Visit Ghent: Belgium’s Beautiful Canal City

Gravensteen Castle Ghent

Updated On: November 09, 2023 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

Ghent is the third-largest city in Belgium, famous for its canals, mediaeval architecture and market squares. The city is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, especially on warm Summer days. If you are travelling to Belgium, Ghent needs to be a part of your itinerary!

In this article you will find some of our favourite things to do in Ghent as well as practical information that you should know before visiting this Belgian city.

Things to do in Ghent

Ghent Canal City
Ghent Canal City

Some Practical Information About Ghent

How to get to Ghent

If you are flying into Brussels, the easiest way to reach the city is by train. The journey should take you roughly 40 minutes. In general, trains are the easiest way to get from city to city in Europe, including Belgium as they are extremely punctual and reliable.

How to get around Ghent

You can see a lot of the city on foot. Alternatively there are trams to get to your desired location faster. You can also rent bikes and scooters if you wish. On the other hand, there are plenty of bus routes you can use to get around!

Bicycle use is really popular in Belgium, but for tourists cycling in the busy city centre can be a bit intimidating.

What language is spoken in Ghent?

Ghent is part of the Flemish region of Belgium. Dutch is the primary language spoken, however French and English are also widely spoken, especially in tourist destinations and in the service industry. During our travels around many Belgian cities we never had any problems communicating through English especially when out for food or shopping. Tours are often held in multiple languages so we were able to see and do everything in English during our stay.

Ghent Canal on a sunny day
The City’s Canals on a sunny day

What day should I visit Ghent?

There is plenty to do in the city on whichever day you decide to visit! Some activities may be seasonal or weather dependent however.

It is worth noting that it is normal for shops to close on a Sunday in Belgium. While you will still be able to visit a lot of tourist attractions and enjoy local cuisine in restaurants, cafés and bars, shopping sprees will not be possible. Shops do open the first Sunday of every month however! It may sound disappointing but Belgian cities are usually quieter on these days which you may prefer as a tourist. To avoid disappointment check the opening times of places that you would like to visit!

What is the weather like in Ghent?

Belgian weather is very changeable. Even on nice, sunny days a shower of rain is common. To prepare yourself, you should wear layers of clothing and have a rain jacket or umbrella nearby. Of course make sure to check the weather forecast each day to plan what to bring with you.

How long should I stay in Ghent?

Ghent is a fun day trip from Brussels, but it can be difficult to do everything without staying the night. Depending on how many other Belgian cities that you want to visit, you can easily spend 2 days in the city.

As many other Belgian cities are so close by, you can decide how long you want to spend at each location once you get there. While all offer a similar experience of Belgian culture, each city has its own unique characteristics, history and landmarks!

What other cities are near Ghent?

Bruges is only 20 minutes from Ghent and well worth a visit!
  • Bruges is roughly 50km from Ghent, a train only takes about 20 minutes.
  • Brussels is just under 60km from Ghent, about a 30-40 minute train journey!
  • Antwerp is also about 60km from Ghent, a train will take closer to 50 minutes though.

Does Ghent Have an Official Tourist Information Centre?

Yes, you can check out Visit Ghent for more information.

Iconic Belgian Rooftops
Iconic Belgian Rooftops

Things to do in Ghent for History Lovers

Take an Audio Tour of Gravensteen Castle

Gravensteen Castle is one of the highlights of any trip to Ghent! The historic fortress is both eerie and fascinating, dating back to the 12th century. It was originally the residence of the counts of Flanders but has since been used as a court, prison and mint. It may surprise you that the castle is actually located in the heart of the city, as the old town was built around it over the centuries.

Gravensteen castle Artwork Connolly Cove
Gravensteen castle Artwork Connolly Cove

An audio tour is included with the ticket price and we think it is good value for money. You can easily spend over an hour exploring the castle fortress and the tour is designed to ensure that you don’t miss anything. Make sure to climb the spiralling tower so you can enjoy the views of the city skyline! You can also enter the dungeons and learn about the castle’s darker past.

The audio tour is definitely worth the admission fee. It is both humorous and educational and helps to lighten the mood in the creepier parts of the castle. This tour was a unique experience as it is self-guided. You follow a numbered route and play the corresponding audio file to learn about the function of each room that you enter, but you can also walk around to any location that interests you at any time.

Ghent Gravensteen Castle
Ghent Gravensteen Castle

Visit St Bavo’s Cathedral

Architecture lovers have to visit St Bavo’s Cathedral to see one of the most beautifully designed buildings in all of Belgium. The spectacular external structure is complimented by the beautifully decorated interior, which is full of paintings, sculptures and other interesting features.

Belgian cathedrals are truly impressive and one of the highlights of any city.

Visit the Belfry/Cloth Hall

Belfry’s are an important part of any city’s history, containing the charter, a legal document that established the city’s independence. A cloth hall was added on to Ghent’s belfry, symbolising another important part of Belgian history and serving as the main hub for commerce and industry in the middle ages.

You can book tickets to enter inside the belfry and climb the stairs to get an amazing view of Belgium. This is a great way to see the city on a sunny day!

