We arrived in Ghent drenched in the tremendous freezing winter showers so we thought we wouldn’t be able to wander around the stone-tiled promenades. We still tried and thanks to the well-maintained medieval architecture, the damp and chilly atmosphere does not seem out of place. Ghent is a big city dressed in old town clothing. It is indeed the perfect transition between the clogged streets of Brussels and the colorful village charm of Bruges.
The Korenmarkt is the perfect place to start and everything radiates from this cobbled square surrounded by step-gabbled brick facades in Dutch-inspired style – a typical postcard Belgian village – thriving with restaurants and fast food/café circuits, beers and pubs of course. Guarding its entrance are the Church of St. Nicholas and an ornately gothic building (now serving as a mall) and the square is sliced by tramway. From here, one can already glimpse the towers and landmarks of the city.
Proceeding east are the belfry and watchtower of Ghent and the romanesque St. Bravo’s cathedral both are probably the tallest structures in the city. The Ghent watchtower offers a spectacular panorama of the city from the perspective of its ominous gargoyles. Inside are exhibits of church bells and metal dragon sculptures. Spiraling up the diminutively stepped staircase can be of a nightmare especially for the claustrophobe but an elevator is waiting at the first floor for those who would want to take it easy.
Just a little bit to the east of Korenmarkt is the Leie River lined with colorful Belgian houses and small boats waiting for their daily tourist trips even amidst the dreadful weather. Pubs and restaurants also occupy the riverside and could serve as a perfect hangout on a warm summer to gulp a pint or two of delicious Belgian beer or chocolates or waffles or fries or all of their odd combination. Belgium has a thing for delicious finger food, really. Here, one can already admire the St. Michael Church and bridge and the calmness of the steady river.
A few steps up north commence the winding alleys that lead to the Gravensteen castle complete with its fortifications. But before getting there, you could pass by the ceiling-less great butchers hall whose roof is still supported by a thick timber skeleton on which hangs a lot of preserved hams ready to be sliced to enjoy with your Flemish pint or wine of choice. Nothing can get as medieval as the interiors of this hall.
Overall, we did enjoy our brief stop at Ghent even if the weather wanted to drive us away. It is charming and authentic without trying too hard and it was quite enough for a daytrip. Yes, this is what’s nice about a small country like Belgium because you could daytrip to nearby cities from the capital. Also, the trains are a lot cheaper on the weekends so it is quite budget friendly. The restaurant food are normally expensive but the real Belgian treats are in the streets so you don’t have to break the bank for degustation. So yeah, on your next trip to Belgium, don’t get stuck in Brussels. Ghent is less than an hour away, a perfect stopover, and an open air museum of its own, far from the clatter and clutter of the tourist-plagued capital.