This hidden gem located in the Flemish region of Belgium is often overshadowed by the enchanting cities of Bruges and beloved Brussels, but Ghent is certainly not inferior in terms of its beauty. This medieval city looks straight out of a storybook with its picturesque cobblestone streets and charming steeple-roofed buildings. Peaceful canals wind right through the center of the city with a giant castle fortress taking center stage. Besides its wealth of wonderful historical viewpoints, Ghent is known for its soaring beer scene, trendy bars & incredible food spots. Ghent is the perfect place to spend a day filled with plenty of things to do.
If you are looking for the Bruges kind of charm but without the huge crowds, then Ghent is the right place for you. We absolutely fell in love with Ghent and even dare to say it’s our favorite Belgian city. In case you are planning a trip to Belgium, the hip and chic Ghent must simply be on your bucket list. Otherwise, these 14 things to do in Ghent will hopefully convince you. Whether you are looking for a day trip from another European city or want to spend a weekend in Ghent to completely soak up everything this alluring city has to offer, you will find all the best things to do in Ghent in this post.
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Best 14 Things to do in Ghent | Hidden Gem Belgium
Belgium is a great country to explore, with its unique cities, interesting history, and divine cuisine. However, it still remains an underrated destination on the European itinerary of many tourists. It might be small, but it’s filled with stunning medieval cities to choose from. When looking for the best city to visit on a trip to Belgium, most people immediately think of Bruges or the capital, Brussels. However, Ghent is a great rival to its neighbors where you won’t find as many tourist hordes. Dive into the vast network of quaint alleyways, narrow canals, and breathtaking gothic architecture.
This gem of Belgium is a vibrant college city, which adds to the lively atmosphere and somewhat hipster vibe that can be experienced in the many bars and restaurants. The city can be easily explored on foot since most of the historic city is car-free while enjoying the gorgeous medieval backdrop. The majority of highlights are within walking distance of each other. So walking or biking is the best way to soak up the city. Since Ghent is way less touristy than Bruges, you will find it easier to fully immerse yourself into the local Flemish culture and have a more authentic experience while roaming around. From medieval quaintness and impressive towers to intriguing bars with famous beers, Ghent has something for everyone. So without further ado, here are the best things to do in the charming city of Ghent.
TIP | Grab a Ghent City Card
Experience the city of Ghent to the fullest at a good price. This advantage card gives you access to all top attractions, numerous exhibitions, and public transport. Plus it even includes a guided boat tour!
You can purchase the Ghent City Card at the Tourist Office, all participating museums and attractions, and hotels. If you are planning on visiting Ghent for a weekend or more, we recommend getting a city card. For 48 hours the card will cost you €38, while 72 hours cost €44. You will easily get your money’s worth in no time if you are visiting a bunch of the offered attractions since most of the highlights already cost around €10 entrance.
TIP | Join a FREE guided Walking tour of the city
What better way to explore the historical beauty of Ghent than by joining a walking tour? For FREE! The Legends of Ghent take you on a 2-hour guided walking tour along the highlights of this gorgeous city. An enthusiastic local guide takes you through a journey of the legendary past of Ghent with history and funny stories. Further, they will also provide you with some extra tips, interesting facts, and hidden gems!
These daily tours are for free, the charged fee through the booking link just covers the booking cost. The guides of this tour are local volunteers, so do make sure to leave a tip at the end ;).
Planning a weekend in Ghent and not sure where to start? Make sure to check out our step-by-step guide with a 2-day route plan, useful travel tips, and recommendations on where to stay, and eat for your perfect city trip.
THINGS TO DO IN GHENT ON A DAY TRIP
Admire the St. Michael’s Bridge
For the most famous postcard view of Ghent, head over to the St. Michael’s Bridge (or Sint-Michielsbrug), a beautiful stone-arch bridge. From this vantage point, you can admire the iconic Three Towers: Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, Saint Nicholas Church, and the Belfry tower. All at the same time! It also treats you to some magnificent cityscape views over the Lys river (or Leie), with on your left the Korenlei and the Graslei on your right. The perfect spot to get introduced to the beautiful medieval architecture of Ghent.
