Weekend Guide to Ghent, Belgium – Top things to See, Do and Eat
Spend a weekend in Ghent and discover what this charming city has to offer!
Ghent (Gent in Dutch) is a historical city packed with numerous historical attractions and just about everything is easily within walking distance – it’s great when all the attractions are so close together! Walk along the cobbled streets of Ghent and admire the fantastic architecture, or stop at the many cafés and watch the world go by.
Having spent a weekend in Bruges a few years ago, Ghent has always been on our radar to visit. With Belgium being so accessible from the UK, via the Eurostar, we managed to snap up a great deal with Eurostar for our weekend away. Ghent is located to the north west in Belgium and allows fairly easy access to Antwerp, Brussels and the coastline via Ostend. If you’re looking for a city break or a romantic weekend away, then read on and check out our weekend guide to Ghent where we’ll show you the best things to do and see, and even where to eat in this wonderful city.
‘Europe’s best-kept secret’ - Visit Gent
Ghent is a little bigger than Bruges and what we immediately noticed, was that there weren’t bundles of tourists when wandering along the streets and little alley ways. It was like a breath of fresh air, without the struggle to see the famous Ghent attractions 😉 As the city is car-free, why not discover it by bike, by hopping onto a passing tram or take a boat ride as Ghent is also located on the confluence of two rivers, the river Leie and river Scheldt. You’ll also find that most of the top sights lie where the two rivers meet.
Where to stay in Ghent
There are so many places to stay in Ghent that you’ll be spoilt for choice. For hotels, aparthotels, B&B and apartments, check out rates and availability on Booking.com.
Ganda Rooms & Suites
We had an amazing stay at Ganda Rooms & Suites – we highly recommend staying at this small boutique hotel ideally located close to all the top Ghent attractions. This is one of the best romantic hotels to stay in the city. Even if you’re not here for the romance, still you should book this hotel and enjoy the lovely rooms and friendly service. Each spacious room is uniquely designed and there’s no need to carry a keycard with you as each room is accessed by a keypad with it’s own unique number.
Let’s talk about the breakfasts at Ganda Rooms & Suites ….. you definitely need to try it! The owner Kristof prepared perfectly cooked scrambled eggs and bacon for us. Along with the cooked breakfasts, there’s also an array of pastries, fruits, cereals and yogurts to choose from.
There’s even complimentary tea/coffee and freshly made cake in the salon at your disposal. You’ve gotta have a slice of cake after a day of sight seeing! Who wouldn’t say no to a piece of homemade cake.
For rates and availability at Ganda Rooms & Suites, click here.
Where to eat in Ghent
Ghent is very much the place to be if you’re also a foodie … perfect for us since we absolutely love our food. There’s so many restaurants, cafés and bars to get your taste buds going. Did you know that Ghent is the veggie capital of Europe? Every Thursday in Ghent is ‘veggie day’. A worldwide campaign was run in 2009 to eat no fish or meat one day a week. So there is definitely no shortage of finding vegetarian restaurants anywhere around the city.
Here are a few restaurants we can recommend where we thoroughly enjoyed the food.
Cochon De Luxe
This was our first meal in Ghent and oh my the food was just outstanding! An intimate restaurant offering innovative and playful dishes. Every dish on the menu was exquisite! No wonder they say you’ll find the highest gastronomy cuisine here. Michelin star quality food without the price. There wasn’t any dish we didn’t like – all were faultless. This restaurant is the perfect spot for date night in Ghent.
Tip: Reservations required to avoid disappointment.
Another excellent restaurant to add to your list during your weekend in Ghent. Fresh ingredients are used for these simple, yet delicious dishes. Expect each dish to be packed full of flavour. This restaurant received very good reviews on TripAdvisor, which was one of the reasons why we booked Roots. Casual dining with high quality food at very affordable prices. This is an extremely popular restaurant amongst the locals.
Tip: Reservation required to avoid disappointment
If you fancy a change from Flemish cuisine, then try out this burger joint. Juicy, tasty burgers served with amazing cocktails and such a great price. Situated in a cosy and dimly lit bar with burgers and fries served in a simple white dish. The burgers are so big that the filling spills out! Mmmm … you won’t be disappointed. Even if you don’t fancy a burger, try the excellent cocktails served here.
Tip: No need to book, just rock up!
Etablissement Max is famous for the waffles, crêpes and apple beignets; very popular with the locals too. We couldn’t resist but to sample the famous waffles. Now, these waffles are different to the ones we’ve had before – very light and airy yet crisp on the outside and quite large too. Why not try the waffles with fresh strawberries or cherries and cream. Along with the waffles, we had a decadent hot chocolate accompanied with a teeny waffle. Cute!
Tip: Waffles, pancakes and apple fritters are available from 11am. No reservations needed.
