Ghent is one of the best kept secrets in Europe. It’s a medieval city with castles, canals, cathedrals, and wildly good food and shopping. It might not be at the top of your list when you’re planning out your next Euro-trip, but I’m here to tell you that it should be. It exceeded all the expectations that I had. To be fair, I didn’t know where it was on a map before I went (Belgium in case you’re wondering) and despite it’s tiny size it definitely competes with other major European cities that I’ve been to (looking at you Madrid and St. Petersburg).
I’ve been traveling a lot for work lately and have been staying in Ghent. After living and working in the area for multiple weeks, here’s how I would spend an ideal 24 hours!
Where to stay
I stayed at the Ghent Marriot (#workperks) and it was amazing and I felt like a queen. Highly recommend it. If that’s not in your budget, I feel you, but you def want to be in the city center and request a room on the top floor so you get some amazeball views!. Everything is walkable and you want to be in the middle of everything. It might be a bit more pricy, but the location is totally worth it. If you’re looking to stay somewhere further out that’s cheaper (no judgment), make sure that you are able to rent bikes (many hotels and hostels offer this) so that you can get around.
What to see
You’re obviously going to need to see the Ghent Altarpiece. It’s in Saint Bravo Cathedral. Never heard of it? Go watch The Monument Men and get back to me. Also be sure to snap some pics along the canals, stumble into the graffiti wall, go window shopping in the city center, stop by the Castle of the Counts, check out the Belfry (bell tower) and Cloth Hall of Ghent. Don’t be afraid to get lost in the city. TBH it’s pretty easy – none of the streets make sense, apparently back in feudal Europe people didn’t give much thought to city planning. If you’re looking for more structure, print out this map and take a walking tour of the city at night. I found the city to feel pretty safe. Ghent is full of students and night owls so the streets are always busy late into the night.
What to eat
- The beer. Belgium beer is delightful, but pretty high maintenance. Each type of beer is served in a specific glass created by that brewery (even the water has its own special glass!). Rumor has it that some glasses are so expensive, that if you order that kind of beer the restaurant will ask for your shoe to ensure you don’t walk off with the glass.
- The fries. Belgium invented the French fry. MIND BLOWN. And pretty much every meal is served with a massive bowl of them (and mayo), although you can also buy them from vendors on the street.
- The waffles. This is no American waffle. It’s thicker and crunchier and coated in sugar. Buy it on the street for 2-3 euro and get the choice of adding on things like strawberries or nutella. It’s a MUST.
- The cuberdons. This food is so Ghentian that there is a SNAP CHAT FILTER FOR IT. You can find these gooey candies on the street or in sweet shops. Also chocolate. Because Belgium.
- The cheese & bread. I recommend going on a bread cleanse before you go to Belgium because there is bread and cheese for everything. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. You name it! There is some thinly sliced bread and cheese with every meal all the dang time. It’s delicious. You’ve been warned.
Where to dine
If you’ve saved some room from all the street food that you’ve had I highly recommend the following places. Warning Belgium meals take a while. Relax and expect a 2+ hour dinner.
- Pakhuis – This restaurant is in a gorgeous converted warehouse that offers elevated, artsy cuisine. If you’re a foodie or an architect lover, it’s a must.
- Himalaya – Ghent is a town for foodies and all cultures! This restaurant is delightful with huge servings of authentic Indian/Nepalian cuisine, fresh naan, and decent prices
- Nam Jai – across the street from Himalaya. If you can get a seat you’re lucky as maybe only 20 people can fit inside the restaurant (including the cook!). They give a discount for “takeaway” orders, but plan ahead if you’re looking to picnic because they won’t provide you with silverware, napkins, etc.
- Il Folleto– You know your food is authentic when it’s served from Italians that don’t speak English. Highly recommend the homemade ravioli, the house wine, and the fresh mozzarella.
- De Graslei – Great place to sit outside. If you go in a cooler weather month, they have space heaters and blankets and the perfect patio to people watch on the canal. The menu is pretty standard Belgium food and well loved by meat eaters.
- Everyone speaks English, so don’t worry about having to translate Dutch or German
- Wifi is everywhere – no need to buy an international data plan
- Most places (aside from a few street vendors) take credit cards. Check with your bank to make sure you don’t incur any extra fees!
- Careful on the cobblestone. It’s everywhere and is wildly uneven in places. Wear good walking shoes because I swear I got shin splints after a day in slightly heeled boots.