The sixth-largest city in Belgium, Ghent has around 200,000 residents and boasts history, culture, and architecture that you’d expect to find in a much larger metropolis. Due to its size and location, you can experience a city that exhibits an intriguing fusion of open cosmopolitanism and the calm of a provincial town. Ghent is a historical city. It was one of the wealthiest and most influential cities in Europe in the Middle Ages. Viewing the majestic architecture of churches and wealthy traders’ homes, one can see the effects of this rich history. Ghent is the most underrated city in Belgium, but if you choose to visit Ghent, you will not be disappointed – the city feels like a fairytale.
The best time to visit Ghent is in April because of the favourable weather, low travel costs, and the absence of the busiest holiday times. Plan your visit to Ghent around this period if you want to make the most of your daytime activities since July typically has hot weather and crowds. Ghent also has a gorgeous Christmas Market, so if you’re going to check it out, visit Ghent in December!
The people from Ghent are called the Noose Bearers – This was because of a cruel emperor who found Ghent’s citizens guilty of betrayal. The city’s privileges were lost, and its citizens were forced to walk barefoot, dressed in a white tabard, and with a noose over their necks. The residents of Ghent have earned the moniker “noose bearers” ever since that fateful day. To remind the citizens of Ghent of their rebellious past, a statue of a person holding a noose mockingly gazes at the Prinsenhof today.
The majestic medieval Gravensteen Castle was only ever seized once—by students protesting the rise in beer prices – a school group entered on November 16, 1949. The students locked up the lone guard on duty and then blocked the door with a big fruit cart. The beer price had to be reduced back to 3 Franks a glass after it had just increased to 4 Franks, according to banners hung from its towers.
The spitting fire dragon on the belfry was apparently stolen – Legend has it that one night, residents of Ghent stole it from the top of Saint Donatian’s Cathedral in Bruges, a competitor city, and put it atop their belfry. Some claim that Bruges residents took it from Constantinople. Others argue that it would have been removed from that Cathedral by the Count of Flanders Baldwin IX! How did the enormous, fire-spewing dragon get to Bruges?
To get the most out of your visit to Ghent, follow these top recommendations for things to do in Ghent on your one-day itinerary in Ghent, Belgium!
This stunning gothic Cathedral is where you can hear some of Europe’s best organ music. Built between 1350 and 1520, it’s one of only four Gothic churches in Flanders that have kept their original structure to a large extent. The stained glass windows are spectacular, the statue of Saint Bavo towers over the entrance, and the central aisle has an enormous chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
One exciting thing about this Church is its great pipe organ with 147 stops; if you’re lucky enough to be in town when someone’s playing, don’t miss it! After visiting the Cathedral, you can check in to the nearby Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel Gent.
The Belfort is a belfry in Ghent, Belgium. The building was initially constructed around 1230. In 1453, its bell tower was built to a height of 66 meters by Jacob van Thienen with an octagonal stairway. Today the tower has six bells that are still in use and are rung every day at noon. They can also be heard on Sundays between 10 am-1 pm for a service inside the Church. Yes, there are a lot of steep, narrow stone steps to climb, but the reward is the vista from the top. There are places to stop for photos and a little break on the way up.
The perfect way to get acquainted with historic Ghent is a tour of Gravensteen Castle. This castle has been protecting the city for 1,000 years and is one of only three castles surviving from medieval times. If interested in architecture and history, consider booking a tour with one of its expert guides.
Tours usually last about an hour and include interesting facts about Gravensteen’s past uses; watch out for ghost stories! After your visit to Gravensteen, take a walk along the Roeselare Canal and admire some of the most beautiful examples of Art Nouveau homes that are located here.
This Church is a classic example of Brabantine Gothic architecture. Its intricate carvings and stunning stained glass make it one of Ghent’s most famous buildings. The best way to visit Saint Nicholas Church is during services on Sunday or Wednesday morning when you can see the congregation singing hymns.
If you don’t have time for a full service, be sure to at least admire its soaring bell tower. It houses six bells that chime out beautiful melodies every hour. These bells are called The Marrow Bells because they are made from melted-down artillery used during World War I. After Church, try some Belgian food at Du Progres.
The STAM—or City Museum—is a must-see when visiting Ghent. The museum was designed by architect Gunther Van de Velde and features an extensive collection of medieval weapons, suits of armor, ceramics and more. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays, and 10 am to 6 pm on weekends. If you have time, also try The Museum of Fine Arts. This museum has a collection of over 40,000 pieces, including Dutch and Flemish paintings from various periods and an impressive selection of Belgian and international modern art.
One of our favourite places to visit while in Ghent is Sint-Pietersabdij, St. Peter’s Abbey. This medieval monastery sits on a hill overlooking much of Ghent and has fantastic views for visitors to enjoy inside and outside its grounds. The Abbey is still operational, so you can go inside and explore more of it should you be interested.
Ghent, a hilly city with winding streets that are great for exploring on foot, also boasts street art that’s as good as any museum. Graffiti Street is an outdoor gallery full of murals by local and international artists; these beautiful works show off surreal styles and dreamlike worlds. The best way to experience Graffiti Street is to follow it from start to finish—the first few pieces are within walking distance.
