Best Things to Do in Ghent, Belgium: Top 12 Attractions to Visit

by Jen
Best Things to Do in Ghent, Belgium
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Looking to visit Ghent in Belgium anytime soon? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do in Ghent. These picturesque sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for a memorable vacation experience.

Ghent—a city that effortlessly blends medieval charm with a modern, artsy vibe. Often overshadowed by its more famous Belgian siblings, Brussels and Bruges, Ghent is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Some of the things to do in Ghent include exploring cobblestone streets leading to grand squares, historic castles juxtaposed with trendy boutiques, and canals that are as photogenic as they are historic.

This is a city where every corner you turn feels like stepping into a postcard. From its iconic Gravensteen Castle to the vibrant Patershol district, Ghent offers a rich tapestry of experiences that captivate the soul and ignite the imagination. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a foodie, or someone simply looking to escape the tourist crowds, Ghent has something for everyone.

But don’t just take my word for it. Dive into this comprehensive guide to discover the best things to do in Ghent, Belgium. We’ve scoured the city’s nooks and crannies, from its most famous landmarks to its hidden gems, to bring you an itinerary that promises an unforgettable journey. So, pack your bags and your sense of adventure. Ghent is calling, and trust me, you’ll want to answer. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Ghent.

The top places to visit in Ghent, Belgium right now
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Best Places to Visit in Ghent

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Ghent? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this enchanting vacation spot. So keep reading to discover all these unique Ghent places to visit.

Are you looking to explore historic architecture and enjoy leisurely boat rides along scenic waterways? Or would you prefer embracing vibrant arts and culture while savoring delectable local cuisine at charming restaurants? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in Ghent can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Ghent that you should know about.

1. Gravensteen Castle

Let’s kick off this adventure with a trip back in time. Gravensteen Castle is not just another castle; it’s a medieval marvel that stands as a testament to Ghent’s rich history. Built in the 12th century, this fortress is one of the most well-preserved in all of Europe. And guess what? It’s right in the heart of the city!

Walking through its stone corridors and climbing its ancient towers, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a real-life fairy tale. The panoramic views from the top are nothing short of breathtaking, offering a 360-degree glimpse of Ghent’s stunning skyline. It’s one of those must-see in Ghent experiences that you’ll be talking about long after your trip is over.

But the castle isn’t just about its architecture and views. Inside, you’ll find a fascinating museum that delves into the darker aspects of medieval life, complete with armor, weapons, and even a torture chamber. Yikes! But don’t worry, it’s all part of the experience, giving you a well-rounded understanding of what life was like back then.

So, if you’re looking for coolest things to do in Ghent, make sure Gravensteen Castle is at the top of your list. It’s a captivating blend of history, architecture, and yes, a little bit of the macabre. But that’s what makes it so unforgettable.

Visiting Gravensteen Castle is one of the best things to do in Ghent, Belgium.
Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium, is a testament to the city’s rich history, built in the 12th century and centrally located.

2. St. Bavo’s Cathedral

Ah, St. Bavo’s Cathedral, where spirituality meets artistry in a grand display of Gothic architecture. This isn’t just a place of worship; it’s an artistic sanctuary that houses some of the most iconic artworks in the world. If you’re wondering what to do in Ghent, this is a spot you can’t afford to miss.

As you step inside, you’ll be greeted by towering pillars and intricate stained glass windows that cast a divine glow on the interior. The atmosphere is serene, almost ethereal, making it a perfect place for some quiet reflection.

Now, let’s talk about the tower. Climbing it is one of the coolest activities in Ghent, especially if you’re a fan of panoramic views. From the top, you can see the entire city spread out before you, a tapestry of rooftops, canals, and historic buildings.

So, when you’re planning for Ghent places to visit, St. Bavo’s Cathedral should be a non-negotiable stop. Whether you’re an art lover, history enthusiast, or someone seeking a moment of peace, this cathedral offers something for everyone.

