I scheduled this post and forget that I never added an introduction. Being sick messed up my blogging routine big time. Ghent was not a place I even knew about before my Erasmus journey. I met my friend Bilqees at the Erasmus scholarship departure event. She was heading to Ghent on a shorter study program and I was heading to Germany. But, she told me that I could come to visit her in Belgium. I ended up visiting in June during the Ramadaan whilst my friend was fasting. In the end, it all worked out perfectly. And I remain thankful that she let me stay with her during that time. Ghent is one of my favourite cities in Europe. If you are wondering what you can do whilst you are there or if it’s worth visiting read further.
Watch out for street art
There are a number of places to see street art. The most popular is Graffitistraatje, which is actually Werregarenstraat. But its nickname is what locals use more often. This alleyway is covered in vibrant, creative, bold street art. It’s always changing, if you see graffiti you like take the photo immediately as it might not be there when you return.
Buy a souvenir
I bought a few postcards one of the day and another of the city illuminated at night time. I wasn’t going to be walking around alone at night as the city center wasn’t close to where I was living and also I didn’t want to frazzle Bilqees’s nerves by walking alone at night. Plus seeing her break her fast and being there with her was kind of beautiful to witness since although I knew about Ramadaan I never witnessed the breaking of the fast before. Anyways back to shopping, I bought a typical cute shot glass and also a coin at the Belfry with the image of the Belfry in front of it. I resisted the urge to buy clothes. Ghent has many trendy shops.
Spot the City Pavilion
This massive modern timbre market hall is well integrated into the rest of the surroundings. It fits in as if it’s been around since medieval times just like the Belfry and church buildings around it. The City Pavilion was created by Robbrecht en Daem and Marie-José Van Hee.
Admire the theater
The Royal Dutch Theater ( Koninklijke Nederlandse Schouwburg) here you can go see modern and classical plays. The outside has a classical facade with a picturesque mural painted on top of the building. Then there’s the statue of Apollo dominating the center of the square in front of the theater.
Visit the historic center
You will find Saint Nicolas Church, Saint Bravo, and the Belfry all closely grouped together. Do take photos of these buildings and go inside each of them. On my first day in Ghent, I took photo’s of the facades just. The next day I explored inside and the third day I went up to the Belfry. Inside of St. Bravo is the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb which is an alter piece which was painted in the 15th century by Hurbert and Jan Van Eyck. Going up the Belfry is another great thing to do in Ghent. You get to view the city below and the bell which rings plays a melodic tune. You will spot many dragons around the Belfry’s interior.
Get a waffle
Belgian waffles are the best. I make my own waffles regularly but, I can’t recreate authentic Belgian waffles. The ones I’m raving about had melted brown sugar like syrup inside the waffle. With or without toppings these waffles are sweet, fluffy and melt in your mouth.
Take a boat trip
I love boat trips and the one along the Graslei in Ghent was perfect. The weather was gorgeous, the sky was a bright blue. The tour guide was funny and spoke fluent English. He was also very knowledgeable. There are many historic buildings along the river so it’s worth going on this boat trip.
Just chill beside the Graslei
Sitting around the river is something Ghent locals do. Bilqees, Liesel and I ended up having to wait alongside the river for our boat tour. We took the opportunity to take lots of fun photos with bright, multicolored umbrella’s which Bilqees found. I also lingered along the riverside on my own the following day. It is a beautiful spot and travelling shouldn’t be about rushing from one spot to the next.
I visited the City hall and took a few photos. The building is a mix of Gothic and Italian inspired architecture. It’s an unusual blend however I think it works.
Is another modern building which houses a public library. This building looks sleek and I took photos since I love books and libraries not knowing much about it. I now know that De Krook helped to rejuvenate Ghent and the area where it is located.
Get another waffle
You should basically start every day with a waffle in Ghent because they are that good. Walk the waffle off later all around the city as main attractions are grouped closely together. The public transport system is integrated, reliable and safe. If you happen to be a bicycle fanatic it’s a dream place bicycle riders have the right of way. Pedestrians and motorists are all aware of this. There are many bicycle lanes and places to keep bicycles safe.
Cross the Bridge of Saint Michael’s Church
The church is gorgeous and Gothic styled. It has so many details and from the bridge, you will be able to take a typical tourist photo of locals resting beside the river. It’s a scenic view.
The old fish market
I went to see the old fish market with its mythical statues. The building is another architectural delight.
Visit the Gravensteen Castle
On my boat trip, I was able to take photos of this impressive medieval castle which used to have a torture chamber. More recently it was a protest site where students protested the rising prices of beer. You might want to take a tour inside but, I opted to stay outside for most of my trip in Ghent as the weather was mostly temperate and so much better than Essen, Germany’s weather where my dorm was.
This district is now known for its restaurants, galleries, and pretty homes. It used to be a seedy area but, all of that has changed.
