Castles

How to spend a day in Gent

Brunch, a walking tour, lunch, a castle visit, plenty of churches … and much more!

How is it possible to spend just a day in Gent when it needs a week to do it justice? Especially when it’s one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in Belgium.

How to spend a day in Gent, Belgium

With apologies to Paul Simon, here are my eight steps to enjoy a day in Gent.

1. Drop off the key, Lee

Yes, leave your car keys at home and let the train take the strain. OK, if you have young children it makes sense to take the car (if you have one) and drive into one of the many car parks in the city. But if you are travelling by yourself or as a couple, why not take the train?

I enjoy travelling by train as it is so relaxing. I arrive at my destination feeling refreshed and ready for some sightseeing. On the contrary, after a long drive in the car, I often arrive at my destination feeling tired. If I’ve been driving at 120 km/h along a busy Belgian motorway, it always takes me an hour or so before my mind has slowed down. But in the train I can read, drink a coffee, plan my trip … and it’s more environmentally friendly than the car too.

Gent St. Pieters’ railway station is within easy reach of anywhere on the Belgian rail network.

2. Hop on the bus, Gus (actually the tram)

Just before you arrive at Gent St.Pieters’ railway station, send a text message with the two letters ‘DL’ in it to 4884. You’ll immediately get a return text from the De Lijn bus company. This is your ticket for the next hour. Upon leaving the station, directly opposite are various tram stops. You need to catch the no. 1 tram to Evergem. If you can’t find it, ask someone who looks like they use trams every day. Gent people (Gentenaars) are very friendly! Once you’re on the right tram, enjoy the sights and get off at Gravensteen. How do you know you’re there? Just look out for the Castle of the Counts. I don’t think you’ll miss it:

Gent Castle of the Counts

3. I hope my meaning won’t be lost or misconstrued …

… but the first place you need to go is the tourist information office. It’s very close to the Gravensteen tram stop. It’s the building in the far corner of this square when you get off the tram:

Gent Tourist Office

The building is the Oude Vismijn, which now is an event centre as well as the tourist office, but in its heyday was a thriving (and the oldest) fish, meat and vegetable market in the city center of Gent:

Oude Vismijn Gent Belgium

It dates back to 1689. Check out its beautiful gateway, with King Neptune and his golden trident. Below him are representations of the two rivers upon which Gent was founded: Mr Scheldt and Mrs Leie.

Oude Vismijn Gent

At the tourist office I asked for, and received, a folder called “Gent City Walk”. I also got a free city map, a magazine called “Gent, Tips from Locals”, and a nice pocket-sized city guide. I asked for the city walk because I always think this is a great way to discover a city. A city walk gives you a clear goal, so you’re not left wondering “now where shall I go now?” It ensures you see all the top sights. And it will help you realize what you want to see in more detail in the afternoon, or the next time you visit Gent.

4. Slow down, you move too fast; got to make the morning last

As I’ve said, there is a lot to see in Gent. But there’s always another day to see anything you’ve missed! So slow down, take it easy; there’s no rush. You have all your information about Ghent; so before you set off, why don’t you familiarize yourself with it first? And of course you need to make sure you have sufficient energy for your city walk. So you need to …

5. Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes

Leave the tourist office, and to the right of the castle is a small street called Kraanlei. At no. 13 is Julie’s House, where you can get an excellent cup of coffee, and something tasty from a huge range of cinnamon rolls, scones, pancakes, muffins, cupcakes …

Julie's House Gent

You are now ready to start exploring Gent! The city walk is excellent. It takes you to 24 sights. You can go at your own pace and take the whole day on the walk, stopping off at the major sights and spending time looking around them in more detail. Or you can use it as an overview, and bookmark those sights that you want to return to in the afternoon.

Here are some of the highlights.

