The port city of Ghent is the capital of the East Flanders province and one of Belgium’s most populous university towns. In the Late Middle Ages, the city was one of the largest and richest in Europe. The well-preserved medieval architecture, cultural events, easy accessibility and delicious culinary traditions make Ghent a fabulous tourist destination.
Firstly, one of the top travel tips is to pick up a Ghent CityCard. With a CityCard, you’ll be able to skip the lines and see all of the best Ghent attractions within 48 or 72 hours. The three-day card is only €35 compared to the €30 two-day card, and both include free public transport. It’s rare in Western Europe that you receive such value for money, so take advantage of this incredible deal and get sightseeing!
Don’t leave out Ghent during your trip to Belgium, as there are many enchanting things to see that you won’t find in Brussels or Antwerp. Not sure what to do in Ghent? Here are 17 Ghent, Belgium points of interest that will capture your attention and keep you entertained throughout your trip.
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Ghent City Hall
The town hall of Ghent is known locally as Stadhuis. The ornate building is on the corner of Hoogpoort and Botermarkt and is unique in its contrasting architecture. The building was originally constructed in a Late Gothic style, yet finished in a more Renaissance style on the other side.
You may even spot people getting married here, marked by rice and rose petals along the ground. In addition to the wedding chapel, there are vaulted wooden ceilings, stained glass windows and a labyrinth of corridors inside. Tours are available with a guide if you’re eager to learn more details about the building’s history and architecture.
One of the ultimate Ghent, Belgium tourist attractions is the Gravensteen Castle. The name translates to the Castle of the Counts, as it was the former residence to the Counts of Flanders. The fortified structure is surrounded by a moat with water from the Lys River. Dating back to 1180, it has also served as a prison, a mint, and a cotton factory.
Inside the castle today is the Arms Museum and the Museum of Judicial Objects. On display are weapons from much darker medieval times, including crossbows, spearheads, shackles, iron collars, and even a guillotine. A visit is certainly not for the faint of heart, as these instruments represent the horrific torture techniques used under the Ancien Régime.
During Christmas, however, Gravensteen becomes a much lighter and pleasant affair, turning into a Winter Wonder Castle. The grounds are decorated with ambient lighting and Christmas trees, and you can warm up with a drink by the bonfire.
The Ghent Altarpiece, officially known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, is a huge polyptych from the 15th century. Its 12 panels took brothers Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck almost a decade to complete, and the piece is widely regarded as a treasure of European art and Catholic symbolism. The panels depict figures such as Adam and Eve, St John the Baptist, Virgin Mary, and St John the Evangelist.
The Mystic Lamb is considered the most stolen works of art of all time. In fact, one panel, The Just Judges, remains missing since 1934. See the altarpiece for yourself at the Saint Bavo Cathedral.
The Belfry of Ghent (or Het Belfort van Gent) is one of the three medieval towers in the Ghent city centre and an iconic part of the city’s skyline. The 91-metre-tall bell tower was originally constructed in the 14th century, though its current stone spire was only added in the early 1900s.
Early on, the belfry was used as a fortified watchtower. The bells became a part of daily life in Ghent, used not only to announce the time but also to warn residents of any threats. Today, its rotating drum from the 1700s plays four different songs each hour. Every two years, the city carillonneur changes the position of the drum’s pins to program new songs.
For €8, you can climb (or take a lift) to the top of this UNESCO World Heritage Site and see panoramic views over the city.
Saint Bavo Cathedral
As mentioned earlier, the Saint Bavo Cathedral is home to the coveted Mystic Lamb. Yet, this 89-metre-tall cathedral is worthy of visiting simply to appreciate its Gothic architecture. The cathedral is also known for its 6,000-pipe organ, the largest in the Benelux, which dates back the 18th century.
Construction began in 1274, though there were continuous expansions over the next 300 years. As the city’s oldest parish church, there’s a lot of rich history to be uncovered. The interiors feature star-shaped vaults, black and red flamed marble naves, and a Roman crypt decorated with frescoes.
Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum voor Schone Kunsten has some of the best collections of fine art in Ghent. Its large permanent collection showcases work from the Middle Ages until the 20th century. While the exhibits focus on Flemish artwork, there are many large sculptures and French paintings as well.
Stop by and see works like Portrait of a Kleptomaniac by Théodore Géricault, Landscape at Dusk in Tyrol by Heinrich Funk, and Christ Carrying the Cross by Hieronymus Bosch. Until the end of 2019, you can learn about the restoration of the Mystic Lamb and follow the process. The museum is to the east of Citadel Park, and entry is included with the Ghent CityCard.
Korenmarkt is the historic city square in Ghent, Belgium. The name translates directly to Wheat Market, as the square was the centre for cereal trade during the 10th and 11th centuries. The square connects the busiest shopping avenues in the city, Kortemunt and Veldstraat, and is opposite Saint Michael’s Bridge. It’s also the primary location of the annual Gentse Feesten, a music and theatre festival held during the summer.
Rest for a while at Korenmarkt and soak up the historic atmosphere. Sip a coffee and enjoy an organic breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien, or grab a beer at any of the bars on Klein Turkije.