St. Bavo's Cathedral is where spirituality meets artistry in grand Gothic architecture, housing iconic artworks.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral is where spirituality meets artistry in grand Gothic architecture, housing iconic artworks.

3. Korenmarkt

The Korenmarkt, the bustling square that serves as the heartbeat of Ghent, Belgium. This isn’t just any square; it’s a lively gathering spot where locals and tourists alike come to experience the city’s vibrant energy. If you’re preparing a list of best places to go in Ghent, this should be a top contender.

As you step into the square, you’ll immediately feel the city’s pulse. Street musicians fill the air with melodies, while the aroma of Belgian waffles wafts from nearby stalls. Cafés and bars line the perimeter, offering the perfect spots for people-watching or enjoying a Belgian beer.

But the Korenmarkt is more than just a place to relax and soak in the atmosphere. It’s also a hub for some of the amazing things in Ghent. From here, you can hop on a boat for a Korenmarkt canal tour, or perhaps join a walking tour that delves into the city’s rich history.

As the sun sets, the square transforms into a magical space, with twinkling lights illuminating the historic buildings that surround it. Whether you’re a night owl looking to experience Ghent’s nightlife or a day-tripper wanting to see as much as possible, the Korenmarkt offers something for everyone. Is this one of the most amazing things to do in Ghent, Belgium? 100%!

Korenmarkt, the vibrant square that's the heartbeat of Ghent, a lively gathering spot for locals and tourists alike.
Korenmarkt, the vibrant square that’s the heartbeat of Ghent, Belgium, is a lively gathering spot for locals and tourists alike.

4. Patershol

If you’re a foodie or a history enthusiast, you’ll find that Patershol is one of the unique places in Ghent you simply can’t miss. Nestled in the heart of the city, this charming neighborhood is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, filled with historic buildings that tell tales of Ghent’s rich past.

But what really sets Patershol apart? It’s the gastronomic scene. This is where you’ll find some of the city’s most authentic Belgian eateries, offering everything from creamy carbonnade flamande to crispy frites. And let’s not forget the Belgian waffles, which are nothing short of heavenly.

For those interested in Ghent attractions, Patershol is also home to some lesser-known yet fascinating museums. The House of Alijn, for instance, offers a glimpse into everyday life in Ghent through the ages.

As the evening rolls in, the area comes alive with a different kind of energy. The bars and cafés fill up, and you can hear laughter and chatter echoing through the narrow lanes. Whether you’re looking to delve into the culinary scene or explore the city’s history, Patershol is a destination that offers a perfect blend of the two.

Patertshol, a charming neighborhood, is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and historic buildings.
Patertshol, a charming neighborhood, is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and historic buildings.

5. Ghent City Museum (STAM)

When it comes to the unique things to do in Ghent, a visit to the Ghent City Museum, commonly known as STAM, is a treasure trove that often gets overlooked. Located in the Bijloke site, this museum is your one-stop destination for everything you ever wanted to know about Ghent. From its humble beginnings to its current status as a vibrant city, STAM covers it all.

The reason STAM stands out is its interactive exhibits. You’re not just looking at artifacts; you’re engaging with them. The museum uses cutting-edge technology to bring history to life leaving families and solo travelers in awe and excitement.

The museum’s garden is another highlight, offering a peaceful respite from the bustling city. It’s a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll or a quick picnic. And if you’re into photography, the garden provides some excellent opportunities for capturing the essence of Ghent.

As you wrap up your visit, don’t forget to check out the museum shop. It’s filled with distinctive souvenirs that are quintessentially Ghent, from locally made crafts to books that dive deeper into the city’s history.

If you’re wondering where to go in Ghent for a comprehensive understanding of its past, present, and future, STAM should be high on your list.

STAM, the Ghent City Museum at the Bijloke site, offers a comprehensive journey through the city's history.
STAM, the Ghent City Museum at the Bijloke site, offers a comprehensive journey through the city’s history.

