Why would I go visiting Ghent with my kids when I haven’t heard of this city before?!!
Don’t worry, I was in the same exact spot two years ago. I remember bumping into a Ghent picture while scrolling onto my Instagram feed and wondered why I had never heard of this little medieval town before.
Fast forward two years, we had some extra days off to spend during Christmas. Instead of coming back to London straight after the family Holiday in Paris, we scheduled a little break in Belgium. We decided to visit Bruges and Ghent. And the Christmas markets helped keep the kids entertained.
These two cities are great for families as the towns are flat and the attractions only minutes apart from each other.
As we usually do on every family trip, we asked our kids to choose an activity per day to make sure they stay involved and motivated during the visits. In Ghent they wanted to climb the Belfry and try ice skating.
This post will help you discover or learn more about this city and maybe plan your next trip!
It includes a Ghent Walking tour with 17 must-sees, combining medieval architecture, street art, and canals.
About Ghent, Belgium
Surely, the city of Ghent is not as famous as Bruges but it’s starting to become more and more popular even outside Belgium. The city has three different names:
- Gand – in French
- Gent – in Flemish
- Ghent – in English
Ghent is a flemish city and the largest one in the East Flanders region after Antwerp. It is located at the center of Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges which makes it easily accessible by train and car.
It is a very old town, with a well-maintained historic center and many classified buildings.
Ghent has managed to keep this historic side intact and did more than just that. It is a very dynamic town thanks to its students’ population and has several modern structures that blend in very well.
People from Ghent are called rope or noose bearers. They rebelled against the regime of Charles V in 1539. Because they failed, Charles V made them parade around town barefoot and with a noose rope around their neck.
Flemish dutch is the main language spoken in the city of Ghent, but you will be surprised to see local speaking French and English fluently!
Ghent with kids
Ghent is perfect for a family trip. The old town is flat and the attractions are close to each other.
The picky eaters will be happy with fries, waffles, chocolate sweets and you will easily find pasta or pizza in the many available restaurants.
A lot of streets are pedestrians only, allowing the kids to run freely.
Plus it is not overcrowded so you do not have to worry about loosing them in the crowd.
Ghent walking tour
Despite the size of the city of Ghent, you can visit the old town in a day by foot or bike. However and if possible, you might want to consider spending at least two days to enjoy Ghent by night, the local food and the festivities if any at the time of your visit.
You will find below a self guided Ghent walking tour to help you plan your trip. We included 17 sites you should not miss when visiting Ghent.
Alternatively, you can join one of the Gent Free Walking tours and listen to the guide’s explanations while discovering the many things to do in Ghent!
1 | Castle of Gerald the Devil – Geeraard de Duivelsteen
The first stop of this Ghent walking tour is the Castle of Gerald the Devil, a 13th century fortress.
Overtime this fortress has been used as a knight’s residence, an arsenal, a monastery, a school and a bishop’s seminary. Then in 1623, it became a madhouse before being turned into a detention center.
2 | St Bavo’s Cathedral
The second stop of this self guided Ghent Walking Tour is the St Bavo’s Cathedral, a beautiful Gothic building.
If you are keen on art, you could visit it as it hosts the famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Being one of the world’s greatest masterpiece, it is said to be the most stolen artwork. You can join one of the monthly tour and learn more about the restoration process the masterpiece is undergoing, by checking the agenda here.
3 | Royal Dutch Theatre – NTGent schouwburg
Just after St Bavo’s cathedral, you will find the Royal Dutch Theatre where you can enjoy both classical and contemporary plays.
Check out the program here.
If you are visiting on Christmas, you will find the Christmas market on the same square.
4 | Ghent Belfry – Het Belfort van Gent
Located in Sint Baafsplein, the belfry is listed under the UNESCO World Heritage List. It dates back to the 14th century and has a dragon on its top, the dragon being the symbol of Ghent.
With its 91 meters, The Belfry of Gent is the tallest belfry in Belgium.
You can choose to climb its narrow steps or use the lift.
Once at the top, you could enjoy a 360° views and the climb is definitely worth it by a sunny day.
