Ghent, Belgium: Ghent’s main sights and attractions
Ghent (Belgium) – the most detailed information about the city with photos. Ghent’s main sights with descriptions, guides and maps.
City of Ghent (Belgium).
Ghent is a city in northern Belgium and the capital of East Flanders. It is a picturesque maze of narrow old streets and canals, framed by quaint old buildings with pointed roofs and magnificent historical monuments. Ghent is one of the most beautiful and picturesque Belgian cities, along with Bruges, which amazingly preserved its medieval look and color. Its historic center is a magnificent architectural ensemble of old Gothic buildings and ancient churches. A walk around evening Ghent, when most of the sights are lit, offers a special atmosphere.
Ghent is famous for its cosmopolitanism, relaxed atmosphere and rich history. In the Middle Ages it was one of the richest and most influential cities in Europe, second only to Paris. The influence of Ghent’s rich past can be clearly seen in the imposing architecture of its sacral monuments and the absence of cars in the city center reinforces the atmosphere of a thriving late medieval city. Ghent is also an important center of education in Belgium. Its university has more than 60,000 students, so the streets are full of young people.
Things to do (Ghent):
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Geography and climate
Ghent is located in the northern part of Belgium in the region of East Flanders. The city is located at the confluence of the Scheldt and Leie rivers. The Ternesen canal connects Ghent to the mouth of the Scheldt River, thanks to which the city has a port capable of receiving seagoing vessels. Ghent has a temperate maritime climate. Summers are cool and often rainy, as are winters.
Panorama of Ghent
Information for tourists
- Population 260,000.
- Area – 156.18 km².
- Currency – Euro.
- Language: Dutch.
- Time – Central European (UTC +1, summer +2).
- Gentse feeten – one of the largest cultural events in Europe, which takes place from the first Friday of July to the beginning of the third week of the month. During ten days six international festivals with hundreds of events and free music are organized in Ghent.
- Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market), which takes place on Friday (7:30 am to 1 pm) and Saturday (11 am to 6 pm) on the site of a medieval fortress.
- Ghent offers an excellent and affordable example of Flemish cuisine, which, according to the locals, is one of the best in Europe, because it combines French delicacies and simple Northern European dishes. Gentse waterzooi is a must-try here. This dish is a stew of cheap fish (chicken) and vegetables.
- Inexpensive restaurants with traditional cuisine can be found in the Korenmarkt and Vrijdagmarkt area.
The exact date of the founding of Ghent is unknown, although many believe that there may have been a settlement here as early as the Roman period. The city was first mentioned in the 7th century. In 650, St. Amand founded two monasteries here, thanks to which the city and market were formed. Ghent was sacked twice by Vikings in the 9th century. In the 11th century, the city became part of Flanders, and in fact gained independence. By the 13th century, Ghent had become one of the largest and richest cities in Europe, second only to Paris in population.
In the 15th century Flanders was united with the neighboring provinces by the Dukes of Burgundy. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the city lost its importance, and in the 18th century it was captured first by the French, then the Austrians, then the French again (in the early 19th century under Napoleon), until eventually it became part of the Kingdom of Belgium. In the 19th century, Ghent became the most important center of the textile industry. The city’s industrial boom was helped by the construction of a canal and railroad tracks.
How to get there
Ghent is only 30 minutes by train from Brussels on the rail line linking the Belgian capital with Bruges. The closest airports are in Brussels, Antwerp and Lille. Ghent is easily accessible by bus from Amsterdam, Paris, London and other cities.
St. Bavon Cathedral
St. Bavon’s Cathedral is a magnificent medieval Gothic masterpiece and one of the most important sacred monuments in Belgium. It is a majestic brick and granite building with a Romanesque crypt. The Gothic choir of the cathedral dates back to the 13th century, and the late Gothic tower and the main nave were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. The interior of the cathedral is richly decorated with unique paintings, among which stands out the greatest masterpiece of old Flemish art – the Adoration of the Lamb. Beneath the church is an extensive ancient crypt that contains numerous tombs of the bishops and a rich treasury.
Gravensten is one of the most powerful medieval fortresses in Western Europe, surrounded by the River Liv. Gravensten is the only medieval castle in Flanders whose fortification system has remained virtually intact. The castle was built between 1180 and 1200 by Philip of Alsace on the foundations of an earlier building from the 9th century. The Gravensteen was built in the style of a crusader castle, and is a unique example of European medieval fortification art.
In the 14th century, the castle ceased to have a defensive function and was used as a residence by the Counts of Flanders. In the 18th century Gravensten became private property and was turned into a cotton factory. The square in front of the castle (Sint-Veerleplein) is the oldest in Bruges. In the Middle Ages there was a market. It was also a place where executions of convicts took place. Today it has beautiful 17th century architecture.
