8 Memorable Things To Do in Ghent, Belgium | Attractions and Activities

If you are keen to discover the historical, cultural and culinary highlights of Ghent, fill yourself up with Cuberdons, a cone-shaped sugary Belgian candy, hard on the outside – gooey on the inside and catch a boat trip on the canals to take in the view from the water that gives you the full experience of Ghent, then a trip to Belgium’s third-largest city should be on your travel wish list.

Once you arrive, begin your day in Kouter, a grand square, that has for centuries been the meeting place for both working people and the bourgeoisie of the city.

From here, you can head over to the historic Patershol neighbourhood which is full of beautiful old houses and tiny, winding streets, and most importantly, a great selection of delicious restaurants. Or, you can walk to the Graslei, a picturesque quay lining the banks of the Leie River, which runs through Ghent. It’s an ideal place for an aperitif, as it has numerous cafés. 

If you do nothing else during your visit, sitting on a bench, drinking in the blue skies and basking in the sun would be more than enough to soak up the relaxing vibe.  

 Without further ado, here are just a few of our favourite things to do in Ghent.

Did you know?

Ghent used to be one of Europe’s most powerful cities. After Paris, it was the second-largest city north of the Alps in the middle ages. A strategic position on the meeting point of two rivers (the Scheldt and Leie) drew wealthy tradesmen and artists into the city, not to mention royalty. 

First of all – Ghent or Bruges?

Planning a trip to Belgium and debating whether you should visit Bruges or Ghent? Or possibly you just want to know where you should allocate more time. I had the same dilemma when researching my trip. Luckily, over the years we were able to visit both Bruges and Ghent.

When discussing Bruges vs. Ghent, everyone seems to have a strong opinion. Many argue Ghent feels more authentic than touristy Bruges and Brussels. It is after all home to about 50,000 students attending the University of Ghent, giving the city a young/hipster vibe. I really enjoyed visiting both cities.  you are either short on time or would like to explore one city to the fullest and not feel rushed, and therefore fitting both cities into your itinerary is not an option.

In short – Ghent is less touristy therefore it gives a more realistic look into a living, working Belgian city. Once you leave the centre of the “tourist zone” surrounding Saint Michael’s Bridge, you’ll notice an imperfect, slightly gritty city where people actually live, work and go on with their daily lives.

Read More: 6 Reasons Why You Should Travel By Train At Least Once In Your Lifetime

A row of historic buildings in Ghent, Belgium

Visit Castle Gravensteen – The Castle of the Counts

One of the most impressive sights in Ghent and a perfect place to explore for a few hours whether you are a local or a visitor is a 12th Century castle built for the count of Flanders.

The Gravensteen you see today was built in 1180 by count Philip of Alsace and was modelled after castles he had seen while participating in the second large crusade launched from Europe. When you enter Gravensteen you embark on a journey that takes you through all the castle’s most important rooms including an impressive big hall, the Knight’s Hall, the pantry and the chapel.

While the interior may lack furnishing, it makes up for it with a guillotine, swords, torture instruments, knights, toilets with a “dump-hole” to the street and a room where a unique weapons collection from the Middle Ages is displayed.

Where: Sint-Veerleplein 11.
Price: 10 € for adults. Children under 19 years of age are free.

Castle Gravensteen – The Castle of the Counts

See one of its many churches

Stop by Saint Michael’s Church built in Gothic style. It deserves a visit for its rich interior design. Its construction began in 1440 but was not finished until the 19th century.

Visit St Nicholas Church in Limburgstraat and marvel at the prolific artwork on the cathedral walls and then the Rococo pulpit, built in Danish oak and marble by the Belgian sculptor Laurent Delvaux in 1745

The majestic St Bavo’s Cathedral is the oldest parish church in the city, with foundations dating back to the 10th century. The cathedral is home to one of the most popular attractions in Ghent – the world-famous Ghent Altarpiece, formally called “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”.

This is a large 15th-century multi-panelled painting by the Van Eyck brothers. Every day between 12 pm and 1 pm the painting is folded inwards so visitors can see the outside of the panels of the Van Eyck masterpiece.

