Ghent has earned international acclaim and won many tourism prizes. But you must walk through the city center, hang out with the locals, and see the sights to understand why. Keep reading to know why a visit to Ghent, Belgium, feels like discovering a secret with our top Ghent facts you need to know before traveling to Ghent.
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Ghent 101: Important Thing To Know When Visiting Ghent Belgium
Ghent, or Gent in Dutch, started as a settlement and became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Europe during the late middle ages. The metropolitan area covers 60.3 square miles with a population of about 263,700.
The city is home to Ghent University, which hosts over 75,000 students. It is the most extensive student town in Flanders, making it both a port and university city. King William I of the Netherlands founded the university in 1817.
This city is famous for its large marketplaces and public squares. A large student population and numerous festivals make it a vibrant city. Moreover, the festivities attract over 1.3 million visitors annually.
The city has been nicknamed “Medieval Manhattan” because three monuments are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The “creative city of music” is another UNESCO recognition bestowed on the city because it hosts numerous musical activities.
Ghent weather is most comfortable from late June to early September. It is the perfect period for warm-weather activities. Winters are frigid, windy, and cloudy.
Where Is Ghent?
Ghent is a port city located in northwestern Belgium. It is the second-largest city in the Flanders region after Antwerp and sits at the intersection of two canalized rivers, Scheldt and Lys.
Furthermore, it is the center of a large urban area that includes Sint-Amandsberg, Ledeberg, and Gentbrugge.
Ghent city is the capital of East Flanders province and is easily accessible from multiple cities. It is 34.7 miles and a 45 minutes drive away from Brussels, the capital city of Belgium.
This port city is also only 36.9 miles from Antwerp and 32.1 miles from Bruges.
How To Get To Ghent
Though Ghent doesn’t have an airport, it is accessible from the two main airports in Brussels: Brussels South Charleroi Airport and Brussels Airport.
Over 50 airlines from all over the world fly to Brussels. However, most of them are operated by Brussels Airlines.
Brussels Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines have direct flights from the United States to Brussels. Brussels Airlines flies from New York City to Brussels year-round.
It also has seasonal flights from Washington. From Canada, both Air Canada and Air Transat have direct flights to Brussels.
Ghent From Brussels Airport
Once you’ve arrived in Belgium, reaching Ghent is fairly easy. Ghent is roughly 30 miles from Brussels. It can be reached by both train or bus.
If you choose to travel by train, the journey from Brussels city center takes around 30 minutes. However, if you heading to Ghent from Brussels Airport, you will need to first go into Brussels city center and change trains for Ghent. This is how we got out to Ghent and despite being seasoned travelers, it wasn’t fun.
From confusing signs, lack of escalators in the train station, and a general sense of not being familiar with Belgium, it was frustrating taking the train. That said, we do prefer taking a train or bus versus a taxi or Uber.
Taking a taxi from Brussels Airport to Ghent is possible, but would be very expensive. Ghent’s train station is centrally located and once we got on the right tram, we made it to our Airbnb.
- As I said, we trained out to Ghent from Brussels Airport. You can purchase train tickets to Ghent before arriving to save a few minutes once you arrive.
What Is The Currency In Ghent
Euro is the official currency of Ghent, Belgium. Plenty of ATMs are available in the port city. Most restaurants and stores accept credit cards, with VISA being the most popular. Moreover, self-service banks allow you to withdraw money using your credit card.
But is Ghent expensive? The monthly expense for a family of four is about 2,911 US Dollars, equivalent to 2,921 Euros without rent.
A single person may spend 826 US Dollars or 828 Euros a month. This makes it 39 percent less expensive than New York. Rent in the port city is approximately 78 percent lower than in New York.
For travelers, accommodations can be a little pricy. Food portions are large but can also be expensive. The beer is of high quality, but that comes with a price as well. Ghent is certainly not as much of a value destination as Spain or Portugal but is less expensive than cities like London and Paris.
Learn more about packing for Europe and other travel tips about accessing money when traveling to Brussels.
What Are The Languages In Ghent
People in Ghent speak “Flemish,” which is similar to Dutch but pronounced slightly differently. It is a low Franconian dialect of the Dutch language and is often referred to as Belgian or Flemish Dutch.
The two main languages are Dutch and French. Most signs on public transport and streets are in the two languages. English and German are also widely spoken.
The residents are amiable and will switch to another language if they notice you don’t speak Dutch.
Types Of Ghent Accommodations
Ghent city center offers accommodation for all needs and budgets. There are some large hotel chains but mostly smaller, more boutique hotels.
Hotels in Ghent, Belgium, have different styles, categories, and ratings, from one to four stars.
There are also international hotels such as the Ghent Marriott Hotel, Pillows Grand Boutique Hotel, and Astoria Hotel Gent.
Airbnb in Ghent offers various accommodation options with different amenities. Rental apartments in Ghent are also available and come fully furnished with a fitted kitchen.
How To Find Accommodations In Ghent
- We often use Booking.com to book all sorts of hotels and apartments when traveling. Go to this link to get all the hotel options in Ghent. On the left-hand side, you can search for a variety of hotels and apartments in Ghent.
