Forgotten, overlooked, and underrated in favour of more famous Belgian cities such as Bruges of Brussels, Ghent is the chic and cool alternative destination you simply must put on your Belgium Bucket list! Thanks to a fantastic beer scene, a wealth of charming viewpoints, and a surprising vegan scene, here’s why you must visit Ghent on your next Europe trip…
The beer scene of Ghent
Of course, one of Belgium’s most famous exports is its beer! And when it comes to the local tipple scene in Ghent, you certainly won’t be disappointed. One of the most unusual places to visit is the bar of Dulle Griet, which boasts the largest selection of Belgian beer in Gent.
And that’s not all! For, if you want to drink one of the special house beers, the Max Van Het Huis (which costs around €10 and is only served in 1.2-litre measurements), then you’ll have to borrow one of the unique beer glasses.
Unable to stand on its own and reminiscent of something that’s come straight out of a science lab, you’ll need to exchange a shoe for the duration of your drink just to have the privilege of drinking out of the beer glass! This also adds to the charm of the quirky bar; all the shoes on loan for beers are in a cage hanging above the beer taps!
Ghent has an incredible vegan scene
This one may well surprise you, but it turns out that Ghent has a fantastic vegan and vegetarian selection of restaurants. Along with the likes of the big cities such as Amsterdam, London, Paris, and Prague, one of the best places in Europe to enjoy vegan food is actually in the tiny city of Ghent!
For those looking for some veggie fare, one of the best spots in the city is to be found in the form of Le Botaniste, which serves predominantly luxurious vegan cuisine. Highlights of the menu include seaweed tartare, botanical salads, and special pasta dishes. Otherwise, head to Madam Bakster, a gorgeous bakery serving a wide selection of coffees, cakes, and light dishes.
The canals and waters of Ghent are stunning
Residents of Ghent are rather proud of their architecture and the fact that they are not UNESCO world heritage listed, mostly because of a couple of rather ‘ugly houses’ that are dotted among the more traditionally beautiful architecture.
One of the best ways to enjoy the waterways of Ghent is via canal cruise. We personally took to the waters during our time in the city and most certainly loved the guided visit which included plenty of quirky facts and information that we might not have otherwise gleaned. Book your medieval centre guided boat trip here.
There’s plenty of secrets to uncover and secret gems to discover in Gent
For those in search of secret locations, off the beaten path attractions, and hidden gems, there’s no shortage to be found in the Belgian city. Between a secret food hall housed within a former church that’s aptly named Holy Food Market and a bookshop that doubles as a café, there’s no shortage of unusual destinations in the pretty city.
Some of my favourite offbeat non-touristy spots include the smallest bar in the city, a secret beguinage that’s tucked away from the historic city centre, and the story behind the ‘little nose war’- a fascinating local legend that involves a spat between two sellers of a popular local sweet that’s shaped like a nose and is called the cuberdon!
Ghent Altarpiece (The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb)
Of course, as well as the local spots in the city, you’ll probably want to witness Ghent’s most famous attraction with your own eyes, that of the Ghent Altarpiece. Famously desired throughout Europe for centuries, the artwork is also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb and is a polyptych (multi-panelled piece) painted during the 15th-century.
All gold paint and detailed scenes, a feast for the eyes this centuries-old work truly is. Since its creation, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb has suffered no fewer than 13 crimes, including seven thefts and has even hung in the Louvre in Paris. The piece was even stolen by the Nazis and stored in a salt mine, only to be recovered by the real-life monuments men.
Today, the Ghent Altarpiece is now safely housed within St Bavo’s Cathedral, where it will hopefully remain for many decades to come! Though the ecclesiastical building itself is free to visit and snap photos of, you’ll have to pay a small fee if you want to see the Ghent Altarpiece for yourself.
Ghent is home to plenty of street art
Street art lovers planning a visit to Western Europe need to look no further than Gent. Of all the reasons to visit Ghent, the sheer volume of murals and works of art may be one of the more unusual draws. However, the city is home to enthralling sites such as a huge façade dedicated to the film The Monument Men, as well as a ‘graffiti street’ where spray painting is not only legal, but encouraged!
The city makes for the perfect setting for a weekend getaway
Last but not least, if you’re looking for a Western European destination with oodles of charm, some great beer, and plenty of wonderful eateries, then Ghent makes for the perfect weekend break. Easily explored over the course of several days (and the perfect place to base yourself if you’re looking to make some day trips to the rest of the country), this largely unspoilt city has great transport links to the rest of Europe.
Things to know before visiting Ghent
If you’re planning a visit to Ghent, then there are a few things to know before you go. Firstly, though the city is not nearly as busy as Bruges, the best places to stay often fill up fast, especially so during peak season (i.e. school holidays, public festivals, and most of the summer). As such, be sure to book your place to stay well in advance. Check the best Ghent accommodation prices here.
Next, though English and French are widely spoken, Flemish is the predominant language of the Flanders region, which is a dialect of Dutch. Though you can get by with just French or English, it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language!
Finally, if you want to get a true taste of the best of Ghent, then I highly recommend taking the time to explore the city on foot. Good shoes are a must and be sure to leave your high heels at home; those cobblestones sure are pretty but can be difficult to walk on in uncomfortable shoes! If you have a little more time on your hands, then you might also consider booking a walking tour of the city like this one.