One of the fun, non-touristy things to do in Ghent is to put together your own picnic and relax outside with the locals. Citadelpark is the most scenic spot to do just that. It was created in 1875 on the site of a former citadel, transforming an artillery barracks into a peaceful oasis. The luscious green space between the Scheldt and Lys rivers is full of rare botanic gems and interesting monuments to look out for.
The Ghent Water Tram
One of Ghent’s best and most unique modes of transport is the water tram. A canal boat ride is perfect for sightseeing from another perspective, and tours are offered in multiple languages. Book a historic tour, or simply jump aboard the hop-on, hop-off water tram, which is free with the CityCard.
The tram route follows a regular route along the Lys, Muinkschelde, Ketelvest and Reep rivers and canals. Check online to plan your journey in advance and see which points of interest are closest to the six stops.
Saint Nicholas’ Church
Saint Nicholas’ Church is one of Ghent’s largest and most prominent landmarks, rising elegantly above the city’s skyline. Completed in the 1200s, the commanding blue-grey stone structure is a famous example of Scheldt Gothic architecture.
The church you can see today has undergone extensive restoration in order to highlight the stunning stonework inside. The colourful stained-glass windows and magnificent Cavaillé-Coll organ were both added in the 19th century when reconstruction began.
Ghent City Museum (STAM)
The Ghent City Museum, commonly referred to as STAM, is one of the city’s most remarkable and modern museums. The fascinating main exhibit chronologically details the history of Ghent since the Middle Ages. In addition to the permanent exhibition, there are always additional temporary collections and events.
If you only speak English, be sure to go with the audio guide for a more comprehensive experience, as many of the written explanations are exclusively in Dutch. Afterwards, you can visit the STAMcafé for a snack and a cup of tea on the sun terrace.
Anyone who has spent time in Ghent would agree that Dulle Griet is the place to be of an evening. The beer hall on Vrijdagmarkt 50 boats the largest collection of Belgian beer in the city, including Max van het Huis, served in a 1.2-litre glass. If you decide to try this lager, limit yourself to one. Patrons used to sneak off with these tall glasses, so prepare to temporarily give up your shoes until you drink the whole thing!
There’s a lively, rustic and medieval atmosphere inside that simply isn’t matched anywhere else. As the bar is popular with tourists too, it’s a great spot to meet and chat with other people from around the world.
Van Eyck Pools
One of the more unusual things to do in Ghent is to go for an art deco swim. If you’re wondering what this means exactly, it simply entails a trip to the Van Eyck Pools, which are splendidly designed in an art deco style.
Although it’s the oldest indoor swimming pool in Belgium, it was fully restored in 2001 to protect its architectural beauty. The pool is open until 10 p.m. on weekdays, so you can stop by for a nighttime swim after a busy day of sightseeing.
Ghent’s main graffiti street, Werregarenstraat, is the best area to see some of the local street art. The narrow alleyway between Hoogpoort and Onderstraat is officially sanctioned by the city as a canvas for anyone and everyone. Every time you visit, the artwork is never the same. In fact, the walls are frequently painted over to create a blank slate.
It’s interesting to stop by and see how the locals express themselves through street art. If you’re already nearby, it won’t take much time either.
Made up of charming old-world houses and twisting cobbled lanes, Patershol is the perfect neighbourhood for a wander. It also happens to be the foodie hub of the city, so it’s the best area to head to for a delicious meal. You’ll find a range of cuisines, from traditional Flemish to Italian, Turkish, Japanese, and even Indonesian.
Above all, it’s a hip residential neighbourhood that you’ll instantly fall in love with (and probably want to move to yourself!). A stroll through the area after dinner with your significant other can even be one of the most romantic things to do in Ghent.
Saint Peter’s Abbey
The former Benedictine complex known as Saint Peter’s Abbey originated in the late 600s and has a complex history. Throughout the centuries, the abbey experienced waves of decline as well as prosperity. After many years of struggles and a raid by the Normans of France, it received considerable donations and became the richest abbey in Flanders during the late 10th century. After the 1539 Revolt of Ghent, the abbey was severely damaged and was rebuilt in its Baroque style in the mid to late 1600s.
Five Counts and Countesses of Flanders are buried at the complex, which is currently used as an exhibition centre. Enjoy the sunshine in the hidden yet spacious inner courtyard garden, a surprisingly popular hangout.
Vrijdagmarkt is another of Ghent’s old town squares and an important part of the city’s history and development. The square is roughly 100 by 100 metres and surrounded by guildhalls turned into cafes and restaurants. In the centre sits a statue of Jacob van Artevelde, known as both the Wise Man and the Brewer of Ghent.
The name Vrijdagmarkt directly translates to Friday Market, so as you’d expect, a weekly market is held every Friday. In fact, the market has been running since the 12th century, so it’s an incredible tradition to get to be a part of. Each Friday morning, stalls are set up to sell everything from fresh produce to vintage furniture.
Recommended tours in Ghent
- Guided boat trip in medieval Ghent
- Ghent Like a Local: Customized Private Tour
- Experience Authentic Belgian Cuisine: Cooking Lesson and Meal with a Ghent Local
- Guided Boat Trip in Ghent
- 2.5-Hour Belgium Beer Tasting Tour in Ghent
- Chocolate Tour in Ghent, with a local guide!
- Belfort of Ghent Entrance Ticket
- Ghent Beer and Sightseeing Adventure
- Vacation Photographer in Ghent
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