Discovering everything that Belgium has to offer is a wonderful adventure! Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s quite compact in terms of dimensions; you can’t judge it by its size alone. The cultural legacy of Gent, which is reflected in the city’s architecture and architecture, is reflected in the fact that Gent is the largest city in the Flemish Region of Belgium. Ghent, which was once both one of the richest and most powerful towns in all of Europe, still proudly displays tons of spectacular medieval architecture today.
This is one of the many reasons why it is so exciting to go exploring there. Its stunning center is located at the confluence of the Leie and the Scheldt rivers, and it is home to a towering belfry as well as a stunning cathedral, church, and castle, all of which are hundreds of years old and can be found along a stunning canal.
Ghent is loved by both its residents and its visitors. After all, what’s not to love about living in the city? It is one of the nation’s best kept secrets, and it is home to some of the country’s most impressive works of art and culinary creations. In comparison to other cities in Europe, Ghent still has the impression of a relatively little town, and despite the fact that it is a wonderful spot to take a holiday, it is not overwhelmed with visitors and people looking to see the sites.
The Gravensteen, which was built in the 12th century and is one of the most prominent structures in the city, has the appearance of a castle. A strong keep and a gatehouse are guarded by walls, towers, and a moat within of this fortified structure. The construction of the castle, which was finished in 1180 and was intended to house the Counts of Flanders, was finished in 1180. The design of the castle is based on other fortifications that Count Philip visited while he was out on crusades.
Its previously menacing battlements and turrets now allow for some fantastic picture opportunities, but the building’s interior is just as interesting to explore. For instance, the keep is home to a number of fascinating and enlightening displays on the history of Gravensteen as well as the history of the counts and countesses, and scattered around the keep are various sets of armor and instruments of torture. This lovely ancient castle is simply one of the city’s most significant historical landmarks, and it is located in yet another picturesque area just a short distance from the heart of Ghent.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
For more than a thousand years, there has been a place of worship standing where the present-day St. Bavo Cathedral now stands. The contemporary Gothic cathedral in Ghent is one of the city’s most well-known tourist destinations due in large part to the height of its 290-foot-tall bell tower.
The cathedral building itself is a work of art. The cathedral has a lot to offer in terms of sights to view, including four magnificent organs, a high altar in the Baroque style, a picture by Peter Paul Rubens, and a pulpit constructed out of marble and gilded wood. The Ghent Altarpiece, however, is the primary draw for visitors to St. Bavo’s Church, and taking pictures of it is strictly prohibited.
The Ghent Altarpiece, also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, is widely regarded as the very first Renaissance masterpiece and as one of the most impressive pieces of art to come out of Belgium. In the year 1432, the brothers Van Eyck created the work that consists of twenty panels. It is one of the oldest paintings we are aware of that was done in oil.
The likes of Austrian Emperor Joseph II, Napoleon, and Hitler have been accused of stealing, trading, and coming dangerously close to destroying the picture. The fact that the picture has been preserved despite its advanced age and tumultuous past is nothing short of a miracle. The artwork has been cleaned up and any previous “fixes” have been removed as a result of recent restoration work. The hues have developed into something really amazing. Instead of looking like it was painted over 600 years ago, it seems like it was painted just yesterday.
To see the altarpiece, visitors need to purchase a ticket, which also grants them access to an augmented reality experience (entering St. Bavo’s is otherwise free). The panels are folded inward daily between the hours of 12:00 and 1:00 pm, so that the work may be seen from the outside. If you want to escape the crowds at this famous attraction, the best time to attend is either very early in the morning or very late in the day. This is because the lines tend to become quite lengthy at this location.
Be sure to make your way up to the belfry for the very greatest view of the city (belfort). It’s not often that you come across a bell tower from the 14th century in Europe that has an elevator, rather than requiring you to climb more than 300 steps to reach the top. When something like this occurs, you should make the most of it.
One of the most famous landmarks in Ghent, the Belfry of Ghent is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is over 90 meters (300 feet) tall. When it was completed in the year 1380, it served as the primary watchtower for the city, and its carillon was used to announce the hour as well as any impending danger.