Ghent, Belgium

Climb the Belfry Tower

Head to the top of Belfry to admire the views over the city and the impressive carillon. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the tallest belfry in Belgium at 91 meters high. Back in the day, it used to serve as a watchtower and storage place for the city’s most important documents. 

The bells would have been rung in the case of danger – attack, fire or anything else the watchmen spotted from the viewpoint, but also on celebratory days.

For a bell-ringing experience that’s hard to beat, climb the 300ft (91m) Belfort just before midday to see the clock chiming in its full glory.

Opening hours: 10h – 18h Every day

Entrance fees: Adult €10, Groups (+15) €8, Children under 12 – free

City views from the Belfry Tower, Ghent

See the city at night and try the Ghent Illuminated Walk

Take a walk through the city in the evening, when most of the important buildings are illuminated, and see Ghent twinkle. When the darkness falls, the city undergoes a transformation and the medieval and gothic buildings all lit up with lights make the town look like something right out of a fairytale.

Architectural gems, cobbled streets, impressive monuments and well-visited squares are lit up to display them at their best. If you decide to walk the walk – you will be exposed to 30 of the 55 beautifully lit buildings in the city centre. Remember to give yourself enough time as the functional lightning takes over from the atmospheric illumination at midnight.  

The Ghent Light Plan / Ghent designed the elaborate Ghent Light Plan in 1998 in order to provide sustainable lighting for the city without wasting energy. As a side effect, Ghent is today one of the most beautifully lit cities in the world. The city has even won several international prizes for its light plan.

Every three years Ghent explodes in a fantastic display of lights during the Ghent Light Festival. During the festival, international light artists light up the city through performances, events and spectacles based on light. Read more about the Light Festival here: The Ghent Light Festival

The guild houses show us how rich the city was in the time of the gothic and renaissance period.

Go on a day trip

If you fancy travelling further afield, Burges, known as the ”Venice of The North” is a lively and historic place that’s full of character and is only half an hour away from Gent-Sint-Pieters train station with trains departing every 20 minutes or so.

You could also travel to Brussels, which has become a prominent centre for global politics and houses a lot of tourist attractions. It has a lot of outdoor and indoor activities to enjoy. You will find a lot of attractions, even when it rains every day. 

You can take regular trains from Brussels to Ghent and vice versa to have panoramic views of the city.

Read More: A Short Guide To The Top 8 Things To See And Do In Delightful Bruges, Belgium

Brussels, Belgium.

Sample local delicatessen

Belgian gastronomy is too often summed up as beer, chocolate and waffles. While you should definitely try them, there is a lot more to it, and Ghent is the perfect city to explore the wide range of yummy foods and innovative drinks!

To start your culinary experience, head over to the Great Butchers’ Hall, the unmistakable 15th-century covered market hall located along the Lys River. Until the late 19th century the building was the only place in town where meat could be inspected and sold.

Despite all the local meats, Ghent is a haven for vegetarians, calling itself the “Veggie Capital of Europe”. There are more vegetarian meals served here than anywhere else in Belgium, and more vegetarian restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Europe! Thursday is “veggie day” where restaurants fill their menus with non-meat options.

  • Try a nose | Officially registered as a regional product, the cone-shaped purple Cuberdons are a real treat for the people of Ghent and you can buy them from the carts on the Groentemarkt or at the candy stores. The Flemish call them “Neuzen” (noses) or affectionately “Neuzekes” (little noses).
  • Fries | going to Ghent without trying them would be a shame!

Did you know:  During the Middle Ages, there were about 500 breweries in town as beer was safer to drink than water!

Ghent’s favourite order is large fries with beef stew sauce and mayonnaise.

Simply walk around and admire its architecture

Flemish architecture is a photographer’s dream. The busy squares, cobblestoned streets, cosy cafes, and friendly locals are sure to make your trip to Belgium memorable.

The Old Town which also contains the historical city centre has the Korenmarkt, Gravensteen, Graslei and Korenlei areas. It is here you will find medieval and historic architecture, traditional restaurants, shops and bakeries.

