There are plenty of reasons why Ghent is a popular destination among tourists. It just ticks all the boxes. There’s beer (over 250 different types), 653 restaurants, 620 cafes, canals, its very own Manneken Pis, several UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more historic buildings, such as medieval houses (hence the nickname Medieval Manhattan), churches and 2 castles ! It’s no wonder the city has been listed as an authentic destination and a must-see city by some very popular tourist guides.
Ghent really knows how to combine history with a contemporary look and feel. When visiting Ghent you’ll definitely get a taste of both. This romantic, cosy, canalside city is the perfect weekend getaway. Its city center is pedestrians only, the largest in Belgium at 30 hectares, meaning you’ll have plenty of time to (safely) gawk at the architecture, some of which is nearly 1400 years old, and observe the everyday current life of its citizens.
It’s a popular cultural destination, with some very amazing and must-visit museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK). In the current season, visiting a museum is always a nice and warm idea. But why should you visit this museum, especially now? Because this place currently houses parts of the famous Ghent Altarpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”. This 12-panel piece is one of the world’s treasures and at any given point in time there was someone itching to get their hands on it, and not always in a good way. It might just be the most stolen artefact in the history of time.
You can see the renovators at work at the MSK, meticulously restoring millimeter by millimeter – it’s an impressive sight. The first phase has been completed and hopefully it’ll be completely restored and returned to its home in 2019! For more background information about the renovation: check the exhibition in the Caermersklooster.
From century-old artwork to contemporary pieces, again that wonderful contrast that’s always visible in Ghent. Visit S.M.A.K., a museum with the know-how when it comes to putting together on-point, original and sometimes daring exhibitions. Summed up with two words: Dynamic and Idiosyncratic. To unwind from the impressions both these museums give you: Grade. Local Sandra mentions it’s perfect for young and old, fun or business, cocktails or a fancy dinner. Well said Sandra!
If it’s more the open-air museums you’re interested in, no need to worry, there’s no shortage of creative souls who’ve shared their talents on the streets of Ghent, the city has some very popular pieces. Download the Sorry, Not Sorry Street Art Map here. You can start the tour anywhere you like with this lovely, detailed map.
Local Julie has recommended some great spots near some of the graffiti marked on that map, such as Or Espresso Bar, the Queen of cappuccino according to Julie, Alice to brunch like a Queen, or Julie’s House (not actually our Julie’s house) for a sugar rush to help you continue to discover the rest of the graffiti pieces nearby.
So, that’s ancient art, contemporary art, urban art, and now a bit of both. The 14th century Belfry is a must-visit for the ancient dragon who once adorned the top of the Belfry, the jaw-dropping view it offers over the city and the musical sounds of its carillon. A song is played every 15 minutes and, if you’re lucky enough to be there, on the first Friday of the month the carillonneur plays a special piece. Take a seat and see if you recognize it, local Bennie once recognized a song by the Beatles.
And finally, on this introductory visit to Ghent, you cannot miss walking along the iconic Graslei, “the beating heart of Ghent” as Sandra puts it. Have dinner at Godot Grand Café here, which, contrary to its surroundings, is quite a modern restaurant. Most of the architecture in the city center, and Graslei, dates back to the Middle Ages and has been preserved beautifully, even the locals are still awed by the views here. Especially by night, during this season, as the lights shine on the waters and truly light up the city in a majestic, almost fairy tale-like way.