Trying to sort out the best things to do in Ghent, Belgium and finding yourself a bit overwhelmed?
As someone who used to live in Ghent, I know the feeling.
The ever-historical, medieval-architecture of the old town of Ghent is filled with history and a vibrant life that gives you plenty of activities to do in Ghent whether your traveling with your family or backpacking Europe solo. The city, largely, has remained untouched from its Medieval roots from centuries ago. The eerie-feeling is still ever-present.
Standing in the middle of the wide-open city center, your eyes will shift from the grandeur of the ‘stair-step’ rooftops to the cobblestone at your feet. Whether it’s the local nightlife of Overpoort or the simple but delightful Belgian delicacies; there’s a ton of things to do in Ghent to keep the wandering soul busy for any length of stay.
Here is a list of the best things to do while you visit one of the most historic cities in Europe. Oh, and you must make sure number eleven is a priority while visiting Ghent!
By far and away my favorite thing to do in Ghent while I was there was taking a leisurely stroll around this beautiful city. There is so much culture to see and so many store windows to gaze into. Whether you’re watching the lovely local people barter at the markets or picnic along the river, I’m sure you could make an afternoon of walking these narrowed cobblestone streets. I sure can!
The best place to get the whole glimpse of the city is in the City Center where there are plenty of activities in Ghent that will exceed anyone’s interests. My favorite place to walk around is the Korenmarkt Square at the heart of all of the action and places to see in Ghent. Make sure you take some time to walk along the Lys and Leie River, too, which coincide with each other throughout the city. It is a beautiful way to spend the afternoon.
Anyone who wants to do as the locals do will be quick to see that a picnic along one of these quays is the place to be on a sunny Sunday afternoon – or any afternoon for that matter! Go get a world famous Belgian beer and join them.
If you fancy a traditional meal, there are also many traditional Belgian restaurants in this area along the banks of the Leie River. Expect to pay tourist prices, but the food is worth the price. If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of friit (French fry) stands around the city center.
Don’t forget to clear way for the bicyclists! The best way to stand out as a tourist in Ghent is to get in their way. Listen for the bicycle bells. Once you don’t hear them around, you know you’ve found an approved place to picnic.
You can look up to the sky and see the impressively tall Saint Bravo’s Cathedral standing at about 270-feet tall from anywhere in the historical city center of Ghent. Tourists flock to this cathedral and grab pictures by the dozens.
You don’t even have to go inside the building; just a moment to take in its outer beauty will leave you in awe. If you have time, take a tour of the inside; it is known as one of the top things to do in Ghent and is one of the best places to visit in Ghent, Belgium.
With an outstanding atmosphere and a 360-degree view of all of the Medieval culture around you, it is hard not to spend time on St. Michael’s Bridge. While at the bridge, you’ll notice you’re in the middle of all of the city’s action so don’t be afraid to explore around a little bit while you are there.
It sits across the Leie River which is one of the cities two intertwining rivers and it is absolutely gorgeous! Notice all of the locals hanging out riverside. You can – and should – do the same. So sit down and have a beer and let the breath-taking cityscape steal your attention from all directions. There’s no where in the city that you can view so many marvelous building in the same position.
Perhaps the most popular attraction for tourists, the Gravensteen Castle originating all the way back from the Middle Ages. It got is name from the literal translation meaning “Castle of the Counts” in Dutch. It isn’t a tall building, so it is a little difficult to locate.
You have to pay to enter, but I highly suggest parting ways with the minimal entrance fee. When in the city, you must see it as it is one of the most popular places to visit in Ghent. It will transport you to another time when Medieval castles were only a part of life. I suppose they still are when in Ghent! It’s a definite list-topper for your Ghent itinerary.
The STAM Ghent City Museum is a jewel for all history buffs – especially those with high interest in the Middle Ages. You can purchase a museum pass to cut down on the cost if you are a museum junkie like I am!
There’s so much history inside and you are guaranteed to learn more about the Medieval times than you ever bargained for. With that being said, there’s no better time to learn about the dark and trivial times of the Medieval period than when you are in a city as historic and with as many places to see in Ghent!
Sitting a few feet taller than Saint Bravo’s Cathedral, the 91-meter-tall Belfry of Ghent is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city center of Ghent; the other two belonging to Saint Bravo’s Cathedral itself and Saint Nicholas’ Church. Its height makes it the tallest belfry in the country and therefore definitely deserving of being one of the top things to do in Ghent.
The area around the medieval tower is quite bustling so plan to spend the good part of an afternoon there. Between the two, I prefer the view from the top of the Belfry of Ghent because then you can see Saint Bravo’s Cathedral which I think is a much more extravagant building. . . better for pictures, too!
