In some respects, Ghent’s history is similar to Bruges's. However, Ghent never fell into decline, as it was able to adapt its economy to the times. During the nineteenth century, its textile industry became renowned worldwide and it established its own university, which attracted many national and international students to the city, thus keeping the city alive. Today, Ghent has a population of nearly 250.000, of which 45.000 are students, which makes it one of the liveliest cities in Europe.
The town was founded during the ninth century when Baldwin I (also known as Baldwin Iron Arm) established a fortress to protect the two abbeys of Ghent: St Peter’s and St Bavo’s from the Vikings. Ghent, like Bruges, has an interesting network of canals and a stunning medieval city center, and if you were to ask, most Belgians would say they prefer Ghent to Bruges.
In the 80s, Ghent was completely restored to attract tourists like its neighboring Bruges had done previously. The buildings were cleaned, the canals were purified and the industrial areas were repaired.
Things to see and do in Ghent
Ghent is larger than Bruges and, although there are numerous signposts throughout the city, we recommend reading up on what there is to see before getting to Ghent:
- Saint Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk): Located very close to the cathedral, Sint-Niklaaskerk is one of the most remarkable churches in Ghent.
- Korenmarkt: This square is located beside Saint Nicholas’ Church and has been one of the liveliest squares of Ghent since the Middle Ages.
St Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal): One of the city’s landmarks, St Bavo’s Gothic cathedral took three centuries to complete and is where Charles V, King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor was baptized. Make sure to see the following highlights once inside: The painting “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” by Hubert and Jan van Eyck and the Baroque altar from the eighteenth century.
Gravensteen (Ghent’s Castle): The castle first served as the residence of the Counts of Flanders and then as a fortress until the fourteenth century and a prison until the eighteenth century. The castle is one of the definite must-sees in Ghent and tourists will be able to explore the castle’s museum with several torture devices.
Stadhuis (Town Hall): Ghent’s Town Hall is extremely impressive, like the city halls in Brussels and Bruges.
Belfort (Belfry of Ghent): The beautiful belfry stands 298 ft (91 m) high overlooking Ghent. It was built during the fourteenth century and is one of the city’s symbols. Its observation deck, which is 213 ft (65 m) tall, offers the city’s best views.
How to get to Ghent?
These are the best options to get to Ghent:
Guided tour: We highly recommend this option. For just € 43 (US$ 46.10) you'll be driven to Ghent in a minibus, you'll do a guided tour of the city with an English-speaking guide and you’ll have four hours to visit the city by yourself. If you would like to book an organized day trip to Ghent, click here. If you would like to visit Ghent and Bruges on the same day, we also offer this guided tour.
Train: This is the fastest and easiest option for those who prefer to see Ghent of their own accord. From Brussels, the train costs € 9 (US$ 9.70) per journey and it takes approximately 35 minutes.
Guided Tour in English
If you haven’t booked the tour from Brussels but would like to get a guided tour of the city in English, we offer a 2.5-hour tour for € 15 (US$ 16.10) per person