A city within the city, Patershol is a labyrinth area that is undoubtedly highly distinctive, mainly due to some of the homes’ structures and their typically Flemish flooring. This neighbourhood is very calm and has some hip little stores and eateries away from the bustle of the city centre. There is a lot of character everywhere you look, and if you want to have a great dinner in Patershol, try Klaverblad or Boon.
If you’re into metal, visit “Kinky star” – a metal/punk bar where bands are also frequently playing. Another live music spot is Hot Club pub, and if you’re into electronic or dance, try Compass Club or Charlatan.
Where to Stay In Ghent
Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel Gent
Brabantdam 33 Brabantdam 33, Binnenstad, 9000 Ghent
The Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel Gent in Ghent offers speedy check-in and check-out, allergy-free rooms, a restaurant, free WiFi throughout the building, and a bar. The Ghent Christmas Market is a 400-meter walk away. This hotel offers family rooms as well as a terrace for visitors. The hotel offers its visitors a 24-hour front desk, room service, and luggage storage. The accommodations include a desk, a refrigerator, a minibar, a coffee maker, a shower, and bathrobes. A private bathroom, slippers, and bed linens are provided in every room.
Pillows Grand Boutique Hotel Reylof Ghent
Hoogstraat 36, Elisabethbegijnhof-Papegaai, 9000 Ghent
The Pillows Grand Boutique Hotel Reylof Ghent offers rooms with lofty ceilings, expansive windows, original artwork, and a modern aesthetic. The air-conditioned rooms and suites include a Nespresso coffee maker, a smart flat-screen TV, and a wireless sound system. Reylof features a medieval courtyard garden with a patio and a spa pool. The garden beautifully combines with the terrace of the gastronomic restaurant LOF, offering cuisine with Flemish influences from around the world. The Living Bistro & Bar, a dining option at Grand Hotel Reylof, is also available.
1898 The Post
16 Graslei, Binnenstad, 9000 Ghent
1898 Boutique Hotel In the centre of Ghent, The Post provides lodging in an iconic, historic structure. It is located in what used to be a post office. The Kitchen serves an American breakfast buffet, a variety of light dishes that are fresh and in season for lunch, and handcrafted pastries for afternoon tea. A cocktail bar within the hotel is called The Cobbler, after a particular cocktail shaker style. The hotel’s top-notch bartenders offer a wide variety of inventive cocktails and an excellent tapas and specialties menu. The hotel also has a 57 m2 conference space with a boardroom layout that can accommodate up to 10 people with the ability to schedule coffee breaks or light meals.
You can always arrange an entertaining day trip from Ghent if you ever run out of things to do locally. You have a lot of possibilities because the city is surrounded by exciting locations perfect for this kind of activity. Here are some of our favourite day trips from Ghent:
Take the train to Bruges early, and you can be back in Ghent by night. Your itinerary for Belgium should definitely include a stop in Bruges for various reasons. Bruges is a terrific destination to stop because of its natural beauty, history, and opportunities for people-watching, indulging in beer, and visiting museums. Have a look at our itinerary for Bruges before you go on your day trip!
Brussels is much more than just a metropolis of government and politics. It is a location with a beautiful culture, a lengthy history, tremendous diversity, and contemporary art. Even if you only have a day to spend in Brussels, visiting here will be a treat for all your senses. The flavours, sounds, and fragrances are so rich but never overpowering. Exactly right. So put on your walking shoes and get ready to explore a truly captivating city. Check out our Brussels itinerary for more information!
After Brussels, Antwerp is the second most populated city in Belgium. It is a modern, cosmopolitan metropolis with a rich artistic and cultural heritage that permeates every pore. Due to its advantageous location on the Scheldt, it was able to gain strength and notoriety during the Middle Ages, eventually developing into a prosperous city that could afford magnificent churches and sustain a thriving cultural scene. Visit the city’s numerous museums, galleries, clubs, and cafes, whose vibrancy matches the movement, colour, and sensuality. Read more about Antwerp here!
- All the locals will chat your ear off in any bar or cafe!
- Visit Gentse Feesten, a 10 day festival in July (Jul 18-27). Cost: free. This festival takes place in the city centre and is one of the only ones like this in Europe. Concerts, street performers, dancing, etc., are all spread across the city centre. It’s not uncommon for people to be partying until 9 am.
- Take it easy on the heavy beers – they tend to fall between the 7.5 to 10.5 alcohol percent range, and they hit fast!
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Romi is a llama coach from Split, Croatia. This sounds made up but it’s true. She lived in Toronto, Canada for about ten years, give or take, but she wasn’t working with llamas. She was working in PR, restaurants, daycares, one yoga clothing store. She doesn't know how she got that job as she has never done yoga at that point. She taught English in Colombia and Vietnam. Traveled the world for two years. Then she got into writing. Actually, she was always writing, but then someone paid her to write. Then more people paid because they saw she was making them money. Then it became a thing she does for a living. And here we are now. Specializing in travel, real estate, and digital nomad guides, familiar with SEO, and always ready to learn something new so she can branch out and take over the world.