Walk down Jan Breydelstraat
When I visited I didn’t read anything on this street it has a number of interesting shops. I walked past the Fallen Angles which sells lots of vintage items, postcards, posters and more. There’s also an ice cream place which makes there treats with flowers called Blomenijs. If you can fork out the cash book in advance to eat at House of Elliot which is a Michelin accredited top restaurant in Ghent.
De Vooruit used to be a socialist palace. Today it hosts film screenings, dance classes, readings, plays, and more. You can grab something to eat and drink there to and it’s just pretty to look at as well. I had no idea what it was and Google when I saw it. In Ghent, I choose to aimlessly walk around a lot and it was fun. I also found things by accident instead of researching the place to death. I did do a bit of research but I left room for spontaneity on this trip.
Have the fries
So my South African friends weren’t raving about the food. I also did some research into it and a chicken stew or mussels with fries to me sounded exactly like Capetonian food. Thankfully I bumped into Liesel at St. Peter’s Plein and she took me to a little shop which sells fries. Belgians are serious about their fries so much so they wanted them to be granted world heritage status. The fries are fried in animal fat and drizzled with sauce. Instead of mayo, I choose a Belgian brown sauce which tasted meaty. The fries were the best fries I’ve ever had salty, crispy and not greasy. I usually don’t like sauce on my food as it’s often cold. This sauce was warm and delicious. I can’t remember the name of the place however; there are many places all around Ghent selling fries.
Drink a Belgian beer
I usually hate beer with the exception of a few beers. I like Guinness which everyone I know in South Africa thinks is crazy. Flying fish because it’s lemon infused similar to Radler. Then there’s the fruity Belgian beer Kriek. It has a sour cherry taste and I imagine that many people probably have gotten drunk on it as its taste is deceptively light. I loved this beer so much I searched for it at every bar and liquor store in Cape Town. I found it two weeks ago at Beer House in Long Street it’s not the exact same brand but, it’s close enough and I’m so happy that I can have it in my city now. No need to fly to Belgium for it though travelling past Antwerp made me want to go there. The train station looks stunning even from a stationary bus’s window.
Visit a local market
At one of the churches, I can’t remember which there was a book market being held on my third and last day in Ghent. I couldn’t resist as I am a book addict. Now I knew that the books would probably be in Flemish as that is the main language in Ghent. In Belgium Flemish and French are official languages. Still, I went inside and then I found one English thriller novel. It was being sold for€ 5 and I got it for € 2 the main working at the market was kind enough to let me have it for cheaper. Ghent is known for its vegetable, and it’s flower market if you are planning to stay longer than a few days you should check it out.
Saint Bravo’s Abby is now a group of ruins all covered in greenery. This once important religious space is now open to the public and it is a wonderful free picnic spot. It is something locals enjoy doing and I was the only tourist when I visited it on a Saturday morning. There I was taking photo’s whilst locals was staring at me. It is worth visiting and in a city which is already off the beaten path, the ruins are even more off the path. The Abbey ruins are located at the spot where the river Leie and the river Scheldt converge. The city also planted a small vineyard as the monks used to create their own wine at the Abby.
Saint Peter’s Abby
Saint Peter’s Abby is close to the Abby ruins. I took a few photos and walked back from the city center to Bilqees’s dorm all along the riverside. There were very few people around.
I went to the mall just to buy a croissant at Pancos. I took Bilqees’s advice and had my croissant whilst it was hot. Another delicious find in Ghent it was flaky, buttery and just marvelous. I remember thinking I’m lucky that I’m not living in Ghent because I would pack on the pounds fast if I lived around all that food temptation.
I bought some chocolate to take back to Germany. I ate them slowly and only bought a few because they were expensive. Belgians know how to make chocolate. I bought mine at Luc Van Hoorebeke simply because I liked how the store looked. Later on, I discovered it’s a top chocolatier find out more: http://www.chocolatesvanhoorebeke.be/
Go to the top of the Belfry
The belfry is 91-meter-tall it is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city center of Ghent. It is the tallest Belfry in Belgium. It also is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The view from the top is lovely. And the bells which play from the Belfry, play a tune it’s not like the normal ringing of bells. I visited alone on my last day in Ghent and the staff at the Belfry were surprised to learn that I’m from South Africa. They were friendly and helpful. And the different angles that you can take photo’s from makes it fabulous.
The pepper bus (De Peppe bus)
The pepper bus is an old part of the Ghent’s city wall which still remains. The small watchtower is named after it’s shaped as it looks like a pepper canister. This little tower was built in the 16th century there was a dispute between the city and the region as to who is responsible for restoring the tower. It’s not much to see but if you are in the area it’s interesting to see. I was walking in the area as it is close to the university’s dorm buildings and snapped a photo. Thankfully I could find out what the Flemish sign meant by doing some Google research.
If you have more time and cash then visit the museums. It was June when I arrived in Ghent and I wasn’t in the mood to be indoors. I have added a few links above so that you can read up on the museums and other things that Ghent has to offer. Thank you for reading and please feel free to send me comments.