Perhaps my favorite place in the city of Ghent, the narrow streets of this medieval neighborhood are home to countless fine traditional restaurants and bars. It’s safe to say Patershol is the culinary heart of the city, where most of all the traditional Belgian food that Ghent natives eat is served.
That doesn’t mean the area is frequented by locals, however. Prices are hiked up for tourists in this area but for good reason. The streets are beautiful and give off the perfect dinner ambiance of a Medieval haven. This neighborhood is definitely one of the best places to visit in Ghent and perfect for when you have many places to see in Ghent. It is at the heart of the city!
St. Nicholas’ Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks the city and certainly one of the top places to visit in Ghent. Believe it or not, this amazing church was built as early as the 13th Century as a replacement to the earlier Romanesque church that stood in its place. Its construction continued throughout the rest of the century before completion.
As mentioned previously, its tower is one of three that overlook the city and is the one less frequented by tourists. If you’re looking for a less busy view of the city, look no further than the Saint Nicholas Church!
Is art your calling?
Well, it’s certainly not mine, but that doesn’t mean that a fine arts museum can’t pique my interest. The National Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent is situated at the East side of the Citadelpark. The museum holds a large permanent collection of art from the Middle Ages until the middle of the 20th Century.
If you’re an art enthusiast, you must make the museum one of your top things to do in Ghent. However, even the non-art-enthusiast will find it to be one of the better activities in Ghent.
The biggest rivalry in Ghent is over. . . candy!
That’s right, you get a chance to weigh-in on the debate of who makes the best cuberdons in town. These gummy, jelly-filled treats are delicious! Personally, I loved them all. However, there are two places that do them best and they are right next door to each other, making it one of the most delicious things to do in Ghent.
Two carts, two men – each with hundreds of cuberdons at your disposal. They are known as the “Nose” candies for their nose-like shape. While you’re there, ask a local about the history of these two men and their rivalry in Grote Markt. Stories of fist-fights and jail time will surprise you. Oops! I hope I didn’t spoil the story. These guys go crazy about their candies!
There is no place in the world (sorry, Amsterdam) that is more fun to ride a bike around the city.
Rent a bike for half-a-day and cruise around the bike lanes that extend every which way throughout city center. After a few hours, you will start to feel like a local and realize who the tourists are; Note: As a pedestrian, stay out of the bike lanes or get bell’ed at!
As mentioned earlier, what’s a trip to Belgium without taste testing all Belgian delicacies! Checkout this site for a list of some of the best chocolate shops.
Each of these fantastic Belgian cities are only about thirty minutes away from Ghent. Get four-times the Belgium experience that you bargained for by taking day trips from Ghent to all of them!
Brugge offers a similar yet more quaint and smaller experience as Ghent. It is the most impressive city for Medieval architecture, in my opinion.
Travel to Brussels, the capital of the country and the European Union in order to get a completely different cultural experience. In Brussels, they speak French! Pretty fascinating seeing that only a half-hour train trip away in Ghent their native tongue is Dutch.
Antwerp is a port city in the north of the country. It was my least favorite of the four, however, it boasts having the best chocolate and mussels in Belgium! It is a larger, more spacious city than the others. Also, it is only thirty minutes from Ghent.
For the younger, college-friendly crowd looking to travel Europe cheaply; Overpoort is the party center of Ghent. Find the cheapest beer near the city center in Overpoort if that’s what you are into! Plenty of nightlife and vibes to attract any party-goer.
Between all the chocolates and waffles, you are going to need a world famous Belgian beer to wash that down with. Whether you’re touring one of the many breweries or just want to pop into a pub for a pint, a Belgian beer is one experience in Ghent you cannot miss out on.
During ten days over a different part of every summer, Ghent hosts a Jazz Festival and Festival of Flanders which has earned Ghent the title of UNESCO Creative City of Music.
Anyone who wants to travel to Belgium will not lack things to do in Ghent. There are activities in Ghent for travelers of all kinds. Whether you’re looking for a taste of the world famous Belgian beer or looking for places in Ghent to experience the historic Medieval culture, the city offers so many awesome things to do and explore!
If you’re traveling to Europe, be sure to check out these 5 tips on How to Travel Europe Cheaply. Also be sure to read this guide to whether you should buy annual travel insurance before traveling to Europe! And, if you need a backpack, check out our Osprey Porter 46 review to see why it’s the best backpack in the world!
Oh, and one last thing before you go: if you’re on Pinterest, be sure to pin this image for later here:
About the Author: Adam Cheshier has traveled the world for three years and documented his exploration on his blog Wanderway, where he writes about his most thrilling travel stories and adventures. He has three fiction travel novels set to be published in late 2018.