6. Vrijdagmarkt

Are you on the hunt for the best places in Ghent, Belgium? Then Vrijdagmarkt should be on your radar. This isn’t just any market square; it’s a place where history, culture, and local life seamlessly blend. Named ‘Friday Market’ in Dutch, Vrijdagmarkt has been a bustling center of trade and social gatherings for centuries.

For a genuine experience, the square is surrounded by charming cafes and bars where you can sip on a Belgian beer while soaking in the atmosphere. On weekends, the square transforms into an open-air market, offering everything from fresh produce to vintage treasures. It’s a shopper’s paradise and a history lover’s dream rolled into one.

The square is also home to the statue of Jacob van Artevelde, a 14th-century statesman who led the city through economic prosperity. The statue serves as a popular meeting point and offers a glimpse into Ghent’s rich history.

Vrijdagmarkt is an experience for the soul. Whether you’re bargaining with local vendors, enjoying a meal at one of the surrounding eateries, or simply people-watching, you’ll feel the pulse of the city here.

Vrijdagmarkt, or the Friday Market, is a historic square in the city where centuries of trade, culture, and local life converge.
Vrijdagmarkt, or the Friday Market, is a historic square in the city where centuries of trade, culture, and local life converge.

7. Ghent Light Festival

If you’re searching for the coolest activities in Ghent, then you absolutely must experience the Ghent Light Festival. Held every three years, this festival transforms the city into a mesmerizing canvas of light and color. It’s not just a festival; it’s a celebration of art, technology, and the beauty of Ghent itself.

The festival features installations from artists around the globe, turning the city’s streets, squares, and even its waterways into a magical landscape. Imagine walking through a tunnel of twinkling stars or witnessing a building come to life with animated projections. It’s a feast for the eyes and the soul.

One of the must-see in Ghent, the Light Festival is also an eco-friendly event. Many installations use sustainable technologies, making it a celebration that’s kind to our planet. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!

What makes this festival truly special is the sense of community it fosters. Locals and tourists alike gather to marvel at the installations, share a warm drink, and simply enjoy the city in a new light. It’s one of those Ghent attractions that captures the imagination and warms the heart.

Make sure to pencil in the Ghent Light Festival in your Ghent things to do. It’s an experience that will light up your life in more ways than one.

The Ghent Light Festival transforms the city into a mesmerizing canvas of light and color.
The Ghent Light Festival transforms the city into a mesmerizing canvas of light and color. | Source: https://visit.gent.be/en/c

8. Ghent Altarpiece

In terms of the best things to do in Ghent, the Ghent Altarpiece is a cultural treasure that you can’t afford to miss. Also known as “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”, this masterpiece is considered one of the most important works in the history of art, and it’s right here in Ghent! Housed in the Cathedral of St. Bavo, this masterpiece by the Van Eyck brothers is a cornerstone of Western art. It’s not just a painting; it’s a multi-panel altarpiece that tells a story of biblical proportions.

The intricate details, from the shimmering robes of the angels to the lifelike expressions of the figures, are a testament to the artistic genius of its creators. The altarpiece has even been the subject of theft, conspiracy, and wartime looting, adding a layer of intrigue to its already captivating presence.

If you’re wondering where to visit in Ghent, make sure the Ghent Altarpiece is at the top of your list. The cathedral offers guided tours that delve into the history and significance of this monumental work. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with a piece of art that has fascinated scholars and art lovers for centuries.

The Ghent Altarpiece is a journey into the depths of human creativity and spiritual belief.

The Ghent Altarpiece is a cultural treasure housed in the Cathedral of St. Bavo, telling a biblical story through its multi-panel altarpiece.
The Ghent Altarpiece is a cultural treasure housed in the Cathedral of St. Bavo, telling a biblical story through its multi-panel altarpiece.

9. Graslei and Korenlei

If you’re looking for one of the cool destinations in Ghent that offers a unique perspective of Ghent’s rich history and stunning architecture, a leisurely stroll along the Graslei and Korenlei is an absolute must. These parallel streets run along the Lys River and are the epitome of picturesque. Think cobblestone paths, historic guild houses, and a waterfront that’s perfect for a romantic evening or a lively afternoon.

