I challenge you to take a bad photograph in Ghent, Belgium. It simply isn’t possible. This point-and-shoot town is a living postcard everywhere you look, so picturesque that it hardly feels real. I recently found myself in this beautiful city, just a short train ride from Paris and it was the perfect place to be for a weekend away. This Ghent guide features just a few of the many fun things to do in Ghent Belgium.
Getting to Ghent
Getting to Ghent is easy from any direction, particularly if you are making your way here from any of the surrounding cities; Paris is just three hours away, Brussels and Bruges are less than an hour away and other European capitals are a short flight or scenic train ride. Search train fares.
I travelled by train from Paris where you can find several options for a fast or slower ride, stops along the way or a direct ticket; either way it will take about two to three hours and about 100 euros or less.
You can fly directly into one of two airports accessible from Ghent. Fly into the Brussels or Brussels-Charleroi Airports. From either airport you can take a train or public transport easily into Ghent (Search flights with Skyscanner).
Renting a car or hiring transportation is easy enough as well, the major highways are friendly to navigate and take you directly into the city centre and beyond. Bruges and Brussels are only 45 minutes drive away should you wish to take a day trip from Ghent.
Public transportation is most advisable in the city centre and it is also very walkable and great for bikes too.
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Things to Do in Ghent Belgium
Ghent is a picturesque port city in northwest Belgium, it is a city that brings two rivers: the Leie and the Scheldt together. Every bit of Ghent looks like a something out of a coffee table book, with idyllic historical architecture, riverfront dining, and character-filled narrow cobbled streets, be sure to bring your camera with you. It has a pedestrianized centre and is predominately a college city. Because of this, you can find many activities that include touring via the river. It is a walkable city with a centre hub for gathering, this means lots of walking and cycling. Ghent is known for its quirks and arty vibe – you will find many hip coffee shops and boutiques, as well as a great art and other cultural offerings.
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Cruise the River
You can find a river tour or cruise along the river in the centre of the CBD. Seeing Ghent by water offers a beautiful perspective and the perfect way to spend the morning or afternoon. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way.
Explore Ghent on Foot
Be sure to pack your walking shoes when you visit Ghent. I chose to venture out each day without a map, the city is easily managed and intuitively designed to make finding your way effortless. You will find many sweets along the way which make for guilt-free snacking while you walk. I loved Hoogpoort where you can find Graffiti Street, an alley block filled with street art that changes daily as local artists add their marks here. Visiting the Holy Food Market in Sint-Jacobs was a nice experience and a yummy spot for a snack and people watching.
Visit the Design Museum
I loved visiting the Design Museum, tucked into a side street near the centre of town with an open-air courtyard joining the wings of the museum. You won’t need much time for this museum and the exhibits include both historical design elements and very modern things too.
Tour the Gravensteen
The centrepiece of Ghent is the Gravensteen, a 12th Century castle that has been restored. You can do a tour of the rooms inside but I opted for taking it in from the outside in various angles. There are a few cafes nearby with castle views that are ideal for lunch or a sunset aperitif.
Do a Cathedral Crawl
If visiting cathedrals, abbeys and churches is your thing you’ll be happy to learn that there are many to see in Ghent. One of the most commonly visited is St. Baafskathedraal, this cathedral is home of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, an incredibly famous painting worth a look if you don’t mind waiting in a long line to see it felt like seeing it reminded me of the first time I saw the Mona Lisa, I was more impressed with the story of the painting than actually seeing it. This church is grand, with incredible stained glass windows.
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Where to Stay in Ghent
The Hide is a seven-room speakeasy-esque boutique hotel that is the heart project of Barbara Symons. She has a long lineage in Ghent and is not only the owner and passion behind The Hide, but a local expert that you can count on during your stay to guide you in the ways of the most authentic experiences there.
You won’t find a detailed story about The Hide anywhere and this is intentional. This calculated omission is part of the mystique of the hotel, and it is the beginning of an invitation to create your own story about the space, the experience and your stay there.
The façade of The Hide could easily be missed, the hotel is not begging for attention, rather it slips into its urban surroundings and literally hides on a busy street in the heart of Ghent. I loved this. Hiding at The Hide is a beautiful blend of being seen and in-the-know, while fading away to a private space where you can just be, quietly…watching or participating.
When you book your stay, you are given a personal code with instructions for arriving and gaining access to your room, I felt like a Bond Girl on a mission and this definitely added to the intrigue and anticipation for me.
My penthouse suite, the only one, was a spacious, modern, and intentionally designed space. A space with a voice, and a sassy, smart one at that. I found clever little notes left for me in various places. The first one, on the door as a welcome that said, “I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I got us a room.” I found little love notes left under towels, on the pillows in the bed, and even on the umbrella by the door. These notes gave the space a clear personality and voice, and invited me into a whimsical, sexy and intriguing story – this is the story of The Hide.
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The penthouse suite welcomes you into an open living room space that is perfectly cozy for easy mornings in; this space shares an open kitchen and large dining room perfect for entertaining or sharing the space with friends or family. The outside balcony can be found just beyond this space and it spans the top floor with plenty of room to lounge or sunbathe. This balcony’s surprise is an earth to sky mirrored wall on the exterior of the building that brings its reflection up from the courtyard of the building and out into this balcony and beyond, it was an added bonus to watch the sun rise and set in this larger-than-life sky mirror. The design is smart and living art, and adds to the modern whimsy of The Hide.
