Traveling to Ghent has to be in the top ten of your trip to Belgium. Although less famous than its neighbor Bruges, Ghent has a lot of charm and places to discover.
In this post, we’ll tell you the best things to see in Ghent in one day and everything you can visit in this beautiful university town, full of life and halfway between Bruges and Brussels.
On our road trip through Belgium and Netherlands in a van, Ghent was among our trip priorities.
The road trip in Belgium started in Bruges, where we made a night in Damme. Then we continue towards Ghent, we arrived the night before a campsite, and we start to visit the city early in the morning. Then we continue our way to the Netherlands that day; we slept in Gouda to see the cheese market the next day.
What to see and do in Ghent?
Ghent is a city with a lot of life, as it is a university town. Also, it is less touristy than its famous neighbor Bruges.
Many tours propose you to visit Bruges and Ghent in one day. From my perspective, I seem very little time to see two such interesting cities, both for their architectural beauty as for its culture and tourist attractions. So if you can dedicate 1 day to each city, it would be much better.
I suggest that you hire a free tour or a guided tour to know Ghent better in about two hours and then walk the city on your own. If you want to do the visit to Ghent on your own, I propose a walking itinerary, starting at the Cathedral of Saint Bvavón.
Make a free walking tour
Taking a free tour or a guided tour of Ghent will give you a broader view of the city. We like this type of tour to ask later where to eat or where to have something like a local, plus the information they give you.
The visit begins at the foot of the Belfort Tower and travels through the city’s most iconic sites.
In high season, you have to book a few days in advance, because they sell out fast.
Visit Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and mystical lamb
One of the must-see visits in Ghent is to visit the Cathedral of St. Bavo and contemplate the Mystic Lamb. The cathedral is the oldest parish church in Ghent. It is built on an old 10th-century church and a 12th-century Romanesque church.
Inside, you will see a good art collection, there is a Rubens (although according to our guide, it is somewhat doubtful that it is a real Rubens…), the tombs of the bishops of Ghent are monumental and of course, the worship of the Mystic Lamb.
Real Dutch theater is located in St. Baafsplein, between the cathedral, the Belfort, and the town hall is the seat of the Ghent Municipal Theater. Pay attention to the facade, the lobby, and enjoy the square’s views from the terrace on the first floor.
A small square in the downtown of Ghent. Please pay attention to the towers; one was built between the 14th and 15th centuries with an octagonal Renaissance style viewpoint. You will also be able to see one of the 5 privately owned wells there’s in Ghent.
- Do you want a private tour? check this link
Belfort Tower of Ghent
The bell towers are civil towers; that is, they are not part of any church, nor are they religious. They are also called municipal bell towers; you can find them in the area of Flanders and the north of France. Have you visited the Belfort of Bruges yet?
This type of tower is the safest place in the city, used to install the municipal archives, the city’s safe, and used to function as a prison.
The Belfort of Ghent is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a symbol of the city’s independence. Here was the alert bell that protects citizens; we can visit the carillon (built with the casting of the alert bell), enjoy the views, and see at the top, the Dragon of Ghent, the emblem of the city. To do this, you have to climb the tower.
Klokke Roeland is the name of the alert bell. It was melted, and the carillon was created. The largest bell took the same name. This bell cracked and moved to the square next to the Belfort. They restored it in 2002, and we can see it on its new pedestal next to the Church of St. Nicholas.
On the pedestal of the bell, we can see a painting of Michel Borremans’s “The Virgin”.
Curious/legend: look at the facade of the small building next to the Belfort. Here you will see the Mammelokker. Legend says that a condemned man to starve to death, deceived the jailers, drinking milk from his daughter’s breasts.
Municipal Pavilion: Stadhal
The municipal pavilion is a building that has a totally different architecture from the other buildings. It was built in 2012, has about 40 meters and 1600 little windows. It is loved and hated by their inhabitants, who changed their name from Stadhal (municipal pavilion) to schaapstal, which means sheep stable… judge for yourself, tell me your opinion in the comments.
Ghent City Council
In the Ghent guide, they call this building “schizophrenic,” hehe. It is composed of two parts; one is late flamboyant Gothic from the early sixteenth century (on the Hoogpoort), where you can see niches with the counts of Flanders added in the twentieth century. And the other Renaissance on Botermarkt Street, where you can see the blue columns, inspired by the Italian palaces.
Werregarenstraatje, the street of graffiti
This alleyway in the center of Ghent is the place of graffiti artists. These change almost every day, so enjoy Ghent’s street artworks.
Korenmarkt, Ghent’s liveliest square
Korenmarkt is the main square of the city. It is one of the most lively places in Ghent, where tourists and locals gather on its terraces and restaurants.
Masons’ union house
The masons’ union house is located in front of the Church of St. Nicholas. This is the authentic house because a replica was built in Graslei because they had lost this building. Yes, as you read it, they did not know where it was and built a replica for the 1913 World’s Fair.
They didn’t know where it was because the original facade had been built another one, which hid the wonderful stepped facade that we see with six dancers.
