Ghent, Gent, Gand, the birthplace of Charles V – Holy Roman Emperor, sheep central, student city and formerly the second biggest city in Europe. (Note: emphasis on formerly, we’re talking Dark Ages here!) The locals have Charles V to thank for their nickname of Stroppendragers (noose bearers), after he forced the city’s nobles to walk barefoot in front of him with a noose around their necks following the Revolt of Ghent in 1539. Perhaps a punishment at the time, it’s since become a symbol for resistance against tyranny and abuse of authority and you’ll see plenty of references to this event in the form of statues, names of restaurants and bars, beer and the Gentse Feesten.
We’ve given you several reasons to visit Ghent and shared a sort of sneak peek into our Ghent locals’ favorites before, but now’s the time to take it one step further. If you’ve only got 48 hours to spend in Ghent, here’s what our locals think you should do!
Day 1 09:00 – 13:00
Local Sandra highly recommends starting your day at Gust. Ghent has no shortage of great coffee places, but the breakfast combo here is particularly good she says. Wake up properly with a coffee of your choice, orange juice, homemade granola and pancakes with fresh fruit, before setting out to explore the city. From here, make your way towards the Ajuinlei, which stretches out along the Leie, cross the bridge towards Dille & Kamille and left onto the Predikherenlei. Take your time to look around on this walk towards our next spot, because the stunning medieval architecture is worth a pause! There’s the Sint Michielskerk (St. Michael’s Church) to your left, the Sint Niklaaskerk (St Nicholas’ Church) a few streets over to your right. Eventually, this street turns into the Graslei, which is the beating heart of the city. Even Sandra, who has lived here for years, still stops to take in the sights here whenever she passes.
Right, we’re heading to Huis van Alijn, located further along the Leie, on the Kraanlei on the other side. This former children’s hospital gives great insight into the life of the locals in the 20th Century. For those who long for the days before Facebook and Twitter, or want to show their unbelieving kids that there was an age before The Internet, this is a great one!
Day 1 13:00 – 19:00
Right, lunchtime! You have plenty of options! There’s the Souplounge nearby, which is a great healthy alternative to the famous Belgian food staples like chocolate, fries, beer and moules frites! The best place to sit is upstairs says local Nick, because it offers a great view over the canal while you eat one of the 4 offered soups. Choose something to add to the soup, like meatballs, cheese or croutons, or order one of the sandwiches if soup is not your thing. Or, head further along the Oudburg towards Noodlebar Ramen. For € 12 you can get a delicious lunch here, like noodle soup, dim sum or gyoza. All the Southeast Asian highlights are here, fresh and delicious! Incidentally, just a few doors down is Simon Says, a B&B, lunch place, and some say home to the best coffee in town.
You’re on the edge of the Patershol area, and it’s an area worth getting lost in. The houses are well preserved, along cobblestone streets, and the restaurant and gallery offer in this part of town is amazing. Check out the Confiserie Temmerman, both for the 17th Century facade and for the famous local sweets Cuberdon. Wander towards the Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts), or as Bennie suggests do something different and take a look at the castle’s backside! If you’re lucky you might have the view to yourself and at night the castle is lit up beautifully.
Day 1 19:00 – 23:00
If you’ve seen the Gravensteen castle back to front and it’s time for dinner, we suggest De Gekroonde Hoofden for the really, really hungry (all you can eat ribs), or Naturell for those looking for high quality, fine dining! For those of you going to the Gekroonde Hoofden, no matter how hungry you are, don’t touch the bread as they will spoil your appetite! It might sound like a foregone conclusion, but the delicious garlic butter and other sauces are quite enticing, so we think it’s necessary to put emphasis on that.
Day 1 23:00 – …
Cross the canal towards Damberd. “This might be the best example of what they call a Belgisch bruin café (Belgian brown bar). It is one of the oldest bars in town, yet it’s very popular.” says local Nick. It’s open till very late, giving you the perfect opportunity to really soak in the vibe of a typical Belgian bar. Still relatively new on the Kammerstreet is the very unique Le Bal Infernal, which has the perfect interior for all you bookworms out there. Over 10,000 books are shelved according to theme and you’re welcome to purchase these or read them right there. During the day this can be paired with a coffee or some sweets and at night this awesome location turns into a bar/dance floor, ergo: a used-book cafe cum bar. During the week you can ‘read’ here till 01:00 and on the weekends they won’t ask you to leave till 03:00!
