We’re already home, now, but I have to post about one more great day in Belgium. We had time for one more city in Belgium, so instead of the more popular Bruges, we chose the lesser known, but charming city of Ghent, also spelled as Gent. The old city center, once the heart of a thriving textile trade, is well-preserved with its ornate guild houses and impressive cathedrals. It’s just a ten minute walk from the Gent-Dampoort train station, which was on our route from Antwerp. If your stop is the Gent-Sint-Pieter station, it’s a short tram ride to the old city center.
As we entered the historic center, we were enchanted with the colorful buildings that bordered the canals and rivers that lace through Ghent. When you stand on the beautiful St. Michael’s Bridge, you get a great view of the old city center and its two rivers—the Scheldt and Lys. The word Ghent or Gent in Flemish means confluence— for the two rivers that meet in Ghent.
Ghent isn’t as popular as Bruges, so it doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by that many tourists. The old town is very walkable with several pedestrian only streets. This is a city to wander around and explore the beautiful architecture and rich history.
We used the Rick Steve’s Belgium book, which has a nice, guided walk for Ghent. Here are some of the highlights of our day.
On a clear day, the Belfy offers the best view of the city and surrounding area. After you admire the Gothic architecture, climb up the stairs or take an elevator to a very nice viewing area that allows you to get a 350° view of the city.
It might be a good idea to use the City Card when visiting the many museums and sites in Ghent. It’s a good value for visiting the most important sites and it also allows you to use the public transportation for free. You can choose from several options, such as 24 hours or more.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
This huge gothic cathedral has several important works of art, including a painting by Peter Paul Rubens. However, the painting is awfully dark and in a dark setting, so I preferred seeing his work in Antwerp. With the city card, you can visit the Cathedral, the main museum and the MSK where the famous Mystic Lamb altar pieces are being restored. These altar pieces were rescued by the famous “Monument Men” that George Clooney made into a film in 2013. Right now, two pieces are in the church, but the other pieces are being restored at the MSK. At various times it’s possible to see the altar pieces in the MSK, but it depends on whether work is being done.
The Design Museum
For a change of pace, visit the eclectic Design Museum. It doesn’t have a large permanent collection, but we enjoyed the Art Nouveau furniture and a special show featuring the more modern furniture of Danish designer, Finn Juhl.
You can rent a raft or take a boat ride along the rivers and canals of Ghent. We chose the later and enjoyed the guided tour from a different perspective. They provided just enough history to make it fun and interesting. The one hour boat trip takes you further outside of the city center and provides a different perspective of the city.
A day trip to Ghent isn’t really long enough to explore this captivating city. With it’s location between Bruges and Antwerp, it might make a nice base. Food and lodging are a bit more reasonable here, than in the larger cities.
But, wherever you decide to to stay in Belgium, you’ll find convenient public transportation via trains, trams and even the trusty bicycle. In Belgium, they make it easy and economical for tourists to rent bikes—and each city we visited had plenty of wide & dedicated bike trails.
We were pleasantly surprised by Belgium. This small country offers beautiful architecture in clean and pleasant cities, wonderful museums and churches, boutiques full of fun fashion, excellent cuisine and some of the best chocolate and beer in Europe. And we’re sure there’s a lot more.
We encountered warm and friendly people who were willing to interact with us and exchange ideas. Even the guys at the train station ticket counter were amazingly helpful and kind. These are the memories of Belgium that we brought home with us and this is why we hope to return there very soon.
This makes me want to go spend a day in Ghent!