Delightful Ghent is the ideal day trip from Brussels. Its medieval charm is maintained alongside a trendy and modern life with canalside dining. Here is everything you need to know to plan the perfect Ghent day trip.
One of the best things to do in Brussels is to use it as a springboard to visit the pretty towns located stone’s throw away from the capital. Located to the northwest of Brussels are Ghent and Bruges, two picturesque cities with a cosy canalside atmosphere. Both cities are great options to visit whether you have time for an extended stay or for a day trip from Brussels. Keep reading for a detailed itinerary perfect for a day trip to Ghent.
With an interesting medieval history, gorgeous architecture, and quirky bars, it’s surprising that Ghent isn’t overrun with tourists.
Before we get started, do you know what language they speak in Belgium? The answer might surprise you!
So, without further ado, here is my complete Ghent day trip itinerary.
Looking for something in particular? Use these links to jump around.
Included in this guide to Ghent
- A brief history of Ghent
- Is it Ghent, Gent or Gand?
- Map of Ghent Day Trip Itinerary
- Top Things to see in Ghent in One Day
- What to Eat in Ghent
- Where to Eat in Ghent
- How to Get to Ghent
- How to Get Around Ghent
- Where to Stay in Ghent
- Got more time? Bonus things to do and see in Ghent
Ghent’s history begins way back in the year 630 when St. Amandus built an abbey here right on the confluence of the rivers Lys and the Scheldt.
In fact, most historians believe that Ghent’s historical name, ‘Ganda’, derives from the Celtic word ganda which means confluence.
During the Middle Ages from 1000 to around 1550, Ghent was one of the richest and most important cities in Europe. Bigger than London, Ghent was once considered the second largest city north of the Alps, second only to Paris.
As you walk around the city center, you’ll see the impact of the city’s rich past evidenced by the decorative and imposing architecture of its churches and the houses of rich traders.
Today, the center of Ghent is car-free which gives it a peaceful calm and a welcome getaway from the bustling capital.
Nowhere else will you find so much history per square metre than in the historical heart of Ghent.
As you plan your trip to Ghent, you will come across conflicting spelling of the city.
First of all, Ghent, Gent, and Gand all refer to the same place. Since Belgium is a country of three spoken languages, Dutch (Flemish), French, and English, it’s good to know who uses what to refer to the city.
If you haven’t already guessed it, Ghent is the English spelling (pronounced ‘gehnt’), Gand is French, and Gent is the Dutch (Flemish) spelling.
Want to know where you’ll be going? Take a look at the detailed map below.
Tip: For a larger view of the map, click on the icon in the top right corner. If the icon is hidden and you’re viewing this on your phone, go to landscape mode. Technology, eh?
Click on this interactive map and see where this itinerary will take you. I’ve created this map using Google Maps which you can save and use as you travel around the city.
1. St. Michael’s Bridge (Sint-Michielsbrug and Sint-Michielshelling)
For a postcard view of Ghent, you must visit Sint-Michielsbrug aka St. Michael’s Bridge. Everywhere you look you’re surrounded by Ghent’s charming beauty.
St. Michael’s Bridge was once a flat swing bridge that was later replaced by a stone arch bridge at the turn of the 20th century. In the middle of the arch is a beautiful central lantern with a bronze statue of Saint Michael.
The bridge and street, called Sint-Michielshelling, are located in the heart of the historical centre, making it a great spot to take in the city’s beautiful architecture. From Sint-Michielshelling you’ll get a great photo opportunity of the three famous Medieval Towers of Ghent.
2. Walk along the Canal by Graslei and Korenlei
With St. Michael’s Bridge behind you, wander up Graslei (Grass Quay) and Korenlei (Corn Quay) as they run alongside the Leie river lined with beautiful medieval buildings. Have your camera ready because this area is one of the most picturesque parts of the Ghent.
3. Castle of the Count (Gravensteen)
A couple minutes walk to the north of Korenlei is Gravensteen. Built in 1180 by Count Philip of Alsace, the fairytale-like Gravensteen castle was a symbol of the Count’s power and wealth. He wanted everyone to know that he was boss.
The castle served as the seat of the Counts of Flanders until it was later abandoned in the 14th century. In Dutch, Gravensteen literally means “Castle of the count”.
Being the only remaining medieval castle with a moat and largely intact defence system located in the Flanders region of Belgium, the Gravensteen is a must visit.