Mostly a car-free area, the highlight of the old town is the Gothic Saint Bavo Cathedral which contains the Ghent altarpiece. The Belfry, Gravensteen castle and the Graslei harbour are located nearby and have the best-preserved architecture in the area.

The city also houses three béguinages, architectural complexes where beguines (religious women who stayed without taking vows)

 The asymmetrical City Pavilion is one of the most impressive buildings in Ghent, Belgium.

Discover your inner photographer

If you are keen on taking many incredible photos to remember from your trip to Ghent and sharing those photos on social media platforms such as Instagram, then you’ll be pleased to discover that Ghent is a perfect Instagrammable place with many beautiful places, both human-made and natural. 

The Ghent area around St Michael’s Bridge serves up a kaleidoscopic array of photogenic features, inviting you to explore your camera settings and capture some cool images. Lens-ready subjects here include bridges, old houses, floating boats and even some quirky restaurant signs.

If you are looking for top places to photograph in Ghent, here are a few:

  • Patershol area of Gent is famous as a vibrant and fashionable area. It has the most comfortable and delicious cafes and restaurants, which makes it more stunning. 
  • Lievekaai is a romantic place in the Patershol area of Gent. There are many weeping willows
  • Sint-Baafsplein is another fantastic place to photograph in Ghent. At this place, you will see impressive late Gothic buildings such as Gent’s Belfort, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, Saint Nicholas’ Church, and the Ghent City Hall.
Water adds an extra dimension to a city, and that is also the case in Ghent.

Getting to and around Ghent

Ghent is Belgium’s third-largest city. Ghent is easy to access from Brussels, Antwerp, and Bruges by train. It is located thirty minutes from Bruxelles-Midi Station and one hour from Antwerp Antwerpen-Central station.

Ghent has two railway stations: Gent-Sint-Pieters and Gent-Dampoort. There are train connections to the main station Gent-Sint-Pieters from all Belgian cities.

Public transport in the city is well organized. Buses and trams will take you to every possible destination in and around Ghent from early in the morning till late at night. If you take the tram or bus only a few times a year, it is best to purchase a single ticket.

Ghent is small enough to explore on foot or by bike, but tram number 1 is also handy between the historical centre and the station.

Charming Prinsenhof neighbourhood in Ghent, Belgium.

Pro tips for visiting Ghent

  • Do invest in a Gent City Card as public transport is included in the price. There’s also a boat tour, use of the tram, and bike rental for a day included. The more you use, the more you save!
  • If you’re looking to explore more things to do in Ghent and other itineraries, why not visit the Official website for Gent tourism, there’s so much info on things to do!
  • Be careful about getting in the way of those cyclists – the delineation between the cycle lane and pavement is not always clear, and cyclists are the kings in Ghent.
  • Paardenlookworst on a restaurant menu, if you’re not too adventurous in your culinary tastes – it’s traditional horsemeat and garlic sausage
  • Don’t take the ”wandelbus”. The cute little minibus is a new initiative, meant for senior citizens that have trouble getting from A to B without a car.
  • Allocate at least 3-4 days to explore Ghent. There’s ample street art in Gent, murals and graffiti that you can explore as well as Botanical Gardens, artsy hotspots and museums.
  • Most museums close on Wednesday and many bars and restaurants close on Monday.
One of many pretty squares in Ghent, Belgium.

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Now, over to you!

Have you ever been to Ghent? Let us know in the comments!

Let us know if you are plotting a visit to Ghent and have travel-related questions!

