Belgium

Visitor’s Guide to Ghent, Belgium

While France and Germany might get more accolades from travel publications and travel shows, Belgium has every bit as much charm and beauty as its neighbors.  The cities have an abundance of charm, the food is fantastic, and the people could not be any nicer.  I simply fell in love with the country the moment I landed.  But it wasn’t the big cities of Brussels and Antwerp that really won my heart.  Instead, it was the smaller towns like Ghent and Brugge that really made me fall in love with Belgium.

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Ghent is an absolutely stunning city that sits at the confluence of the Scheldt and Leie Rivers.  In fact, much of the city is built up around these rivers, which intersect the city and give it the charm that has made it such a popular tourist destination.  In addition to its stunning city landscape, the city of Ghent is also well known for its cuisine and its beer.

In fact, according to the local tourism industry, there are roughly 653 restaurants, 620 cafes, and 250 kinds of beer available in Ghent.  And that doesn’t even include the amazing chocolate that is found in chocolate stores scattered about the city and the amazing Belgian style waffles that you can buy from street vendors.  In short, Ghent is a foodie’s dream come true.

In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information that you need to make your visit to Ghent an absolute success.  I will outline the best ways to get to the city, talk about when the best times to visit are throughout the year, give you some recommendations on where to stay and where to eat, and finally I will talk about the top things I would recommend seeing and doing while you are there.

Immunization, Passport, and Visa Requirements

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Before you start making any other travel plans, please make sure you review the table below so that you understand the immunization, passport, and VISA requirements for visiting Belgium.  A failure to understand these requirements could lead to not being allowed entry into the country when you make your visit.  If you have additional questions on these requirements, please visit the US State Department website.

Passport Validity: 3-months beyond your departure from Belgium
Blank Passport Pages: 2 pages minimum
Tourist Visa: Not Required for Stays Under 90 Days
Vaccinations: None
Currency Restrictions: 10,000 Euros or equivalent

NOTE:  Beginning in 2021 the European Union will require authorization to visit the Schengen Area of the European Union.  So if you are booking your trip after January 1, 2021, you will want to make sure you go thru the ETIAS Authorization Process.

How to Get There

The city of Ghent is located in Northwestern Belgium in the Dutch-speaking part of the country.  It is a very short train ride from the larger cities of Brussels and Antwerp and relatively close to both Paris and Amsterdam.  In fact, if you wanted to combine a visit to Ghent with a trip to either France or the Netherlands, you could probably even fit a visit to Ghent in as a day trip from those countries.  However, I would certainly recommend you stay more than a day because there is so much to see and do.

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There are three primary languages spoken in the country of Belgium, with Dutch being the prevalent language spoken in Ghent and the rest of Northern Belgium.  If you are traveling to other cities in Belgium during your visit, you will want to keep the different lingual regions of Belgium in mind.  To help you understand where each language is primarily spoken, I have included a map for you to review below.

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Ghent is perfectly situated between a number of the bigger cities in Western Europe, which makes it an easy destination to fit into other trips.  To give you an idea of how far it is from some of these cities, I have included a table for you to review below.

Brussels, Belgium 38 min Train Ride
Antwerp, Belgium 56 min Train Ride
Paris, France 2 hr 17 min Train Ride
Amsterdam, Netherlands 2 hr 18 min Train Ride
Frankfurt, Germany 4 hr 12 min Train Ride
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg 4 hr 16 min Train Ride

Traveling By Train

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In my opinion, the most efficient way to get to Ghent from within Belgium is by train.  Ghent is relatively close to all of the major tourist cities within Belgium and train tickets are relatively cheap.  To give you a better idea of what the train schedules and costs are, I have included some details below.  If you would like to explore the train timetables, please visit the RailEurope website.

From Brussels

The train ride from Brussels to Ghent is very quick and cheap, with the duration of most trips at roughly 30 minutes and a cost of only $14 USD.  Please be aware that the train from Brussels to Ghent at nineteen minutes past the hour on every hour takes twice as long to get from Brussels to Ghent.

Departs Arrives Stops Duration Cost
5:36am 6:06am None 30min $14 USD
Roughly 5 direct trains an hour from Brussels to Ghent

From Antwerp

There are quite a few trains from Antwerp to Ghent each day, with roughly five direct trains you can catch per hour.  At just around an hour at a cost of roughly $14 USD, it is a relatively quick and inexpensive trip as well.

