During a recent trip to Brussels, we decided to take a little break from the capital, and head to the cobbled streets of Ghent. We booked the trip on a whim, after wanting to experience a bit more of Belgium then just the capital. Considering it is only 30 minutes away by train we figured it would be good to spend 1 or 2 days in Ghent. So here is our Ghent itinerary with the best things to do in Ghent to help you plan your own trip to this magical city.
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- Ghent itinerary – Factsheet
- Before we look at things to do in Ghent – How do I get there?
- 1 or 2 days in Ghent?
- Things to do in Ghent
- Things to do in Ghent -1 day Ghent Itinerary
- Things to do in Ghent -2 day Ghent Itinerary
- Where to stay as part of your Ghent itinerary
- Things to do in Ghent – Getting around
- Eating and drinking as part of your Ghent itinerary
- Romantic things to do in Ghent
- How much money do I need for my Ghent itinerary
- Best time of year to plan a Ghent itinerary
- Tips for visiting Ghent
Ghent itinerary – Factsheet
Language: Dutch (flemish), French, German, and English is also widely spoken
Famous for: Beautiful canals and medieval history
Ghent is actually the second largest city in Belgium, with a population of under 250,000. It’s a popular university city, so you may encounter many students during your 2 days in Ghent.
Before we look at things to do in Ghent – How do I get there?
So first things first, before you plan your Ghent itinerary, you are probably wondering how to get to Ghent. Luckily, Ghent is really easy to get to. If you are in Brussels the quickest way to Ghent is by train from Brussels Centraal or Brussels Midi you can jump on a train and arrive in Ghent in about 30 minutes. Trains costs around 10 Euros and trains leave every 15 minutes. Tickets can be purchased using the various machines dotted around the station, and yes they do have an English Language option.
You will arrive into Gent-Sint-Pieters Station, and to get into the main tourist part of the city, you will need to hop on a tram for around 12 minutes. Tram tickets can be purchased from the machines at the tram stops or the easiest thing to do is to download the De Lijn app and use this to purchase your tickets.
1 or 2 days in Ghent?
Is 1 day in Ghent enough, or do you need 2 days in Ghent? Or more? These are some of the questions that we asked before we visited. Ghent isn’t a huge city, and the tourist attractions are very close together, but there is a lot to discover.
1 day in Ghent
After visiting I would say that 1 day in Ghent is great if you want to explore the city, sip some beers, and not much else. You will get to see the main attractions but it won’t give you time to visit them all in depth. So pick out some key things you want to see, and plan accordingly.
2 days in Ghent
2 days in Ghent gives you a good chunk of time to explore a bit more, and allows you to see a few more tourist attractions. It also allows for ample time to drink Belgian beer by the water.
More than 2 days in Ghent
If you really want to delve in and explore Ghent then 3 days is probably a good amount of time to do so. You can wander the back streets, indulge in beers, frites, and waffles, while still having time to visit the key attractions in the city.
We ended up spending 2 days in Ghent though, and for us this was a good amount of time.
Things to do in Ghent
There are quite a few attractions is Ghent, but don’t worry if you don’t get time to visit them all. Part of the beauty of being in Ghent is strolling around the streets, taking in the architecture, and stopping off for Belgian beers. That being said, here are our top things to do in Ghent to inspire you to plan your own trip to this beautiful city.
Do a boat tour
Whether you are spending 1 day in Ghent or more, a boat tour is an absolute must. It is such a beautiful city and seeing it from the water is really special. Tour times vary, but for around 10 Euros (depending on the tour operator and whether you book in advance), you can hop on an open top boat and glide through medieval Ghent.
The tour guide gives you some interesting facts regarding the history of Ghent, and you get to see a lot of the main attractions from the water. If it is raining, umbrellas are provided, as well as blankets in the winter months. It is a really good way to see Ghent and we highly recommend it. You can book tickets online in advance, or alternatively you can book a tour on the day. We got our boat from just across from the Castle of the Counts.
One of our favourite things to see in Ghent has to be the Belfry. It is one of three medieval towers that make up the Ghent skyline, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tower is 91 meters tall, and once you reach the viewing platform you do get a pretty spectacular view of Ghent.
To get to the viewing platform you climb a few stairs, but the good news is there is a lift that takes you most of the way. It is quite narrow at the top so keep that in ind especially if you have a fear of heights.
Castle of the Counts
The Castle of the Counts or Gravensteen as it is known in Dutch, is a medieval castle dating back to 1180. Until 1353 it was home to the Count of Flanders, and since then has been used as a court, a prison, a mint, and a cotton factory. These day it serves its purpose as a humble museum, open to tourists.
The castle is open between 10am and 6pm, and costs €12.00 for an adult ticket. It is almost worth the cost just to listen to the audioguide which is the funniest audioguide we’ve ever heard. Which is probably a weird thing to say considering the castle houses a lot of torture equipment.
St Bavo’s Cathedral
This 89m gothic style cathedral, is the oldest parish in Ghent. The Catholic cathedral is not only remarkable from the outside but the inside too is worth a look in. One of the most significant works inside is the altarpiece called the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
Visiting the cathedral is free, however if you want to view the altarpiece you will need to pay 4 Euros.
St Michael’s Bridge
St Michael’s Bridge is a stone arch bridge over the Lys River in Ghent. The bridge was only constructed between 1905-1909, which compared to other parts of Ghent, isn’t that old. It is a beautiful photo spot from all angles, and well worth a walk across during your 1-2 days in Ghent.
Castle of Gerald the Devil
Because of the name you might be excused for thinking that the devil ever resided here. Although judging by the history and somewhat bleak appearance of this 13th century fortress it might not be too far off.