There is an exhibit on the renowned dragon weathervane that is located in the belfry of the tower. This weathervane has stood watch over the location ever since the tower was constructed. There have been two past versions of him, each existing at a different level of completion. In addition, you will be able to see the enormous bell that is referred to as “Roland,” as well as the enormous spinning drum that appears to be the workings of a music box and is the source of the music produced by the carillon. However, the view is the primary reason people come here.
The belfry is located in the midst of the three towers that make up the city, thus it offers a fantastic perspective over both St. Nicholas Church and the old center of Ghent on the one side, and St. Bavo on the other side. If you want to take a picture of Saint Nicholas that looks as good as the one that is atop this page, you should be there about midmorning, when the sun will be behind you (and hopefully not cast too many shadows).
Graslei, which literally translates to “Grass Quay” in English, is one of the most picture-perfect locations in the city. Along the quayside, a succession of magnificent medieval structures can be seen. Along the banks of the Leie river are several cafés, restaurants, and bars that have transformed the quaint quay, which was once a thriving port, into a major tourist destination in recent years.
Graslei has a long and illustrious history, reaching all the way back to the fifth century. You may now enjoy magnificent boat excursions up and down the river, learning all about its mesmerizing history as you go. The quay is the starting point for these trips. The ten days of the Ghent Festivities are when the banks of the Graslei really come to life. During this time, there are many music performances and light shows that take place on the banks of the Graslei. Although it is a very idyllic place to visit at any time of the year, the Ghent Festivities bring it to life.
Patershol’s historic cobblestone lanes wind their way here and there, taking you through hundreds of wonderful old medieval houses. Dotted around are comfortable cafés, rustic eateries, and boutique boutiques. Patershol is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This ancient area is a delight to explore since it is tucked away between Gravensteen castle and the Leie river. The lanes in this district have a unique atmosphere and have remained the same for centuries. Patershol, which was formerly home to tradesmen and clergymen, is today a very popular hangout among the city’s university students and boasts a number of inviting pubs where you can spend the evening trying Belgian beers. Patershol was once home to the people who worked in the trades and the clergy.
Castle of the Counts
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Ghent may be found right in the middle of the city. It is hard to overlook the Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen), which was built in the 12th century. The formidable fortification towers above the Lys River and is surrounded by a moat and turrets.
The home of the Counts of Flanders from 1180 to 1353, the castle had a significant role in the political events that occurred during that time period. Count Philip of Alsace was the one who constructed it on top of an ancient stronghold that was there. This structure, complete with battlements and weaponry, was intended to demonstrate his superior power in the face of the persistent challenges posed by members of the upper class.
Following the departure of the Counts, the castle was converted into a courtroom as well as a jail. In the end, it was converted into a cotton mill, although it has since fallen into ruin. After a significant amount of time spent having it repaired, the Castle of the Counts now contains a singular collection of instruments of torture and the odd set of armor, but not much more.
A Belgian comedian lends his voice to the audio tour, which lasts for forty-five minutes and adds a little bit more context to the chambers and the tale of the castle. However, the audio guide is far more entertaining than it is informative about the castle’s history. Visitors are welcome to explore the gatehouse, ramparts, keep, and stables of the fortress. From the very top of the Castle of the Counts, one may take in breathtaking panoramas, much like the belfry.
Belfry and Cloth Hall
As it soars to a height of 91 meters, the Belfry of Ghent provides visitors with a breathtaking panorama of the city below. As a result of this, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that it was utilized as a watchtower for a number of centuries. The dragon weathervane, which was first installed atop the neo-Gothic campanile when it was finished in 1380, has since become the unofficial symbol of the city. On your ascent to the summit, you will pass by two older iterations of the well-known sign.
In addition to the breathtaking panoramas, guests may also explore the charming Cloth Hall, which is a part of the Belfry and is located just next door. During the 1400s and 1500s, textile merchants would buy and sell their wares in this hall, which dates back hundreds of years and has stunning Brabant Gothic architecture.
It would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to see the city from the sea. There are a number of choices available, however the one that we went with departs from just in front of the Marriott.
The captain gives a guided tour and an in-depth look at the history of Ghent and the gorgeous structures inside, and he does so in a number of different languages. A trip along a canal provides the ideal setting for putting your tired feet up while also enhancing your knowledge of the area.