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43 thoughts on “8 Memorable Things To Do in Ghent, Belgium | Attractions and Activities

  1. You’ve got me from Cuberdons already ☺️😋 But I would love to visit it also for it’s architecture though! What a beautiful city! I like it that is not so touristy so you can really see the locals lifestyle!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 Ghent is a great addition to any vacation in Belgium. It’s easy to get around and has unique historical buildings and picturesque views. The tourist-oriented attractions are mixed with a local flavour that makes Ghent feel real and laid-back—the kind of place you’d like to hang out for a while. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Ghent and its mystical lamb from the Van Eyck Brothers and its sublime castle, listed among the most beautiful castles in Belgium, made a great impression on me. Our boat trip along the city canals was quite memorable – the view of Ghent from the water is absolutely charming. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been to Bruges twice, but never Ghent. I really must remedy that. Gravensteen Castle looks very stately, and I really admire their light plan. The nice thing is that, in such a small country, you really can see a lot of different places. Nice article.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much 🙂 Ghent may not be the first city that comes to mind when you think about travelling to Europe, and that may be one of the top reasons to go. Without the mass of tourists that can overwhelm some gorgeous cities, Ghent, Belgium, is a place where you can see the sights, wander the streets, and hang out with the locals without competing for space or being turned off by tourist touts. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Francisco. Travelling to Ghent almost feels like discovering a secret. Its stunning Gothic buildings are mixed in with street art, waterfront cafes, and even a castle. There are enough fun things to do in Ghent to occupy a whole weekend, if not longer. This beautiful city is one of our favourites, and we can’t stop singing its praises. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We have only been to Belgium briefly and then only to Brussels. Your post makes me want to see more Aiva. Ghent looks like the perfect place to visit. The architecture is so slimilar to that of the Netherlands and their fries with stew must be their version of French Canadian Poutine. Thanks for sharing. Happy Monday. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Allan! It was our first time in Ghent and I very much liked everything about it. What’s not to love in the city, after all, there is great art, and great food and it is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Ghent still feels fairly small compared to other cities in Europe and despite being a great place for a break, it is not overrun by tourists and sightseers. I had to use Google to see what an authentic Canadian Poutine looks like and I very much love the idea of french fries being smothered with cheese curds and brown gravy. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Diana! Ghent is a perfect blend of industry and medieval architecture which will appease every traveller’s European city palette. Nightlife and food are also good with some truly great food being served at a range of restaurants that will suit all budgets. Beer is king in Belgium and Ghent is home to the famous Gruut beer. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The Cuberdons sounds like a nice treat! And such lovely buildings in Ghent … when there is a castle and a church to explore, it must be well worth a visit. I had to laugh at the word “wandelbus” – it’s very close to my home language Afrikaans.”Wandel” means “stroll” … which is a perfect description of what the elderly do 😉. Thank you Aiva for an interesting post and all your beautiful photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. It’s hard to talk about Ghent, one of the coolest cities in Belgium without sounding like a tourist brochure. Its car-free city centre has that picture-postcard vibe, complete with tangling canals, bridges and towers. Somehow, this picturesque city in East Flanders has managed to dodge the influx of crowds that plague Bruges, so it makes an ideal alternative day trip from Brussels. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Thanks so much, Christie. I fell head over heels in love with Ghent! With its network of narrow canals, red-brick buildings and magnificent Gothic architecture, it has a medieval cityscape to rival that of Bruges, its more famous neighbour. Better still, as this is a small city, a day trip to Ghent will allow you to hit its highlights with ease. Thanks for stopping by, I hope all is well 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. The old city of Ghent is a picturesque muddle of alleyways rimmed by quaint steeple-roofed buildings running along pretty canals. Along with Bruges, Ghent is Belgium’s star architectural tourist attraction, but unlike Bruges, it comes without the tour bus hordes. Have a lovely trip to Flanders, Marion, I cannot wait to read about it. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I visited Ghent over 7 years ago, during one of my first trips through Europe. I enjoyed Ghent, although I got terrible bed bug bites at the hostel I stayed at…I wasn’t a fan of Cuberdons, but I enjoyed the fries (but there were so many that I couldn’t finish them! 😆). Would love to return to Belgium someday. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Rebecca. I am glad to hear you’ve been to Ghent and loved the fries, I couldn’t get enough of them, so I pretty much ended up eating them every day. Luckily we were there only for five days, otherwise, the mixture of fries and the unhealthy amount of waffles I ate during that time, would cause considerable damage to my health! Lol! I was surprised to find out that Ghent is often overlooked in favour of its nearby neighbours, although this has changed somewhat in recent years as word spreads about its many charms. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. For history lovers and architecture fans, Ghent is one of the top places to visit in Belgium, plus its lack of tourists makes it a great place to get to grips with modern local Flemish culture. Aiva 🙂 xx

