The city of Ghent or Gand (French) or Gent (Dutch), in the Flemish part of Belgium, is one of the biggest in the country – 2nd in population and 4th in size of metropolitan area.

Surprisingly, many don’t seem to find time to explore Ghent. Certainly the geography certainly does not help: it is enclosed nearly halfway between the cosmopolitan Brussels and the golden boy of belgian tourism, Bruges.  Not easy.

But Ghent might be coming from the back to take it all. It was definitely a great travel surprise. Just to be clear, one year ago I haven’t even heard of this place!

Here’s five reasons why the city of Ghent is underrated and severely underlooked by travelers:

1The Architecture Is Impressive

city of Ghent Belgium - Edgy Architecture

Being straight to the point, I was not expecting the center of Ghent to be so impressively beautiful. So woaah. Walking through all the cathedrals, squares, castles and all the other architecture landmarks it’s like seeing an historical life-size painting in front of your eyes.

The top archigasms in the city are the impressive Sint-Niklaaskerk (St. Nicholas) medieval church and Sint-Baafskathedraal (St Bavo’s), the tallest structure in the city. But I had many other gasp moments just by strolling around the city and looking at random old merchant houses. Too bad the photos don’t make justice to the beauty of this place as the weather was cloudy, misty and pouring rain at most of the times. Damn.

2It’s Not As Touristy

city of ghent -Old merchant houses.
Some of my mediocre photos of Ghent in crappy weather.

Specially if you are coming from the completely understandable but bothering tourist craziness of Bruges and from the buzz of a european capital like Brussels, arriving to Ghent is a delight. The locals-to-tourists ratio is much higher and the odds you feel you are in a urban Disneyland are much lower. I spent more time in Bruges, but I was able to get much more interesting insights from the everyday life In Ghent.

It just feels more real and I love it.



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3It Has a Dutch Feel To It

Ghent has a very cool Amsterdamy feel and actually there’s a reason for that. Back when the Spanish invaded Flanders and the merchants there (specifically from Ghent) flocked to Amsterdam and started influencing its architecture and culture.

Wether it’s on the stunning facades of the colourful narrow buildings heading back to the 1600s or in the canals just right in width and number to add an extra charm to the city. This is very much conveyed in Graslei and Korenlei: once the main port of the city, these waterside promenades are now the prime highlight and the beating heart of Ghent. The canal views are enriched by St. Michael’s bridge and the stunning Gravensteen castle in one of the ends. How cool is having a castle right in the middle of a city?

city of Ghent Panorama
Garslei and the Leie river at dusk.

4It’s Walkable And Super Easy to Get Around

First of all, it’s very easy getting there. Ghent – St. Pieters station is one of the busiest in the country and it runs train services taking only 30min from Brussels/Bruges. Return tickets from those can be bought around 18€ or if you’re traveling on holiday season like me, only 11€!

Once you’re arrived to Ghent, it is pretty straightforward to get around. Although there is no metro, the city center is reachable by a 20min walk or by what seemed to be an efficient tram system. Nevertheless, the best way to get to unlock the secrets of Ghent is by walking around, marveling at historical buildings and charming canals while encountering the irresistible chocolate shops every other corner.

Mist. #ghent #belgium

Published by @bruno_mb

5It’s Modern And Trendy

Despite its huge historical heritage, Ghent also surprised me for being super modern. The city is often described as the hipster capital of Belgium and has a lively alternative scene and a strong student presence which means great cultural opportunities.

Without leaving its historic reputation behind, it has gained increasing attention as a place for design lovers, cool restaurants and striking caféteries and all kind of unique shops. I definitely didn’t see any of this in the more conservative and familiar-like Bruges. In the department of fun, Ghent is clearly topping the charts in Belgium.

city of ghent
Ghent is a perfect mix of classic & modern.

Ghent stands on a perfect balance of being small enough to feel intimate, yet big enough to be lively and dynamic.

Why You Should Bother Visiting The City Of Ghent

In a nutshell, it seemed Ghent has it all. These were five reasons, but could easily be more. Number 6 could be waffles, fries or chocolates: you absolutely should indulging in them when you are visiting. It’s so good that street belgian food deserves a completely independent post.

For years going to Belgium without exploring chocolate box pretty Bruges has been a huge sin. It probably still is, but it’s time to start looking a little bit to the right on the map. Ghent surpassed my expectations so massively I can’t even put down in words how undervalued it is. If even while pouring rain I could embrace how this place is completely unpretentious and incredibly eye-catching, imagine how it would have been with nice weather!

Looks like someone carefully selected the ultimate best of Amsterdam, of Bruges and Brussels and put it all together in this little town. Maybe the best way to define is simply as a feel-good city. And yet, many travelers still don’t give it a chance.

On my part, it was a true pleasure to meet you, Ghent. But please make it more sunny when I come back!

city of Ghent - why Ghent is underrated - A surprise in every corner
Ghent is a surprise in every corner.

How to Get To Ghent

We decided to use the train to get to Ghent. After finally getting to explore the medieval town of Bruges the day before, we headed for the main train station in Brussels again with no idea where to go. We decided on the spot, using the Where does the next train go? criterion. And just like that, Ghent won (sorry, next time Antwerp!).

Make sure you check SNCB, the Belgian national railway company, for online discounts. Ours were just 11EUR! The train to Ghent from Brussels takes less than 50 minutes.

