Ghent is the third largest and one of the oldest cities in Belgium. With its well preserved historical center, canals, medieval architecture and pedestrian city center Ghent is a ‘must visit’ when you are travelling in Belgium.
Ghent is conveniently located within one hour drive from other popular Belgian cities such as Brussels, Bruges and Antwerp and will make a perfect one day trip. These cities are also connected by direct and regular trains if you prefer public transport over car trips.
Our first visit to Ghent was on our way from the Netherlands to Bruges. We spent a few hours walking around the historical center, tasting some fine Belgian beer and waffles and admiring the old architecture. We absolutely loved the city!
We would like to share a simple itinerary of a walk around the old city of Ghent. Depending on your pace and stop-overs you can spend there from 2-3 hours to a whole day.
If you are coming to Ghent by car (like we usually do), it’s better to park the car outside of the old town and explore the center by foot.
When arriving by train from Brussels or Bruges you will arrive at Gent-Sint-Pieters station. From there it is very close to a few popular museums in Ghent and you may want to visit them first – e.g. Ghent City Museum or Ghent Art Museum. If not, then from Gent-Sint-Pieters station you can take a tram to the historical center or alternatively walk there for 30 minutes.
First time we were in Ghent we came by car. So we left it at the car park near Vrijdagmarkt and started our walk from there.
Vrijdagmarkt (translates to English as Friday Market) is a large square in the center of Ghent. In the middle of the square you will find a statue of Jacob van Artevelde, many cafes with outside seating areas during warm seasons, and historical houses with typical Belgian architecture featuring triangular stepped gable roofs.
Tip: If you come early on Friday or Saturday you will catch a market on the Vrijdagmarkt. So, if you like market days and shopping make sure you visit before 12pm. However, if you want to enjoy architecture and make some nice photos then it’s better to come after the market finishes – to avoid views of Vrijdagmarkt spoiled by market stalls.
From Vrijdagmarkt head towards Zuivelbrugstraat Bridge to cross the Leie river. Follow Kraanlei street admiring historical buildings and up to the iconic Gravensteen of Ghent.
The Gravensteen is a medieval castle in Ghent, its origins go back to the 12th century. Inside the castle there is a museum where you can learn history about the place, walk around castle walls and simply admire its stone halls and interior.
It’s a nice place to visit with kids in particular – they will enjoy expositions, weaponry, inner garden, a torture chamber and all this with an audio guide to learn more about what they see in the castle.
After visiting the castle, cross the Leie river again via Vleeshuisbrug bridge. From the bridge you can admire the medieval building of the Groot Vleeshuis – Great Butcher’s Hall.
Graslei and Korenlei
Perhaps, my favourite places are quays on the left and right banks of the Leie – Graslei and Korenlei.
Graslei quay (on the right bank of the Leie river) and Korenlei quay (on the left bank) were part of the Ghent port from the medieval times. Located in the very heart of the old city it’s a nice place to walk, relax at one of the cafes and admire beautiful historical facades of the buildings alongside the Graslei.
Some of the boat tours start at Graslei and Korenlei – if you prefer less walking and more leasury experience with a guided boat tour. Boat trip is also a good idea when travelling with children – give the kids (and yourselves) time to rest while still enjoying city sights as you pass them on the boat.
Tip: Stay a night in Ghent and visit Graslei and Korenlei streets in the evening. Illuminated after dark the place is just magical.
Sint-Michielsbrug and Sint-Michielskerk
Get up to the bridge Sint-Michielsbrug and admire the 360 views in the heart of the old town. With the views to Graslei and Korenlei, to Sint-Michielskerk and to Sint-Niklaaskerk the bridge is not the one to miss.
Visit Sint-Michielskerk (Saint Michael’s Church) – the historical landmark next to the Sint-Michielsbrug. Go inside to see paintings and sculptures by famous artists. The entrance to the church is free and it’s absolutely worth a visit.
Korenmarkt, Oud Postgebouw and Sint-Niklaaskerk
Korenmarkt is a central square surrounded by beautiful historical buildings, cafes and restaurants.
Old postal office (Oud Postgebouw) on the square is simply stunning in its neo-gothic architecture and richly decorated facade. On the ground floor of the building you will find a shopping mall – Post Plaza.
Right next to Korenmarkt you will see Sint-Niklaaskerk (or Saint Nicholas’ Church) – one of the oldest churches in the city.
Ghent City Hall (Stadhuis)
Another beautiful building in Ghent is its City Hall – complex of historical buildings built in different architectural styles. One part of the Stadhuis is designed in Renaissance style and another part – in Gothic style.
City Hall can be visited with a guided tour, which you need to book in advance.
On the way from Saint Nicholas’ Church to the City Hall you won’t miss City Pavilion (or Stadshal). Strange structure that I couldn’t ignore writing the post about Ghent (even though in my opinion there is nothing beautiful or historical or significant about the Stadshal 🙂 ).
Belfry of Ghent
Belfry of Ghent (or Het Belfort van Gent) is towering right in the middle of the old town. The tower is 91 meters long and is the tallest belfry in Belgium. You won’t miss it when walking in the old town of Ghent.
Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
It’s amazing how many beautiful historical buildings and towers are in the old part of Ghent. Just across Sint-Baafsplein from the Ghent’s Belfry and only a few meters shorter is St Bavo’s Cathedral (or Sint-Baafs Cathedral). Tower of this Gothic-style cathedral is 89 meter tall.
Inside St Bavo’s cathedral you will find the Ghent’s Altarpiece – a 15th century masterpiece by Belgian artists Hubert and Jan van Eyck.
Keep walking past St Bavo’s Cathedral and you find the Monument of the Van Eyck Brothers.
Kasteel Geeraard de Duivel
Not too far from the St Bavo’s Cathedral is another historical landmark – Kasteel Geeraard de Duivel. It’s the 13th century building also known as Castle of Gerald the Devil. Quite grim building and not surprisingly at some point of its history it was used as a prison.
Once reached Kasteel Geeraard you can turn back as it marks the end of the old town.
On the way back to the town center take a little detour and visit Achtersikkel. Small nice square or rather a yard surrounded by 14th and 15th century buildings and a round tower. Achtersikkel is currently a house to music academy, but the yard is freely accessible to the public.
End your day in Ghent with a dinner in one of the many cafes and restaurants in the old town.
If you travel with kids, tasting traditional Belgian waffles with chocolate sirup is a must! 🙂
For adults, especially those who appreciate good beer, visiting a pub and tasting some of the fine Belgian beer is an important part of Ghent experience. I’m not a beer lover, but Yuriy and my dad have enjoyed a big selection of different types of beer in a pub at Botermarkt 🙂
Sample walk in the old town of Ghent:
If you’re staying the night in Ghent, definitely have a walk in the old town after sunset – streets and buildings illuminated at night give the city such a magical atmosphere.
Last time we visited Ghent we stayed there overnight to be able to enjoy the city after dark.
In the morning you can travel to Brussels, Bruges or Antwerp – all of them are within 1 hour reach.
Read also my post on How to spend a day in Antwerp.