Ghent, Belgium, may not be as well-known as other Belgian cities such as Bruges or Brussels or even Antwerp, but that can be considered a good thing. It means that this beauty of a city remains hidden from the tourist masses that do flock to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are the Bruges city center or the Grand Place in Brussels.
Now, the thing is that Ghent is equally as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than the other larger cities in Belgium. It’s a true architectural masterpiece, dotted with historic buildings and stunning waterfronts. This is where a few major festivals take place as well, most notably the Gentse Feesten and the Light Festival. Additionally, , which adds a vibrant atmosphere to this medieval city.
Is it obvious that I’m a fan of Ghent? While there are a lot of interesting sight and sites to be found all over the city, I’d like to share what I think are the five essential places to visit in Ghent.
Five Essential Places to Visit in Ghent, Belgium
The Gravensteen, or Castle of the Counts in English, was built in the late 12th century by orders of Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, and is still an incredibly fine and well-preserved example of a Western European medieval fortification. Once one of the most powerful moated castles in Europe, the Gravensteen can now be visited; particularly the torture rooms are fascinating (and definitely gruesome, too).
Graslei and Korenlei
This old medieval port is where the powerful guilds built their ornate office buildings, most of which are still there today. This is the bustling heart of the city, made up of the River Leie that is lined with cafés, patios and spectacularly beautiful row houses. The Korenlei is located on the opposite side of the river, also home to fine architecture, but mainly visited for the view of the Graslei.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
Steeped in history, the St. Bavo’s Cathedral was where Charles V was baptized in 1500. The church is home to several major paintings, especially the marvelous world-famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by the van Eyck brothers. Other highlights are the Calvarian Triptych, the tombs of many bishops, the oaken Rococo pulpit and the Altar of Ghent.
Built in the splendid Brabant Gothic style, the Belfry was the symbol of the wealth, prosperity and independence of a city that once was the second-largest north of the Alps, second only to Paris. This 91-meter-high tower was built in the early decades of the 14th century and is still a major landmark in Ghent. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, too.
St. Michael’s Bridge
The St. Michael’s Bridge takes in almost all architectural landmarks of Ghent at once. There seriously is no better vantage point anywhere else in the city. Located next to the Graslei and Korenlei, the view includes the Gravensteen Castle in the distance, the Old Fish Market, the Belfry, the St. Bavo’s Cathedral and the St. Nicholas Church. The three last-mentioned landmarks, by the way, are known as the “three-tower row”.
If you start your stay in Ghent, Belgium, with these five essential places, you’ll immediately see how great a city this is. After you’ve done all of them, also make sure to try some Belgian beers in the Patershol neighborhood, visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed beguinage, learn about the city’s history in the STAM – Ghent City Museum and browse the weekend flea market at St. Jacob’s Square.