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    1. Thanks so much, Glenys. A walk through town on a summer’s evening, when most of the important buildings are illuminated, is one of the best sightseeing experiences, as is a canal boat ride down the many branches of the Scheldt and Leie Canals that intersect the city. Take care 🙂 Aiva xx

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  6. A very nice article, Aiva. Ghent is truly an underrated gem in Europe, and even within Belgium itself weirdly. I used to live in the university town of Leuven, so I made many trips into Ghent where some friends of mine live. It really is a picture perfect place with some wonderful history, as you point out. Perhaps not as exquisite as Bruges, but minus the manic crowds, which is always a positive in my book. Great photos of the fries and their delicious toppings, how I would love to have a bowl of that after so many years away from Belgium.

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  7. I’ve never been to Ghent before, but you had me at Cuberdons. It sounds like there’s a lot to explore here. Climbing towers is always on my list of things to do whenever visiting a city as it’s a great way to get a panoramic view of the area. The views from the Belfry Tower look stunning. I also love how the city transforms at night with all those twinkling lights. It looks so beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Linda

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Linda 🙂

      It’s not a mystery that large, lively cities are by far the most popular touristic destinations for people around the globe, and I believe that we don’t have to go someplace famous to have an enjoyable holiday. That’s why I prefer to explore lesser-known places like Ghent. Despite its small size, there are plenty of things to do in Ghent, and its sizeable student population lends it a very lively and youthful feel. With a wealth of interesting historic tourist attractions and fascinating museums for you to check out, Ghent is not to be missed out on when visiting Belgium. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ghent is so beautiful – I love the architecture. I am also a big fan of Belgian frites so your picture made me want to travel tonight to go and get some for dinner 🙂 Looks like you had a wonderful time exploring the city, thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you kindly. Ghent is one of the most charming cities in Belgium. Often compared to Bruges, it has beautiful buildings, 2 rivers, and significant history. From towering churches to detailed statues and peaceful canals, there are hundreds of charming views to take in here. Thanks for stopping by and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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    1. Situated in the Flemish part of the country, Ghent is one of the five most populated cities in Belgium. Still small enough to feel authentic, Gent (in Dutch) or Gand (in French) is a well-hidden European city that you don’t want to miss, especially given how close it is to Brussels. Thanks for stopping by and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx.

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  9. Living in Brussels, I have been to Ghent many times – and I have to admit I haven’t done all the things you mentioned, especially because I usually go to just have a walk around, but now I can’t wait to go back and visit it a bit more! I didn’t know it was the veggie capital of Europe and I love that it is! As you say, it is much more relaxed and “young” than Bruges, so to me it’s perfect for a chill Saturday or an easy day trip from Brussels as it has such a nice vibe, whereas Bruges is really more like an open-air museum! Thanks for sharing these great tips!

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    1. Wow, what a fantastic experience – I hope he enjoys every minute of Ghent. I loved the architecture and the food too, especially the aged Belgian cheeses and a traditional Belgian bread which resembles a bagel and is typically cut in half, spread with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. Thanks for stopping by and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post as always! I was In Belgium last month, and with my time there limited, I was torn between Bruges and Ghent. I choose Bruges and had a fantastic time, but this makes me want to get back so I can spend time in Ghent. Thank you!

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  11. I didn’t make it to Ghent, but did a few cities in Belgium years ago. I remember most the heavenly chocolate, chocolate, chocolate! The stepped roof buildings are lovely. I especially like your photo with those buildings in a water reflection at night.

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  12. Thank you for the detailed information on Ghent. We love history and medieval architecture, so this sounds perfect for us, especially if it’s not “touristy”. We also enjoy experiencing the night lights of a city – and this one looks special!

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