The medieval and picturesque city of Ghent is fast becoming the not so hidden gem of Belgium. Once overlooked in favour of Bruges, travellers are discovering the beauty and hipster charm Ghent offers.
Things to do in Ghent
Abundant in quaint canal-side architecture, street art, quirky restaurants, cafés and Belgian beers there are plenty of fun things to keep an adult entertained. The Flemish city will impress the young ones too with its cobbled streets, fairytale charm and fun museum trails.
So: 8 things which put Ghent on our list of favourite family city breaks:
Places to visit in Ghent
Explore a Medieval Castle
One of its main draws stands right in the heart of city – Gravensteen Castle. It literally translates as Castle of the Counts and the 12th century fortress with ramparts provides great views of the city.
It’s the only remaining medieval castle with a moat and largely intact defence system in Flanders. With a spooky dungeon and torture chamber to explore it’s a big tick on the macabre entertainment front.
The comedic audio guide ensures no-one gets too freaked out. The kids will love their chance at being a Belgian knight. Plus a visit to Ghent just isn’t complete without stepping through the doors of the mysterious castle.
Must Have Foodie Treats
Food in Ghent
Young and old will go nuts for these foodie treats, first up is the Cuberdon! The purple sweet which goes by the nickname of neuzeken (little nose) after its cone-like shape.
Buy them from street vendors or visit the old school confectionery Temmerman. The glorious 17th century baroque facade will wow you before you even enter the sugary paradise.
You won’t often find these sweets outside of Belgium as their shelf-life is only 3 weeks, after which they begin to crystallise – So enjoy!
Of course you must eat a Belgian waffle, the delicious smells will tempt you on every corner wafting from street vendors and shop doors. They are like no other: light, fun, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth.
We tried some amazing ones in Max an art deco waffle house famous for inventing the Brussels waffle.
Although the family favourites were the Liège waffles, less uniform in shape and devoured in seconds when topped with strawberries and whipped cream.
And we can’t miss out the Belgian frites, right? They are served with an array of toppings from mobile frites stands or restaurants.
A word of warning for the veggies, most of the friteries fry in animal fat, so ask before you buy if this is an issue. Frites Atelier in the historic centre fry amazing ones in plant based oil! Apparently Ghent’s favourite topping is beef stew sauce and mayonnaise. I stuck with rather the moorish truffle mayo.
Visit the Three Towers
The town’s trio of towers belong to the three churches dominating the view around the river – St. Nicholas’ Church, the Belfort, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. From St Michael’s Bridge you can see them beautifully lined up in a row for the perfect photo opportunity.
Saint Nicholas Church is the oldest building, carved out of Tournai bluestone. The beautiful narrow turrets makes it an impressive example of the Scheldt Gothic style architecture, popular at the time.
The Belfry is a recognised UNESCO World Heritage site. Head to the top of the using a glass lift to view the 53 bells on the fifth floor and climb the rest of the way up, listening to the chimes of the carillon. It’s a must-see with the spectacular views of the city.
St Bavos’s Cathedral is most famous for housing what is considered to be the first Renaissance masterpiece – Jan and Hubert Van Eyck’s The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as The Ghent Altarpiece.
If you stand on St Michael’s Bridge you can feast your eyes on a breathtaking view of Ghent and the three towers in a row.
Quaint Shops and Ghent Markets
Groentenmarkt square, once an execution yard is now a foodie’s paradise. Home to characterful, quaint artisan food shops and the smallest pub in Ghent, it will have you drooling and gaping in awe at the same time.
There is Tierenteyn-Verlent with its 1860 interiors, with the finest fresh mustard in the world served from a huge wooden barrel.
A few doors down is Oud Huis Himschoot established in 1880, the oldest bakery in Ghent and perhaps one of the oldest in Belgium. And plenty of traditional Cuberdon carts to keep the kids happy.
On Sundays the flower market on the Kouter makes for a charming stroll. Many end it with a stop at De Blauwe Kiosk (The Blue Kiosk), an open air bar for champagne and oysters.
And wander on to the Ajuinlei book market along the canal for a treasure trove of second hand books.
Spot Amazing Street Art
Hunt down the vibrant street art which adorns certain corners of the city. The graffiti-friendly city, showcase works by artists such as Roa and Bué the Warrior.
Belgium street art
Pick up the #SorryNotSorry Street Art Map and work your way around on your own tour. Werregarenstraatje known as Graffiti Alley in the historic centre boasts an ever-changing canvas week to week.
On the corner of the Predikherenlei and Van Stopenberghestraat, you’ll even find a rehash of the Ghent Altarpiece.
Boat Ride on the Ghent Canals
Boat tours leave from Graslei, Korenlei or Kraanlei and give you a guided tour from the waterfront.
Adults can marvel at the canal-side architecture whilst the kids will love exploring from the water.
Fun Immersive Ghent Museums
Ghent has plenty of museums to explore. The Design Museum is a winner with kids with a fun find the playmobil figurines tour. A great way to keep them engaged.
The quaint rooms of the House of Alijn, formerly an almshouse takes you back in time.
With interactive activities dotted around the trail to help immerse you in daily life of that time.
Stroll the Streets of Patershol
Walk the original street paths from the Middle Ages through Ghent’s oldest and most picturesque neighbourhood.
Narrow winding roads, cobblestone paths, small shops and intimate restaurants await you on these historical backstreets.
How to get to Ghent
With two railway stations in the city and the international ‘Brussels Airport’ at Zaventem less than an hour’s drive away, arrival by train or plane very easy options.
Brussels to Ghent train
We boarded the Eurostar from St Pancras International to Brussels from there hop on any regular 30 minute service to Gent-Sint-Pieters Station
Where to stay in Ghent
The Novotel Gent Centrum is in the heart of the historic centre surrounded by the major tourist attractions. The modern hotel against a 14th century backdrop the perfect place to rest weary legs and heads.Click for availability at the Novotel Gent Centrum
The Gent City Card
An absolute must is the Gent City Card. Not only is public transport included but also admission to top attractions, monuments and museums, a guided boat tour, bike rental and use of hop on hop off water-tramway. For a 48 hour card its €30 and €35 for 72 hours, making it a great investment.
Top Tip: Ghent is very child-friendly, under 18s get into most museums for free, so the card may not be as beneficial for the little ones.
We loved Ghent and I’d highly recommend it as a short family city break. Being a university city I loved the hip, cool vibe too. With sweet treats around every corner, impressive architecture, beautiful canals and much more, there is enough to keep everyone happy!
To discover all the hidden gems you can book a customised tour with a local guide.Click for availability on the Gent City Tour with a Local
For more information about Ghent head to the Visit Gent website
Watch the highlights video from our Ghent adventure
Have you visited Ghent? What were your favourite places? Let me know in the comments box below
Disclaimer: We were guests of Visit Flanders, however, all views, opinions and photos are my own and remain a copyright of the Curious Pixie.
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