Each of the two rooms has an in-room bathtub and full shower with a beautiful attic window to the world outside. The generous king-sized beds, with feather tops and pillows for days are hard to leave each morning, and the darkness that falls on the space each night creates a cocoon shutting the bustle of the university town out.
There are two permanent-ish residents of The Hide that you should make your acquaintance with while you are staying on the property. They are the sheep who have been adopted by Barbara, who live in the garden in the back of the property. You will likely hear them with faint and charming calls when they want attention or are saying good morning.
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You are on your own for each meal while staying at The Hide, and this is a good thing because I may have never known there were so many incredible things to do in Ghent, beyond the walls if meals were included with the stay. The fully equipped kitchen has everything you need to shop at the local markets and make a stay-in meal which I did a few times during my stay. Otherwise, there are beautiful dining options just a short walk from the hotel and venturing out is what The Hide invites you to do.
Best Places to Eat in Ghent
Try the Nose of Ghent
If you have a sweet tooth, beware. The sweets in Ghent are powerfully persuasive; you’ll be navigating your way through chocolate shops filled with Belgium chocolates, pastry and coffee shops, and candies and pancakes on every street corner. I tried a little bit of everything, very happily and learned about “The Nose of Ghent,” a special candy made in Ghent with a real name of Cuberdon. This cone-shaped Belgian candy has a firm outside and soft centre and is super sweet and delicious. You can find kiosks of this candy sprinkled around the city centre, definitely worth a try.
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Vegetarian Restaurants in Ghent
I found plenty of vegetarian options for dining in Ghent: Green Way has an incredible daily pasta dish and yummy veggie burgers. Stek is the place where I enjoyed a delicious Acai bowl, Roots, Komkommertijd, De Warempel and Lekker Gek are others on my list to try when I return again.
Go for French at Klaverblad
Find Patershol, a charming area of Ghent with narrow winding streets and hidden gems for shopping and eating. Feast on brasserie cuisine at Klaverblad, one of the best restaurants in Ghent.
Coffee and Sweet Treats
I enjoyed breakfast at Julie’s House one morning, the owner of The Hide told me Julie’s was the best place for desserts. The breakfast is delicious and abundant with a nice mix of traditional Belgian offerings and typical comfort foods. Be sure to grab a cupcake or slice of cake too and the sugar-free brownie is incredible.
I visited Gwenola upon a recommendation as well, this is the spot for traditional Belgian pancakes which are like French crepes. You can order sweet or savoury pancakes and they are delicious.
Peek into the window of Aux Merveilleux de Fred and watch the chefs create these merveilleux with love and artistry. These meringue treats are decadent and worth a try. You can enjoy a coffee and snack inside or outside if the weather is nice enough.
Shopping in Ghent
There is plenty of shopping to do in Ghent, both small boutiques and major retail brands and you can easily find charming places to spend the day shopping all over the city.
My favourite streets for finding beautiful boutiques are: Burgstraat, Jan Breydelstraat, Kraanlei, Goudbrug, Serpentstraat, and Nederkouter.
Because of the students you can find a handful of vintage and second-hand shops which I found to be filled with great variety and bargains.
My favourite shopping in Ghent was at the markets in the city. You can shop at Vrijdagmarkt on Fridays, this market takes place in the square with a host of stalls offering everything from local handiwork to fresh fruits and vegetables and lots of things you might want to take back home with you.
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Staying Fit While in Ghent
It is easy to stay active in Ghent, most days are filled with walking and cycling while visiting because of the nature of the city and plenty to explore by both modes of transportation. Hot Yoga and Yoga-On-Call offer daily classes for all levels of students if you prefer yoga.
I spent one morning at Leander Personal Training facility training with Coach Davy, one of the personal trainers that make this spot their home away from home. Locals and visitors alike can enjoy personal and group training opportunities. Skill classes (to master your squats, handstands and strength essentials), boot camp, boxing, mobility classes and even a program called “Girls Who Lift” are available for drop-in’s anytime.
Day Trips From Ghent
Ghent is a great launching pad for day trips or extending your trip to various places. Paris takes 3 hours by fast train, Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges (people often make a comparison of Bruges vs Ghent), are even closer. Making plans to visit all of these locations while planning your trip to Ghent is a great idea and perfect way to maximise seeing many great locations within close proximity to each other. I made my way to Amsterdam after my visit to Ghent, and then back to Paris and it was remarkably easy to navigate.
Ghent is a sweet port city within easy reach from any major European city and a complete dream from the moment you arrive. I loved the ease of it, the sweets and the perfect hideaway for exploring and shutting it all out at the same time. I will definitely return.
The Fit Traveller was a guide of The Hide Gent for our stay in Ghent. As always, the opinions, words and images are authentically our own.
Pat Bailey is a certified Bhakti Yoga Teacher, published poet, writer and entrepreneur with a passion for exploring the globe. Pat is also the founder of The Hell Yes Life, where she has created her own branding academy helping to elevate brands and students through authentic and intuitive coaching.