Getting from Hull (our nearest city) over to Belgium is easy and cheap as chips. Between the months of October and March P&O offer their return crossings on a buy one, get one free basis which equates to less than £40 each. We have therefore taken full advantage of the offer on a number of occasions. The cost of the ferry crossing also includes return bus tickets from Zeebrugge to Bruges meaning we have been to Bruges at least 4 times (possibly 5, my memory isn’t that great). So last time we made the trip we decided to try another of Belgium’s pretty cities, namely Ghent (Gent). We knew that we would only have 28 hours whilst there and we wanted to make the most of it.
We had been told that Ghent is a bigger Bruges and as we love Bruges we had high hopes for Ghent. We jumped on a train to Ghent from Bruges which took approximately 1 hour. Ghent train station, which is a beautiful building itself, is not in the centre of the old town, where we were staying, therefore we then had a 30(ish) minute walk to our hotel. As we had wheeled cases this was not a problem and it gave us the opportunity to wander through the suburban streets of Ghent which maybe we wouldn’t have done otherwise.
We checked into the NH Gent Belfort which is a very centrally located, value for money hotel. It was the perfect base for us, especially as we had such limited time in the city. Everything that we wanted to see what right on our doorstep. We were impressed with Ghent and we were extremely lucky with the weather considering it was March – it was cold but dry and the sun even poked his head out for us meaning we could walk around without the need for waterproofs or umbrellas.
We enjoyed our short but sweet time in Ghent. It certainly did remind me a lot of Bruges but on a bigger and less cute scale. I personally still prefer Bruges but that’s not to say I’m not glad that we took the time to visit and semi-explore Ghent. Again, as we were only there for 28 hours and 8 of those were taken up with sleep we maybe didn’t get to do or see everything that Ghent has to offer. It looked like a great city for shopping, if only we had had more time! Here are the 5 main things that we did whilst there.
Top 5 Ghent
1. Take a canal boat tour
We love walking around cities, it gives you the opportunity to see things that maybe you wouldn’t if you used another mode of transport. However, if you feel you have walked all you can or you simply want to take a load off but still see the sights then I highly recommend taking on of the many canal boat tours on offer in Ghent. For approximately €8 you get to see the city from this unique vantage point, together with an audio tour, which gives you key information about Ghent.
2. Drink beer
Visiting Belgium and not drinking beer would be like visiting Italy and not eating pizza. With so many beers and ales on offer you will be hard pushed to find one that you do not like. I personally like a lager although I was very temped to try the fruit beers, especially the cherry one, but bottled out at the last minute. I must admit we did drink a lot of beer whilst in Ghent especially as the weather was nice and we were able to sit outside most restaurants and bars.
3. Belfry and Cloth Hall (Belfort en Lakenhalle)
The Belfry in Ghent stands at 91 metres which makes it the tallest Belfry in Belgium. It is one of three towers that over looks the medieval centre of Ghent and offers you panoramic views if you climb to the top. The belfry of Ghent, together with its attached buildings, belongs to the set of belfries of Belgium and France inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The hall attached to the Belfry is the Cloth Hall which was built as the headquarters for the cloth trade that made the city rich and famous in the middle ages.
4. Saint Nicolas Church
This church is one of the oldest landmarks in Ghent and stands in the medieval centre of the city. The central tower originally served as an observation post and carried the town bells until the neighbouring belfry of Ghent was built. It is an iconic building in the city and one of the highlights of the skyline. The church started to deteriorate and it was at the turn of the 20th contrary that major renovation took place. The organ inside the church is considered to be one of the most important in Belgium and was built by the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
5. Gravensteen Castle
The Gravensteen castle in Ghent was built in the Middle Ages. The name means “castle of the counts” in Dutch. We originally saw the castle whilst on our canal boat tour. I loved the look of it so much that as soon as we disembarked we headed to have a closer look on foot. The castle originally served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until they abandoned it in the 14th century. The castle was then used as a courthouse, a prison until it eventually decayed. It was then restored in the late 1800’s. It has more recently been used as a backdrop in a number of TV programs and films.