Dear Girls on Travel,
Did you know Ghent used to be the largest medieval city? Now, this small city of just under 250,000 inhabitants is called medieval Manhattan with its 3 Unesco World Heritage monuments. It is big enough to be busy for a long weekend and still cosy and intimate not to feel absorbed by it. Ghent is growing in popularity and feels more authentic and less touristic than Brugges. It is a big university city, it is popular for festivals, good food, romantic canals and incredible architecture. But why exactly should you spend some time there?
1: Because you will get back in time
A lot of the buildings are dated back from the 12th century and the architecture of Ghent is a real beauty. With towers, a castle, cobbled stones and streets you almost expect carriages to still be used. Make sure you wander around the Patershol neighbourhood and stop for an amazing Thai restaurant (Le Baan Thai) or try a small pub with local Belgian alcohol called Genever at the Dreupelkot, the tiramisu and banana flavours are my favourite, but with more than 120 flavours you can make your pick!
2: Because food is delicious
Ghent has its fair share of Michelin restaurants and young chefs are growing in popularity. Restaurants like Publiek, Oak or Volta are full of creativity and original setting. If you feel like trying Belgium dishes make sure you go to Pakhuis in an amazing industrial setting or Amadeus, a classic for unlimited spare ribs. Try the “Stoverij”, meat cooked in beer or the Waterzooi, a stew of chicken, potatoes and leak. But what you really have to try and famous amongst locals is a “Julientje”. The Gouden Saté, a popular Belgian fries place, has a selection of fries and different meats to take on the go where you can get this famous dish: a plastic box stacked with fries, saté barbecue spices, stewed meat, mayonnaise, deep fried onions, and a viandelle that's been cut into pieces and fried. A must try to feel like a real local!
3: Because they have a FREE festival
The “Gentse Feesten” or Ghent parties is a 10-day open-air festival. During this time the whole city changes to welcome several bands all over the city and the canal. Be prepared to party the whole evening and night, it is not uncommon that people stay until 8 am! The festival really grew in popularity attracting people all over Europe, and that’s probably because it is free. Expect different concerts, circus classes, performances, workshops, excitement, crowds, dancing and drinking.
4: Because they have amazing graffiti
It is said that you can recognize a vibrant city through its street art. Well, street art really became popular in Ghent and artists have the opportunity to perform their art freely in some places. Be ready for buildings or alleys that will satisfy your hunger for graffiti. The city has also put up a map you can download that guides you through the different places and shows you the artists who created that. MAP
5: Because you can visit an actual castle
Ever dreamed about feeling like a real knight? Well, Ghent is offering that option with its incredibly well preserved 10th-century castle. Count Philip of Alsace wanted to make sure at the time everybody knew who the boss was and built this castle to show his wealth and power. Expect history, torture instruments, ramparts and a fortress. A full picture of the heraldic culture of the 12th century.
6: Because the canals are beautiful
Canals in a city always add to its charm and the one in Ghent makes it a picture-perfect scenery. Walk along them, discover the shops and restaurants surrounding them or take a boat tour and get to know more about the history of the city.
7: Because they have 3 towers
The Belfry tower is one of the highlights showing the rich history of this city; in fact, Ghent was the second largest city in Europe as well as one of the richest and most powerful. This tower is part of the “Three towers of Ghent,” together with St. Bavo’s Cathedral and St. Nicholas’ Church. To get the perfect shot and have them all on the picture, just go to St Michael’s bridge. St. Bavo’s Cathedral is also home to the famous Ghent Altarpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” from the van Eyck brothers, a masterpiece and must-see while St Nicholas is a beautiful representation of a gothic style church.
8: Because it is a beer paradise
Well, after all, you are in Belgium and that’s what the country is popular for. Belgium is home to 195 breweries and has more than 8000 beer brands, that you should give you a good excuse to try a few of them. If you want the real experience, head to the Dulle Griet pub and explore some of the 500-beer selection. Mind your shoe! To avoid stealing glasses (each beer in Belgium has its own glass), you will be asked to give one of your shoes, it will be put in a basket and then hang on top of the ceiling. Give the glass back and get your shoe back, fair deal and fun experience!
9: Because it has amazing museums
Ghent offers quite a lot of museums. First of all, STAM is a former city hospital and still a relatively new museum. It takes you on a discovery tour of this contemporary city with a vast and rich history and gives a good introduction to it. Then you have S.M.A.K. (museum for contemporary art) popular for daring temporary exhibitions. Finally, and these are my two favourite ones, the Doctor Guislain Museum, explaining how medicine used to treat the mentally ill, and the House of Alijn, where the everyday life of 20th-century Gentenaars is put on display.
10: Because it has a light festival
Every 3 years, the city hosts an incredible light festival changing the city into colours and music. International artists put all their work into surprising spectacles, incredible performances and amazing events, all this based on light. This is a great way to see the city by night in a unique setting and it gives you the chance to discover hidden places. Just get transported by the festival and admire this enchanting art.
So Girls on Travel, what are you still waiting for? Ghent is waiting for you!
25th of October 2018