The bell tower
The Belfry is one of the architectural dominants of the old city and a symbol of independence of medieval Ghent. It is located on the west side of the Sint-Baafsplein and is 91 meters high. The bell tower in Ghent was begun in 1300 and finished in 1338. In 1380 the tower was topped with a modern spire, on top of which a gilded copper dragon was placed. Directly adjacent to the bell tower is a historic building from the 15th century, which was a meeting place for wool and cloth merchants. In the 18th century, the building was turned into a prison.
Church of St. Nicholas
The Church of St. Nicholas is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with a unique 76-meter tower. This sacral monument began to be built in the 13th century on the site of an older Romanesque church. Since the 16th century it had become dilapidated and was rebuilt in the first half of the 20th century.
Town Hall (Stadhuis)
Town Hall (Stadhuis) is a magnificent historical building, which is a kind of synthesis of an Italian palazzo and an ornate Gothic palace. Construction in Ghent began at the end of the 15th century and lasted a century, so the building has elements of different architectural styles.
Church of Saint James
The Church of St. James is the oldest Romanesque church in Belgium with a double west tower, built in 1120. The church was expanded in the 15th century and rebuilt in the Gothic style. This religious structure was carefully rebuilt and restored twice, between 1733 and 1784 and between 1866 and 1906, while it received features of Baroque architecture.
Church of Our Lady and St. Peter
The Church of Our Lady and St. Peter is a Baroque religious structure located on the site of an ancient 7th-century abbey founded by St. Amand. The first stone of the Baroque church was laid in 1629. At the end of the 18th century, the monks were expelled and their property confiscated. The abbey became a barracks for soldiers, but the church survived, becoming a museum.
The area around the Kraanlei canal is famous for its elegant old houses, and on the adjoining Sint-Veerleplein is an old fish market built in 1689 in the Baroque style. At the top of the gate there is a picture of Neptune, and just below there are allegorical images of Scheldt (man) and Leye (woman).
The clock tower belonging to the former post office
The former post office is a beautiful historical building in the Neo-Gothic style, built in the 19th century. Its most interesting architectural feature is the 52-meter clock tower.
A walk along the Graslei canal is very appealing to lovers of ancient architecture. Here you can admire the beautiful merchant buildings in the style of the Brabant Gothic and Flemish Renaissance.
Ruins of St. Bavon Abbey
The ruins of the Abbey of St. Bavon is an ancient monastery in the eastern part of Ghent, founded in the 7th century by St. Amand and rebuilt after the Norman destruction in the 10th century. These fragments of ancient Gothic structures literally breathe history. A former refectory with beautiful 12th-century Romanesque frescoes houses the Stone Sculpture Museum, which houses an extraordinary collection of medieval tombstones, sculptures and other artefacts from the 12th and 18th centuries.
Church of St. Michael
St. Michael’s Church is a beautiful Gothic church whose origins date back to the 11th century. This religious structure was supposed to stand out with a huge tower 134 meters high, but it was never completed, frozen at the 24-meter mark.
Church of St. Joseph
The Church of St. Joseph is a neo-Gothic church built at the end of the 19th century.
The Church of St. Anne
Church of St. Anne – religious building in eclectic style with elements of Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic architecture.
€150 per tour
Ghent – a first date
Take a walk with a Belgian Slavist through the main and backstreets of the city.
From €222 per excursion
A day in Ghent: Photos, stories, and food
A tour of the sights, atmosphere and a photo album
Ghent, Belgium: Ghent’s main sights and attractions
Ghent is one of the few magnificent medieval cities in Belgium that have withstood the onslaught of time and wars, the best, as the locals say, proudly and not without reason. Ghent has more attractions than the rest of Belgium. It’s impossible to remain indifferent to the truly beautiful old buildings, alleys, cobbled streets and wonderful promenades. Everything in the city testifies to its medieval prosperity and prosperity earned by importing wool from England. The few guild houses known as Grassley, after the name of the waterfront, are a sight that cannot be forgotten. Ghent has many churches, most notably St. James and St. Nicholas.
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Fans of romantic architecture are in for a treat when visiting Ghent. St. Armand founded an abbey here in the 7th century, but the settlement at the confluence of the Scheldt and Lisse rivers was overrun by Vikings in the 9th century. Gradually the settlement expanded and in the 13th century it became the second most important city in Europe, second only to Paris.
The city is dominated by three ancient towers, the Cathedral of St. Bavon, the Church of St. Nicholas and the bell tower. You can’t miss the view of the illuminated St. Michael’s Church from the Grasbourg Bridge at night.
Ghent has many wonderful restaurants, stores and cafes on the waterfront, but the main thing about the city is the cultural component of its life. Every year there are festivals.