- During our trip to Ghent, we rented a loft apartment via Airbnb within walking distance to most of the city’s attractions.
Is Ghent Safe To Visit
The level of safety in Ghent is high. However, take care of your valuables and be alert, especially in crowded places. Make sure you lock your car doors if you use a rental car. Avoid carrying a lot of cash.
Taxis are safe, reliable, and a convenient mode of transport. Public transport is also safe but watch your luggage and pockets.
Never leave your luggage unattended. One of the best ways to protect your valuables is with an anti-theft travel bag.
The risk of pickpocketing is high, especially in crowded places and railway stations. However, the risk of mugging is low, but avoid walking late at night in the city.
Things To Do In Ghent Belgium
Ghent city center has been restored to middle age fashion, making it a city of history. Tourists flock to the city for its cultural events.
Visiting Ghent in July will give you an experience of a lifetime. You will get the opportunity to see the ten-day Ghent festivities that turn the city center into a giant carnival.
The Festival of Flanders and the Ghent Jazz Festival have earned UNESCO recognition. Film stars and lovers flock to the city in October for the Ghent Film Festival. Other events in the port city include the Gent Festival van Vlaanderen and the Gentse Feesten.
What to see in Ghent, Belgium is a key question for visitors. But this shouldn’t worry you because the port city offers much, including sightseeing, culture and history, sports and recreation, and shopping.
This vibrant city is so intriguing for a one-night stay. It is home to beautiful castles, sparkling canals, fascinating architecture, medieval structures, and fruity beers.
If you are a foodie, a trip to Vrijdagmarkt or “Friday Market” for a meal and drink will leave you captivated. The market has hosted stalls every Friday since the 12th century.
Heading to Brussels? Check out our Brussels Food Guide to learn about 17 of the must-eat dishes in Brussels.
Gravensteen, also called the “Castle of the Counts,” is a medieval castle built in 1180. It is an incredible structure that today hosts the Museum of Judicial Objects and the Arms Museum. It displays different weapons and gadgets used for torture and punishment in the medieval era.
Though there are other castles in Ghent, Gravensteen is a must-visit. You will see peculiar items such as the Mask of Shame and the guillotine. Don’t forget to go to the rooftop for a 360 view of the city. The stunning view will enable you to see the four Medieval Towers of Ghent.
- For a full-on deep dive historical tour of Ghent, book this private walking tour with a professional guide.
Drink Belgian Beer
If you know us, we love our Irish craft beer and have long championed Irish beer. Coming to Belgium has long been on our list to finally experience just how good Belgian beer is, especially in Ghent. While the food in Brussels might be better, Ghent has the advantage of better beer.
Ghent has a long brewing history, and beer flows in the veins of its residents. A great place to drink beer in Ghent is the Tavern Dulle Griet. It is a renowned cafe with the largest collection of beer, serving over 350 Belgian brands.
Bars in Ghent offer a wide variety of fruity beers, including cherry, peach, and raspberry. However, be warned because Belgian beers have an alcohol content ranging from five to twelve percent. These beers will get you drunk faster than you think.
- Exploring the Ghent beer and food scene is fairly easy because beer and food are everywhere. However, if you’d like to learn more about Belgian beer and food, this Ghent food tour is worth booking.
The Belfry of Ghent is the tallest of the three medieval towers overlooking the city center. It stands 229 feet (91 meters) tall and together with its attached buildings is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The tower’s construction began in 1313. Master mason Jav van Haelst designed the tower and the Ghent City Museum still preserves his plan. Constructing went on through plagues, wars, and political turmoil to its completion in 1380.
You can climb to the top and enjoy magnificent views. You will also see the copper dragon that has watched over the city since the 14th century.
Canal cruises offer a unique way of discovering the different perspectives of Ghent. They allow visitors to learn about the city from a local’s viewpoint. If you will stay in the city for a few days, find a fine weather day to enjoy your canal cruise fully.
The captain, who sums up as the guide, provides a deep look into the history and culture of the port city and its medieval buildings. The guide does so in several languages to ensure that all his passengers understand. These traditional boat tours provide a charming view of the city from the water and are held daily.
- We took our Gent canal cruise by Boat In Ghent. Their tour was included in the CityCard Gent, a discount card available for purchase to tourists in Ghent.
- If you don’t plan on purchasing the CityCard Gent, you can book the same Ghent canal cruise here.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
St. Bavo’s Cathedral is a 292 feet (89-meter) tall Gothic building and Ghent’s Catholic Cathedral. It also contains the famous Altarpiece of Ghent, also known as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
Apart from the altarpiece, the Cathedral has three other grand organs: the pulpit constructed with gilded wood and marble, a painting by Peter Paul Rubens, and a Baroque high altar.
Despite being the third largest city in Belgium, Ghent is still considered a hidden gem. This article will help you plan for a trip to this port city and enjoy its cobbled streets, turbulent history, stunning castles, and medieval architecture.