Church Steeple Ghent beside the Belfry Tower
Church Steeple Ghent beside the Belfry Tower

Visit the historical city centre

Belgian cities are famous for their breathtaking historical city centres because of their intricate architecture and function as a gathering spot. Old market squares are usually bustling with locals and tourists alike, and there are always plenty of nice restaurants, cafés and bars in the area.

Museums in Ghent

In the city you will find 12 museums which cater to a range of interests such as the arts, nature and science. There is truly something for everyone to enjoy!

Here are some of the most popular museums in Gent:

  • The oldest museum in Belgium: MSK Museum for Fine Arts – Perfect for those who love classical art
  • Located beside the MSK: S.M.A.K. museum of contemporary art
  • Local history: The Museum of Industry – Learn about Belgium’s textile and cloth trade
  • Perfect for families and nature lovers: The World of Kina

If you want to learn more before visiting Ghent, here are 10 interesting facts about Belgium.

Things to do in Ghent for Art Lovers

Walk along Ghent’s Graffiti Alley

If you’re visiting on a budget, one of our favourite free things to do in Belgium is to admire the street art. This city is no exception, with its own aptly named Graffiti Alley. The alley is a short walk from the market square and every surface is covered in beautiful paintings and designs. An ever-changing canvas in the city, you may even see some artists at work during your visit! The alley is even a good backdrop for an interesting photo opportunity in Ghent!

Visit Ghent: Belgium's Beautiful Canal City

Romantic Things to do in Ghent

Take a Boat Trip

A boat trip is arguably the best way to explore a canal city and immerse yourself in culture. There are lots of different boat tours to choose from, some are more history focused while others are designed for relaxing and enjoying the view with friends or loved ones.

Boat Trip Ghent Canal Belgium
Ghents Canal Belgium

Visit St. Michael’s Bridge

St Michael’s bridge is one of the most romantic places in Ghent offering one of the best views in the heart of the historic quarter of the city. From the church you are surrounded by the three towers of St. Bavo’s Cathedral, the City Belfort and St. Nicholas’ Church.

You will notice many small padlocks tied to the railings of the bridge as a symbol of unbreakable love. The bridge overs a full 360 degree view of the city for the perfect picture!

St Michaels Bridge Ghent
Stunning views from St Michael’s Bridge Ghent

Things to do in Ghent for Foodies

Try Cuberdons – Ghents Speciality Dessert!

Cuberdons are cone-shaped raspberry flavoured sweets that are really popular in Ghent. During our travels around Belgium, cuberdons were unique to Ghent, sold in stalls at the Groentemarkt square. They are hard to miss as you will walk past this location on your way to many other spots on this list such as Gravensteen castle.

You will also find cuberdons in many of the sweet shops in the city, which also display an impressive range of authentic Belgian chocolate.

Ghent City of Beer

Local breweries are an integral part of Belgium’s beer culture, offering a diverse range of unique local craftbeer and more recognisable drinks. A brewery tour is always a popular choice for tourists in Belgium. Brewery tours offer a learning experience as you get to see how the factory operates. Many also include tasting in their tours which can be a fun experience after learning about how the drink is made.

Other Belgian Cuisine

If you haven’t tried one already, a Belgian waffle is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth! The warm waffle is typically made fresh to order and can be enjoyed with melted Belgian chocolate, caramel sauce, fresh fruit or simply on its own.

Belgian fries are another staple cuisine that you will be able to find in Ghent. Typically served with mayonnaise, ‘frites’ are double fried for extra crispiness.

Watch to the end to see some delicious Belgian chocolate!

Things to do in Ghent for Nature Lovers

Visit Citadel Park

The Citadel park is the perfect place to chill out with friends and relax on a warm summers day. Belgium has a lot of nice parks and gardens in its cities. Just remember to take everything home that you bring with you, as Belgium has a strict anti-littering and recycling policy.

Tour the Botanical Gardens

Any holiday can get quite expensive once you start booking tours and museums, so if you are looking for some free things to do in Ghent, the University’s botanical garden could be an ideal choice.

Botanical Gardens are a great way to spend an afternoon. You can explore them at your own leisurely pace, with plenty of room for children to play and explore in nature. With over 10,000 plant species you will be guaranteed a diverse range of flora.

Final Thoughts

There are so many exciting things to do in Belgian cities and Ghent is no exception. If you’re limited on time it is perfect for a day trip from Brussels but you can also spend a lot longer exploring the city if you wish as there is so much to do. It is a tourist friendly location with plenty of art, history and good food so you can easily immerse yourself in Belgian culture.

Have you decided what to do in Brussels yet? Here are some of our favourites locations in Brussels!

Whatever you choose to do while your in Ghent, we are sure that you’ll have a great time! We offer a wide range of travel blogs, so if you wish to explore more of Europe, check out some of our ultimate travel guides, including:

Discover the best of Basel, Switzerland | 10 iconic landmarks in Romania | Best Places to visit in Aarhus, Denmark | 12 things to see and do in Prague

Alternatively if your planning to travel around Europe by train, why not check out our ultimate guide to interrailing for a great travel experience in 2023!

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