Since the seventh century Ghent has seen many ups and downs, and is now the capital of East Flanders. It is a lively city and is home to one of the largest institutions of higher education in the country, Ghent University. Tourists are attracted by the city’s long history and the works of art it houses, especially the famous Ghent altarpiece by the brothers van Eyck.
An ancient settlement, founded no later than VII century by the monasteries of Saint-Bavo and Saint-Pierre at the confluence of the Scheldt (flam. Schelde) and Lys rivers, was destroyed in the IX century by the Normans, after which a stone fortress was built here. The production of wool and linen in the XI-XIV centuries made Ghent one of the largest trading cities. In the Middle Ages the most powerful guild in Ghent were cloth merchants.
In the 16th century, after a rebellion (the fifth in the city’s history), Ghent was deprived of many rights, the monastery of Saint-Bavo was virtually destroyed, as were most of the city’s fortifications, and in the 16th and 17th centuries the city suffered from religious wars. It was only by the eighteenth century that Ghent began to develop again. In the 19th century, the Ghent-Ternesen canal was dug, and Ghent became a seaport. At the same time, in 1816, Ghent University was founded.
Every five years in Ghent held Gent Floralien (Gentse Floralien) – a colorful show when the whole city is literally covered with a carpet of flowers. The last Floralien was held in 2010.
The medieval Graslei and Koornlei streets along the canal to the east of Koren-markt are one of the trademarks of Ghent. Beautifully preserved old buildings are reflected in the waters of the canal.
The castle (Gravensteen, “castle of the count”) on Sint-Veerleplein was built in 1180, under Philip of Alsace, and served as the residence of the Counts of Flanders until the XIV century, then it was a prison, courthouse and even a factory, until 1885, when it was restored at the expense of the city. It houses a collection of weapons and is home to the Museum of Torture (check with the tourist office for opening times).
The Gothic building of St. Bavon’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal; Apr. to Oct. daily 08.30-18.00, Wed. from 09.30, Wed. from 09.30; Apr. to Oct. daily 09.30-17.00, Wed. from 13.00, Wed. 10.30-16.00, Thu from 13.00; €4) at the Sint-Baafsplein (Sint-Baafsplein, St. Bavon Square) is built on the site of an ancient Christian church, founded in the 7th century and later rebuilt in Romanesque style. The remains of the Romanesque church (11th century) are preserved in the crypt under the choir.
One of the most famous works of world art – the Ghent Altar (height 3.75 m, width 5.20 m open, 1432) – is kept in the cathedral, in the chapel to the left of the entrance, or “Adoration of the Divine Lamb” (Het Lam Gods).
The Latin inscription on the frame of the side sashes reports that Hubert van Eyck began the work at the request of the Ghent burgher Jos Weydt, and Jan van Eyck completed it on May 6, 1432. It is assumed that Hubert is Jan’s older brother.
In all, there are 24 paintings on the altar, depicting over 250 characters. The altar was opened on holidays, on weekdays only the paintings on the outside were visible. The paintings on the top show the prophets and the sibyl who proclaimed the birth of Christ, four paintings of the Annunciation in the center, the paintings of the donor and his wife kneeling at the sides and in the center are John the Baptist and John the Theologian. In the open altar in the upper tier is Christ on the throne (in the interpretation of some scholars, God the Father, or the Trinity, embodied in one image), flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. These three central figures are surrounded by singing and music-making angels. The outermost sashes depict Adam and Eve, and above them the story of Cain and Abel.
In the center of the lower tier is a scene of worship of a lamb, the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, surrounded by saints, martyrs, prophets and apostles.
The altar has survived by miracle: Protestants tried to destroy it, the Austrian emperor Joseph II replaced the image of the naked figures of Adam and Eve with clothed ones (now the original panels have been returned), the revolutionary French took the altar to Paris, and during the Second World War, the altar was taken from Belgium by order of Hitler and hidden in a salt mine in Bavaria.
The cathedral contains other remarkable paintings, including Rubens’ The Conversion of St. Bavon (1624). At the local Evening Tower (Beffrua; www.belfortgent.be, daily. 10.00-18.00, €5 adults, €3.75 ages 55 and 19-26, free for under 19s. There are guided tours daily at 15.30 in English and Dutch), which was built in the 14th century. There is a carillon of 44 bells. The tower offers a view of Ghent and the surrounding area.
On the Botermarkt (Botermarkt Square) is the City Hall (Stadhuis; Botermarkt, 1; May-September Wed 14.30-17.00; €5 admission, €8 guided tour). This building complex was built over several centuries, with the result that the façade facing the Botermarkt has a classic Renaissance appearance, while the side of the building facing the Hoogpoort (Hogport St.) is built in the style of the Brabant Gothic. The interior rooms are no less varied. In 1576, here in the Pacificatiezaal (“Peacemaking Hall”), an agreement called the “Ghent Reconciliation” was signed, proclaiming the political unity of the Catholic and Protestant regions of the Netherlands to fight against the Spanish invaders. The Gothic Church of St. Nicholas (Nicolaaskerlt) on Cataloniestraat (Catalonistrat street) was built in the 13th century and belonged to the trading houses of Ghent, whose patron was St. Nicholas. The church suffered both at the hands of Protestants in the 16th century and during the French Revolution, when French troops used it as a stable. Reconstruction of the church began in 1960 and continues to this day.
