I really, really liked Bruges, but Ghent?! I am totally, completely in love with the city. In all honesty, it seems most people either love one or the other. The difference is like saying you prefer 5 fluffy pancakes topped with 20 cut up strawberries, slathered in pancake syrup over 3 fluffy pancakes with 10 strawberries and pancake syrup. Well…duh!!! More is better isn’t it? :-), Ghent for me, is the former.
Both places are medieval towns in the Flemish region of Belgium. Brugge is famous for Lace, Ghent produces Wool. Both have a UNESCO site, with Ghent’s being the Bellfry. Ghent, however, is still a port town. The people of Ghent were also badass rebels against the regime of King Charles the V in the 1500’s. As punishment, he used to humiliate them by having them walk around in white tees with a rope around their necks. That is why people from Ghent are called rope or noose bearers.
We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, just in time to check out the last gasp of the market held in one of the center’s many squares. It’s a great place to buy cheap stuff and eat some street food. The train ride from Brussels Central Station was only about 30 minutes. The Ghent train station is called St. Peter’s. To get to the center, you need to take the Flanders Expo tram number 1. Easy to find, just follow everyone. A one way ticket cost us €15 or something like that. If you come back within 24 hours, the round trip ticket was discounted quite a bit.
We stayed smack dab in the center at the Ibis St. Baafs Kathedraal hotel. A great place to stay at if you visit. Everything was within walking distance. The stop on the tram is Korenmarkt, and from there, it is just about a 2 minute walk to the hotel. Our room overlooked a lovely square with sidewalk cafe and we had a great view of the Cathedral. The St. Bavo’s Cathedral right across from the hotel was being refurbished, so we did not get to see inside of it. I didn’t consider an airbnb rental this time like we did in Brussels. It was time to splurge a little.
What l loved most:
– The beauty of the place. It is so hard to put into words, so hopefully the pictures will make you consider adding this to your bucket list, or at least consider it. I feel torn, you want people to visit, yet you dream of it staying just the way it is. We are already trying to see when we can visit this absolutely gorgeous place again. We would like to check out some of the museums, take a tour the Gravensteen Castle, visit some of the parks and the Great Butcher’s Hall.
The food. You definitely have your whole range of food here, from Chinese (fantastic), to Spare ribs (delicious) to sushi (wow!). Never mind the crepes, Belgian fries and waffles sold by the vendors. I did not have any fries in Ghent, so l can’t say if they were good or not, the other two definitely were. We also found it slightly cheaper than Bruges. We did find it odd that the McDonald’s did not serve breakfast food. We found this out one early morning. We started out at a cafe, sat down before discovering they only had dessert food, like cakes and pudding, and a lonely, scrawny croissant available. I am not sure how you are expected to eat a Big Mac for breakfast, it was only 9.30am :-(. Luckily, there is a cafe next to it, called Exki, a small chain of fast food cafes across Europe. Go in there, and you can have your fill of fresh-baked goodies at a reasonable price. If you are a vegetarian, or vegan, you will love Ghent for it’s Veggie Thursdays campaign and the abundance of vegan restaurants.
The Graffiti Alley. There is a whole, long alleyway that is devoted to graffiti. There are a lot of talented people out there, and we loved checking out the street art. I think it’s cool that the city did this. That way, the rest of the center is pretty much left intact. It changes constantly too.
Small businesses thrive here. Of course, there are the usual suspects, like Zara and H&M etc. There are also wonderful, individually owned stores that seemed to be doing well. It is so refreshing to see individuality. Hand made jewelry, bags, etc. being sold by the shop owners..nice!
The humongous, car free center. How nice not having to dodge cars. The trams, yes.. :-). You get so caught up looking everywhere, that you don’t hear the tram. I think they are electric too, so really quiet. Definitely something to watch for when you are there.
The people. Ghent is a University town, so there is a youngish vibe to the city, which is not always a bad thing :-). There were also less tourists than Bruges, so you got to interact more with the local people. Everyone was nice and friendly. Most people spoke 3 languages, which l always find very impressive and we had no trouble communicating in English.
The canals. The view from St. Michael’s bridge is one of the most beautiful. It felt good to sit at one of the many cafes and just people watch.
We walked around a lot while we were there, even got lost a few times. We never felt unsafe as we wound our way back to the center. Tip: Don’t use a cathedral as a marker :-). We spent 4 days here, but we could have easily spent another few days. We liked it that much.
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Plenty of beer, plenty of gorgeous places, plenty of food, plenty of chocolate, and plenty of people. What more do you want? Get thee to Ghent!!! Don’t tell too many people though :-). If your trip includes Brussels, make sure to check out the Brussels highlights.
Have l managed to convince you to visit Ghent? Have you been to Bruges or Ghent? Which do you prefer?