Walk along the Graslei and Korenlei
The Leie river runs right through the historical center of Ghent and is flanked by two beautiful architectural quays. Located on the right bank of the Leie river you have the Graslei, the quay on the opposite side is the Korenlei. This area historically used to be part of the medieval port. The gothic-style buildings on both sides of the quay played an important economic role during those times. Back then, the buildings at the Graslei used to store herbs and vegetables, whereas the ones on the Korenlei used to hold corn. Once the epicenter of commerce, now it’s the tourist hotspot of the city housing many cafés and restaurants.
These quays are one of our favorite places to hang out when we visit Ghent. The Graslei and Korenlei, characterized by its many grand facades, is a popular spot amongst locals to relax by the waterside. Definitely, in summer you will see a lot of people hanging out here and enjoying the atmosphere of the city. Whether you are interested in architecture, people-watching, or fancy a stroll along the river, take some time here to enjoy the surroundings.
Step back in time in the Castle of the Counts
Did you always want to visit a castle that looks like it’s ripped out of fairytales? Then make sure to take a look at the Castle of the Counts (or Gravensteen). This medieval castle is set right in the heart of the city surrounded by a moat. It dates back to the 12th century and was originally built by Philip of Alsace as a protection settlement against invaders. This major landmark is the only of its kind in all of Flanders, still having an intact defense system. The well-preserved moated fortress is absolutely majestic to behold.
After completion, it was first the residence of the Counts of Flanders until the end of the 14th century. Afterward, it was used as a supreme court and a prison, from which today an extensive collection of torture equipment has been put on display in the former dungeons. In the 18th century, the whole complex was converted into a cotton and textile factory.
The area was then restored at the end of the 19th century and now functions as a museum. If you have the time and there is only one place you want to visit, then you should head for the castle. There is so much to explore on the inside, from the residences to the stables. The torture museum gives you a glimpse into the brutality of medieval times.
TIP | Make sure to go up on the rooftop for an amazing view of the entire city
ENTRANCE FEE | Adults €12; Students until 26yrs €7; Children from 12-19 yrs €7; Children under 12 yrs FREE
OPENING TIMES | Every day from 10 am till 6 pm
Sample some local delicacies
Ghent is absolute food heaven for all the gourmets out there. Besides having its own traditional local delicacies, you can find famous Belgian dishes and goodies like fries, waffles, and chocolate all over town.
Try out all the different Belgian Chocolate
Just like in the bigger touristic cities of Bruges and Brussels, there are plenty of myriad artisanal chocolate shops in Ghent. You can get a nice variety of high-quality handmade chocolate at Chocolaterie Luc Van Hoorebeke and Hilde Devolder Chocolatier. Pick out a few to try or ask the staff to handpick some recommendations based on your flavor preferences.
A fun & interactive way to explore the city is by joining a chocolate tour. Not only will the guide entertain you with historic tales during the tour, but will also take you to some local chocolatiers to sample and learn more about the world of chocolate.
Taste the typical Ghent candy ‘Cuberdons’
The signature treat of Ghent must be the famous Cuberdons. Or as we call it popularly “Gentse Neuzen”, which you could translate as Ghent’s Little Noses. They are purple conical-shaped candies, traditionally with raspberry-flavored gelatinous filling. We Belgians really grew up with this childhood candy and always brings back memories of seeing them in Ghent! These days though you can find cone-shaped candy in all kinds of colors and flavors. You can find a cute food stall on the Groentenmarkt selling them, so stop by to get a small box.
FUN FACT | There used to be two wagons, known rivals over who makes the best ones, selling Cuberdons on the Groentenmarket. However these days there’s only one left. I guess the one remaining Cuberdon Stall won the famous ‘War of the Noses’?
Buy some vintage mustard
Right on the Groentenmarkt, you can find the famous Tierenteyn-Verlent shop. This quaint little shop has been around since 1790 and is mostly known for its specialty: mustard. The decor of the shop has remained exactly the same since 1860 with its apothecary-looking shelves. Not only is their mustard the best we have ever tasted, but it’s also a unique gift to take home. The mustard is freshly spooned from a huge wooden barrel in their typical ceramic containers, which looks just adorable! The mustard itself is quite spicy but absolutely delicious (think dijon mustard). Once you finished the jar of mustard, you can still re-use the cute container to store sea salt for example. Every time we pass through Ghent we get requested to take a bunch home to Moritz’s family in Germany.
