Things to do in Ghent

Must-see Ghent sights

The inland port city of Ghent has an almost Mediterranean-like feel to it, what with its plethora of bars and cafes that spill out onto the pavements. Ghent holiday packages guarantee great sightseeing; most of Ghent’s historic attractions are within walking distance of one another. Despite a few modern developments it has still retained its historical heart, making it one of the most charming cities in all of Europe. You can almost time-travel to yesteryear by exploring its magnificent buildings, castles and towers clustered in the city centre and along the canals either by foot or well-connected tram service.

  1. Start your tour at St Bavo’s Cathedral
  2. Check out the views from Ghent Belfry
  3. Tour the Town Hall
  4. Mooch down Veldstraat
  5. Explore the Castle of the Counts
  6. Get edgy at the design Museum Ghent

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Rough Guides

1. Start your tour at St Bavo’s Cathedral

Start your tour at the Gothic St-Baafskathedraal (St Bavo’s Cathedral). This largely brick and granite cathedral has a 14th century chancel, 15th century tower and nave, and mid-16th century transept. It’s greatest treasure is the Ghent Altarpiece or The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a fascinating panel painting which becomes more detailed the closer you look at it; see if you can spot Bruges Cathedral in the background of the central panel. Amongst other important art works, take time to admire the structure of the place itself, such as the Baroque oak and marble pulpit.

Best for: Art that broke medieval ideas and styles.

Don’t miss: The Conversion of St Bavo, a painting by Rubens dating to 1624.

2. Check out the views from Ghent Belfry

The Ghent Belfry (Belfort) sits just opposite the Cathedral, and is one of the stand-out sights in Ghent. It towers up to 91m, and one of the best things to do in Ghent is to take the glass lift (or take the stairs, if your knees are up to it) to the fifth floor for the best views across the city. The Belfry dates back to 1380; inside, you can see the bells that have served over the centuries, as well as the copper dragon that once sat atop of the spire but now rests in one of the viewing rooms.

Best for: Best views in Ghent.

Don’t miss: The neighbouring Cloth Hall (Lakenhalle), a 15th-century building where cloth and wool traders used to sell from.

3. Tour the Town Hall

Take a guided tour of the Town Hall (Stadhuis), amongst whose 51 rooms you’ll be shown the likes of the Throne Room, City Council Room and Reception Room. It’s all a very grandiose affair, with wood-panelled and flat-stone walls, huge portraits on display in the tall, spacious rooms and intricately detailed decor to match. The buildings facades are just as interesting, with its architectural mix of styles: Late Gothic on the Hoogpoort side of the building and Renaissance on the Botermarkt side. The curved corner features Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns, with four flags jutting out from the ornate stone balcony above: they are the flags of Belgium, Flanders, Ghent and the EU.

Best for: Rainy day options.

Don’t miss: The portrait of empress Maria Theresa by Martin van Meytens (1744), in the Reception Room.

4. Mooch down Veldstraat

Strolling down Veldstraat, the city’s main shopping street, is one of the most pleasant things to do in Ghent, if just for its pedestrian-only access (but watch out for trams). Alongside the high-street shops are a number of original building exteriors: at no.55 is the flamboyant Rococo facade of Hotel d’Hane-Steenhuyse, where prominent figures (such as the Russian Royal family) have previously stayed. At no.82 you can pay a visit to the Museum Arnold Vander Haeghen, which is devoted to the library of the Nobel Prize-winning writer Maurice Maeterlinck and Ghent graphic artist Victor Stuyvaert.

Best for: Making the most of cosmopolitan Ghent.

Don’t miss: The Chinese salon with silk wallpaper, and other temporary exhibitions, in the Museum Arnold.

5. Explore the Castle of the Counts

This twelfth century Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen) is still as ominious as it was during the medieval age as it is now; although today you can simply view the torture equipment on display rather than fall victim to it. It looks like something from a fairytale, with its massive fortification, multiple cylindrical towers and moat which separates part of the castle from the rest of the area. You can walk along the battlements for fresh air and ace views, or tour the living quarters where generations of Counts of Flanders resided.

Best for: Finding out gruesome tales that happened here.

Don’t miss: If you want to lighten the load, opt for a comedy tour of the castle.

6. Get edgy at the design Museum Ghent

If you’re considering what to do in Ghent that brings you up to the modern day, head to the slick Design Museum Ghent. It’s dedicated to interior design and furnishings, with collections spanning glassware, furniture and more from throughout the centuries. Their Art Nouveau collection is the best in the country, and alongside some decent Art Deco pieces there are more contemporary items, too. The main focus is to highlight the Belgian design culture and major themes in Belgian society, from day-to-day items to how design might develop in the future.

Best for: Belgian interiors throughout the ages.

Don’t miss: A range of interesting temporary exhibitions, such as the role of colour and insights into Belgian interior designers.

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