With only a long weekend to explore Belgium, I ended up limiting our day trips from Brussels to Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent. The latter ended up being one of my favorite getaways – and just a 40-minute train ride from our home base!
The only real downside to this day trip was that some of the churches were closed. If you plan to visit Ghent on a Sunday, look ahead to make sure you can access all of the places you’re interested in visiting.
Here’s how we spent one day exploring Ghent, Belgium:
Since we missed climbing up into the belfort in Bruges, we made Ghent’s belfort our first stop.
This 14th century belfry is a UNESCO world heritage site and full of history. We purchased our tickets in the gift shop underneath the main entrance, entered into the cloth hall via the ticket kiosks, and then made our way to a room with floors that wrapped around four stone soldiers where we read some of the background on the belfry.
The Ghent Belfry, a recognised UNESCO World Heritage, is well worth a visit. In 1402, it was the place where city privileges were kept: in a chest, locked up in the Belfry safe. The dragon, which has been up on the tower since 1377, kept an eye on the city as well as being the symbolic guardian of the belfry. The Belfry also proudly carried the alarm bell, the ‘Great Triumphant’. Today you will find this bell, nicknamed ‘Roland’ by the people of Ghent, not far from the Belfort on Emile Braunplein.https://visit.gent.be/en/see-do/ghent-belfry-world-heritage
We took the elevator to a few different floors to see the dragon, the bells, and eventually the open-air walkway near the top where we had great views of the nearby stadhuis (1500s city hall), churches, and castle. It was a great first stop to get our bearings before checking the other places on our list.
A short but fun stop was walking through Werregarenstraat (graffiti street). The artwork was very impressive and the subject matter ran the gamut!
There were a few other couples exploring the street while we were there as well as one gentleman at work on a new piece of art! We enjoyed taking our time, pointing out art of interest to each other, and then popping out the other end of the alley and continuing on to our next destination.
The street is not too far out of the way and the artwork is constantly changing so I recommend making a visit!
Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant
I had a number of possible eateries and breweries on our list but we landed on Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant once we spotted it along the canal on our way to the castle.
We decided to try their three house beers and some appetizers and spent a leisurely hour or so sitting on the upper level in front of the corner windows people watching over the bridge and waterway.
One of my favorite stops of the day was at the gravensteen – a 12th century castle only a few blocks away from the central downtown area.
We paid for the 45-minute handheld audio guide tour as we entered, which was delivered by a Flemish comedian. Many of the jokes were corny, but it was an interesting take on the often dry and boring historical audio guides you typically find at these sorts of sites.
The guide covered the turbulent history of the region and the castle’s inhabitants as we explored the gatehouse, ramparts, keep, count’s residence, and stables. This was an entertaining, informative, and family-friendly stop.
Graslei and Korenlei (east and west banks)
Although we didn’t have blur skies, we also didn’t have wind or rain as we walked around downtown Ghent. Despite the odd weather we thoroughly enjoyed the Flemish architects and exploring the east and west banks of the River Leie where quite a few people were walking the banks, catching canal tours, and more.
Although St. Michael’s church wasn’t open, we did cross over its famed stone arch bridge, which offered one of the best views of the quays.
The one church on our list that was open was St. Bavo’s Cathedral right beside the belfort. While a church has been at its site since 942, the oldest elements in the church date from the 12th century and the church has undergone a number of changes since then.
About the middle of the 16th century, the building had the appearance it still has today. But other changes were afoot. In 1536, by order of Emperor Charles V, the centuries-old St. Bavo’s Abbey was closed down, most of the abbey was demolished after the Ghent revolt in 1540 and converted into barracks. The abbot and monks of this abbey were secularized and given the title of canon. Their chapter was transferred to the Sint Janskerk, which was then called Sint Baafskerk. The diocese of Ghent was established in 1559 and the church became St Bavo’s Cathedral.https://www.sintbaafskathedraal.be/nl/geschiedenis/bouwgeschiedenis/
Although much newer than most aspects of the cathedral, I particularly enjoyed the colorful stained glass windows. They had a more modern design and there were so many to peruse as we walked around inside.
Our day in Ghent flew by and we were soon on the train back to Brussels for dinner. We could have easily spent the night and enjoyed a few more meals downtown – we really enjoyed Ghent and highly recommend making it one of your stops in Belgium!
One thought on “How to Spend A Day in Ghent, Belgium”
Very interesting, I particularly found the graffiti alley to be a great idea and a cool place for artists to express themselves. The cathedral was beautiful especially the stained glass windows. The picture of the altar with the stained glass windows above is breathtakingly beautiful.