Frites are a staple in Belgium and one thing you must try when in Belgium is the frites. You can buy frites from one of the many frites stands (frituur or fritkot), however on the day when we decided to have frites, the stands were closed. How gutted were we. It just so happened we spotted Frites Atelier and tried the crisp and fluffy frites. There are a range of homemade sauces to choose from and I went for the classic mayonnaise. This is a great way to rest your feet from all that walking, whilst enjoying a yummy snack.
Holy Food Market
Holy Food Market is a food hall located in a 16th century chapel on the Ottogracht. Here you’ll find a variety of food stalls offering tasty dishes and snacks from Italian and Malaysian to Russian and all for you to try under one roof. There’s plenty of vegetarian options too. Pick up a cocktail, find a seat and take your time browsing the delicious food. I’m sure the smell of the food will tantalise your taste buds!
Tip: Reservations not available
What to See & Do in Ghent
There are a few tours you can book in Ghent if you don’t want to research and plan everything yourself and there’s even a few free walking tours too. With Ghent being so accessible by foot, we did our own DIY self-guided walking tour of Ghent. It’s super easy with most of the Ghent attractions around one area but you can’t really get lost in this city.
Starting from our hotel, Ganda Rooms & Suites, we’ll show you our top things to see and do in Ghent.
Castle of Gerald The Devil
There’s no devils here! The Castle of Gerald the Devil is located close to St. Bravo’s Cathedral, and was built in the 13th century as a fortress to defend the city and protect the port. The castle was named after a knight called Geeraard Vilain, whose nickname was Gerald the Devil. He was called Gerald the Devil due to his appearance. The castle has served many purposes over the centuries, from a monastery, prison and asylum to a school and even a knight’s residence.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
St. Bavo’s Cathedral was completed in 1559 and is the oldest parish church in Ghent. This gothic cathedral is steeped in history and holds Jan van Eyck’s famous masterpiece painting, ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’. Don’t walk past this magnificent church instead pop in to see the art treasures, the marble pulpit, the tombs of the Ghent bishops and the Calvary Triptych.
Every Sunday morning, there’s a flower market on Kouter. Have a walk around the flower market and admire the beautiful flowers on show. Why not buy a bouquet of flowers if you’re on a romantic weekend. There are also cafés nearby for you to stop by and enjoy a lovely cup of coffee.
NTGent (Nederlands Toneel Gent) is the city’s theatre located between the Belfry and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. The theatre runs it’s own productions as well as guest performances. Book a ticket to see one of the productions during your weekend getaway. Take a photo of this beautiful theatre at night when the entire building is illuminated.
The Belfry tower is a UNESCO World Heritage building that stands tall in the heart of Ghent … you simply can’t miss it. The Belfry symbolises the independence and prosperity of the city. The dragon at the top of the tower symbolises the guardian angel of the Belfry. Climb up the many spiral steps to the top of the tower and take in the wonderful views all around. You’ll also find the carillon and the chime bells on the 5th floor in the tower.
The Roeland Bell, also known as ‘The Triumphant’, was the first large alarm bell used hourly in the Belfry. In 1914, the bell had a large crack and was moved for restoration. Nowadays, the Roeland Bell lies next to St. Nicholas’ Church.
The Belfry is a must-see when visiting the city.
Next to the Belfry lies the Cloth Hall, which dates back to 1425. The Cloth Hall is a display of Ghent’s prosperity which once served as a meeting place for the cloth traders.
The city pavilion is the large, modern, architectural building lying between the Belfry and St. Nicholas’ Church. This striking building is made up of glass, wood and concrete. It spans over 40 metres and consists of 1600 small windows. Although the City Pavilion has won awards, it also has been mocked. Does it resemble a sheep pen to you?
The building can host concerts and markets – there’s even a cafe under the pavilion. Check out what’s under the pavilion. Apparently there’s another two lower floors!
St. Nicholas’ Church
This Gothic style church on Korenmarkt dates back to the early 12th century. What makes the tower unique, is that it is above the nave and transepts allowing the natural light to shine directly on the transept and acting as a natural lantern.
Cross over the road and stop by the cart Bobonne Cuberdon in front of the souvenir shop ‘Souvenir Corner’ to sample the cuberdons; a cone shaped candy often known as the Ghent nose. For the sweetie-holics, you’ll be in heaven. The cuberdons are soft and gooey inside!
If you’re looking for the best cuberdons, buy them here! Bobonne cart sells 12 pieces for €5, compared to the cart in Groentenmarkt which sells 9 pieces for €5. You can also purchase Bobonne’s snowballs between September to March – dark chocolate covered with vanilla and icing sugar. When you pop the snowball in your mouth, it melts like snow!