During its lifetime, the castle was once a courthouse and a prison before it was abandoned at which point houses were built alongside its walls and in the courtyard. Stones were taken from the walls and reused to erect other buildings.
In the late 18th century, the Gravensteen was sold to private owners who converted it into a factory complex including a cotton mill. When its workers left, the Gravensteen fell into a state of complete disrepair and was ready for demolition.
Even though the Gravensteen became a symbol of abuse of power, repression, and torture to the people of Ghent, its restoration leading up to the World Expo in 1913 gave the Castle of the Counts a new life.
Today, the Gravensteen is Ghent’s most important tourist attraction. Inside you can visit the Arms Museum and the Museum of Judicial Objects where you’ll find various weapons and torture devices on display dating back to medieval times. Don’t miss the guillotine and Mask of Shame.
Before you leave, go up to the rooftop for stunning panoramic views over Ghent. From here you’ll get a unique view of the three Medieval Towers of Ghent which include the Belfry of Ghent, Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church.
Price: Adults €10
For more information about the Castle of the Count, the latest opening hours and prices, visit their website
Going to Ghent? Get your free Flemish travel phrase guide.
Continuing passed the Gravensteen is the adorable cobblestone neighbourhood of Patershol.
Take your time to explore the twisting lanes lined with the former homes of leather tradesmen and the Carmelite Fathers (Paters).
Patershol is the culinary heart of Ghent where you’ll find streets full of cosy restaurants serving everything from Japanese to traditional Flemish cuisine. Afterwards, have a drink in any of the trendy bars or peruse the speciality boutiques.
5. House of Alijn (Huis van Alijn)
Also located in Patershol is the Huis van Alijn (House of Alijn). Originally, these buildings were almshouse where the old and sick were cared for before it later became the ‘Children of Alijn hospice’.
Today, you’ll find a museum inside dedicated to the history, traditions and customs in Ghent.
If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, grab a drink from the pub and relax in the lovely courtyard.
Price: Access to the courtyard is free. Museum tickets are € 6 for adults.
Opening Hours: Thur – Tue: 10:00 – 18:00, Wed: Closed
For more information about the House of Alijn, the latest opening hours and prices, visit their website
Vrijdagmarkt is one of the oldest squares in Ghent. Its name literally means ‘Friday Market’, a name given to the square after the tradition of holding a market here every Friday morning. This tradition dates back to the 12th century! How cool is that?
Vrijdagmarkt holds an important place in Ghent’s history as it was where royalty were officially received at ceremonies known as Joyous Entries. Publica also took place here.
Located in the square is the fifteenth-century Toreken, or ‘Little Tower’. Once the house of the tanners’ guild, it is the only original building to have survived from that era, all the others were built later in the 19th century.
Still today, Vrijdagmarkt is popular with locals and visitors who come to the market which is still held on Fridays mornings and also on Saturday afternoons.
While you’re here, stop by De Dulle Griet, home to 350 Belgian beers and the largest collection of Belgian beers in Ghent. Bottoms up!
7. St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal)
St Bavo’s Cathedral is the oldest parish church in Ghent. It was built over the site of a 10th-century church and a 12th-century Romanesque church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.
When Ghent became a rich and powerful city in the Middle Ages, an even larger and more impressive church was commissioned and became the imposing Gothic St Bavo’s Cathedral you see today. It was during this time that Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, was baptised here.
A major drawcard to the cathedral is seeing one of the most influential paintings ever made, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This 18-panel masterpiece was painted by the Van Eyck brothers in the 15th century.
Price: Adults (including audio guide) €4
Opening Hours: Mon – Sat: 8:30 – 18:00, Sun: 13:00 – 18:00
For more information about St Bavo’s Cathedral, the latest opening hours and prices, visit their website
8. St. Bavo’s Abbey (Sint-Baafsabdij)Founded in the 7th century by Saint Amand, Saint Bavo’s Abbey was twice raided by Vikings in the 9th century. The monks fled to Laon, France only to return some 50 years later to re-establish the abbey.
The abbey was at its peak in the 11th century growing into a complex that today is home to the oldest standing wall in Ghent. Unfortunately, after the Revolt of Ghent in 1539, Emperor Charles V ordered the destruction of the abbey by cannons in 1540. It’s miracle that any of it is still standing.
Today, you can wander around the original Romanesque church marked with green shrubs. Due to the fragility of the site and to protect what remains, St Bavo’s Abbey is only open to visitors for a few hours each week.
