Ghent, city of history, culture and celebration.
Nestled between Bruges and Brussels, Ghent is an often overlooked treasure which is packed with some of the best sights and experiences Belgium has to offer.
This sprawling city was once the second biggest in Europe, its sheer scale matched only by Paris. Like its French counterpart Ghent still retains much of its historic look, making it a perfect picturesque spot for a weekend getaway.
Whether you're looking for a romantic break, some family fun, or some European culture, this city has something for everyone. Let Eurotunnel Le Shuttle be your guide as we explore some of the must-see sights and attractions in Ghent.
Belfry and Cloth Hall
Wool, and the cloth made from it, played a huge part in Ghent's history during the Middle Ages, resulting in the city growing rich from this industry. Trading across Europe, the region became synonymous with the highest quality woven cloth, and at the centre of production stood the Cloth Hall, or Lakenhalle.
Constructed between 1425-1445, the hall was a thriving trading spot for cloth merchants, where they would inspect merchandise and broker deals. As the industry declined the hall was preserved through different usage, including serving as the city jail for more than 150 years. This rich history has left its mark on the building and made it a must for visitors.
Attached to the hall is the imposing historic Ghent Belfry, or Belfort, which offers unparalleled views across the metropolis. The bells in this tower are a matter of civic pride to the city's inhabitants, historically rung to mark battle victories, today they often celebrate more peaceful occasions. Despite the tower's ancient construction, an elevator has been installed inside, so visitors can avoid lengthy stair climbs in order to enjoy the panorama.
Saint Bavo Cathedral
Opposite the Belfry stands another must-see sight for Ghent visitors; the equally impressive Saint Bavo Cathedral.
This religious structure has stood on the site for more than 1,000 years, and evidence of the original 942AD wooden chapel can still be seen in the cathedral's crypt. This sits alongside remains of further expansions throughout the ages, allowing you a glimpse into the development of the grand structure.
Today the cathedral is not just an architectural wonder, but it also houses arguably one of the most important renaissance artworks in northern Europe. The world-famous Ghent Altarpiece, is an impressive screen of 24 framed paintings by the two famous masters Hubert and Jan Van Eyk. The breath-taking detailed scenes depict Biblical figures including Adam and Eve and the Lamb of God.
Overlooking one of Ghent's picturesque canals is the formidable Gravensteen, or Castle of the Count. Built in the Middle Ages this compact castle comes straight out of epic tales of knights and dragons, with its looming fortified walls and towers.
The building served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until the 14th Century, and its most notorious resident, crusader Count Philip of Alsace, ensured there was a fully equipped torture chamber inside should anybody actually manage to scale the battlements. Today visitors can take a tour of the castle, climb the ramparts and even get a gruesome glimpse at some of the count's favourite instruments of torture.
Museum of Fine Arts and SMAK
To the south of Ghent town centre you will find the verdant and peaceful Citadelpark, which plays host to two of the city's most impressive galleries.
The Museum of Fine Arts, on the park's east side, houses a collection which includes some of the finest examples of Flemish painting in existence, including works by Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyke.
If you're looking for something a little more modern then the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, or SMAK, also located in Citadelpark, is the destination for you. With constantly changing exhibitions of cutting edge work accompanying a collection of more established artists, including pieces by Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon and David Hockney, there's plenty to excite modern art lovers.
Once a year, for 10 days, Ghent is transformed by a eclectic range of performances and events that fill the city's streets. The annual Gentse Feesten, or Ghent Festival, was first held in 1843 and from humble beginnings it has grown into a modern celebration of everything from music and theatre to food and comedy.
Every year and the whole town is consumed with celebrations as some two million visitors descend on Ghent. Traditionally beginning on the Saturday before July 21 this modern incarnation of the event has become a sort of 'festival of festivals' with miniature festivals taking place across the city over the 10 day period.
Attendees can opt to wander the streets and enjoy the many free buskers and performers who come out in force for the event, or head into the city's many bars and performance venues where every style of music is represented in one form or another.
With so much to see and do, without the crowds of its neighbours Bruges and Brussels, Ghent is the perfect destination for a Belgian break.
For further information:
From the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal at Calais take the E14 towards Bruges and continue south until you reach Ghent. Total distance: 152km Time: 1hr 34mins
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