For my second day in Brussels, I decided to take a day trip to Ghent from Bruges. Being only a 30 minute train ride away makes Ghent a perfect day trip destination, especially if you’re looking to escape the massive tourist crowds in Bruges for a time. Despite being much larger than Bruges, Ghent is surprisingly less popular and less touristic. This is probably because the attractions of Ghent aren’t as obvious or visually apparent, but I kind of like that as it seems much less “forced” and more authentic as a working town, rather than one that caters solely to tourists.
Unlike Bruges, the Ghent railway station is located a little way away from the city centre, so I took the public tram into the centre of town. If you’re going to be taking public transport, be sure to buy your tickets either at the railway station or at the tram stops themselves (self service machines) because it’s more expensive if you buy them onboard. As an aside, an unlimited day pass costs €5 which is a decent deal compared to the price of a single ticket.
Stopping off at Zonnestraat, I walked a short way towards Kaas Mekka, one of the most famous cheese shops in Ghent. Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned things as well as I thought, as the shop was closed on Sundays. 🙁 I therefore had to be content with just taking a photo from the outside and drooling at the photo displaying the huge range of cheeses they sell.
Kaas Mekka was however, on the way to Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, one of the main tourist attractions in Ghent so I made the short walk in that direction. Sint-Baafs is known for its Ghent Altarpiece, also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the art masterpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. There was a bit of a queue when I went, and you have to pay about €4-5 for a viewing ticket, but it is worth it. Saint Bavo’s also has a medieval tower, one of three in a line that overlooks the old city centre of Ghent.
It was raining when I exited the cathedral, so it was a good thing that my next stop was located directly opposite Saint Bavo’s – the Ghent Belfry (and second medieval tower of the old town). At 91 metres tall, this belfry is actually the largest in all of Belgium and can be visited for €5.
A little further along is the third and final medieval tower, which belongs to Saint Nicholas’ Church. This tower acted as the town’s observational post and hosted the town’s bells until the Ghent Belfry was built. Also worth a view is the old church organ located here.
It was time for lunch at this point, so I decided to check out the food on offer at Korenmarkt, which was located just round the corner. It was positively chucking it down at this point and I was looking forward to getting myself dried off and warmed up indoors, with some good food in my belly.
There were a few good looking restaurants here, but it felt like too much of a tourist trap (being right in the heart of the city), and I wasn’t sure if I was going to get an authentic meal. I decided to walk down the nearby quieter street of Donkersteeg instead and immediately came across a traditional looking restaurant that was filled with a good number of what looked to me like locals – always a good sign.
I was looking to try some of the local specialties, and so decided to go with the fish waterzooi, a Flemish fish stew / soup made with cod, salmon, cream, vegetables and potatoes. I made the right choice in coming to this restaurant because they offered a top up on the soup when I was partway through my hearty meal. Being this good, I obviously said yes!
Thankfully the rain had mostly stopped when I stepped out of the restaurant and slowly started walking back towards the old town square with all of its three towers. I passed by a scrumptious looking shop selling some sugary pastries on the way, but passed on this occasion as there was just one thing on my mind and that was Belgian chocolates.
Going after quality rather than quantity, I decided on the Luc Van Hoorebeke Chocolaterie. It was extremely difficult to make a choice when there were so many flavours on offer, but the ladies at the counter were extremely patient in explaining what each praline contained and what their personal recommendations were.
After revelling in my chocolate treats, I continued walking towards St. Michael’s Bridge and down to the river by Graslei. If there is only one place in Ghent that you can photograph, this is it. The impressive medieval architecture along Graslei and the opposite bank, Korenlei is beautifully well-preserved and gives a real glimpse into Ghent’s important trading past. The cloudy, drizzly day resulted in poor lighting for good photos, but it did however mean less crowds of people in my photos. 🙂
With my interest in these buildings and the local history piqued, I decided to take one of the river boat tours for an informed commentary on the area. I learnt about Ghent as a important city of trade and commerce in the past, which explained the presence of all these guild houses by the side of the river. Along the way, a prison cell, lavatory atop the river and Gravensteen, the stone castle, were pointed out to us. We also learnt about the myth of the dragon in relation to the city’s belfry, the rise in tourism and property prices by the river and Ghent’s own mini version of Manneken Pis (a nod to the urine collectors of old who used human urine for the purposes of bleaching leather).
After getting dropped off at Graslei, I walked to Gravensteen to get a closer look at the stone castle. Deciding that I’d much rather be walking by the river and spending time outdoors, I walked towards the Leie River, stopping at a cute cafe called Julie’s House along the way for the iced tea of the day and a slice of chocolate cake.
The sun finally decided to make an appearance at this point, which brought all of the hidden colours of the city to life – I mean check out my photo below, it really made a world of difference! It was a beautiful and scenic walk by the Kraanlei as I crossed the De Zuivelbrug bridge and started making my way to a tram station for a ride back to the railway station.
Despite the wet weather, I did really enjoy my day out in Ghent. I would’ve loved to spend another day there, had time permitted, but it was a choice between Bruges and Ghent for my third and final day in Belgium, and I could only pick one of them. But tell me what you think – have you been to both Bruges and Ghent? Which did you prefer?