Ghent is the reluctant jewel of Europe. It surprised me by being both chock-full of beautiful architecture, but also being a working city with restaurants, shops etc. Unlike Bruges which is stunning but very touristy, Ghent feels like a “real” city as well as being gorgeous.
My favourite part of Ghent was the Graslei waterfront, full of restaurants and a magnet for people sitting on the steps enjoying a waffle or ice cream watching the river traffic.
Ghent revolves around two large cathedrals; St Baafs and St Nicolas’. St Baafs contains the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a 15th century painting. I add this for context, however being plebs, we didn’t manage to see it (an epic fail since our hotel was a stone’s throw away and we even visited the cathedral but forgot to see it 🙂 )
Between these is a modern pavilion called Stadshal with an outdoor piano. The thing I love about pianos in public spaces is that someone always seems to be playing! We were treated to various spontaneous concerts including singing from passers-by.
Next-door is the large belfry called Belfort which contains a carillon. On our last night we were delighted to stumble across a Queen-concert played by the carillon with a piano for accompaniment. The sound rang out of the bell tower but they had rigged up an outdoor TV screen so we could see the musicians high up in the bell tower. It was really unexpected and special.
We strolled around and saw the imposing Gravensteen castle, where we noticed the free mini electric shuttle buses that were cruising around town. We hopped in one for a personal tour around the city centre. The lady explained that cars were banned from the city centre so the council provides these electric shuttles as a free means of getting about. They only go in one direction, but they are fairly frequent so if you are pregnant like me with achy feet, they are perfect for having a rest and still sight-seeing.
We also took a tourist boat to look round the rivers and canals from another perspective. It was pleasant but I was a little underwhelmed as we didn’t go very far, so most of what we saw, we had already seen from the land. The tour guide was very good however and translated everything into English, French, and a little German. He explained that tourists are both good for the Ghent economy but are also killing the place due to their numbers.
Ghent had all the usual chain shops including the fabulous HEMA, but also some unique shopping – for example a bio market with large barrels of food eg rice, pasta etc which you serve yourself with a shovel and pay by weight. Or De Post, the old post-office which is now an atmospheric shopping centre.
Overall Ghent was a real surprise and a delight and I would highly recommend (I would hesitate to encourage more tourists to go there but I doubt the 3 people who read this will make much of a difference 😉 ). It is easily paired with Bruges with only a 20-30 minute train ride between them.
It was also a great destination for being pregnant as everything is strollable. the food was also varied and whatever you fancy is easily available, although I did cry over my pizza one night; my husband had picked the food on the preceding nights and this was my turn so I chose a pizza place which was supposedly the best pizza place in Ghent. I was salivating when we arrived. Every pizza they brought out looked amazing, but I managed to order a terrible one with grated courgette and mint??!! It was probably the worst pizza I have ever had in my life and I was so disappointed I cried. I’m still not sure if it’s cos I was pregnant and therefore extra-emotional, or because that’s a reasonable response to a bad dinner. I think the latter.
next blog: Lille, France
previous blog: Damme, Belgium