To be noted: If you choose the lift, you will still have to climb one floor by foot.
Price: 8€ per adults.
5 | City Pavilion – Stadshal
The city pavilion is a modern infrastructure located between the Belfry and St Nicholas’ church.
During Christmas, it hosts a busy ice rink.
6 | St Nicholas’ church – Sint-Niklaaskerk
St Nicholas’ church is an example of the Scheldt Gothic architectural style. The numerous and large openings in its tower, help natural lights get inside the church.
7 | Masons’ Guild Hall – Metselaarshuis
Right in front of the St Nicholas’ church, you will find the Masons’ Guild Hall. The facade of this 16th century building is still in a great shape and has on its top 6 dancers’ statues.
8 | St Michael’s bridge and St Michael’s church – Sint-Michielsbrug & Sint-Michielskerk
St Michael’s bridge lays on top of the Leie and will allow you to snap an amazing picture of three main towers of Ghent: The St Nicholas church, the belfry and St Bavo’s cathedral.
Plus there is very little traffic, which is great to admire the view.
If you are into instagram and looking for some travel inspiration, check out this article about the best travel instagram accounts to follow in 2019.
Just across the bridge, you will find the St Michael’s church and will be surprised that it doesn’t look like any other Ghent’s churches.
More than 400 years were needed to build this church. While the initial plan included a very extravagant tower, a budget shortage led to a different outcome. The architects also realized that the structure would never have been able to support the weight of the initial tower’s plan!
9 | Graslei & Korenlei
Ghent comes from the celtic name “Ganda,” which means “confluence” and the city is located at the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Leie. That’s why the riverbanks have become a must-see in the city.
Graslei (the herb riverbank) is located on the same side as the Belfry while Korenlei (the wheat riverbank) is on the opposite side of the canal.
Graslei and Korenlei used to be a medieval trade port. It is now full of restaurants, boats and historical buildings.
10 | Gravensteen
This medieval castle is a must-see when visiting Ghent! It is located in the middle of the city as if it was an ordinary building.
Visit the torture museum inside at your own risks!
11 | Old Fish Market – De Oude Vismijn
Just in front of the Gravensteen, you will find the Old Fish Market, with Poseidon guarding its entrance. It houses a restaurant and the Tourist office. Don’t forget to stop there and grab a (free) brochure. You will learn a lot about the must-see spots.
Check out their awesome instagram account!
12 | Patershol
The Patershol is a medieval neighborhood where you can enjoy gastronomic food and find loads of small cafes and restaurants.
Its narrow alleys have remained unchanged through the centuries.
Visit the street of Kraanlei which is by the river and look for two interesting houses (79 and 81).
You can also visit the House of Alijn museum nearby.
13 | Groentenmarkt
On your way to Groentenmarkt you will come across a big red canon: the Dulle Griet, built in the first half of the 15th century
This is another little square where you can buy cuberdons, waffles, fries, and local treats.
Don’t miss the medieval Great Butcher’s Hall. Our kids loved seeing the locally made hams hanging inside.
14 | Graffiti street – Werregarenstraat
If you enjoy street art, make a quick detour by Graffiti street. Artists are free to change the artworks, and just like Shoreditch, the art is likely to change between each visit.
15 | Friday market – Vrijdagmarkt
This is a gigantic square that has been hosting markets every Friday morning for centuries.
All around the square, you will find typical buildings and in particular The Bond Moyson and the Ons Huis. They were built around 1898 in a so-called macaroni style.
You will be able to read the motto “Werklieden aller landen, verenigt u” on the Bond Moyson building. This socialist motto can be translated in “Workers of the World, unite!”
Ghent was considered as being the cradle of the Flemish socialism. There were more than 20,000 workers with precarious living conditions.
16 | St Jame’s Church – Sint-Jacobskerk
While the two towers date back to the Romanesque period, the church itself has gone through a lot of changes.
It is located near Bij Sint-Jacobs square famous for the annual people’s festival in mid-July.
17 | Ghent City Hall – Stadhuis
The last stop of this walking tour is an incredible building mixing different architectural styles. Be sure to check out the two faces!
