GENT, BELGIUM: Gent is a true gem of Belgium, a postcard city, and as magical as forget-me-nots. It’s a glamorous city with dozens of picture-perfect sites. It was one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe during the Middle Ages. I know most of the people go to Brussels and Brugge when visiting Belgium. But if you visit Gent, you would say Brugge is just OK…seriously, Gent has hundreds of tourists but it’s not as commercialized as Brugge or Brussels.
Gent is less than an hour drive from Brussels. You can make a quick day trip from the capital, but I would highly recommend to stay one night if you want to visit all the beautiful churches, do some shopping, admire medieval history, and etc. This is an old city with modern touch. If you have an extra day while you are in Europe (Brussels to be exact), don’t miss this opportunity to visit Gent. If I have to compare Gent with Brugge, I would say Gent has a lot more scenic places to offer than Brugge.
TIME of TRAVEL: First time we drove to Gent from Tervuren was on a nice Sunday afternoon on August 21, 2011. The weather was amazingly nice. But couldn’t really accomplish much except for taking a boat tour. But the second time we were there was with a family visiting us from Portland in September of 2013. We reached there early and had whole day to enjoy the best city of Belgium…yes, after my second visit to Gent…I declare this to be the best city of Belgium (of course in my opinion, Brugge comes after Gent).
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: Boat ride thru the canal or taking a walk in the old city…both are fantastic way to enjoy Gent and we did both. Boat ride costs 6.50 euros per person and they have English tour as well as Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. You will get a lot more interesting history of the city from the commentary of captain. All the main attractions are within walking distance and enjoyable. Inhale all the beauty Gent has to offer and relax, but keep your eyes open…don’t want to miss any beauty here.
1) THE GRASLEI: This once used to be known as the most beautiful street in Europe which was a wheat trading center. Every house on the Graslei, on both sides of the canal, has its own history. The Roman style Guild houses there dates from 1200. There are some nice outdoor restaurants and boutique shops to spend some quality time with your friends and family. Together they form the story of the incredible blossoming of Gent’s economy during the Middle Ages. Today the activity is completely different: cheerful voices, talking, and laughing.
2) BELFRY: You can see these belfries in many Flanders cities, like Brugge. This belfry is one of the “three towers of Gent” in the city’s skyline. (two others are spire of St. Bavo’s Cathedral and spire of St. Nicholas Church). It was built in 1313 and designated it as the city’s proudest symbol of independence. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, like all the other ones in Belgium. We didn’t do it, but tourists can take elevator to go to the upper gallery to see the bells and an amazing 360 degree view. Adjacent to Belfry is the Brabant Gothic style building known as The Cloth Halls from 1425 AD and corner of it is an old jailer’s home and a prison.
3) ST. BAVO’S CATHEDRAL: Beside the belfry isThis is one of the most beautiful and historic landmark of Gent. This one and all other medieval architectures of churches here are remarkably well-preserved and restored. Make sure to inside those churches to appreciate their beauty inside and out.
4) ST. NICHOLAS CHURCH or SINT-NIKLAASKERK: This 15th century church was built in typical Flemish architectural style. Inside the church may not be as grand as the cathedral above, but both have similar black and white theme. It’s alter is very beautiful and so is the organ. Those strong stone columns and old statues will take you back to medieval ages in no time.
The church is open every from 10 – 5 pm and closed on Mondays. Entry is free for everyone.
5) ST. MICHAEL’S CHURCH or SINT-MICHIELSKERK: This is also a very nice and historic church of Gent. It’s very close to the old post office and Graslei and has bold exterior architecture that you can’t miss. There is no fee, so why not check it out?
It’s open everyday from 2 – 5 pm from April 1st to September 30. I guess, other time of the year, it’s closed for visitors.
7) COUNTS CASTLE or GRAVENSTEEN: This was the counts’ castle which was built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace. The keep, turrets, and different gates were built imposingly for defensive purposes. Later it evolved from count’s residence to a cotton-spinning mill, to the Seat of the Council of Flanders, and now to a tourist attraction.
Travel back in the time to the Middle ages and explore more than 1000 years of history in this very well-preserved and well-maintained castle. Make sure to visit all 15 stations inside the castle wall. Go up the stairs to enjoy the magical 360 degree view of the city from very top of the keep. Those torture instruments that witnessed gruesome and horrible medieval jurisdiction are some of the rarest in all of Flanders. Banquet Hall and Dungeon were remarkable too.
From April 1 – October 31, the castle is open from 10 – 6 pm and from November 1 – March 31, they are open from 9 – 5pm. They are open everyday except for 24th and 25th of December and 1st of January. You can pay 8 euros for a self-guided tour inside the castle and it takes about little more than an hour to cover the whole place.