St. Michael’s Bridge
This is the perfect spot to capture all three towers in a row – St. Nicholas’ Church, the Belfry and St. Bavo’s Church. Here’s where you will capture those postcard perfect views. The bridge is over the river with one side comprising of Graslei and Korenlei and the other side St. Nicholas’ Church. Both sides run along the River Leie. Try and visit the bridge during both day and night time to capture the stunning views.
St. Michael’s Church
From St. Nicholas’ Church, cross over the bridge and St. Michael’s Church lies on the left. This Gothic church was completed in 1825 with a flattened tower standing at only 24m instead of the planned 134m. The church houses the painting ‘Christ on the Cross’ by Anthony Van Dyck and many other sculptures.
Graslei & Korenlei
Graslei and Korenlei is a medieval port that is still the heart of the city once being the main site for the thriving grain trade. As you stroll along both sides of the river, the guild houses with the beautiful facades line both side of the banks; Graslei on the right side and Korenlei on the left. During the day, relax with a cup of a coffee or a bite to eat and people watch as the boats drift by.
Keep an eye out for the following buildings:
- Graslei 11 has the oldest steeped gable
- Graslei 12 – Tolhuisje (Customs House) was built in 1682
- Korenlei 7 was built in 1739 with the gables adorned with lion and dolphins
- Korenlei 9 – De Zwane was built in the 16th century
Walk along Graslei and Korenlei at night to capture the buildings mirrored on the River Leie.
Take a canal tour around the city
We were here in February and it was a little cold to take a canal tour. However, during the Spring or Summer months, why not take a boat tour to see the city from a different perspective. There are a variety of boat tours with open top boats to covered boats. The boat tours run from both Gralsei and Korenlei.
Gravensteen Castle (Castle of the Counts)
The Castle of the Counts is the only castle with a moat that has its defence system still intact and dates back to the Roman occupation. The Counts of Flanders converted the wooden structures into living quarters/the keep in the Middle Ages. The keep has stone ramparts and 24 towers, symbolising the power of the Counts. Currently the castle holds the torture equipment and weapons and the Justice Museum.
Did you know that in 1949, students occupied the castle to protest the beer prices!
Old Fish Market & Great Butchers’ Hall
The Old Fish Market is one of the oldest markets with numerous stalls and the statue of Neptune (sea god) watching over the rivers.
The Great Butchers’ Hall is located opposite the Old Fish Market on the other side of the river. Here you’ll find a variety of products and specialities (e.g. meats and desserts) under one roof. The Ganda Ham is still salted using traditional recipes – worth a taste!
Patershol is a trendy area, made up of narrow cobbled alleyways and streets with houses, cute cafés and restaurants. Such a charming area with very little traffic. Amazing restaurants can be found here offering cuisines, such as Spanish, Italian and Japanese.
Vrijdagmarkt is a square surrounded by cosy restaurants and boutique shops. As you enter the square, you’ll immediately notice the statue Jacob van Artevelde pointing to England. Wander down the alleyways to discover the local beer and shop till you drop in the boutique shops.
The square has a dark history of holding executions, with the last beheading in 1863. Toreken (Little Tower) is the 15th century house on the corner on Kammerstraat, which still has the market clock. The building is now a poetry centre, producing poetry magazines and literary programmes.
The Big Cannon, also known as ‘Big Red Devil’ weighs at a whopping 12,500kg dating all the way back to 1431. It’s never been fired and was known in parlance as Mad Meg (Dulle Griet).
Werregarenstraatje (Graffiti Alley)
Graffiti Alley showcases the colourful, bright street art from the local graffiti artists. The street art and tags can often change daily. Here the artists are free to express themselves and respect each others work. Love street art? Definitely visit here for that instagram shot.
Groentenmarkt, translates as the vegetable market. The 19th century water pump was used to pump water for the vegetable hawkers. The pump can still be used to pump tap water. This lively square is where you’ll find the handmade chocolates, sweets, mustard and other delicious goodies.
How to get to Ghent
From the UK, you can catch the Eurostar train from London St. Pancras International and take a connecting train at Brussels – Midi/Zuid. The journey from London to Ghent is less than 3 hours. Ghent also makes an ideal day trip from Brussels. From Ghent train station, we grabbed a taxi straight to the our hotel.
There are many flights in Europe to Brussels. Once you arrive in Brussels, you can either catch a local train to Ghent or why not travel in style and book yourself a VIP transfer from Brussels airport to Ghent.
All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our romantic weekend in Ghent. A fabulous weekend filled with amazing food and impressive architecture. This city is foodie heaven with restaurants offering Michelin star quality food. The main sights were so accessible by foot and we adored strolling along the cobbled alleys.
Have you visited Ghent? What did you enjoy about Ghent?
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