Ghent tends to get overshadowed by more popular Belgian destinations, like Bruges, a fairy tale wonderland, and Brussels, home to the EU parliament and wacky comic book murals. But with its imposing medieval castle, mouth-watering waffles, and countless churches, Ghent absolutely deserves a spot on your Europe itinerary. Our visit to Ghent was one of the highlights of our trip to Belgium.
What to See, Do, and Eat in Ghent
Ghent has enough attractions to keep visitors busy for several days. Especially visitors who are interested in big, medieval buildings. Or, you know, waffles.
We spent one super-full day in Ghent and were able to hit quite a few of the highlights. Here are the things you don’t want to miss in Ghent:
A highlight of any trip to Ghent is a tour of Gravensteen, a giant medieval castle complete with a moat, turrets, and a dungeon. Dating to 1180, “The Castle of the Counts” looks like something out of a Disney princess movie.
But once inside, things get a bit gruesome (and decidedly un-Disney). An entire floor is dedicated to an exhibit on medieval weaponry. You can see full sets of armor and learn about the various, highly gruesome methods medieval soldiers developed to kill each other (and I thought eyebrow waxing was barbaric…).
After your stomach is good and queasy, you can continue on to the “The Museum of Judicial Objects.” During the Middle Ages, Gravensteen was the place where people accused of crimes were imprisoned, “encouraged” to confess, sentenced, and judged.
Of course, some of the methods used to obtain these confessions were rather…ahem…direct. The “judicial objects” on display include thumb screws, a torture rack, head restraints, and an iron collar.
I recommend using discretion when deciding whether or not to visit this particular exhibit since it is an educational, but somewhat nauseating experience. Also, you MAY want to hold off on that waffle until afterward, as I learned from personal experience.
Before finishing your visit, be sure to check out the views from the top.
Entry Fee: 10 €
Sint-Veerleplein 11, 9000 Gent, Belgium
St. Michael’s Bridge
For the best views in the city, head to St. Michael’s Bridge. Most of Ghent’s major attractions are visible from that vantage point.
Sint-Michielsplein 9000 Gent, Belgium
St. Michael’s Church
While you’re in the area, duck into St. Michael’s church and begin the Ghent cathedral circuit.
Completed in the 16th century, the gothic church contains some impressive Baroque paintings, relics, and beautiful stained-glass windows.
Sint-Michielsplein 4, 9000 Gent, Belgium
St. Nicholas’ Church
St. Nicholas’ Church is one of the oldest and most impressive churches in Ghent. It was built in the 13th century, then restored at the turn of the 20th century.
If you’re a music nerd, be sure to check out the organ, which was built by the French organ master Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
We happened to visit in the middle of choir practice and were treated to a free concert.
Cataloniëstraat, 9000 Gent, Belgium
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
Undoubtedly the most famous church in Ghent, St. Bavo’s Cathedral is a massive gothic cathedral best known for containing the world-renown Ghent altarpiece.
We were excited to visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral ever since we saw it featured in The Monuments Men, a World War 2 movie about a team of art and history experts on a mission to save artistic masterpieces from the Nazis.
Unfortunately, the altarpiece was on a tour when we visited. But the church itself is still impressive. Hopefully we’ll catch the altarpiece next time!
Sint-Baafsplein, 9000 Gent, Belgium
The Patershol neighborhood is one of the most picturesque areas in town and a great place to soak in Ghent’s medieval atmosphere. Grab your camera and spend some time wandering the cobblestone streets.
If you get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants in this area where you can grab a bite to eat.
To experience a grittier side of Ghent, take a stroll down graffiti alley. With approval from the authorities, graffiti artists have tagged every square inch of this pedestrian alleyway. The result is impressive.
Werregarenstraat, 9000 Gent, Belgium
Obviously, no day in Belgium would be complete without sampling a few of the nation’s most famous culinary treats: waffles!
Sam and I took waffle eating seriously during our time in Belgium (we are nothing if not diligent), and we sampled some of the best Liege waffles of our trip at small stands throughout Ghent. Of course, we always ate them drenched in chocolate and topped with whipped cream, because we enjoy the finer things in life.
How to Get to Ghent
Belgium is a small country with efficient transportation, so getting around is fairly simple. Though Ghent is a great place to spend several days, it is also an easy day trip from other Belgian cities.
We took the train from Brussels, which only took about 30 minutes. We paid 10 € RT (Note: We received a discount, weekend price. The same route would be more expensive on a weekday).
Further Reading: A Guide to Traveling Belgium by Train
One important note is that the main Ghent train station—Gent-Sint-Pieters—is located about a 30-minute walk from the city center. If you’re short on time (or just not keen on walking), we recommend taking a tram. Tram 1 will take you to the center. (Tickets are cheaper when purchased at a ticket kiosk rather than on the tram itself.)
We tend to be super frugal when it comes to transportation (And by that I mean we will walk an extra hour save a few euros, then spend a fortune on gelato, because our priorities are absolutely on point). So we skipped the tram and walked instead. My waistline appreciated that decision. My feet, not so much.
What is on your Ghent bucket-list?
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