Opening Hours: Mon – Thu: closed, Fr – Sun: 14:00 – 18:00
For more information about St Bavo’s Abbey, the latest opening hours and prices, visit their website
9. Ghent Belfry (Belfort)
Arguably the best view of Ghent is from the top of the Ghent Belfry. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Belfry dominates Ghent’s skyline. Offering stunning views to all four corners of the city it stands 91 metres high (298 ft) and is Belgium’s tallest Belfry.
In 1402, the Ghent Belfry housed the city privileges (aka laws and rights) in a chest locked up in the Belfry safe.
The Ghent Belfry took over from St Nicholas’ Church as the main watchtower. Up until 1869, watchmen would use the tower to keep an eye out for any dangers, (fire, in particular) that may threaten the city.
Price: Adults €8.00
Opening Hours: Mon – Sun: 10:00 – 18:00
For more information about Ghent Belfry and the latest opening hours and price, visit their website
10. Go on a Canal Cruise
A great way to see Ghent’s beautiful buildings and learn about its fascinating history is by going on a canal cruise.
Pick up points are located all over the city and run throughout the day. There are a couple of companies located at Grasbrug, near St. Michael’s Bridge, where you can buy a ticket and jump aboard.
Price: Adults €7.00
Opening Hours: Times vary. Included in the Ghent City Card is the Hop on hop off water tram included in the which depart from Grasbrug and run Sat-Sun: 11:00 – 18:15. Buy your Ghent City Card here
Hungry? If you want to try a local and traditional Flemish dish then you can’t go past, waterzooi. This classic stew actually comes from Ghent and is considered a Belgian delicacy.
Intrigued by a small arcade we stumbled upon, we walked in to find a quiet garden terrace and restaurant located at the back and next to an interior design store.
Called Uit Steppe & Oase, this restaurant is part of the adjoining store. Serving delicious world-cuisine around a small pond, this place is a real hidden gem. It turns out it has 4.5 stars on TripAdvisor too!
Between relaxing to the soothing beat of Moroccan music and enjoying my vegetarian lasagne with a strawberry and mint cocktail in hand, eating here was one of the highlights of my trip to Ghent.
Where is Ghent?
Ghent is located in the northeast region of Flanders, Belgium, just 58 kilometres (36 miles) from Brussels.
How long does it take to Ghent?
It is super easy to reach both Ghent and Bruges from Brussels. In fact, the same train will take you to both! The best way to get to Ghent from either Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp is by taking the Belgian Rail.
From Brussels: 35 minutes from Bruxelles-Midi Station. Price: Adult €9.20 one way
From Bruges: 25 minutes from Brugge Station. Price: Adult €6.80 one way
From Antwerp: 1 hour from Antwerpen-Centraal Station. Price: Adult €9.90 one way
You can either buy your tickets online in advance on the Belgian Rail website or buy them at the train station. There might be a queue at the ticket office so allow extra time for a potential wait.
The center of Ghent is quite small and pedestrianised which makes it easy for getting around on foot.
The main station (Gent Sint-Pieters) is about a half hour walk from the centre and not very scenic. If you don’t fancy the walk in, take tram no. 1 located right outside the station and get off at Gent Korenmarkt perron 5. The journey only takes 15 minutes.
Basing myself in Brussels, I stayed at Hilton Brussels City Hotel. The hotel was conveniently located near the metro and just a few minutes walk from Brussels-North railway station where the airport train stops. The hotel is quiet and has all the mod-cons you could want during your trip. There is even a sauna and a hammam as well as a bar which serves Belgian wines and beers. Check here for the latest prices at Hilton Brussels City Hotel
For an alternative accommodation option, I would also recommend renting out one of these apartments or rooms through Airbnb. Cute Airbnb options are popping up all over the city so you’ll find some really beautiful places at very affordable prices. If it’s your first time get US$35 (£25) off your first stay, when you book using my referral link.
Planning a trip? Don’t risk it. I never travel without getting travel insurance. I used World Nomads for my trip to Ghent.
- Castle of Gerald the Devil (Geraard de Duivelsteen)
- Citadel Park
- Great Butchers’ Hall (Groot Vleeshuis)
- Saint Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk)
- Visit Bruges! Here are 10 Wonderful Things to do in Bruges
- Ultimate Brussels Itinerary – How to Spend 2 Days in Brussels
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Over to you!
Do you have a question about visiting the Ghent, Bruges, or Brussels? Ask me below!
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