Ghent is often referred to as the hidden treasure of Belgium. The lesser-known university town, which is often overlooked in elaborate itineraries, happens to be an electric blend of traditional and modern. Arriving in Ghent is a cakewalk: a 30 min scenic train ride from Brussels Centraal gets you straight into the heart of the city at the Ghent-Saint-Pieter’s, which in itself is a place of interest. Here are a few things you could do there.
- Start your day at Ghent-Saint-Pieters. The impressive brick façade building with a tall tower, bookshops, and café’s is an interesting place. Take some pictures, talk to the ticketing ladies, and buy tram tickets to the town center. Once done, hop on to tram # 1, which runs every few minutes and snakes through charming streets, quaint residential areas, and modern shopping hubs. By the time you reach your destination, you’d already be transported to the medieval times.The center of Ghent is dominated by the Count’s Castle, a tall gothic structure that has served many purposes since its construction in 1180. Tiny in size but mammoth on experience, the castle has served as the home of the counts, a prison, a court, and even a cotton factory. Presently it houses a compact museum. The steep stairways of the Count’s castle are sure to take your breath away, the cruel torture techniques on display will wrench your gut, and the view of the town from its top will stun you with its beauty. Spot the tallest tower nearby from the rooftop, for that is where you have to get to next.
- The world’s most iconic bell tower stands nearby, as do cathedrals and churches, parks and designer boutiques. You could climb the Belfry built in the Brabant Gothic style or step into St. Bravo’s cathedral. Home to some of the most prized possessions of the church, this Gothic Cathedral took over 500 years to complete. Its claim to fame however is the altarpiece, The Adoration Of The Mystic Lamb. Painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck around 1432, the Polyptych survived the Protestant Iconoclasm and fell into French hands under Napoleon. It was then requisitioned by Nazi Germany during World War II. For the past 50 years though it has been standing here and attracts visitors from world over. If history, religion, or art is not your style, you can navigate the town. One option is to explore the graffiti scene concentrated around Warrengarenstraat, where every inch of the walls in covered in color. The other is to indulge in some retail therapy at Ghent’s famous and innovative design stores, high street brands, and traditional boutiques. Stroll along the Vlaanderenstraat while sampling some of the world’s best confections – cuberdons, chocolates, and cakes – hopping in and out of stores, and buying a souvenir or two.
- Evenings are beautiful in Ghent. Spend an evening at Paterschol, a bustling web of narrow cobbled paths and alleys in the shadow of the Count’s Castle. The neighbourhood that was once a run down ghetto of leather traders is now known for its cafes, bars, and bohemian charm. Wander in the picturesque lanes, hang out at low-key café’s, sample the nth portion of fries and guzzle a wide variety of Belgian beer. Watch the street scenes unfurl and feel your fatigue melt in the setting sun. Close your day at a fancy restaurant, preferably vegetarian for Ghent has the highest number of speciality vegetarian restaurants in the whole of Europe. Gorge on the beautiful vegetarian buffet of cold and warm dishes at Komkommertijd, or go a la carte at Lekker Gec with salad, soup, sandwiches, pasta, pizzas, and of course fries on offer – just like things to do, there is no dearth of things to eat in Ghent.