GHENT : HOW TO SPEND A FABULOUS WEEKEND IN BELGIUM ´S BEST KEPT SECRET (TIPS FROM A BELGIAN)
Ghent is a gem half an hour from Brussels or Bruges. Here are my tips for the best romantic stay in this fairytale city.
Still a little secret - but probably not for much longer - Ghent surprises by its contrasts and the richness of its history, it amazes by its architecture and charms by its romantic atmosphere.
Inviting lovers to dream along its canals, flattering the most demanding palates - vegetarians included -, delighting art lovers, Ghent has everything : in my opinion, it is one of the most interesting and magical European cities.
As I write these lines, however, I don’t want to think that one day it will be caught up in the turmoil of mass tourism, so I can only invite you to discover Ghent with respect for its inhabitants, its heritage and its environment.
No time to read the article now, pin it for later.
TOP 10 THINGS TO SEE AND DO FOR 2 DAYS
Walk through the old centre and fiscover the highligets;
Visit St. Bavo's Cathedral and see the Adoration of the Mystical Lamb, the masterpiece of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck;
Enjoy the market square;
Visit the Castle of the Counts;
Have a glass of wine or a Belgian beer (Gruut and Gentse strop are excellent) in Graslei or Korenlei;
Stop at the Saint Michael's bridge to admire the view of the three highest towers of Ghent;
Discover Ghent by night and follow the light plan;
Take a boat trip on Ghent waters;
Take a walk on the lovers' path.
DAY 1 : OLD TOWN AND ENCHANTING NIGHT WALK
St Bavo´s cathedral and the Mystic Lamb
Located on the Sintbaafsplein, the present cathedral stands on the site of Ghent's oldest parish church, built in the 10th century. The Gothic style construction was completed in 1559.
Note: Even if many tourists have absolutely nothing to do with the many signs forbidding to fake pictures, it is indeed forbidden to photograph the place.
Not to be missed:
The crypt, which occupies the entire site of the former St. John's chapel and the western part of which contains the last vestiges of the Romanesque period, dating from 1150;
The pulpit of the cathedral, in rococo style;
The Mystic Lamb, the most famous masterpiece of the brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, which has been restored to its original location after a long and meticulous renovation.
For us, a visit is a must-do.
Allow an hour and a half for the visit.
Event: In 2020, Ghent celebrates the Mystic Lamb and Jan Van Eyck. Learn more.
This very pretty square used to be the place for the weekly market but also for solemn celebrations and executions...
Gravensteen, Le Castle of the counts
Built at the confluence of the Lys and the Scheldt, at first residence of the Counts of Flanders, then centre of the judicial administration, prison and thon textile factory, the medieval fortress finally became the property of the Belgian State and the city of Ghent at the beginning of the 20th century.
Since the World Exhibition of 1913, the Gravensteen has been regarded as Ghent's biggest tourist attraction.
Count an hour and a half for the visit.
Boat tour from Graslei or Korenlei
A first visit to Ghent would´nt be complete without a boat trip on the Lys and Lieve, from Graslei or Korenlei .
St Michael’s bridge
According to Socrates, "Wisdom begins in awe."
To tell you the truth, I don't know if this stone bridge makes you wise, but what is certain is that this place is inspiring and enchanting. Day and night.
Here, everyone takes a selfie at least once, with their back turned to the Lys or to this "Manhattan of the Middle Ages", which appears here in all its splendour.
St Nicholas’church and Ghent Belfry
Since the 12th century, St. Nicholas church has been protecting merchants and sailors and has also been offering its Gothic splendour to the people of Ghent and to travelers.
At the top of the Ghent Belfry, UNESCO World Heritage Site, a proud dragon symbolises the city and celebrates the independent and rebellious character of its inhabitants.
Nights in Ghent are like fairytales...
From dusk to midnight, the Ghent lighting plan provides a totally magical dimension: you think you are Cinderella and her prince, admiring the reflections of the houses of Graslei and Korenlei from the St.Michael’s bridge, where you imagine yourself, buying a magic wand at Ollivander's, on the side path.
Wherever the fantasy takes us, we let ourselves be lulled and it feels good.
"What would the light be without the ones who perceive it? "Philppe Montpellier, explorer and photographer.
DAY 2 : A WALK FOR LOVERS
After a spa treatment at your hotel and a delicious brunch, Michel and I recommend the "walk for romantic people ", a free tour offered by Ghent tourism board.
You can easily find the itinerary on the city map published by Visit Gent, but here are sole pictures , so that you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere ...
Graslei and Korenlei
In the 11th century, this area was the port of Ghent and a centre of important commercial exchange.
Today, Graslei and Korenlei, linked by the Grasbrug, form a charming ensemble with the Leie. Sitting here, at the table of a brewery or on the banks of the Leie, is like stopping the course of time.
So, sit back and enjoy the view of the pretty boatmen's houses, the comings and goings of the boats and the colourful crowds that inevitably liven up this postcard.
The only risk: not wanting to leave.
GHENT TRAVEL GUIDE - EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
How to arrive
Ghent has a huge pedestrian area in its old Town.
If you arrive by car, use the "P route" which serves the various car parks in the city. The Parking Reef (P2) is located a stone's throw from St. Bavo's Cathedral. You can also choose the Ramen car park (P8), located 500 metres from the centre and just behind the hotel we recommend.
However, be careful if you reach Ghent this way because since 01.01.2020 the city of Ghent is in a low emission zone. So make sure that your vehicle meets the requirements. Check it .
If you want to come by train from a Belgian station, buy your ticket here.
Where to stay in Ghent
Our choice: Pillows Grand Hotel Reylof
Excellent luxury establishment with spa and restaurant. Great mix of authenticity and a modern scenography. Fine dining at Lof restaurant.
Where to eat and have a drink in Ghent
For an aperitif or more : Korenlei twee, at the foot of the Grasbrug. Very clean establishment. Nice terrace even in winter. Very friendly staff.
For lunch: The Pakhuis Brewery is located in a historical industrial building. We experienced itpreviously. 13/20 at the Gault & Millau. Tip: Reserve a table on the first floor if possible, to fully enjoy the place.
Afternoon: We experienced Max, a tea room located in the old town , close to St. Nicholas' Church and the Belfry. Our experience was rather positive. We were indeed installed at the musician's table who has his habits there. This table located near the window was perfect for observing . We enjoyed our drinks but my waffle didn’t satisfy me. Price commensurate with the location.
For dinner: the Lof Restaurant, housed within the walls of the Pillows Grand Hotel Reylof, under the direction of chef Hannes Vandebotermet. The cuisine is inspired by the renowned Dutch star chef Ron Blaauw. The table at the Lof Restaurant is known as one of the best gastronomic addresses in Ghent.
Where to shop in Ghent Louise & Madeleine: Located in Kraanlei 61, this pretty little shop is Ali Baba ´ s cave in a Marie-Antoinette's boudoir . Fashion accessories and gift ideas. Very affordable.
Scoopstore: Located at Hoogpoort 57, this store focuses on local designers and sustainable development. It defines itself as the hotspot of brands and designers to discover. And rightly so. Home accessories , clothing , jewellery, gift ideas. Great shop. Reasonable prices.
The cuberdons "De echte gentse neuzen": Buy the real ones from the street vendor on the vegetable market square (Groentenmarkt) . .
Ghent City card
The program presented in this guide leaves room for more relaxing moments on the second day. If you would like a more active day, you can choose to visit one or more museums.
In this case, make sure you check that a City Card is not better than buying individual tickets. The same applies if you come by train and have to use public transport to get to the old town .