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24 Hours in Ghent

Ghent, often in the shadow of its neighbours –  cosmopolitan Brussels, arty Antwerp and perfectly preserved Bruges – might get overlooked sometimes but this Belgian treasure is a delightful find in its own right with plenty of intriguing places to discover and enjoy if you’ve got a few hours to spare. Here’s our top suggestions for getting under the skin of this picturesque and vibrant city when you’ve twenty-four hours to explore. 

Ghent

Just like Bruges, Ghent is attractively bisected by a regimented network of historic canals, so as well as wandering the cobbled towpaths soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the tall merchants’ houses and elegant bridges along the way, one of the best means of discovering more about this medieval gem whilst also getting your bearings, is to take a relaxing canal boat trip to enjoy the city from the water. As you glide along an expert guide will impart intriguing stories from the city’s prestigious past as well as pointing out the must-see sights. 

Back on dry land take a stroll along the beautiful quaysides of Graslei and Korenlei running alongside the banks of the tranquil river Lys. Admire the grand facades of the fine medieval buildings with their decorative gables and intricate stonework beautifully reflected in the still water and capture the spectacular view of Ghent’s famous trio of soaring towers as you cross the historic stone arches of St Michael’s bridge.  

Gravensteen

Step back in time with a visit to the impressive medieval landmark Gravensteen – literally castle of the Counts, dating from 1180. With its hefty ramparts and turrets, its fairytale appeal belies its sinister past as it was essentially used as a prison and courthouse during the 14th century. You can wander its atmospheric rooms and chambers while learning more of its grim history with a fascinating audio guide. 

During the Middle Ages Ghent was one of the most powerful cities in Western Europe and as you wander its historic streets, you’ll find an exceptional architectural legacy from this Golden Age. Make sure you take in the impressive St Bavo’s Cathedral with a history that dates to 942. This magnificent Catholic church with its lofty Gothic spires is famed the world over for the beautiful Ghent Altarpiece – a huge and exquisitely painted series of panels dating from the 5th-century. Thought to be the work of the Flemish masters, the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck, depicting the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb it is arguably one of the world’s foremost art treasures, and its preservation is truly incredible. If you’ve got the energy, the climb to the top of the belfry tower is worth it for wonderful 360-degree views over the city’s rooftops. 

From ancient art to modern, perhaps take a wander down the vibrant Werregarenstraatje, an alleyway showcasing street art with dozens of interesting murals to enjoy. But if horticulture is more your thing, nothing beats a stroll through the daily Kouter flower market to soak up the spectacle of its colourful tapestry of blooms and plants whilst enjoying the cheerful sound of a brass-band playing from the bandstand. 

If you happen to be in Ghent during late July, you might find your visit coinciding with the Gentse Feesten – a music and theatre festival dating back to 1843. Attracting visitors across the globe to enjoy its cultural performances, from jazz to folk, puppet shows to mime artists and buskers plus everything in between, it’s one of Europe’s most popular festivals. 

Speculoos

When your feet tell you enough, sit back and relax on a nostalgic horse-drawn carriage ride whilst the belfry’s carillon of bells chimes out across the city’s historic streets. Or simply head back to the buzz of Ghent’s quaysides and retire to a quintessential Flemish café with its dark wooden panelling and cosy ambience to enjoy a locally brewed beer accompanied by some kroakemandels, deep-fried salted peas or coffee and speculoos, crunchy spicy cookies and a delicious Belgian waffle drizzled in warm melted chocolate!  If you’re lunching too, try a warming bowl of waterzooi, a cream-based stew dating from the Middle Ages, historically made with fish or chicken though you’ll often find local restaurants with their own recipes for this hearty dish. 

Explore Ghent on our river cruises to Bruges, Medieval Flanders, Amsterdam & the Dutch Bulbfields and Amsterdam, Cologne and the Best of Holland & Flanders.