Eat like a local and try out the Gentse Waterzooi
This warm hearty dish is another specialty from Ghent. Waterzooi is a soup stew dish made out of fish or chicken together with vegetables in a cream. Back in the Middle Ages, this soup stew was traditionally prepared with fish from the Lys river. Throughout time it got replaced by chicken by housewives as the rivers got more polluted and fish started to disappear. Nowadays you can choose the version that you like at the many restaurants in Ghent that put their own version of the dish on the menu.
Try local Belgian products at the Great Butcher’s Hall
The Great Butcher’s Hall (or Groot Vleeshuis) is the perfect place to sample all kinds of local authentic cuisine. The impressive 15th-century guild house is a former indoor meat market that was converted into a restaurant. They used to hang Ganda Ham up to cure on the vaulted wooden ceilings, an aspect that has been kept in the current concept of the restaurant. The Hall showcases over 175 regional products from the East Flanders region. In the restaurant, you have the chance to try them out as well as an extensive range of local beers. Check out the menu of the Great Butchers Hall here.
OPENING HOURS | From Tuesday until Saturday; from 11 am until 6 pm
Visit the 3 towers
Ghent is often referred to as the city of the three towers, the famous landmarks that define the medieval skyline of Ghent’s city center. You can spot all three of them in a perfect row from standing on the St. Michiel’s Bridge: Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, and the Belfry Tower:
Enjoy the views from the Belfry of Ghent
Just a short walk away from Saint Michael’s Bridge you find one of the most significant landmarks of Ghent. The Belfry of Ghent (or Belfort) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to the year 1380 that you simply cannot miss. The tallest bell tower in Belgium is the center of attention with its 91 meters height. The symbol of Ghent even has a beautiful copper dragon on the top.
During medieval times, the city’s privileges were guarded in a chest by the dragon on top of the tower. For more than 500 years, the Belfry was used as a fortified watch tower and alerted the citizens in case of fire or enemy attacks. The alarm bell that was used to warn the city was named Roland. However, in the 17th century, Roland was melted and turned into a Carillon. On a visit to the Belfry, you can check out the bells and chimes on your way up. There is an elevator available, so you don’t necessarily have to climb the stairs.
TIP | Climb to the top of the Belfry Tower to catch the best 360° panoramic view of the city
OPENING HOURS | every day from 10 am to 6 pm, the last tickets sold at 5.30 pm
ENTRANCE FEES | Adults €10 ; Students (19-25) €4,5 ; Youth (13-18) €1,60 ; Children until 12 FREE
For more information and booking tickets, check the official website of Belfry HERE.
Marvel at the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
Another must-see iconic tower in Ghent is the one from Saint Bavo’s Cathedral (or Sint-Baafskathedraal) dating back to the 11th century. Finished in 1569, it took more than 500 years to complete. The cathedral is home to the altarpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” by brothers Hubert & Jan van Eyck from the 15th century. It’s supposedly one of the earliest oil paintings in the world and is the most celebrated masterpiece of Flemish art. The artwork consists of 24 panels, divided over 2 vertical registers.
One of the panels, however ‘The Just Judges’, has been stolen and is until this date not yet recovered. In the meantime, a copy of the stolen panel was put in its place. Further, there’s a manuscript inside the cathedral that holds the four gospels, which is supposedly the oldest preserved book in Belgium dating back to the 9th century.
OPENING HOURS | Ghent Altarpiece: From Mon – Sat: 10 am – 5 pm (last timeslot 4:30 pm) ; Sun: 1pm – 5 pm (last timeslot 4:30 pm)
ENTRANCE FEE | €4 for the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb; the cathedral itself is FREE.
For more information and booking of tickets, visit the official website HERE.
Admire St. Nicholas’ Church Gothic Architecture
One of the oldest landmarks in Ghent is the Scheldt Gothic-style St. Nicholas’ Church, which you can’t miss since it’s located right near St. Michael’s Bridge. Build in the 13th century, the church’s tower served as an observation tower over the city until its neighboring Belfry was built. If you decide to take a peak inside, make sure to check out the Organ which is the central treasure. It was built by the famous French organ creator Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
TIP | Make sure to spend some time looking at the beautiful guild halls next to the St. Nicholas’ church. In particular Masons’ Guild Hall, where you can see on top of the stepped gable six figures happily dancing.