Graslei is on one side of the river, and Korenlei is on the other. The buildings here date back to the Middle Ages, and each has a story to tell. From the Spijker granary to the old post office, the structures are a living testament to Ghent’s past.

Now, if you’re wondering what to do in Ghent as the sun sets, this is the place to be. The area comes alive with locals and tourists alike, enjoying alfresco dining or taking a scenic boat ride. It’s a hub of activity, offering everything from high-end restaurants to quaint cafes.

Stroll along the Graslei and Korenlei, showcasing picturesque cobblestone paths, historic guild houses, and a waterfront.
Stroll along the Graslei and Korenlei in Ghent, Belgium, showcasing picturesque cobblestone paths, historic guild houses, and a waterfront.

10. Citadel Park

Situated in the heart of the city, Citadel Park offers a tranquil escape from the urban hustle and bustle. With its lush lawns, meandering paths, and charming ponds, it’s the perfect spot for a leisurely afternoon.

Originally designed as part of a fortress, the park has evolved into a sanctuary for both nature lovers and history enthusiasts. You’ll find remnants of the old citadel scattered throughout, including statues and monuments that pay homage to Ghent’s storied past. It’s a fascinating blend of history and natural beauty, making a visit to this park among the coolest things to do in Ghent for a multifaceted experience.

Families will love the playgrounds and picnic areas, while couples can find secluded spots for a romantic rendezvous. Fitness enthusiasts can take advantage of the jogging paths, and if you’re into photography, the scenic vistas provide ample opportunities for that perfect shot.

Citadel Park is a versatile destination that offers something for everyone, encapsulating the diverse allure of this Belgian city.

Citadel Park provides a tranquil escape from urban life, featuring lush lawns, winding paths, and picturesque ponds.
Citadel Park provides a tranquil escape from urban life, featuring lush lawns, winding paths, and picturesque ponds.

11. Ghent University Botanical Garden: A Living Museum

Seeking for something that blends education and relaxation perfectly? The Ghent University Botanical Garden, a Belgian hidden gem, is a must-visit. This verdant space is more than just a garden; it’s a living museum that showcases the beauty and diversity of plant life. From exotic orchids to towering trees, the collection here is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The garden is divided into various sections, each dedicated to a specific type of flora. You’ll find themed gardens like the Rock Garden, the Medicinal Plant Garden, and even a tropical greenhouse. It’s a haven for botany enthusiasts, but you don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the splendor.

Participating in one of the garden’s guided tours is a must-try. These tours offer a deep dive into the world of plants, explaining their roles in ecosystems, medicine, and even folklore. It’s a fascinating way to spend an afternoon, and you’ll leave with a newfound appreciation for the natural world.

Whether you’re traveling with family, friends, or solo, the Ghent University Botanical Garden offers a serene and educational experience. It’s a place where you can slow down, breathe deeply, and immerse yourself in nature’s wonders.

The Ghent University Botanical Garden is a Belgian hidden gem that beautifully blends education and relaxation.
The Ghent University Botanical Garden is a Belgian hidden gem that beautifully blends education and relaxation.

12. MIAT: The Museum of Industry, Work, and Textiles

Situated in a former cotton mill, the MIAT (Museum of Industry, Work, and Textiles) is a tribute to the industrial revolution and the spirit of innovation that has shaped Ghent over the years.

The museum is a time capsule, taking you on a journey from the early days of manual labor to the rise of automation. It features a variety of exhibits, including authentic machinery, interactive displays, and even a working textile factory on the top floor. You’ll get to see how cotton is spun into fabric, how printing presses have evolved, and much more.

One of the unique things to do in Ghent is to join one of the museum’s workshops. Whether it’s a printing workshop or a textile art class, you’ll gain hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of the industries that have shaped the city. It’s not just a museum; it’s a learning experience that appeals to both young and old.

For those who love history, technology, or just want to understand the city’s industrial roots better, the MIAT is a must-see in Ghent. It’s not just a walk through the past; it’s an exploration of how innovation continues to drive us forward.