Throughout its history it has been used as a knights’ residence, an arsenal, a monastery, a school and a bishop’s seminary. The bleaker bits though were in 1623 when it became a madhouse for the mentally ill. As well as being used as a prison.
So this one is more of a hidden gem in Ghent. We stumbled upon it completely by accident, whilst walking between bars. What we really liked about it was the fact that it is so different to the rest of Ghent. One minute you are admiring the gothic architecture and the next you are walking down a street dedicated completely to graffiti. It is a reminder that there is more to Ghent than just castles and churches. It is also a great place for selfies.
Things to do in Ghent -1 day Ghent Itinerary
Here is our recommended itinerary if you only have 1 day in Ghent.
The first thing that we recommend doing after you arrive in Ghent is to do a boat tour. This allows you to see the lay of the land, and learn about the city’s history. Afterwards we recommend sitting at one of the riverside bars for some afternoon drinks before enjoying some frites for lunch.
Spend the remainder of the afternoon visiting the Belfry and the St Bavo’s. It is also worth taking a walk to the Castle of Gerald the Devil and explore the surrounding area before making your way to St Michael’s bridge for golden hour.
The nightlife scene is incredible in Ghent so grab some dinner in Patershol, and make sure you visit some of the local bars to sample that incredible Belgian beer.
Things to do in Ghent -2 day Ghent Itinerary
If you are fortunate enough to have 2 days in Ghent, then here is our recommended itinerary for your second day.
In the morning nurse your hangover (those Belgian beers can be intense) with some brunch, before a visit to the Castle of the Counts. Make some time for frites and waffles in the afternoon, and then visit the Graffiti Street. Afterwards visit Vrijdagmarkt Square and have a look around the surrounding area.
In the evening make some time to sip some beers whilst sitting by the water and taking in the atmosphere.
Where to stay as part of your Ghent itinerary
If you are wondering where to stay when planning your Ghent itinerary we recommend staying in the historical centre in areas like Patershol. That way you are close to most of the attractions, as well as a number of bars and restaurants. We ended up staying at the Ghent River Hotel for around £100 for the night. It is a 4 star hotel with modern rooms located on the banks of the River Lys. For us it was really convenient because it was close to everything and we would definitely stay here again.
Things to do in Ghent – Getting around
Good news, if you are wondering how to get around as part of your Ghent itinerary, then it is pretty straightforward. All the best things to see in Ghent mentioned in this guide are within walking distance of each other. And if you find yourself wanting to venture out further the city’s tram network is easy to navigate.
Eating and drinking as part of your Ghent itinerary
Food is a big part of any Ghent itinerary, and Belgians really know how to do comfort food well. Ghent almost has this distinct smell of waffles that permeates the air, and chowing down on some traditional Belgian waffles is a must.
Frites are another source of great comfort when it comes to food. You will find a lot of street vendors selling them, although we opted for a fancier sit down version from Frites Atelier.
Ok so admittedly we didn’t visit as many bars in Ghent as we would have liked to. That being said, there are some really cool bars to explore in Patershol, so take a walk around and enjoy. One place we did stop off at though was Waterhuis aan de Bierkant. Apparently it is a former brothel turned pub, and the selection of beers is really good. We ended up trying quite a few when we visited. Which is probably why we didn’t make it to many more bars afterwards. Seriously Belgian beers are strong! The pub itself can be a bit touristy, but the atmosphere is great as are the beers.
Another favourite was the Barazza cafe gent. It is hidden down a side street off the main shopping bit, but is worth a visit for its outdoor terrace with beautiful river views. It is only small though so you are probably better off visiting at lunch time instead of the evening when it can get really crowded.
If you want to take the stress of deciding where and what to eat out of your hands then we recommend booking on a guided food tour where you can sample local specialities whilst taking in the sights.
Romantic things to do in Ghent
If you are lucky enough to be visiting with your significant other, then you might be wondering what the best romantic things to do in Ghent are. Honestly it feels like one big fairy tale from the cobbled streets and gorgeous canals. Even just walking between attractions feels super romantic. For those of you that are looking to impress though there is actually a tour you can do specifically for romance. You can learn all about Ghent, and the romantic stories behind it.
How much money do I need for my Ghent itinerary
Ghent is actually a really affordable city, which isn’t surprising considering it is popular with students. Between us as part of our Ghent itinerary we spent well under 150 Euros a day for food, drinks (there were lots of those), souvenirs, and tourist attractions. You could also do things a whole lot cheaper by eating at cheaper restaurants so all in all it’s not a hugely expensive place.
We should mention that this price isn’t including accommodation, which we booked well in advance. Accommodation in the city varies in price but honestly it was pretty reasonable in the scheme of things. For a mid-range hotel expect to pay somewhere between €100 per night.
Best time of year to plan a Ghent itinerary
Ghent is one of those places that you can honestly visit whenever. And You will find things to do in Ghent at any time of year.
The summer months are your ideal time to visit, as the weather is mild, and pretty much perfect for strolling around the canals and sipping Belgian beers. August tends to be busy due to school holidays, although many of the students go home at this time of year.
Winter is a lot more atmospheric. One of the best things to do in Ghent in the winter months has to be visit the Christmas Markets. The magical medieval setting comes alive in December with mulled wine and other wintry treats. It does get incredibly busy at this time of the year, so keep that in mind as you will need to book your accommodation well in advance.
Tips for visiting Ghent
- If you are tossing up whether or not you should go to Ghent our biggest tip is to just do it. It is beautiful and you won’t regret it.
- Ghent is a city best seen at a relaxed pace, don’t try to do too much and just enjoy your surroundings.
- Most people in Ghent speak English so you shouldn’t have any issues in regards to language barriers.
- Book your accommodation in advance especially during the summer months.