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City Breaks

Ghent

Discover picturesque and historic Ghent, Belgium’s hidden jewel and the perfect city for a break. Uncover the historic landmarks and essential events to see on your visit.

This guide will show off the wide array of activities and sights in Ghent, Belgium. From nature reserves to historical landmarks, with almost everything in-between.

Driving to Ghent from Calais

Towns and cities in northern France are ideal to visit for a day trip, but a short timeframe doesn’t have to limit you to the French coast. Ghent, in Belgium, is less than two hours by car from Calais and is as beautiful as it is interesting. Take the A16 and E40 for the most direct route, but you do have the option to stop in Bruges or Dunkirk along the way too.

It’s important to note that since January 2020, in order to improve air quality, Ghent’s city centre will become a low emission zone. This means that the most polluting vehicles will be excluded from the city centre and you will be required to register any vehicle that doesn’t have a Belgian or Dutch number plate before you travel.

If your car doesn’t meet the conditions for the Low Emission Zone, you can still request access to enter, however you may need to purchase a permit for this. To register your vehicle and learn more about the Low Emission Zone, click here.

Things to see and do in Ghent

For families, couples, and solo travellers alike, Ghent has a lot to fill your time with. Museums and the castle are a good place to start, but Ghent also has parks and a nature reserve to satisfy those who like their history with a side of greenery.

History & culture

A medieval city, Ghent is amazingly well-preserved. While exploring the city streets on foot, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a fairytale, and there are more than enough sites to see to fill up a long day of adventuring. Castles and architecture dating back to the Middle Ages mean there’s a wealth of history here to discover.

 

Gravensteen

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 instruments of torture. A must-visit when in town, keep in mind there are some narrow staircases to climb.

Museum of Fine Arts

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.

Housed in a beautiful neoclassical building, Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts is a great place to go if you love culture, or simply appreciate and admire some of Europe’s finest works of art. With a number of changing exhibitions and European works dating back to the 1350s, you’re sure to find something to suit your taste, as well as classics from master artists such as Hieronymus Bosch and Jan van Eyck.

If you're looking for something a little more modern, the Stedelijk, Museum voor, Actuele Kunst, or SMAK, 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.

Patershol

If you want to start your day exploring on foot, the Patershol region is perfect. Ghent’s oldest quarter, the layout of Patershol’s streets haven’t changed since medieval times, and this can be felt as you wind through its many cobbled alleyways. It’s overlooked by Gravensteen castle, and is home to quaint restaurants and cafés, which are almost hidden away from street view.

Saint Bavo Cathedral

Art enthusiasts flock to Saint Bavo's Cathedral to see The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. 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 also houses arguably one of the most important renaissance artworks in northern Europe. 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.

Impressive tall church architecture against sunny blue skies

 

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.

Ghent’s Belfry was constructed between 1313 and 1380 and boasts 360-degree views of the city from the top. You can take the steep stairway or, if you’re not feeling quite up to it, you can get a lift most (but not all) of the way to the top.

Things to do in Ghent for families

Ghent has plenty to offer families with children of all ages with children getting into most museums for free. Have fun on a weekend or longer trip with the whole family.

Blaarmeersen, Sports and Recreation Park

Blaarmeersen sports and recreation park is where Ghent locals come jogging, to play football, and rowing clubs battle it out on the water. This is a good area for walking around the lake, which you can also swim in or hire pedalos, kayaks or fishing equipment for.

There is also a water park (Watersportbaan), with a slide for children and a large, sandy beach. Situated near the historic city centre activities available include mini golf, aerial trekking course, beach volleyball, a large playground with a maze, orienteering, and a sports pitch.

The Big Cannon

You cannot miss this enormous cast-iron cannon weighing in at around 12,500 kg. The Dulle Griet or Mad Meg (named after the Flemish folklore figure Dull Gret) is a medieval large-calibre gun and is sometimes referred to as ‘the evil woman’ too.

It’s one of three cannons founded in Bergen. One is in Edinburgh and is called Mons Meg, and the last was in France but has since been lost. Despite its formidable name, it has never been fired, but it’s worth seeing and it’s close to the Friday Market square in old town.

House of Alijn

This quirky museum puts ‘the ordinary daily life of 20th century people in the spotlight’. It is the only almshouse to have been preserved in Ghent and is a must-see for children. Its displays and exhibits will help you discover or rediscover how daily life has changed over time. Dip into the dressing-up box, flick through photo album or revel in the nostalgia of old films. Even though it’s aimed at younger generations, many adults will enjoy getting back in touch with their inner child.

The World of Kina

The House part of this museum contains everything from fossils to interactive rock and mineral exhibitions. Learn about natural history and flora and fauna by exploring the house or downloading the app as you walk around.

The 'Susketwiet' sensory and listening trail in the bird room introduces you to the museum's birds and is a fan favourite for most visitors. It is tailored for visually impaired visitors, but extra fun for everyone.

The Garden part of this museum holds more than 1000 plant species, a bee colony and live tarantulas. Children and brave adults will love this part but it’s important to note that the House and Garden are not within walking distance from each other but can easily be reached by taking bus no. 5 (Sint-Pietersplein) from Tolhuislaan. You can also drive here as there are over 12 car parks in Ghent city centre with a total of almost 6,000 parking spots.

Lago Ghent Rozebroeken

Lago Ghent Rozebroeken has everything you need to fill a whole day with fun if the weather is good. Not far from the city centre, go tyre surfing on the waves, sample each of the three slides or paddle with the little ones in the toddler pool.

There’s a designated lagoon for relaxing and a spa like hammam or sauna for those looking to destress even further. A garden area with comfy seating is also available for when you want to dry off and The Rest-Eau-Café on site has an extensive menu and large outdoor playground. If you would rather stay poolside, you can enjoy the café’s menu on the heated swimmers’ terrace too.

Outdoor activities in Ghent

Step into the outdoors of Ghent and make the most of all this surprisingly green city has to offer.

Greenery and water in Belgium

 

Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen Nature Reserve

Just outside Ghent, discover the peace and quiet of the Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen Nature Reserve. Bring your binoculars to enjoy seeing some of the tens of thousands of birds that flock here every year to nest in the wild of the East Flemish landscape spread over more than 220 hectares. Grab a map of walking routes from the visitor centre to take any of the stunning routes available.

Keizerpark

Keizerpark is home to a playground for children from 0 to 6 years, plus space for a picnic or barbecue on patches of ground that overlook the water. Numerous cycling and walking paths will lead you from park to park, taking you in one direction to the Gentbrugse Meersen or the other to Merelbeke.

Be sure to find the zones for sports, such as basketball and skating for active children, or head to the water to see the impressive floating platform where performances are held of all kinds throughout the spring and summer months.

boats and railings over a bridge at a harbour

 

Start your journey to Ghent with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle

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. Book your journey with Eurotunnel today.

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