An ancient hidden gem left much unnoticed in the European tourism ads. Ghent is a city that is so rich in history, art, culture and preserved medieval and modern architecture that it can be a little hard to understand why it is not as popular as Bruges as a place to visit.
While in the research phase of our European trip planning it was difficult to decide where to set up a home base. We both agreed we wanted to stay in Belgium for a full week and explore the different cities that were of interest to us. However, the commercial business big city feel of Brussels did not appeal to us and the prices to stay in Bruges were not very attractive either. Then I discovered Ghent! Perfection!
This city is comparable with Bruges in its age and medieval importance, fully stocked with canals, museums, and a very rich history. How wonderful! So we began looking into apartments available on AirBnB. If you are not using AirBnb then you need to start, it is amazing. (Check out my 10 reasons to travel AirBnB here)
We arrived in Brussels after a very long, uncomfortable and tiring 16 hours of travel time. Exhausted and cranky we had to muster smiles and intelligence to try and reach our home for the next week… Ghent!
Ghent certainly did not disappoint, it was like a refuge for us and we enjoyed some magical adventures while there. If you are in the Belgium area make Ghent a part of your travel itinerary or even stay there like we did and set up a home base. The prices are great and the train station in Ghent will take you to all major cities in Belgium regularly throughout the day! If you are short on time my top three highlights can be done in just one day. You choose but don’t miss out!
The apartment we decided to rent during our stay in Ghent was located on the other side of Citadel park from the train station. Which meant we had a lovely walk through the park every morning and evening after exploring other cities. The park has a beautiful old style gazebo in the center, animals roam free, roosters, birds, and owls. The trees of this park are breathtaking, I have no idea the age but the size of them and diversity made each walk special and full of new discoveries. Walking through this park was our favorite place in Ghent. The smells and sounds will forever stay with me.
Exploring the park also offers the perfect quiet place to have a snack, and relax during a busy vacation so I would recommend it as a peaceful unwinding spot.
St. Bavos Church
In the heart of the city center, you will find the beautifully crafted on the inside and out St. Bavo’s church. With high ceilings, stained glass, and paintings dating back hundreds of years. There is so much to take in while visiting St. Bavo’s church that you might forget about the real treasure hidden here… The Ghent Altarpiece.
If you are an art or history lover of any kind then you would have undoubtedly heard of the Ghent altarpiece once or twice. It is only the most coveted piece of art in history. Napoleon wanted it, Hitler wanted it, to name a couple big-name admirers. In 1934 one of the panels was successfully stolen, that panel is still missing today. Creating one of the most interesting and dramatic stories surrounding a single piece of art. With all that fame I had to check it out.
Walking into the quiet back room of the church to view the altarpiece was so intimate and refreshing. Often when viewing a piece of art as famous as this, you have to stand rows behind reaching heads and cameras in large museums just to catch a glimpse. (Mona Lisa memories.) However, the Ghent altarpiece is in a quiet dark room all by itself. Tourists are quiet and respectful as they look at each panel in detail. There are no photos permitted, which made the experience less distracting as well. The painting itself is truly amazing.
Perhaps it was the atmosphere, perhaps it was knowing the history behind it. Regardless this place left a mark on me. I recommend visiting The Ghent Altarpieces home in St. Bavo’s church. Pay the few euros for the audio recorder that goes through each panel in detail. It is worth the money.
Making all of my childhood dreams of Harry Potter inspired castle adventures come true is… Gravensteen. This is a near perfectly preserved medieval castle. The tour through the castle took a little over an hour, at a leisurely speed. Equipped with Medieval torture devices, thick stone walls, a courtyard, a moat, and all other matter of castley goodness.
This castle is epic. I had never explored a castle of this kind before and I think it succeeded in setting the bar high. When looking at this castle I expected it to be dingy, dark and rather spooky once inside. However, I was surprised, minus the medieval torture devices that this castle was kind of cozy and magical. A surprise to me!
The reasons to visit Ghent are numerous and these brief highlights of my favorites do not do this great destination the justice it surely deserves. Heading there yourself to take in the sounds, smells, history and sights is the only way to truly love it for yourself.