St. Michael’s Bridge
St. Michael's Bridge Gent
St. Michael’s Bridge is a famous spot for photos
St Michael's Bridge in Gent, Belgium
St. Michael himself, slaying the dragon
St. Michael’s Church
St. Michael's Church, Gent
The Church of St. Michael’s Gent has a history of being burnt down and reconstructed
The big three towers of Gent
How to spend a day in Gent
St. Nicholas’s church in the foreground, the Belfry Tower to its right, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral in the distance
St. Nicholas’s church
St Nicholas's Church, Gent
Apparently its tower was meant to be even higher, but was never completed
Inside the church of St. Nicholas, Gent
Take time to look at its baroque altar, the wooden pulpit, the beautiful stained glass windows, a collection of religious paintings and its impressive organ
The Belfry
The Belfry, Gent
Climb the stairs and get a super view over the city
The Belfry, Gent
On top of the tower is a dragon, keeping watch over the city
Ghent Belfry dragon
The dragon has been up on the tower since 1377. It’s the symbolic guardian of the belfry. 
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
St. Bavo's Cathedral, Gent

St Bavo’s Cathedral has the added attraction of being home to arguably the most important work in Flemish art history: the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the Van Eyck brothers, which you can see.

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Gent
From October 2020 the painting will be housed in a brand new visitor centre
City Pavilion

Not everything in Gent is centuries old. The City Pavilion was built in 2012:

I spent all morning on the walk. I had arrived in Gent pretty early (9 a.m.), and by the time I’d been to the tourist office and Julie’s it was 10 a.m. I then spent three hours getting up to no. 21 on the city walk, and then it was time for lunch.

6. Still crazy after all those beers

Just after sight no. 21 — Mad Meg, the cannon — the leaflet invites you to cross the bridge over the Leie and turn left into Kraanlei. I would suggest that you don’t turn left but turn right into Oudburg and walk up to the next square which is called Sluizeken.

Here you will find Simon Says, which describes itself as a coffee bar offering a “small yet refined menu that reflects our commitment to locally sourced quality products. We are low on food miles and high on taste.” I like the sound of that, and indeed my light lunch of a club sandwich and carrot cake was very tasty. The ambience was relaxed, and the service exceptionally friendly.

7. Make a new plan, Stan

After lunch I completed the city tour. I was then faced with the question of what to do next, considering that there were so many places I could revisit in more detail. The plan I decided on was to visit the Castle of the Counts. This is worth a separate blog post, but here are some appetizers.

8. When you’re weary …

By this time my legs were feeling a bit tired and I was in need of a sit down, but I was still enthused to see more of Gent. I spied a sign that would meet both needs:

Gent boat trips

The next 40 minutes were most enjoyable. Sitting in the sunshine watching the beautiful buildings sail on by. This is worth a separate blog post too, but again, here are some appetizers:

You can catch the tram back to the station (e.g. no 1, heading for Gent St. Pieter’s). But you might also like to walk back to the station along the river, which is what I did. The route passes by another highlight of Gent that looks fascinating: STAM, the Gent City Museum. But that will have to wait for another visit.

So that’s my day in Gent in eight steps. It was a fascinating day, and I will definitely be returning another time as there is so much that I haven’t seen yet, and it’s just such a pleasant city to walk around.

How to spend a day in Gent

This is clearly just a taster to all that you can see in Gent. For more details, the book pictured below is recommended; just click for more info or to buy. And if you’re wondering what to do on your next free day, how about checking out my post How to Spend a Day in Bruges?

Bruges and Ghent pocket guidebook

Thanks for reading this post. If you want to add any of your own suggestions of favourite places to visit in Gent, just add a comment below. Save

Categories: Castles, Cities, Cool for Kids, East Flanders

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69 replies »

  1. An absolutely gorgeous introduction to the city of Ghent, which indeed is well worth visiting and is also pleasant to live and/or study in, so I’ve been told 🙂

  2. You are clever Denzil, and Paul would be proud of you. We really wanted to do a day trip to Ghent when we were in Bruges, but we just couldn’t fit it in without missing something else. I would love to go back and stay there for a few days. I agree with you about the train travel. We don’t hire a car when we travel in Europe because the trains are fantastic and we can walk once we arrive at our destination. It’s the only way to really see a place well. I’m looking forward to your next few posts.

    I wonder how long it took Great Uncle Cornelius to grow that amazing moustache.

  3. You must have felt like you had ‘diamonds on the soles of your shoes’ after crossing the ‘bridge over troubled waters’ when you were ‘homeward bound’ after you day in Ghent.

    • Ha! Great comment! Good to see I’m not the only one who’s ‘still crazy after all these years’. Thankfully it ‘was a sunny day’ in Gent, and I had plenty of (digital) ‘Kodachrome’ in my camera and the cafes I visited knew how to ‘keep the customer satisfied.’

