The Netherlands is just a stone's throw away from Belgium, so visiting Belgian cities has always been easy and fun to do for the Traveltomtom team. After visiting Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges, travel writer Ashley had set her mind on traveling to Ghent. After visiting Bruges in Summer 2021, people told us, if you liked Bruges then you should really visit Ghent. We were told Ghent was even nicer and one of the best places to visit in Belgium.
We explored the famous things to do in Ghent but also explored some off the beaten path places, which was absolutely enjoyable. We even liked it so much, that we think some of these hidden gems, the different side of Ghent, should be shared and visited more. We hope this Ghent travel guide will be helpful for your next city trip to this lovely city!
Ghent is a city in the Flemish region of Belgium, it’s the capital and largest city of the East Flanders province, and the third largest city in the country. In size Ghent is exceeded only by Brussels and Antwerp. It’s an important port and university city.
Originally the city started as a settlement at the confluence of the rivers Scheldt and Leie. In the Middle Ages Ghent became one of the largest and richest cities of Northern Europe.
That Middle Ages feeling comes alive when you walk through Ghent. Much of the cities medieval architecture is still intact and is remarkably well preserved. The city center is car free, which is a major plus! As you can probably already feel we really enjoyed traveling to Ghent.
Explore Ghent by bike
We love to explore a city by foot, simply because we think it’s the best way to explore and that way you see the most of a city. We were invited by Bike Ghent to explore the city by bike.
Bike Ghent is run by true Ghent citizen Chris, born and raised in the city. He knows the city inside out. He is a world traveler, like Traveltomtom, has seen all corners of the world, and still considers Ghent as one of his favorite cities. While traveling, the thing he misses the most is exploring a city with a local, on an active way. That’s when Bike Ghent was born and he made it his core business.
And believe me when I say he does the best job! He doesn’t show you the classic Ghent highlights, he leaves that up to you to explore on your own. He shows you a different side of Ghent, the off the beaten path Ghent, amazing places which tourists hardly ever visit.
We spent 2.5 hours on the bike with Chris, exploring everything in Ghent, but the city center! It has been one of the best city tours we have ever experienced. Chris is an amazing guy, who really knows his city and knows how to do a fun and interesting tour of Ghent.
If you’re about to visit Ghent, Bike Ghent is our number one recommendation for a weekend or city trip in Ghent!
Checking out his website again while writing this blogpost for you, I noticed he now also owns Walk Ghent, so even if you’re not into cycling, you can still explore the city and some hidden gems with this local hero, but then on foot.
Street art Ghent
You’re crazy about street art? Ghent is a canvas for street artists. It’s a hip and free thinking cultural city where everyone is welcome to do their thing.
Today Ghent is a graffiti friendly city, with many works by artists such as Roa and Bue the Warrior.
One of the famous street art spots to visit in the city is Werregarenstraatje. It’s a public canvas for young street artists. Here, street artists create striking spray-can art to their heart’s content. This means that Graffiti Street in Ghent never looks the same from one week to the next.
If you’re into street art, we recommend doing the bike tour with Chris, showing street art is one of the goals of his bike tours.
I think city cards are always a good deal, and a great way to explore a city to the fullest. Luckily for all of you travelling to Ghent, the city has a city card!
The Ghent CityCard gets you into all the top attractions in Ghent, including public transport, for a pretty reasonable price too. You can choose a card for 48 or 72 hours.
The CityCard gives you access to all the sights, monuments and museums in Ghent. You can travel by (water)tram, bus, bicycle and boat and visit all temporary exhibitions in Ghent’s museums at no extra charge! Just to name a few of the most famous Ghent attractions the CityCard gives you free access to, the Castle of the Counts, Ghent Belfry, St. Peter’s Abbey, Ghent City Museum, and many more.
The 48 hour CityCard can be bought for €38, whereas the 72 hour CityCard costs €44. You can find all information on the Ghent CityCard, prices, included sights and attractions.
Hidden Gems of Ghent
Exploring Ghent with Bike Ghent was the best thing we did during our stay. Simply because we got to see hidden gems we would never have seen without the Bike Ghent tour. We liked some of them so much, that we feel like we have to list them here. It’s worth visiting these places and seeing more of Ghent than just the city center.
When visiting Ghent, Zebrastraat just needs to be included in your plans. It’s a vibrant meeting place with a heart for culture. A unique example of historical and at the same time innovating architecture, a must see in Ghent. In Zebrastraat, historical architecture and contemporary art are combined to constitute a unique setting for all kinds of cultural events. In summer, the central square is converted into the pop-up summer bar Zebrabeach. In Winter it becomes a skating rink.
Captain Zeppos Park
The old docks north of the city are being revived, with the Houtdock being the first dock to be revitalized, into the Captain Zeppos Park. A modern maritime themed park. This park offers the ideal atmosphere to relax. You can go for a walk or a bike ride on the promenade along the restored quay walls and take a break on the lowered quays or the beach area. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed. The old port crane that has been dominating the western bank since 2019 will be equipped with an observation platform giving visitors a magnificent view of the docks.