Centuries ago, there were two different elected representatives groups: one dealing with finance, legal and administrative tasks and the second one dealing with inheritance and guardianship.
The law at this time prohibited the two representatives groups from sharing the same building and that might be a reason why the city hall has two different faces: one with a Gothic style and one with a dark Renaissance style.
If you are after more things to do in Ghent, you can:
- Visit the old Elizabeth St Beguinage.
- Admire the shops on Jan Breydelstraat and get nostalgic in front of the little facades.
- Let your kids run in The Het Pand – my kids loved pretending to be lost in a maze.
- Hop on a boat tour.
When visiting Ghent, you will have to try the local treats.
These little treats are unique to Belgium. You can purchase a little bag of these for 3 euros in one of the wooden market carts in Ghent. They come in different colors and tastes but should always be eaten fresh (less than three weeks of their production).
Fries with mayonnaise
This is said to be the best place to eat frites in Ghent. You can find this little shop on Vrijdagmarkt, near the Ons Huis building.
Don’t forget to try out the waffles!
We stopped at the Agrea brasserie in Sint Baafskathedral for a late breakfast. My kids both claimed that these were the best waffles they have ever tried!
Visiting Ghent at Christmas
The Christmas market in Ghent was definitely a highlight of our visit.
It was centrally located and quite big. The Christmas tree was enormous and very pretty. Plus they were some attractions for kids.
Mine loved the different food stalls. The potato swirls one had a lot of success!!
We went for an ice-skating session and wandered around admiring the different stalls and handmade art.
Bruges or Ghent
That’s a very tricky question. Both cities are worth the visit, they are easily accessible, flat with attractions minutes apart. If you have two days or more try to visit both.
If not, you can try to do both in one day. Although it is doable, I would advise against it if you have young kids. They won’t be able to keep up with the already fast paced rhythm of this walking tour and add to that more walking and sight-seeing in Bruges.
Personally I preferred Ghent. I heard loads about Bruges, so I had really high expectations. Although Bruges architecture didn’t disappoint, nor did the fries :), I was a bit turned off by the crowd of tourists everywhere, the queues, making sure my kids were nearby, etc. Luckily we started our visit very early and manage to avoid the crowds until 11 am but still.
I didn’t feel like this in Ghent at all. With its laid-back atmosphere, it felt more authentic.
Getting to Ghent
Ghent is easily accessible by car and by train.
By Car: Whether you are coming from the UK, from France or from the Netherlands, you will find that it is very easy to access Ghent by car.
There are several P+R (Parking + Ride) all around Ghent, that will help you save some time and some money. We found a free P+R near the waterpark, with a free shuttle every 20 minutes during the day.
It was very convenient as we were dropped at Kouter which was less than 15 minutes away from our starting point.
By Train: With its two train stations, Gent-Dampoort and Gent-Sint-Pieters, Ghent is very easy to access by train.
- Trains from Brussels to Ghent will take 30 minutes and cost about 10 euros.
- Trains from Antwerp to Ghent will take will take a little less than an hour and cost about 10 euros.
- Trains from Bruges to Ghent will take between 25 to 40 minutes and cost around 7 euros.
Visiting Ghent with the City Card
If you are staying in Ghent for more than a day, it might be worth checking the Ghent City Card.
It is a tourist card that includes:
- Access to museums and attractions
- Guided boat tour
- Public transport
- Access to the Water tram (open between April and October)
- One day bike rental.
Usually, the access to each site costs around 10 euros per adult.
With the Card being 30 euros for 48 hours and 35 euros for 72 hours, it will quickly be worth your money as soon as you are visiting three sites or more.
FYI, the Belfry, St Bavo’s and Gravensteen are included in the City Card.
We really loved visiting Ghent and are still surprised that a lot of people have never heard of this medieval town.
We were lucky to visit during Christmas and wandered around the Christmas market, tried local foods and had fun on the ice rink.
My kids also loved this visit and particularly enjoyed running around in Graslei & Korenlei and all the narrow and pedestrian streets (and finding interesting Lego blocks or marble squares… see for yourself below :)).
Visiting Ghent, Belgium with kids – Pin me for later