We loved Ghent from the moment we boarded a tram outside Gent-Sint-Pieters train station to make our way to Tine and Fabio’s place, our Couchsurfing hosts for the next three nights. The city was beautiful and that always helps, but their seemed to a buzz about the city and the locals on the tram were incredibly friendly. They could see us looking out the windows and checking maps to make sure we didn’t miss our stop. A few must have overheard Sarah and I talking and made it a point to ensure we got off at the right place, Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts.
Despite the fact we were running out of a little travel momentum having spent almost 12 months on the road, Ghent proved to be one of the highlights of our global adventure. It’s a truly beautiful city, but we’ve been to many places equally as attractive and not felt the same. More often than not it’s the people that set cities apart, and in Ghent we met some people who we hope will remain friends for many years to come. Fabio and Tine are two of the nicest people you could possibly meet, so generous and inviting. They opened their doors to us and treated us like long lost friends, and were especially wonderful with Jack. They are a young professional couple with their whole lives ahead of them, and I really hope they succeed at whatever it is they choose to do with their lives. I have no doubt they will.
Apart from our Couchsurfing hosts and the friendly, helpful locals, the city itself is exceptional. It’s probably a slight step below Bruges in terms of beauty, but that’s no slight given Bruges is virtually an open air museum, an immaculately preserved medieval city. But there’s no comparison when it comes to soul with Ghent blowing Bruges away. You can walk out the front door first thing in the morning and do nothing other than walking the streets and soaking up the atmosphere until late into the evening and be happy. There’s a fantastic cafe/restaurant/bar scene that made me think of Melbourne, and despite the chilly weather, there were people everywhere just looking happy and content.
If it wasn’t for the bitterly cold winter weather I could live there no problems. It ticks every box – great social scene, cool shops, beautiful city – I’m just not sure I could hack spending 8 months of every year rugged up to fend off the cold.
Anyway, here’s a list of a few things we got up to during our stay:
Amadeus Ribs and Balls And Glory
If you go to Ghent you have to eat at both of these establishments. If you get takeaway from Amadeus you’ll get so many ribs you won’t be able to eat them all in one sitting, while Balls And Glory is a simple concept serving flavour-filled meatballs on salad with seasonal greens or stoemp with gravy. Delicious!
St Bavo’s Cathedral, St Nocholas’ Church and The Belfry
Three enormous buildings and towers in the middle of the old town that defines Ghent. Climb the Belfry for great photos over Ghent, or get a lovely shot of all three from St Michael’s Bridge. St Bavo’s is also home of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a masterpiece painting by Jan Van Eyck. If you’re an art fan it’s not to be missed.
Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts)
We didn’t go inside because we’re over castles, but if you’re into them this one is apparently quite cool with a unique history.
A lovely quiet area of town that was once avoided like the plague but is now a trendy, upmarket suburb within the Old Town. I’m sure every major city has stories of former neglected areas that are now more expensive than anywhere else!
Korenlei, Graslei and St Michael’s Bridge
Two absolutely gorgeous riverside streets lined with amazing architecture connected by the beautiful St Michael’s Bridge. Get your typical get photos from here including the Three Towers of Ghent.
Ghent Town Hall
A fascinating building that is half Gothic, half Renaissance. We didn’t go inside but you can explore what is apparently a fascinating interior.
Graffiti Street and the street art scene
Werregarenstraat is where local street artists can come and show off their craft. However while it’s very colourful and a huge departure from the look of the rest of the city, the artwork isn’t exactly mind-blowing. There is the odd extraordinary painting, but on the whole it’s just people painting over the top of each other non-stop.
There so much more to see and do, and I encourage everyone to go. You can do day trips from Brussels or Bruges, but I believe that would be doing the city a disservice. Go and stay for a few nights and really get to know the city. You won’t be disappointed.