St. Peter’s Abbey
In this place you actually imagine yourself in the south of France. The maginificent garden with its vineyard and ruin is an oasis of greenery in the city. Yes you read that right, Ghent has a vineyard right in the center. This Benedictine abbey was founded in the 7th century by St Amand, who christened the very city of Ghent itself. In the 14th and 15th centuries, it grew into nothing short of an abbey village, with farms, gardens, homes and estates.
We consider it the number one hidden gem and off the beaten track recommendation in Ghent!
Classic things to do in Ghent
Of course we won’t let out the most important and well-known classic must do tourist attractions in Ghent in this ultimate weekend travel guide. As much fun as discovering the unknown places in Ghent was, these famous things to do were also fantastic to see and visit.
The Castle of the Counts
Never have we visited a city with a castle that was located literally in the center of the city. Ghent’s Castle of the Counts is located in the heart of the city, so super easy to visit. It is included when you have the Ghent CityCard and is absolutely worth paying a visit. In fact, a trip to Ghent is not complete without a visit to this mysterious castle.
It’s the only medieval castle with a moat and largely intact defence system in Flanders.
Graslei and Korenlei
When you Google search for Ghent, the Graslei and Korenlei are probably your best results, they show up everywhere. So traveling to Ghent, this is among the best places to visit.
Ships have been docking here since the 11th century. The beautiful facades are reflected in the River Lys, which is just an amazing sight. Just like the many other tourists and locals, we loved to relax on either side of the water, enjoying the views and the crowds on the water.
Ghent’s Unesco world heritage site, dominating the skyline of the city. You really can’t miss the Belfry when visiting Ghent. The Belfry is the middle tower in the famous row of three towers in Ghent, in between St. Bavo’s Cathedral and St. Nicholas Church. A dragon, the proud symbol and mascot of Ghent, guards the historic heart of the city.
You can climb the Belfry for some amazing views of the city, absolutely worth going up, and included in the CityCard!
St. Michael’s Bridge
I think this is my favorite spot in all of Ghent, the picture perfect St. Michael’s Bridge. A fairy-tale view, the perfect spot to take out your camera and take some fantastic photos.
No matter what direction you look, the view is always breathtaking. You are surrounded by 360 degrees view of Ghent’s charming beauty.
Make sure to visit the place by day and night, both totally worth the visit!
Ghent boat trip
Everyone visiting Ghent will eventually go for a boat trip. You can’t miss the boats on the canals. It’s a great way to experience the city center, and learn about the history and present of Ghent. Seeing medieval Ghent from the water is so charming.
There are multiple boat companies that offer these enjoyable trips. If you decide to buy the Ghent CityCard, then a boat tour is included with the card, win-win!
At Traveltomtom we love boutique hotels, and in Ghent we found another gem of a boutique hotel. So we simply have to share this one with you all.
We stayed at the amazing Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel Gent. It has a perfect city center location, just a 5 minute walk from the center and all the best places to see in Ghent. It has a modern and funky restaurant with amazing food. The food they serve is all to share, a concept we really love. The restaurant has a DJ in the weekends for live music.
Another one of our Traveltomtom recommendations is restaurant Meme Gusta. A family owned restaurant serving classic Flemish dishes, all from Grandma’s recipe. They participated in the well-known VTM television program ‘My pop-up restaurant’, and shortly after opened Meme Gusta at its fixed location in the center of Ghent.
One of the most famous and popular events in Ghent is the ten day long Ghent Festival (Gentse Feesten). It’s a yearly festival and attended by almost 1.5 million visitors.
If you’re thinking about visiting Ghent, why not combine it with this festival?
How to get to Ghent
Being one of the largest cities in Belgium, Ghent has a highly developed and well connected transport system. Come as you wish, by car, bus, train or even by plane!
Travelling by plane? Brussels Airport is less than an hour’s drive away from Ghent. Brussels Zaventem Airport offers a direct train connection to Ghent. The railway station is situated beneath the airport.
Travelling from Brussels Charleroi? A shuttle bus drives from the airport to Ghent nine times a day, making Ghent very accessible from this popular airport.
Ghent has two railway stations, Gent-Sint-Pieters and Gent-Dampoort. There are train connections to the main station Gent-Sint-Pieters from all Belgian cities.
Travelling to Belgium via the European high-speed train network? You can transfer to a train to Ghent at the station of Bruxelles-Midi, Antwerp or Lille (France).
Ghent is very easy to reach by car. The city is just 45 minutes away from Bruges and Brussels, and just under an hour from Antwerp. The two European motorways E17 and E40 intersect in Ghent.
Parking in Ghent is expensive and the city center has an emission free zone. You need to register your vehicle before being allowed into the center. Ghent has several park & ride parking lots, just outside the city center. Two of them offer a free shuttle service to two or three stops in the city. Absolutely perfect if you ask me!
Just keep in mind, the shuttle only runs on a few Sundays when the shops are open, otherwise they’re not running on Sundays.
This blog was written by travel writer and Traveltomtom team member Ashley. She was invited to visit and explore Ghent on behalf of Traveltomtom, and wrote this blog about her adventures in the city of Ghent.