Exploring MIAT: The Museum of Industry, Work, and Textiles is one of the best things to do in Ghent, Belgium.
MIAT is a must-see, offering a journey through the city’s past and a glimpse into the forces driving innovation. | Source: https://visit.gent.be/en/

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Ghent

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Ghent, Belgium? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Ghent:

Is Ghent worth visiting?

Absolutely! Ghent is a city that effortlessly combines medieval charm with modern sophistication. Whether you’re into history, art, or just want to enjoy some Belgian waffles, Ghent has something for everyone.

How many days should I spend in Ghent?

To fully explore Ghent’s highlights, a stay of 2 to 3 days is recommended. This allows ample time to appreciate the city’s historic architecture, visit museums, and enjoy leisurely canal walks. Longer stays provide opportunities for day trips to nearby Belgian cities like Bruges and Brussels.

Is going to Ghent expensive?

Ghent can be moderately priced or expensive, depending on your choices. Accommodations, dining, and activities vary in cost. Opting for budget-friendly options and enjoying affordable local eateries can help manage expenses, while high-end dining and luxury accommodations can make it a more costly destination.

Old Town of Ghent, Belgium: Historic architectural charm.
Old Town of Ghent, Belgium: Historic architectural charm.

What’s the best time to visit Ghent?

The best time to visit Ghent is during late spring (April to June) and early autumn (September to October). The weather is pleasant, and outdoor activities are enjoyable. Summer brings larger crowds and potentially higher prices, while winter offers a festive atmosphere but colder temperatures and shorter days.

What is Ghent Belgium best known for?

Ghent is best known for its well-preserved medieval architecture, vibrant arts scene, and rich history. The city is home to iconic landmarks like the Gravensteen Castle and St. Bavo’s Cathedral, which houses the famous Ghent Altarpiece. It’s also renowned for its lively festivals and delicious Belgian cuisine.

Is Ghent nicer than Bruges?

Both Ghent and Bruges are stunning Belgian cities, each with its own unique charm and attractions. Comparing the two is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but here’s a breakdown to help you decide which might appeal more to you:

Ghent:

  • Vibrant and Lively: Ghent is a larger city than Bruges and has a more vibrant, urban feel. It’s home to a university, which brings a youthful energy to the city.
  • Historical Yet Modern: While Ghent boasts a rich history with its medieval architecture, it also has a modern edge with contemporary art, bars, and restaurants.
  • Less Touristy: Ghent tends to be less crowded with tourists compared to Bruges, offering a more authentic Belgian experience.
  • Cultural Attractions: The city is home to attractions like Gravensteen Castle, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, and the Ghent Altarpiece.

Bruges:

  • Fairytale Setting: Often referred to as the “Venice of the North,” Bruges is renowned for its picturesque canals, medieval buildings, and cobblestone streets. It feels like stepping back in time.
  • Highly Touristic: Bruges is a top tourist destination, and it can get crowded, especially during peak seasons.
  • Romantic Atmosphere: With its dreamy canals and historic charm, Bruges is often considered more romantic, making it a popular choice for couples.
  • Historical Attractions: The city offers the Belfry of Bruges, Markt Square, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood, among other attractions.

What is the most beautiful part of Ghent?

The most beautiful part of Ghent has to be the Graslei and Korenlei, the twin riversides that form the city’s scenic heart. Lined with stunning medieval buildings and crossed by charming stone bridges, this area becomes magical as the sun sets, reflecting the city’s rich history in the water.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Ghent

And there you have it, a curated list of the best places to go in Ghent that goes beyond the usual tourist traps. From hidden gems like the MIAT to the bustling energy of local markets, Ghent is a city that invites exploration and rewards the curious. Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, or someone who simply enjoys the finer things in life, Ghent has a multitude of experiences waiting for you. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and get ready to discover all the coolest activities in Ghent. Trust us, this is one trip you won’t regret!

The top things to do in Ghent, Belgium for all types of travelers
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