Departs Arrives Stops Duration Cost
4:37am 5:33am None 56min $14 USD
Roughly 5 direct trains an hour from Antwerp to Ghent

From Brugge

The train ride from Brugge to Ghent is a short and inexpensive one.  Trains leave roughly every 15 minutes from Brugge heading to Ghent and cost on $11 USD.

Departs Arrives Stops Duration Cost
4:05am 4:34am None 25min $11 USD
Trains Every 15 Minutes with the last train departing at 11:23pm

Traveling By Car

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If you are renting a car and plan to drive to Ghent, the drives from Brugge, Brussels, and Antwerp are fairly short and straight-forward.  To give you an idea of how long it would take to drive to Ghent, I have included maps with driving instructions from those locations below.

Brugge to Ghent Brussels to Ghent Antwerp to Ghent
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Best Time to Visit

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Ghent is a city that is fun to visit year-round, but depending on what you are planning on doing when you visit, there may be certain months of the year that are better for you to visit than others.  In order to assist you in determining which month is best for you to visit, I have included some information below on several key factors that may influence your decision.

Temperature (°F)

The first factor that you will want to consider when deciding when it would be best for you to visit Ghent is the temperature.  The temperature in Ghent is fairly mild year-round, but it can get a bit chilly during the winter months of December thru February.  The months of June thru September typically see the warmest temperatures, so if you plan on spending a considerable amount of time outside, these might be the best months for you to visit.

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Precipitation (Inches)

The other weather-related factor that you will want to consider when planning your trip to Ghent is the amount of rain that you can expect to see when you visit.  To give you an idea of what the typical rainfall is throughout the year, I have included the chart below for you to review.  As you can see, the Autumn months of October and November typically see the most rainfall, with the months of February thru April seeing the least amount of rain.

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Visitors (Relative Google Searches for Accommodations)

The last factor that you will want to consider when determining the best time for you to visit Ghent is the number of other tourists that you can expect to be in Ghent throughout the year.  To give you an idea of which months are the peak tourist months and which months see the least number of tourists, I have included a chart below.

The chart shows the relative amount of Google searches for the Ghent area by tourists throughout the year. The numbers are calculated relative to the peak month, which is October. For instance, the month of July saw roughly 80% of the Google searches by tourists compared to the peak month of October.

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Where to Stay

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One of the most important decisions you will have to make when planning your trip to Ghent is where you will stay.  To help get your search for accommodations started, I have included ten hostel and hotel options for you to review below, along with a map that illustrates where these accommodations are located.  These are all highly recommended accommodations that are relatively close to the main attractions in the city.

Ghent Hotels Map

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Hostel Uppelink ($)
Hostel 47 ($)
Ghent River Hotel ($$)
Hotel ibis Gent Centrum St Baafs Kathedraal ($$)
Ghent Marriott Hotel ($$$)
Hotel Harmony ($$$)
Hotel NH Gent Belfort ($$$$)
Pillows Grand Hotel Reylof ($$$$)
1898 the Post ($$$$)
Lord of Ghent ($$$$)

Where to Eat

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Another important decision that you will have to make repeatedly while you are visiting Ghent is where you plan to eat each day.  As I mentioned previously, Ghent is well-known for its wide array of wonderful restaurants and its wonderful selection of beers.  In order to jump-start your search for wonderful restaurants and cafes to eat at, I have included a list of highly recommended establishments for you to review below.

Name Cuisine Cost
‘t Prison Belgian $$-$$$
Roots Belgian $$-$$$
Kin Khao – Thai Eatery Thai $$-$$$
Oak Restaurant Belgian $$$$
Karel De Stoute French\Belgian $$$$
‘t Gents Fonduehuisje Belgian\Fondue $$-$$$

Recommended Tours

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Before you make your trip to Ghent, you will want to have a few activities planned.  There are a lot of great things to see and do in the Ghent area, so finding great tours isn’t very difficult to do.  There are a number of great tours that are highly recommended, which I have listed below for you to review.

Top Things to See

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Last, but certainly not least, you are going to want to make sure you have an idea of what you would like to see in Ghent before you take your trip.  There is a lot to see and do in the city, so you are going to want to plan your time wisely.  In order to assist you in this planning, I have included my list of the top attractions below, along with a map of where these attractions are located.