St. Nicholas Church
Saint Nicholas is the patron of merchants and sailors. The sailors were the ones who gathered the funds to build this beautiful 12th-century Gothic-style church.
It can be visited daily from 10 to 17h, except on Mondays which is from 14 to 17h.
See the three towers from the St. Micheal Bridge
On the river Lys is the St. Michael’s Bridge, and it is an ideal place to take a photo of Ghent’s three most famous towers.
You’re not going to be the only one with the idea, so be patient!
St. Michael’s Church
The church of St. Micheal is in late Gothic style. It was built in 1440 but was not completed until 1825 due to a lack of funds.
You will see that the tower is not very tall. It measures about 100 meters less than in the 17th-century project.
Graslei and Korenlei Piers
One of the must-visit places in Ghent is Graslei and Korenlei Pier. They are located in the city centre. As the city’s commercial activity grew, these ancient piers became the port of Ghent and the center of the city’s commerce, along with the Korenmarkt.
Stroll along both banks and see the magnificent historic buildings. The grain warehouse is originally from 1200 and has the oldest stepped facade in the world, located in Graslei 11.
From here, the river excursions depart, you will also see numerous terraces for a drink and restaurants. Also, you can do like locals and enjoy the good weather, sitting on the water’s edge and enjoy the place.
Castle of the Counts of Flanders
The castle of the Counts of Flanders is a medieval castle with a fortification system practically intact, it is almost as you would have seen in the Middle Ages.
The history goes back to the Romans, who already had a settlement on the banks of Lys. But due to Viking looting raids, the Earl of Flanders reformed the castle by turning it into a fortress. It has a homage tower surrounded by a stone wall with 24 towers.
Medieval towns had a meat market to control the quality of the meat that was sold. In Ghent you will be able to see a covered market along with its 15th century guild house. At the end of the nineteenth century the market fell into disuse, as the sale of meat was allowed in other establishments outside the market.
Nowadays, you can stroll through the old meat market and buy regional products and have a drink.
House of Alijn
If you want to know what life is like for the ordinary people of Ghent, this is your museum. Casa Alijn is a museum dedicated to the common life of 20th century people.
Formerly a hospice, the only one preserved in Ghent, where poor, sick and elderly were cared for.
This medieval quarter has narrow streets and passageways. It was the area of the wealthy rich of Ghent. Later, artisans and merchants settled, in the late nineteenth century it became a working-class neighborhood and the stately houses were divided into small apartments for the workers.
Today, it is the trendy neighborhood, full of small bars and charming restaurants. It’s very curious how it’s changed over the centuries.
In the heart of Patershol is this convent that has been in operation since 1272. It had a church, two cloisters, a sacristy, a guest house, an infirmary and a beer-making facility!!!
After the French Revolution passed into private hands, today, it is the place where the plastic arts develop.
It is a historic square of Ghent, has had everything since 1199. The weekly market was held here, but it was also the scene of one of its popular festivals, the executions. The last inmate decapitated with the guillotine was Van Butsel, in 1822.
Castle of Gerard the Devil
If you have to go back to the cathedral, you can close the circle by making this visit.
It is an ancient castle of the thirteenth century, which belonged to a knight named Gerard Vilain, nicknamed the devil. He was of a very important social class, his remains and those of his wives, are located in the crypt of the Cathedral of St. Bavon.
This building had different uses throughout its history, from aristocratic residence to convent, arsenal, center for sick people or a prison. In the late nineteenth century, it was bought by the Belgian authorities and installed their archive here.
Recommendations for your visit to Ghent
CityCard Gent if you’re going to be in Ghent for over a day. Includes entrance to monuments and museums, the public transport, a boat trip along the canals and the use of a bicycle by a day. It’s very interesting if you’re going to stay at least two days, it costs 30 euros.
Walk along the canals
Stroll through Ghent through its canals and learn about the history of the city. The price is only 7,50 euros and I’m sure you’ll love it.
Eating french fries
Apparently it’s a very typical thing in Ghent to eat french fries. And we of course did too!!! You’re going to see a lot of people eat the typical cones of fries on the street.
Stay until Sunset
The city has a particular charm when the sun starts to set. Ghent’s lighting system has won the City People Lght and Auroralia award.
Visit Ghent from Brussels
Visit this asewome medieval city from Brussels for only 29€. Check this link out!
Where to sleep in Ghent
We slept in the van in a campsite close to the city. But there are many places to sleep in Ghent.
Here’s a selection for your city break.
Where to park a van in Ghent
We’ve been carrying a few days of travel, so tonight we did it at a campsite in Ghent.
The Camping is Blaarmeersen and they speak in Spanish, English, Dutch and French.
It is in a sports area, and about 15 minutes by bike from the city center. The campsite is very nice, well priced and well located. They give you a lot of tourist information and a plan to get to the center by bike and not get lost, although it is quite easy to get to.
If you are travelling by van, we recommend it totally. If you don’t want to pay, you know, the Park4night app, it always has good options.
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