Ghent is located between Brussels and Bruges in Belgium, and the city is not only located between the two, but also reflects a middle ground between the two. Bruges is small, quaint, and full of Flemish charm, while Brussels is a large European city and very French. Ghent offers an ideal compromise of a larger city, but with Flemish characteristics, which we prefer. The city, like Bruges, is placed on a series of canals, making boat tours a popular activity for tourists to see the city. The buildings located along the canal ooze classic European beauty, and the city is full of historic buildings, unique architecture, and incredible churches.
We stayed at the Hotel de Flandre and absolutely loved it there. The hotel is right around the corner from the main stretch and across the street from a grocery store, making it ideally situated for convenience and traveling cheaply. Often when we travel in Europe we buy items at the grocery store such as bread, meat, cheese, fruit, and snacks to save money. Typically we try to eat only one meal out, and this ends up saving us a great deal of money to allow us to travel longer and more frequently. We stayed in the loft apartment and thoroughly enjoyed our room. Upon entering you come into a slightly narrow hallway with a wardrobe and room to place your luggage. After you walk down the hall there are stairs to your left, and a very nice, spacious bathroom to your right. Going up the stairs is a small nook to the left of the stairs with a desk and then a small living area. At the back is the bed with a window overlooking the city and a gorgeous view of St. Bavo’s Cathedral. We have talked quite a bit about moving to Europe and agreed that this would make a delightful little loft apartment for the two of us if we lived in Europe, which made us feel right at home and enjoy our time even more. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful as well. Additionally, we were excited when the staff seemed pleasantly surprised when we notified them it was okay they were out of English books because we can just read the German, not to mention the entire trip people asked if we were Dutch, which we took as a compliment. Finally, the hotel was extremely clean making us truly feel like we could relax and enjoy our European adventure because we had a nice place to come home to for the evening, or even for a short break during the day due to its convenient location. We would both recommend the Hotel de Flandre to anyone taking a trip to Ghent.
Since we are tourists, we decided to take a boat tour and enjoyed viewing the city from our little boat, while also learning about the city’s history. Like Bruges, the buildings located along the canal are absolutely beautiful with extremely unique architecture that often center around decorated tops of buildings, involving variations of a step-like structure on both sides up to the top. We both loved the style of the buildings, and the city was quite picturesque with the canal in front and the exquisite buildings in the background.
Throughout Ghent, like most European cities, are enormous and awe-inspiring churches that contain masterful pieces of art and beautiful structures, with fascinating depictions of the Bible and the early Christian Fathers. For those who are not Christian or practicing you can always enjoy the church for the incredible architecture and art; for those who are practicing Christians you can partake in a truly incredible experience. Churches were often created to not only bring worshipers together, but to depict a little bit of heaven on earth and tell the story of the Bible through the artwork, and for many it can be a powerful experience.
St. Michael’s Church is a massive and incredible church located right along the canal front in the heart of the city center, depicting the concept of grandeur to understand a little bit of heaven on earth. The church’s structure creates gorgeous views in photos as well for those who simply appreciate architecture. The church is not regularly open so it can be difficult to view the inside of the church, but it still is an amazing structure. We were fortunate enough to see the inside which was absolutely stunning and filled with art, including the pieces of art and the building itself.
Opposite of St. Michael’s is St. Nicholas Church, which is a gorgeous Gothic church. Inside are splendid arches and stained glass windows that fill the room with light. While we were there they were restoring the church, so we were unable to see parts of it; however, the altar is quite a marvel and made up for the fact that whole sections of the church were blocked off. The church is in the heart of the city making it an easy stopping point.
Down the street from St. Michael’s, is St. Bavo’s Cathedral. St. Bavo’s is probably one of the most well-known churches in Ghent as it houses the Ghent altar piece. The Cathedral structure itself is incredible and filled with astounding pieces of artwork, not even including the Ghent Altarpiece. The Ghent Altarpiece costs a little bit to see, but it was definitely worth it. The van Eyck piece is stunning, and the imagery is absolutely incredible. We spent quite awhile just staring at the piece and enjoying the complexity. Below the Cathedral are additional pieces as well for art viewers and church goers alike to enjoy. St. Bavo’s is a beautiful church full of art to observe for hours.
A unique gem off the beaten path is the Monastery of the Carmelite Fathers. The Monastery is not that far from the city center, only a couple minutes’ walk, but hardly anyone branches off the center to discover the smaller attractions and churches. The Monastery is simple and beautiful. Unlike most churches in the city center, the Monastery had no other visitors other than ourselves, a nun, and an elderly man. The church was so peaceful, and, although it was smaller than the larger churches with magnificent structures, the small Monastery’s silence allowed those visitors who truly wanted to pray be reverent. We both enjoyed sitting in peace, looking around at the beautiful structure and images, and praying in the Monastery.
A few blocks from the Carmelite Monastery, there are the remains of a beguinage, a religious community formed by lay women in the 13th century. The St. Elisabeth Beguinage encompasses houses and other buildings that were once a part of the community. The beguinage is rather run down and no longer functioning, but the church that was once the center of the community is still a beautiful part of the scenery.
Right next to St. Bavo’s Cathedral is one of the main Ghent attractions the Belfry. The Belfry is the bell tower in the center of Ghent that overlooks the city. We decided to make the trek to the top, and it was well worth the few euros we spent. Visitors can either ride an elevator to the top or take the narrow staircase, which was a bit harrowing, but a fun way to really experience the journey to the top. The balcony right below the clock afforded excellent panoramic views of Ghent and allowed visitors to get a bird’s eye view of churches and other buildings, lending an interesting perspective to the more conventional street views.
A popular destination for those in Ghent is the Gravensteen. The Gravensteen is a tenth century castle, with massive stone walls that are surrounded by a mote and proudly donning its own castle flag. The castle is made completely of stone work and and appears the exact way you might imagine a storybook full of knights and ladies to look. The building itself is massive masonry feat, and inside you can explore the history behind the castle. The castle offers a weapons’ museum, the essential gift shop for all your knick knack needs, and a tour to discover the castle’s wonders.
Ghent, like the rest of Belgium, is known for its fantastic bier scene. Belgium might be considered by some the holy land of the beer world with its wide range of sours, lambic bier, play on flavors, and the classic Belgian ale. Brussels is probably most known for their beer, but Ghent and Bruges offer a wide range of Belgian beers without the crowded bar setting. A popular place for beer lovers is Dulle Griet, which has a large selection of Belgian specific beers. Due to its popularity be prepared for a more touristy vibe, but overall it doesn’t matter since you are able to sip some of the best Belgian beers available all in one place.
Overall, Ghent was not nearly as crowded or tourist filled as other places in Europe we have visited. In general we found Belgium to be a lot less touristy than other European countries where the mob of tourists almost ruins the trip. For the most part, Ghent, like Bruges, had tourists compacted in the center, but once you step outside the main district it was relatively peaceful and relaxing.
Ghent, Belgium is a beautiful European city full of history, charm, and incredible buildings. We both enjoyed our time there and would love to return again. Ghent is a smaller city than London or Vienna, but offers the classic European experience with less tourists and breath-taking architecture.
Side Note: A lot of the churches are undergoing renovation and sections are completely blocked for restoration, and, therefore, visitors are unable to see them fully in all their splendor.