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The Gravensteen
St. Michael’s Bridge
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
St. Bavo’s Abbey
Ghent Belfry (Belfort)
The Ghent Canals (Graslei and Korenlei)
Patershol

The Gravensteen

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The Gravensteen, which translates to mean the “Castle of the Counts” is a really neat medieval castle in Ghent that dates all the way back to 1180.  The castle was the residence of the Counts of Flanders until 1354 and has served various other purposes throughout its life.  While the castle is really impressive to see from the outside, especially from the water, I would not recommend the tour of the inside.  If you do want to tour the inside of the castle, it is open for visitors between 10:00am and 5:15pm daily and an audio tour with headphone is available.

St. Michael’s Bridge (Sint-Michielshelling)

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One of the prettiest spots in all of Ghent has to be on the St. Michael’s bridge.  Known locally as Sint-Michielshelling, the bridge is in the epicenter of everything that makes Ghent the charming city that it is.  From the bridge, you are able to capture a picture of all three of Ghent’s famous towers in a row.  If this weren’t reason enough to visit the bridge, it is also just a stone’s throw from the Old Fish Market and the Gravensteen.  Or if you would just prefer to sit and people watch for a bit, then St. Michael’s bridge is a great place to do that as well.

St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal)

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One of the most visible and easily recognizable features of the city of Ghent is the tower of St. Bavo’s Cathedral.  Located in the heart of the city of Ghent, St. Bavo’s church is the city’s oldest parish church and one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Belgium.  There is a ton of history behind this amazing church, so after you are done admiring its beauty from the outside, I would strongly recommend paying the inside of the church a visit to learn more about its past.

St. Bavo’s Abbey (Sint-Baafsabdij)

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Another can’t miss stop when visiting Ghent is St. Bavo’s Abbey.  The abbey twice survived attacks by Vikings, but much of the complex was destroyed by order of Emperor Charles V and a coercion castle was built on the site.  Included in the St. Bavo’s Abbey complex is St. Abbey’s church, which includes the oldest standing wall in the city of Ghent.   I would highly recommend touring the remains of this once beautiful abbey as it can teach you a lot about the history of the area.

Ghent Belfry (Belfort)

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Another of the can’t miss landmarks in the skyline of the city of Ghent is the Ghent Belfry, which is otherwise known as the Belfort.  If you are looking at the city’s skyline, it is the middle tower in the famous row of three towers that dominate the city’s skyline.  Not only is it one of Ghent’s most visible buildings, but it is also one of the city’s most beautiful.  With a stone dragon, seemingly guarding the entrance to the city, the tower is both foreboding and beautiful.  It has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its beauty and historical significance.  I would strongly recommend touring this beautiful building and learning more about it and the wonderful city it stands in.

The Ghent Canals (Graslei and Korenlei)

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One of the city’s most noticeable landmarks and the pride of the people of Ghent are the canals that run thru the city.  The Ghent Canals have been used by ships to travel thru the city since the 11th Century and they have played an important role in the culture of the city ever since.  In addition to their practical use, they are also part of what makes this city so beautiful and charming.  There are few things better than an afternoon or evening walk along the canals in the city of Ghent.

Patershol

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As one of the oldest and most lively quarters in the city of Ghent, the neighborhood of  Patershol is a must-stop destination when visiting Ghent.  In addition to a plethora of wonderful restaurants and shops, this area is also home to some of the city’s best festivals and events.

Take a Canal Cruise

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No trip to Ghent is complete without a ride on the canals.  Ghent is such a beautiful city and the best way to take in that beauty is from the water.  If you are interested in learning more about the boat rides in Ghent, there is some great information you can review on the Visit Ghent website.

Try the Belgian Waffles

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I will admit, one of my favorite parts of visiting Ghent was indulging in the absolutely delicious Belgian waffles (over and over).  I am sorry, but they are so good.  If you visit Ghent and don’t try the waffles, you are really missing out on one of life’s most delicious treasures.   Unlike in North America, waffles are eaten with either fresh fruit or chocolate on top (both equally as delicious) and whipped cream, instead of with maple syrup.

Have Some Belgian Beer

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With over 250 different types of local beer to choose from, Ghent is a beer lover’s dream come true.  When you visit Ghent, make sure you try at least a few of the local brews.  If you are really into beer, you can also take a beer tour that will allow you to sample some of the more popular brews from the area.

Photo Gallery

Ghent is one of those cities where it is nearly impossible to visit and not come away with some incredible pictures to share.  I was able to capture a bunch of great shots when I visited and have shared some of my favorites with you in the gallery below.

Ghent, Belgium

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4 replies »

  1. Fantastic guide. I visited for a day a few years back but it looks so much more spectacular with the sun shining and clear blue skies. Might have to try and go back soon! Belgium’s a vastly underrated country with the exception of Bruges.

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