TRAVEL NUMBERS @ GHENT, BELGIUM

  • DURATION OF THE STAY: 1 DAY
  • TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED ON FOOT: 8,7 km
  • ACCOMMODATION: 0
  • TRANSPORTATION
    • Train trip from Brussels (return ticket): 11
    • Tram ticket 2
  • FOOD&DRINK COST
    • Lunch + Hot Dog + Waffle + Box of Chocolates: 20,10
  • TOTAL COSTS (€): 33,10€/pax



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Have you been to Belgium? What is your favorite destination in the country?

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41 comments

  1. Great trip report! I have just booked a trip to Ghent for August and reading this blog has heightened my excitement!

    This will be my first trip to Belgium and initially I had intended to visit Bruges but I love visiting paths less trodden so I thought I would head to Ghent instead. During the course of my research and planning I read that Bruges is now extremely touristy and crowded (and I can see why!), whereas Ghent has a much more lived in feel about it. I can’t wait to go!

    1. Ghent is more authentic, that’s for sure, but iIf possible, go to both. Bruges is touristy, but still a charm of a city. 🙂

  2. Great post!
    Just one minor thing about your remark on Ghent’s dutch influence. It’s actually the other way around… Amsterdam’s architecture is hugely influenced by Flemish (and Ghent’s) architecture. The haydays of Ghent and Bruges were basically from around 1000 to 1500 when they were huge trading centers. At that time, Amsterdam was nothing more than a beefy fishing village. It’s only when the Spanish invaded Flanders and imposed the repressive Spanish inquisition that numerous merchants and workers fled to Holland and that Amsterdam experienced its golden age.
    (I know it’s kind of nitpicking, sorry 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your input Michael, I’ve learned something really interesting today!

      I will edit the post accordingly! 🙂

      Cheers
      Bruno

  3. hi Bruno,,
    Read all ur beautiful articles.
    I have 5nights & 5days in total before I leave back for india on the 3rd of August 2015.
    Planned to stay 2nights in Bruges only 1night in Brussels and 2nights in Amsterdam
    Should I visit Ghent,Antwerp in those 2days. Or should I explore more of Bruges only…?
    Can u pls suggest ..!

    1. If you have only 5 days in total, I would do 1 day in Bruges and 1 in Ghent. Might be too much, but Ghent is really worth it!

  4. I love Belgium and still don’t know why so many people rush off to Brugges when what they are really looking for is staring them in the face in Ghent. It has the waterways the food and of course the beer. We spent 2 nights there and could have spent a week, the students really make the vibe there fun too. Great post!

  5. I agree with you, Ghent, Antwerp and other cities of Belgium live in the shadows of Bruges, at least when tourism is concerned. I have never been to Ghent, but it seems really beautiful!

  6. Totally agreed! I made it through here just as a whistlestop on the way to Antwerp last year, and ended up liking Ghent way better. We basically only stayed long enough to look around a bit and have that “+ Waffle + Box of Chocolates” though, so I’m definitely keen to get back there and stay longer.

  7. Oh man you’ve sold me on Ghent! I have heard of it before but I knew nothing more than the name before reading this post. Like the pictures too, even if they were cloudy It sucks sometimes when you visit such photogenic places but the sky screws it all up. I spent a week in Batanes (the farthest northern cluster of Filipino islands, just south of Taiwan) last year and it was cloudy the whole time! And even now I’ve been on Tioman Island in Malaysia for nearly a week and it’s been stormy and cloudy the whole time 🙁

    Anyway, cheers to see you made it to Bruges too. I remember reading that was on your 2015 list. I too have been eager to visit there every since I saw the movie.

    1. Cloudy weather can ruin pictures. but if a place is truly special, it will thrive photogenically even in bad weather! Tioman Island looks amazing in Google, hope you guys have a nice time!

      Next time you’re in Belgium, please visit both, they are truly worth it!

  8. I Live not far from Ghent and go there often it is full of history i prefer Ghent to Brussel, much cleaner is Ghent

  9. You misspelled “Graslei” as “Garslei” 😉 But apart from that tiny mistake, thanks for the very positive article.
    – a 40+ year inhabitant of the greater Gent area-

  10. Yeah..booked our trip for March a few weeks ago! Brussels, Bruges, Ghent , here we come! Will hit you up later for advice once we decide where in Portugal first. Great post!!! 🙂

  11. I absolutely loved Ghent and I agree with all your points. I think the city has such a great lively energy to it. You should definitely consider going back during Gentse Feesten, a 10-day free city-wide festival in June.

    1. Thanks for the tip John. Just googled it and it looks amazing. Also, it should be much better weather in June which adds to the experience!

  12. I first visited Brussels and Bruges over a decade ago and last summer when I went to Brussels for work I decided to check our Antwerp over the weekend, and loved it. I was roaming around with another expat blogger there, who’s been to every Belgian town while living in the country for two years, and she loved Ghent too.

  13. One other reason for the beautful surroundings, is that Ghent was the second biggest city in Europe (above the Alps) in the Middle Ages, with 60.000 inhabitants, and a real economic powerhouse.

  14. I spent 6 months as erasmus student in Ghent, and I swear it is a wonderful city! You should wait for spring to see so many people enjoying the Graslei and playing their guitars at sunset!

  15. Ghent – with about 250.000 inhabitatns – is actually the 2nd biggest (if you don’t count the metropolitan area of Brussels as one) city in Belgium., not the 4th.

    1. Thanks for your correction. You’re completely right, in terms of population is the 2nd city. Yet, I was refering to the size of the metropolitan area,like I mentioned in the article: “is only the fourth city of the country in size.”. In that sense, I believe it is indeed the 4th city of Belgium (reference here).
      Anyway, I will ammend that sentence. Thank you!