Day 2 09:00 – 13:00
Morning! How’s your head? We hope you went to bed at a reasonable hour, because there’s much more to see of the city! We’re guessing you don’t have any pressing laundry to do, but Wasbar is still a great spot to go to. With a very cozy interior you’ll hardly notice the washing machines. If you’re in the city on the weekend the deal is even sweeter, thanks to their delicious unlimited brunch offer.
Do you like bagels? Yes, it might not be a traditional Belgian food, but suggesting Belgian frites for breakfast is taking it too far we think. Jackie’s bagelbar has some mouthwatering breakfast bagels with eggs and bacon, or eggs and salmon for example. Yum! Oh, get some of the cookies or muffins to sustain you during the day as well!
After filling your belly you might want to stretch your legs with a walk to the Saint Peter’s Abbey. Well, stretch is a big word here, the walk is only 15 mins tops! But what you get for this short walk is amazing says Visit Gent, “The splendid garden with its vineyard and ruins is a green oasis in the heart of the city.” The lush gardens, the historic building and the interesting exhibitions make for a great visit, even on a Sunday.
Day 2 13:00 – 19:00
According to Nick bar Jan Cremer is the perfect spot for your lunch break after visiting the Saint Peter’s abbey. Serving snacks, sandwiches and warm drinks, in summer it has a great terrace with beach chairs out on the square in front. Or, as local Tahnee suggests, go to Emmy’s for lunch. Go for the flaguette, a warm, round sandwich with the best salty fillings, but hey, all the sandwiches are really good and well prepared.
Afterwards, if the weather’s not cooperating, head a little further to both or one of these two all-star museums, the MSK (Museum voor Schone Kunsten) or STAM. Both are extremely well decked out in terms of exhibitions, and the MSK currently shows the public the ongoing restoration of the painting by Van Eyk; ‘Lam Gods’ (The Ghent Altarpiece). STAM will show you an overview of the rich history of Ghent, using the most modern techniques.
If the weather is looking food, go for a walk down Sint-Pieternieuwstraat and the Walpoortstraat. Local Bennie writes it “is vivid in a way I absolutely like. I can find a piece of everything, so I can spend a whole day there.” Get a pick-me-up at OR espresso bar, go to Rewind and PIET moodshop for some shopping, browse the vinyls on display at Music Mania and finish the day at Vooruit. Vooruit is one of the most impressive buildings in Ghent says Bennie, and his colleague Nick agrees. It’s a cultural temple and sometimes the bar is used for free concerts, movies or DJ-sets. Order anything you need at the bar, soak up the vivid atmosphere and relax a bit.
Day 2 19:00 – 23:00
You can also order some dinner at Vooruit, but there aren’t many options to choose from so look at the menu before deciding to stay. Or, swap one cultural-themed venue for another, Cafe Theatre, which is the restaurant and bar for the city’s Opera house. Take note before coming here, dress up a little! Be prepared to pay a little above average, but the service, interior and quality of the food more than makes up for those lost euros. For those looking for a cheaper fare, Tahnee recommends Café René.
If you’re not someone who usually lingers over dinner very long, at least stay for drinks at any of these three places. All of them have quite the (good) reputation when it comes to cocktails and ensuring you a special night out.
Day 2 23:00 – …
To end your last day here in Ghent we suggest going back to the lovely Patershol neighborhood for a celebratory drink. Pick Oudbar for the Gin & Tonics and rest your tired feet while sitting in this retro themed bar. Or, Rococo, or Betty’s as it’s affectionately referred to, which sets a warm and romantic mood with candles and a fireplace. Fingers crossed it’s not too busy so Betty can make you her famous Liqueur d’amour. This one has promising side effects!