St. Michael’s Church (Sint-Michielskerk; Apr.-Oct. daily; 2-5 p.m.) (XV-XVII centuries) houses a Crucifixion by Van Dyck, paintings by Dutchman Gaspar de Kreyer (1582-1669) and French artist Philippe de Champagne (1602- 1674).
At the newly restored Museum of Fine Arts (Museum voor Schone Kunsten; Citadelpark, Fernand Scribedreef, 1; Tue-Weeks 10 a.m.-6 p.m., €5 adults, €3.75 pence, €1 – 19 to 26 years old) contains a collection of works by Dutch and Belgian masters from the 15th to the 20th century, notably by Rogier van der Weyden, Dirk Bouts, Hans Memling, Hieronymus Bosch, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens, Antonis Van Dyck, James Ensor and Paul Delvaux.
In the center of the Citadel park, a ten-minute walk from the Museum of Fine Arts, is the City Museum of Modern Art (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, SMAK for short; Tuesdays and Sundays 10.00-18.00 €6 adults, €4.50 pence, €1 – 19 to 26 years), which regularly hosts a variety of exhibitions and has a permanent exhibition of works by contemporary Belgian artists.
The Design museum (Design museum; Jan Breydelstraat, 5, Tue – Wed 10.00-18.00, €5 adults, €3.75 pence, €1 – 19 to 26 years old) has a collection of furniture from the Renaissance to the present day. The pride of the museum is the Art Nouveau collection, including works by Victor Horta. The building of the former children’s hospital on Kraanlei (Kraanlei str.) was turned into a folklore museum in 1932. Since 2003 it is called “Huis van Alijn” (Huis van Alijn; Kraanlei, 65; Fri-Sat 11.00-17.00, Sat 10.00-17.00, Mon-Fri €5 adults, €3,75p, €1 from 19 to 26 years old) and tells the visitors about the Flemish folk culture and their everyday life in different times.
The house No. 2 at Godhuizenlaan (Godshuizenlaan str.) was an abbey in the 14th century and a monastery in the 17th century. Since 2010, the Stad-museum Gent (Stads-museum Gent;Godshuizenlaan, 2, Thu 10-18.00 €6 adults, €4.50 pence, €1 – 19 to 26 years old) has opened its doors to show the history of Ghent.
Surroundings of Ghent
Not far from Ghent is Dörle. This is one of the most expensive areas of Belgium with huge villas, golf courses and private castles, but tourists come here to visit three famous art museums. The Dhondt-Dhaenens Museum (Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens; Museumlaan, 14, Thu-Weeks 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., summer to 6 p.m. €6 adults, €4 students and pence, children free) displays works by outstanding Flemish artists of the 20th century, while the Leon De Smet Museum (Museum Leon De Smet; Museumlaan, 18, daily Thu-Sun 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sun 2 p.m. January closed. Free admission) and Museum Gustave De Smet (Museum Gustave De Smet) you can see collections of works by the Expressionist Brothers.
Special offers on hotels
Buses and streetcars
De Lijn. Information counter at the streetcar stop at the Sint-Peters railway station, Mon-Fri 07.00-19.00.
Biker, Steendam 16 092242903 09.00-12.30 and 13.30-18.00; daily. 10.00-20.00.
Charles V Habsburg and his hometown
In 1537, the people of Ghent rebelled and refused to pay the additional taxes imposed by the emperor to cover military expenses. The Emperor, a native of Ghent, was offended by what happened, and after suppressing the rebellion and executing its leaders, Charles ordered the most prominent townspeople to appear before him, with loops around their necks and ask forgiveness on their knees. Since then, the inhabitants of Ghent have been called “stropke” (Flam. stropke or stroppendagers).
Best time to visit
The unique medieval atmosphere of Ghent is best enjoyed in the warmth of the summer sun.
What to see
- The stunning “Altar of Ghent” in the Cathedral of St. Bavon, which is traditionally attributed to Jan van Eyck.
- The picturesque castle of the Counts of Flanders, rebuilt in 1180, with an entire collection of torture instruments.
- The spectacular Ghent Flower Show (the event takes place only once every five years).
- You can admire the roofs of the ancient city from the height of the bell tower, rising 90 meters.
- Ten-day Ghent Festival in late July – free music, refreshments, fireworks, street theaters and markets.
Ghent bakers bake buns called “mastle” that are said to protect against rabies infections.