Ghent Travel Blog› entry 3 of 6 › view all entries
You see, I've created this blog in 2009 (!!!) and it's only now that I actually started taking those trips that I've been talking about for so long. The kind of trips that I'm rather ashamed about because it took me almost 30 years to go to some of the most famous, touristy, art and history rich places of my own country.
First and most anticipated city on the list: Gent.
Whenever someone asks me about travel advise for Belgium I tell them: "Make sure you go to Gent, it has the old houses, cobblestone streets and rivers like Brugge, but far more atmosphere." I told them that, without ever having been there myself. Luckily now, I can reassure you that this advice still stands. In my opinion Gent is definitely one of Belgium's most beautiful cities, if not the most beautiful.
When you arrive in Gent by train, you can either walk or take a tram (number 1) to the city centre. After that, you won't need public transport to see the historic part of town. It's really small and best enjoyed on foot.
When you arrive at the centre (tram stop "Korenmarkt"), the first thing you'll see is the three big historical buildings that stand side by side in front of you: they're the Sint-Niklaaskerk, the Belfort and the Sint-Baafskathedral. I didn't pay to go up the Belfort, but you can and if you like aerial views, I'm sure it's nice on a clear day. From the three buildings, however, make sure you don't skip the Sint-Baafskathedral because this is where the famous painting "Agnus Dei" or "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" is displayed. Currently, it is under restoration but only the panels what are actually being worked on are removed, the rest remains in the cathedral.
None the less, I'll come back to Gent once the whole thing is repaired. This painting, by some of Belgium's most talented, distinct and famous painters, is definitely important to our legacy and surely breathtaking. I can't believe it took me 28 years to actually go and see it. How did I manage to live without it all this time? I must have been blind! *insert overly dramatic pose and lightning here*
Walking towards the water from the Sint-Niklaas church, you'll find the famous area of the Korenlei and Vlaslei, two pedestrian docks next to the river.
I visited the Gravensteen as well. This is an old fort, home to the early rulers of the city. The building itself isn't that spectacular, but there's a video guide that gives a good impression of what life was like back in the days and what could have been happening inside these big walls. It doesn't offer extra info on the architecture itself, but it's a great addition to the tour and in fact, I wouldn't recommend visiting the inside of the building without listening to the video. It's included in the - rather hefty - entrance fee, if I remember correct.
Another great area in Gent is the "Patershol," a collection of old and narrow streets a little north from the Kraanlei and Gravensteen. There's no particular sights here, but a bunch of atmospheric restaurants, cafés and good strolls.
There's plenty more things to see in the centre, though. There's squares, weekend markets, nice streets, graffiti walls, modern structures and loads of nice shopping opportunities. I liked the shops in Gent. There were some outstanding gadget/interior shops that weren't too upmarket and had some really fun gadgets, kitchenware, beautiful postcards and notebooks. I have a small addiction for cups, postcards and notebooks, so I loved that. Also, there a lot of places that sell local specialities, ranging from mustard and candy, restaurants selling full courses and cute bars packed with organic produce or princess-approved cupcakes.
So yeah, I hate myself a little for not having been to Gent earlier. However, I will be back.
In my opinion, you don't need a lot of time to see Gent. Depending on how much you want to visit, how many museums you want to see and how long you'll stay inside there, one or two days should be enough. I was there for two days and I felt like I had more than enough time, even fitting in shopping, a friends housewarming party and loads of lingering, eating sweets and eavesdropping the foreigners (being surrounded by foreign languages makes me feel on a holiday). But at the same time, Gent is definitely a place to return to. A nice getaway for just a day or two.
Check out my hostel review, too. Because this place was amazing.