Ghent; Bruges’s grungy sister
Ghent, roughly halfway between Bruges and Brussels in Belgium’s Flemish heartland, is becoming increasingly popular with travellers. Often touted as Bruges’s little sister, Ghent’s canals are cited as one of the main reasons to visit. Visitors who have already been to Bruges and arrive with that expectation however may be a little disappointed, because while Ghent is indeed full of canals, it doesn’t ooze quaint charm in the same way as its more popular sibling.
No, Ghent is not all flower-boxes overhanging canals. Ghent is Bruges’s grungy, cooler sister. Because while Bruges is dancing ballet in white lace, Ghent is the arts student in a rented apartment with all her friends.
It’s historic, it’s medieval, it’s a bit gothic, and it’s funky. Laundromat cafes. Cheap-and-cheerful salad bars. Graffiti-filled walls. A drink in the park with friends. Towering cathedrals that seem to scrape the sky.
Much like in Bruges, the main attraction here is to wander the streets and poke your head into shops, laneways and neighbourhoods. Discovery and serendipity are the modus operandi.
Without doubt, there are some great attractions in Ghent to “tick off” a budding tourist’s to-do list. Some of the three most imposing buildings you may ever see in your life line the main street of the city – Sint-Baafskathedraal, the Belfort (Belfry Tower) and Sint-Niklaaskerk.
In fact one of the best things to do while in Ghent is to get to the top of the Belfort and take in the view of the city skyline, not least of all the two giants either side of you.
And just in case you do get a bit nostalgic for all that sugar and spice from Bruges, there are some simply lovely canal vistas to be taken in. You might even find a flower-box or two.
Belgium is easily one of my favourite countries in Europe, and Ghent is arguably where it all comes together. Because while Bruges is simply gorgeous, and Brussels is the big city with a big quirky heart, Ghent is a fun, cool, easily-enjoyed combination of the two – and it’s totally worth a day or two of your time.