St Michael’s Bridge
St. Michael’s Bridge, which spans the Leie river that flows through the middle of town, is flanked on all sides by structures that are stunningly gorgeous, and the bridge itself doesn’t look too bad too. People have been crossing the river across the river on the cobbled bridge, which is surrounded on both sides by wrought iron balustrades and features beautiful light posts at each end of the bridge. It provides a wonderful vantage point from which to take in the picturesque Graslei bank of the river, with all of its remarkable historical structures.
The Church of Saint Michael is another beautiful structure in the area. The amazing view that you can take in, however, of the three towers of Saint Nicholas Church, the Belfry, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral standing in a line before you is without a doubt the most exciting part of the experience. St. Michael’s Bridge is one of the greatest sites in the whole city to take picture after picture since it provides access to such a wide variety of breathtaking vantage points.
Street Art Walk
Street art is one of our favorite things to look for when visiting a new city, and the city center of Ghent is home to a thriving community of street artists. There are big murals painted all throughout the city by painters who are already well-known, as well as more intimate pieces painted by artists who are just starting out. In Ghent, there is no lack of legal canvases for artists to present their work, and the city recognizes and appreciates the artists’ contributions to the city’s thriving art scene.
Werregarenstraat, better known to most people as “graffiti alley,” is one of the places that every tourist absolutely must see while they are in Amsterdam. The activities that take place on the pedestrian street include both business and recreation. The project, which began in 1995 at the Ghent Festivities, is never repeated in its entirety from one week to the next since new tags and designs are always being introduced.
In other parts of the city, you’ll find lanes teeming with anthropomorphic cartoon characters, brilliant blue bandits on the sides of buildings, and a wide variety of exotic animals. Roa, a well-known artist who was born and raised in Ghent, has donated pieces that showcase his large-scale animal sculptures.
STAM Ghent City Museum
STAM is the place you want to go if you are interested in learning all there is to know about the intriguing history of the city of Ghent. The interior of the museum is startlingly contemporary, despite the fact that it is housed within a couple of fantastically old buildings that were once a part of a nunnery. Interactive exhibitions lie next to multimedia displays, and there is also a massive aerial map of Ghent that you can walk across.
You may learn about life in modern-day Ghent as well as what it may look like in the future by watching movies, looking at images, and looking at projections. This is in addition to the numerous historical and archaeological objects that are on display. The STAM Ghent City Museum, which has won several accolades, is very well organized and will not disappoint you in any way.
The elaborately ornamented Town Hall, which really demonstrates two very diverse but equally wonderful architectural styles, is without a doubt one of the most one-of-a-kind structures in the whole city. On one side is a stunning example of late Gothic architecture, while on the other is a stunning example of Renaissance architecture, complete with ornate columns, pilasters, and other charming Renaissance details.
Because it took so long to construct the Stadhuis, preferences shifted throughout the construction process, which led to the development of these two distinct shapes. Although construction on the town hall started in 1519, it wasn’t finished until 1600, which contributed to the building’s stunningly diverse interior.
Visitors have the option of pre-booking a tour that lasts for one hour and takes them through the opulent majestic chambers and elegantly painted hallways. The Stadhuis can be found at one end of the Botermarkt, just next to the Stadshal, and not too far away from the belfry.
The Vrijdagmarkt square, which is both one of the oldest and biggest squares, receives its name from the weekly market that is conducted here. On Fridays and Saturdays throughout the week, the central plaza is taken over by stallholders offering a variety of goods, including clothing and products for the home. Overlooking the whole area is a statue of Jakob van Artevelde, a notable merchant who lived in the 14th century.
Around the area are several places to eat and drink, some with outdoor patios, as well as the Ons Huis, which translates to “House of the People.” This building serves as the headquarters for the socialist movement in the region. In the event that you were unable to visit the frites stand located near the Butchers’ Hall, the Frituur Jozef fry wagon offers an additional excellent choice.
The Baudelostraat is located just below the monument of Van Artevelde, and it has a number of vintage businesses. The row of brightly colored houses, each with elaborate gables and balconies, was the primary draw for us.