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Medieval Ghent — Belgium’s Beautiful Secret


A friend of mine recommended that I visit Ghent the next time I was in Belgium. So when I had a couple free days, I decided to do it. I was already staying in Brussels, and Ghent is a mere 30 min train trip away. I figured it would be an easy day trip.

As a side note, I’ve been to Bruges about 3 times — world famous for it’s canals and old European architecture. So to be honest, I really wasn’t expecting too much from Ghent. But boy was I pleasantly surprised!

Europe’s best-kept “secret”

That’s one of the nicknames for this charming city. I think they call it that because most people skip it over. They just don’t realize how beautiful it really is. But now that I’ve been there I can testify truly… Ghent is a total gem of a city that I recommend highly. It rivals Bruges for overall quaintness, canals, cathedrals, etc. And in some ways it feels more intimate and authentic. This place literally oozes charm.

Here’s just a few of the things I loved:

  • It’s chock-a-block full of beautiful medieval churches, castles and other old city buildings. Walking around, it’s easy to feel that you’ve wandered onto a perfectly recreated Hollywood movie set. But’s it’s so very real.
  • Private autos are not allowed in the entire downtown area. You’ll see only pedestrians, taxis, public transport and an occasional delivery/repair truck. 
  • Whoever set up the tourist information and services program for the city did a fantastic job. Information was readily available, in multiple languages and free for the asking. The tourist maps and brochures are packed full of important details. You can see at a glance all the museums, churches, special buildings, activities, things for kids, where to eat / shop, etc. There’s also a calendar of events and history highlights. Really well done!
  • The public transportation is superb. In the main part of the city are trams, and buses run to the farther out places.
  • The city has put together a special all-inclusive card called the City Card or Gent All In. You can buy either the 48 or 72 hour validity card. With it you get entrance to all the top attractions (museums, churches and special exhibitions), a hop on/off canal boat service, 1-day bike rental, a guided canal boat tour, and all the local city transportation. I bought this and was so happy I did. It paid for itself in just 24 hours,  so I essentially had the whole second day free.


You’ll be surprised how much there is to do

There was way more to see and do here than I ever imagined. And I’m happy to report that I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the city. I had originally thought I would “do” Ghent in a single day. But I just couldn’t fit it all in. Now I understand why 48 hours is the shortest City Card offered. I was there from about 9 am to 6 pm on both days and honestly can’t say I saw it all.

Chocolate lovers paradise

I indulged in the most expensive cup of hot chocolate I’ve ever imbibed in my life — about $6.50 US for just a medium cup. But it was absolutely delicious and totally worth it. You pick the size, the base (white, milk, dark or intense), additives (like honey, caramel, hazelnut, cinnamon, etc.) , toppings (whipped cream, marshmallow, meringue, etc.) Whatever you want, sort of like a create-your-own-pizza menu.

Even just the ordering process of my masterpiece was a fun unique experience. And the final result tasted fantastic! Head over to Chocolato for your own heavenly hot chocolate experience. (It’s only a stone’s throw from Saint Michaels bridge, and is shown on Google maps.)

Graffiti is welcome here

A vibrantly colorful “graffiti street” gives young folks freedom to wield spray paint cans as they like. It’s become an attraction as an ever changing public art show. I enjoyed strolling through this narrow alley way to see the creations. I think having such a designated area is a super idea. As a result, the rest of this priceless historical town is virtually un-tagged.

More photos of Ghent:

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