Hop on a Canal Boat Tour
A great way to discover the city from another vantage point is by taking one of the many Canal Boat Tours. Cruise the romantic waterways of the medieval city during a 40-minute tour. You will pass along all the major highlights, even the imposing Castle of the Counts while floating on the River Lys. There are plenty of operators available on-site offering a round-trip, making booking upfront not really necessary. Most of the tours take off at the Graslei and Korenlei intersections. The captain of the boat provides you with historical tales during the guided tour, which are available in multiple languages. Most tours are around €9 per person, if you take the Ghent City Card, the boat tour is included!
BOOK A BOAT TOUR | Book tickets upfront for a boat tour with De bootjes van Gent – Rederij Dewaele HERE
Explore the Patershol District
In the northern part of the historic city, close to the Gravensteen, is the adorable neighborhood of Patershol. Discovering the little alleys of picturesque Patershol is one of the best things to do in Ghent. Often referred to as the culinary heart of Ghent, these cobblestone streets are filled with cozy restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world. From traditional Flemish cuisine to Japanese and Persian, whatever your heart desires. So if you are getting hungry at the end of your day trip, this is the perfect place to wind down!
This area of the city is usually way less touristy, ideal to escape the crowds. Wander around and enjoy some of the authentic architecture and its street paths that originate back to the Middle Ages. In medieval times this area was very poor, housing the workers of the Counts of Ghent. Today it’s probably the most desirable area in town.
From here, find your way to the Kraanlei Waterfront where you can find plenty of art galleries. Perfect to spend the late afternoon for a stroll along the Leie River. It offers some amazing views of the buildings on the other side. Among them is one of the most famous beer cafés in Ghent ‘Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant’.
TIP | If you are a sweet tooth, make a stop at Confiserie Temmerman to get some old-fashioned sweets and Ghent delicacies like the Cuberdons.
Pass through the Graffiti Street
Of all the bigger cities in Belgium, Ghent is mostly known as the trendy and more ‘hipster’ one, with a big creative scene. The city even dedicated an entire street just for street artists and their graffiti art. Find your way to the Werregarenstraat, where you can admire the latest graffiti by local amateurs, but also known artists like Bué the Warrior and Roa. This hidden alleyway might be a bit hard to find if you don’t know it’s there. Check for its location right here. (These days the graffiti street is mentioned on google under its own location, due to rising popularity).
It’s definitely worth a stroll if you are into street art and it surely gives you some funky colorful pictures. Feeling creative: Go all out and add something amazing yourself! It’s probably the only street in Belgium where graffiti art is not illegal but even encouraged. This of course means, that a week later, this street could look way different than you remember. (Happened to us already)
Taste some legendary local Belgian beers
One of Belgium’s most famous specialties is obviously beer! And in this regard, the beer scene of Ghent certainly doesn’t disappoint. Passing by one of the many cozy cafés to try out some Belgian beer is a must thing to do while in Ghent. While roaming around the city you will pass plenty of bars to choose from. Yet there are a few specific ones worth mentioning.
One of the most unusual bars must be Dulle Griet, located on the Vrijdagmarkt. This place boasts a selection of over 500 Belgian beers, the largest in all of Ghent. The interior is absolutely special, with a lot going on, so you will come eyes short. The funniest part of visiting the Dulle Griet is the tradition of trading your shoe for beer. It’s like a deposit for ordering a special boot-shaped beer, and you get your shoe back after settling the bill.
Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant
Our personal favorite is Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant , a typical “brown pub” (or Bruine Kroeg) that apparently was once a brothel. It’s a beloved spot amongst beer lovers, definitely in summer when you can enjoy their terrace on the waterfront. It’s located right in the historic center and you will pass it by several times. They have 165 beers on the menu to choose from, but we suggest trying the Delirium Tremens, which is brewed right outside Ghent. Order some cold-cut platters with mustard (they serve the one from Tierenteyn-Verlent !) which pairs amazingly with beer. This is a typical Belgian thing to do, enjoying a beer with some cheese on the side. Now relax and soak in the beautiful views!
Another typical Belgian beer pub is the Trollekelder, which comes with a fun interior theme of Trolls. the pub is set in a 15th-century basement which lends itself to a cozy atmosphere. There are more than 300 beers to choose from, of which their own Trollenbier. A fun fact is that the basement used to be a library until the 1980s.
