streets, mixed with up-and-coming hipster culture, largely due to the local university.
After losing (and reclaiming) Alex’s passport in Brugge, we should have known more misfortunate lay ahead. We arrived at the Ghent Train Station — an easy 20 minute train ride from Brugge, where we walked over to the tram to take to the city center. We boarded the tram and the conductor informed us we needed to purchase tickets right outside the tram door, so Alex took the luggage and I stepped off to buy tickets. (Spoiler Alert: this was a total rookie move.) As soon as I stepped off the tram, the conductor shut the tram doors and the tram departed the station. I couldn’t help but laugh, subconsciously realizing this was bound to happen, but then I remembered my phone wasn’t working and I had no way to contact Alex! I had sent him our Ghent itinerary with the hotel information, so all I could hope was he remembered this and we would meet at the hotel. Fortunately, he remembered the emailed I had sent him, and we were reunited about an hour later!
After checking into our hotel, we set out to explore. Immediately, we were blown away with how much bigger Ghent was compared to everything we read online. If I were to visit Ghent again, I would definitely stay at least 2 nights, and I wouldn’t visit on a Sunday or Monday. When you hear most sights, restaurants, and shops close early on weekends or aren’t open on Monday’s, don’t take this lightheartedly! (And closing early means around 4pm!)
Regardless, we were ready for an adventure, so away we went. Here’s how we spent 24 hours in Ghent, Belgium!
Crossing the St. Michael’s Bridge, we were welcomed with beautiful views of the medieval architecture of Ghent. We visited the St. Nicholas Church, which was actually hosting an Etsy Arts and Crafts Fair!
Another view of St. Nicholas Church.
The Stadshal (or city pavilion) is an interesting landmark in the center of town, hosting concerts, dance performances and markets.
Graslei and Korenlei Streets, along the Leie River. Our first day in Ghent was absolutely beautiful, with temperatures into the high 70s. So many people brought picnics and drinks and sat along the canal, enjoying local music and street art performances.
Canal cruises are also a great way to see the city. There were a surprising number of bachelorette parties hitting the water and cruising the city!
St. Michael’s Bridge.
Werregarenstraatje, or Graffiti Street, is a narrow alleyway in Ghent dedicated to street art — and it is open to anyone who would like to express themselves. The only rule is to respect art work “finer than yours.”
The art along Graffiti Street changes constantly and is never the same from one week to the next.
Graffiti Street also acts as an experiment for the city of Ghent — to see if having a street dedicated to graffiti would keep random acts of graffiti off historical or private buildings. So far, the experiment seems to be working.
And, surprisingly, Graffiti Street is free of garbage and debris!
One last shot at Graffiti Street.
We discovered this beautiful little cove after exploring the Patershol neighborhood (which is a must see neighborhood with so many cute restaurants, bars and shops, and largely untouched by tourists!) Pictured is Gravensteen Castle.
Views from the top of Gravensteen Castle. The castle dates back to the middle ages and served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders, until they were abandoned in the 14th century.
The castle has been used as a courthouse, prison, and even factory. The views are unparalleled from any other vantage point in the city.
Serving as a prison, the accused were held in dungeons and often tortured to extract confessions. Under medieval law, people had to confess before they could be found guilty, so torture played an important role in the history of Gravensteen Castle. You can visit the various torture chambers and view instruments used for extracting confessions.
Gravensteen Castle by night.
Where to Eat: I really wish we had had another night in Ghent! Patershol is an adorable neighborhood and is often referred to as the culinary heart of the city. We had a fantastic dinner at De Stokerij — but as in most other European cities, reservations are strongly recommended! As for breakfast…almost everything was closed (it was Monday), and we ended up grabbing a small bite to eat at a local coffeeshop, which turned out to be strictly vegan. (Needless to say, we were ready for a delicious meal once we arrived in Amsterdam that afternoon!)
Where to Drink: Brouwbar is by far one of my favorite bars in Europe! It is a small microbrewery, brewing beers on site, and the bar has a nice outdoor patio with great views of the Patershol neighborhood. The beers on tap constantly change, and there is something for everyone to enjoy. The bartender at Le Trappiste in Brugge recommended we go to De Trollekelder, a local brown beer pub with 15th century decor. We may or may not have also grabbed a cocktail at Le Bal Infernal, a used book cafe with delicious cocktails.
Where to Stay: As long as you’re close to the city center, you can walk everywhere! We stayed at the Grand Sandton Hotel Reylof, which was beautiful, but anything along the Graslei or Korenlei would also be central.
How Long to Stay: If you arrive early in the morning, one full day and night should be sufficient! But, it really depends on how much you plan to see and eat, and if you’d like to visit any museums. Also, don’t forget shops close early on weekends and many restaurants and major sightseeing attractions may be closed on Monday’s!
Transportation: We arrived by InterCity train, where we then took Tram 1 to the city center. Make sure you purchase your tram ticket before boarding and don’t get separated from your travel companion 😉