  4. I have to say, you’re a tourist after my own heart, Denzil! I love your ‘don’t stop till you drop’ attitude. 🙂 What time train home did you catch and how long does the journey take you? All this and a boot trip too! 🙂 🙂 I think Ghent might have nudged up my list a bit. Thank you!

  5. Great post, Denzil! It makes me want to jump on the train right now! I was there for an event last year but need to go back to do the city walk. I LOVED the boat trip — had a great guide and it was the best one I’ve done anywhere. Thanks for all the tips to make a wander wondrous 🙂

    • Glad you had a good time in Gent too Hilary. I think it’s my favourite city in Belgium. Interesting that you loved the graffiti street. I think I caught it on a quiet day; maybe when you visited it there was more creativity on display. I’m loving your blog too!

      • Thank you! I must admit that while I loved our time Bruges, I wished for more time in Gent and was sorely disappointed that my plans to visit other places didn’t work out, but hopefully I’ll be back again someday!

  6. Knappe post Denzil.Goede uitleg en fijne foto’s.Ik ga alle jaren 1 dag naar Gent met de trein en ga van het station te voet naar het centrum.Ik ben een wandelaar en de afstand valt erg goed mee.Ik ken al de plekken die je beschreef maar ondek er telkens ook weer andere interessante plaatsen.Heb genoten van deze bijdrage..Bedankt

  7. A wonderful blog post. The architecture is so beautiful. This looks like a place I could get lost in for a few days. My husband asked me if you guys ever get nervous over there about terrorists and such. Wondered also if the Viking River Cruises come through Belgium…

    • Personally I don’t get worried about terrorism. It happens everywhere, and I don’t think Belgium is more prone to it than anywhere else. Also, I don’t live in, and rarely visit, Brussels.

    • As to Viking River Cruises, no they don’t come to Belgium as far as I am aware. They are more in the Rhine in Germany and the Seine in France. Most of Belgium’s rivers are smaller, apart from the Maas in the east.

    • Well I have to admit that before living in Belgium it was usually the country I travelled through before reaching my destination elsewhere in Europe. Now I rarely travel outside Belgium. Thanks for visiting the blog rather than passing it by Suzanne! 🙂

  8. HaHa! I remember that Paul Simon song! Well, I LOVED Bruges, so Gent must be incredible! The pics certainly look splendid!

    • Hi Allison, thanks for your comment. The two cities are different. I prefer Gent because it’s less fairytale and more realistic. It’s more like a normal working city that just happens to have beautiful buildings. Bruges to me is too touristy.

  9. I love this so much, what an awesome coincidence, I’m coming from Australia to Antwerp for Paul’s farewell concert and as it will be my first time in the country I’m really looking forward to exploring the surrounding towns! I hope you’ll get a chance to catch his concert somewhere too 🙂

  10. Oops I’m not sure if my last comment posted so sorry if this is a duplicate… I was just saying what an awesome coincidence it is for me to come across your page as I will be visiting Belgium (Antwerp) for the first time to see Paul for his farewell tour and I’m really looking forward to exploring the area. If you’re also going to the Antwerp concert on 5 July by any chance let me know!

    • Hi Nikki, wow that’s a long way to come for a concert! I will not be going myself, partly because I will be in Sweden visiting family that week, but also because I don’t like such big concerts. However, I hope you have a great time in Antwerp and maybe elsewhere in Belgium! Keep in touch. A post on Street Art in Antwerp will be online soon!

  11. What an interesting article on Ghent. We are completing a river cruise and plan 2 nights in Amsterdam afterwards. This will be our 3rd trip to Amsterdam in 3 years … so we love it. Must spend the 2 nights there because we are showing our daughter the city before she heads back to USA.

    After Amsterdam, we have 3 nights (almost 5 days – early arrival on first day; late departure staying at Schipol on last night) starting October 2 to head to Belgium. I am finding it difficult to decide Bruges (take a day trip to Ghent) or Ghent (take a day trip to Bruges). I know you prefer Ghent, but if you had to select one …. would you pick Ghent for your first visit?

    We certainly hope/plan to go back to Belgium to visit Brussels and to see the battlefields.

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