Last not but least, our favorite hidden gem, Barrazza café. This lovely place gives you a view over the river Lys and if you are lucky you can get a sunny seat right next to the water. You can take this quite literally since you are sitting right on the banks of the river. Enjoying a drink here almost feels like you escaped the hustle and bustle of the city. On the opposite side, from Kraanlei Waterfront, you will catch a great view of the café in between buildings.
Go to the market at the Vrijdagmarkt
One of the main squares in Ghent is the Friday Market (or Vrijdagmarkt), which holds a rich (but dark) history. This was the place where public executions were held back in the day. The last one took place in 1863, after which the square luckily transformed into a happier gathering place.
Most buildings on the Vrijdagmarkt are all rather new compared to the rest of the historic city. The majority were built in the 19th and 20th centuries. Only the white building with the tower remains from medieval times. In the middle of the square, there is a statue of Jacob Van Artevelde, a prominent historic figure of Ghent. He was a cloth merchant that sided with England during the Hundred Year’s War. This was to end the boycott of English wool imports, for which Jakob became a local hero by saving Ghent’s textile trading. On the statue, you can see Jakob pointing in the direction of England.
Beautiful 18th-century guild halls surround the bustling market square housing many bars and restaurants. One of the famous pubs is the Dulle Griet, which serves the largest selection of beers in all of Ghent. The bar has the funny tradition that when you order a Max beer, served in a boot-shaped glass, you have to give your shoe as a deposit. No worries you will get it back afterward!
As the name already suggests, the weekly market on Friday takes place here as well. A tradition that dates back to the 12th century! It’s definitely one of the best things to do in Ghent if you happen to be in town on a Friday. The favorite Belgian snack that you should try on the market is typical fries with mayonnaise! It just doesn’t get any more Belgian than that.
See the Castle of Gerald the Devil
Located a little bit further from the 3 famous towers, stands another castle in town. Built in the 13th century, the castle was named after knight Geeraard Vilain, who went by the nickname Geraard de Duivel (or Gerald the Devil). Throughout the centuries this castle served many purposes, such as a knight’s residence, an arsenal, a school, a monastery, a prison, and even a lunatic asylum. The sight gained more popularity in recent years through its appearance in the Belgian comic book The adventures of Nero.
Unfortunately, the buildings can’t be visited on the inside. There is however a cozy lunch bar located on the side to enjoy.
Walk through the abstract City Pavilion
One building that sticks out against the medieval landscape of Ghent is the modern City Pavilion (or Stadshal). The piece of architecture has always been a subject of discussion and remains today something you either love or hate. The pavilion was constructed as an open space for concerts and other events in 2012. It was part of a project to revamp the historical square, but due to its modern look, the construction received a lot of criticism. What are your thoughts about it? Have you seen it on a trip to Ghent? Let us know in the comments what you think!
TIP | When walking around this area of town keep your eyes open for the Coin Route (or Muntenroute).
The idea of the route was to visualize the trading route that went all the way from Bruges to Cologne. Thousands of coins were built into the road surface over a distance of 1km. The clusters of coins tell a piece of history of its surroundings through the engraved drawings.
Visit one of the many museums in Ghent
If you want to squeeze in a museum visit, Ghent doesn’t fall short, there are plenty to choose from.
STAM | Ghent City Museum, where you can learn more about the history and the citizens of Ghent.
SMAK | Lovers of contemporary art can’t afford to miss this place. The museum is the perfect reflection of Ghent’s dynamic and rebellious vibe through art. The museum displays thought-provoking art through innovative exhibitions from both local Belgium artists as well as international artists.
House of Alijn | Takes you through the daily life of Ghent citizens in the 20th century.
Design Museum Ghent | Set in an 18th-century mansion, the Design Museum showcases a selection of applied arts and industrial designs from 1450 to the present day. You can find design collections from different periods such as Art Nouveau, Art deco, and modernism.
MSK | The Museum of Fine Arts has an impressive art collection going from 16th-century Flemish primitives to 20th-century surrealist pieces.
Best 14 Things to do in Ghent | Hidden Gem Belgium
Of course, there are many more things to do in Ghent besides the main landmarks, but we wanted to sum up the must-dos for your first time visiting. Thinking of spending a weekend in Ghent? Then make sure to check out our complete guide where we provide a full 2-day itinerary with a ready-to-go route, useful tips, the best places to stay, and where to go to have mouthwatering food.
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