6 Places You Must Visit in Ghent, Belgium
Belgium may be known for its chocolate, waffles and pomme frites, however, this beautiful country is also home to a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, spired Gothic cathedrals, picturesque canals, and the most desired work of art in history.
Located in Western Europe, Belgium lies between the Netherlands and France and is a multi-lingual country. Dutch is spoken near the north, French near the south, German toward the west, and English is spoken by nearly all. Belgium is also the headquarters to the European Union and NATO.
Ghent, Belgium, located about 35 miles/55 km west of Brussels, was once a prominent seaport Medieval town with a 12th century castle and moat, now it is home to a prominent university and some of the most historic art and architecture. A visit to Ghent will make you feel as though you time traveled to the Middle Ages.
After visiting the Netherlands, our next stop was Ghent, Belgium. A high speed Thalys train takes you from Amsterdam to Brussels in only two hours. There are a few train stations in Brussels, therefore, I chose the best option based upon our arrival to Brussels for another train to Ghent. We stopped at Bruxelles Midi to take a train to Gent-Sint-Pieters, the main train station in Ghent. Search for train tickets in Belgium here.
We planned to spend a full day in Ghent and stay overnight in Bruges, Belgium, which is only a 30 minute train ride away. After visiting this beautiful and charming city, I can say that an overnight stay in Ghent would have been a delight, however, we planned to stay in Bruges. Fortunately, Gent-Sint-Pieters train station has lockers in which we were able to store our luggage while we toured this hisoric city.
Upon our arrival at noon, we took a ten minute taxi ride to the city center. There is a taxi stand located outside the train station. Once we were in the main part of town our journey began.
Eat at Soup'r
Our first stop, lunch! After eating many hearty meals of meat and potatoes, I decided a soup lunch would be enjoyable. We ate at Soup'r, which is only a five minute walk from St. Bavo's Cathedral.
Soup'r has a very homey and relaxing atmosphere with indoor and outdoor seating. There was a variety of five unique soups to choose from, along with a variety of salads and sandwiches. We opted for the Tom Kha and Bolognese soups, which were both comforting and delicious. Soup'r was definitely super!!
Visit St. Bavo's Cathedral to see the Ghent Altarpiece
The most stolen work of art in history is a must to visit while in Belgium. This work of art is none other than the Ghent Altarpiece, also titled The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. It has been stolen thirteen times by thieves and even rulers such as Napoleon and Hitler. Thankfully it was rescued and returned to its home at St. Bavo's Cathedral.
Jan and Hubert Van Eyck painted the Ghent Altarpiece between 1426 and 1432. Within this time, Brunelleschi was working on the dome in Florence and the Renaissance period was just beginning. It is said that the Ghent Altarpiece was one of the first major oil paintings and one of the first paintings in the Renaissance period.
Commissioned by the mayor of Ghent, Jodocus Vijd, for the chapel in St. Bavo's Cathedral, this polyptych altarpiece was first started by Hubert Van Eyck and then completed by his brother, Jan Van Eyck. Both brothers were masterful painters and great chroniclers. The painting is acutely detailed and full of symbolism. To see this painting in person will leave you in awe.
To visit this famous work of art you will need to reserve a time slot on Sint-Baafskathedraal (a.k.a. Saint Bavo's Cathedral) website. They offer tickets for an augmented reality tour that gives the history behind the altarpiece or tickets just to see the altarpiece. Since I knew the history of the altarpiece, I opted to just visit it. As you can see in the photos above, the altarpiece is behind protected glass, however all panels are open and visible to see on the front and the back.
Visiting this masterpiece left me in awe and wonderment. The Van Eyck brothers painted meticulously detailed art that will leave you astonished. In addition, St. Bavo's Cathedral is an architecural vision. Said to be consecrated as a church as far back as 942, this cathedral has been built up over the past centuries in styles ranging from Romanesque to Baroque. The church is a sight to behold and contains many more beautiful works of art that you can see while visiting this church. To visit both the altarpiece and church will take approximately one hour.
Visit the Belfry of Ghent
Close by St. Bavo's Cathedral is the Belfry of Ghent. At 312 feet high, this Belfry is the tallest in Belgium. Construction of the Belfry began in 1313 and its main function was to oversee the city and alert people in case of fire or an attack.
It also houses the largest carillon in the world and is a World Heritage Site. The carillon currently has 54 bells and weighs over 30 tons. Make sure you are in the belfry at the top of the hour to hear the carillon's resounding sound while touring this astonishing belfry.
The biggest positive in visiting this belfry is that it has a lift on the first floor, therefore you don't need to climb stairs to the very top. On the first floor be sure to visit the dragon statue, which has been a protector of the city since 1377.
Once at the top of the belfry you will have a chance to walk around the perimeter and admire the spectacular 360° view of Ghent.
Visit The Castle of the Counts
Just a short walk away is the Castle of the Counts. This 9th century medieval fortress is straight out of a storybook, with its labyrinth of passageways, water-filled moat and medieval charm.
We did not have enough time to tour the inside of the castle, which is an option. Find the link here to learn more. Just visiting the outside of this charming castle was a great moment.
We were able to sit on the grass and view this magnificent castle, which was built as a fortress for the Counts of Flanders.
Take Photos on St.Michael's Bridge
St. Michael's Bridge is close by to the city center and only a four minute walk from the Castle of the Counts. From this poetic bridge you will be able to see Graslei and Korenlei, St. Michael's church and the Castle of the Counts. It is definitely an Instagram worthy photo spot.
Stroll Graslei / Korenlei
Lastly, we visited Graslei, a quay in the historic center of Ghent. It is located on the right bank of the Leie river. After strolling a while, I did as the locals do and sat on the edge of the quay, with my legs dangling, to soak up the jaw dropping views around me.
This area was once a shipping dock in the 11th century. Boats still glide along the emerald colored Leie river, and there are many boat companies that you can walk up to and purchase a tour or cruise.
In addition, there are many cafès around in which to sit, order a drink, and enjoy the sights. Also, many hotels and restaurants line this popular street.
We needed to get to our hotel in Bruges, therefore, we walked across St. Michael's Bridge to the city center (Korenmarkt) where a taxi stand is located. The taxi took us back to Gent-Sint-Pieters train station (about a 10 minute taxi ride) where we collected our luggage from the lockers. I had not purchased tickets to Bruges yet, so we simply purchased some from the kiosk in the train station. The kiosks are very simple to use. Simply select your language first and enter your destination. It is very self explanatory, and if you need assistance, personnel is there to assist you. The journey to Bruges from Ghent is only 30 minutes by train.
We had a perfect visit to Ghent, Belgium. This picturesque city is brimming with charm and history. If I had more time, a night and another day in Ghent would have been delightful. Sadly, there is never enough time to do and see everything.
Now, off to Bruges, Belgium! Visit my blog post about Bruges here.