Both a municipality of Flanders and the largest city in the province of East Flanders with almost a quarter of a million inhabitants, Ghent is one of the most popular city break spots in Belgium, containing some of the finest architecture in Europe.

Deriving its name from the Celtic word ‘Ganda’, meaning confluence (referring to its situation to the Scheldt and Lys rivers), Ghent’s history starts paradoxically with the establishment of the Roman settlement and its later destruction by the Franks at the end of the 4th century. Gradually developed under Frankish control during the early Middle Ages, Ghent prospered from the 11th century onwards in large part due to the city’s wool and cloth industries. Ghent’s growth was such that, by the 14th century, the city was the second largest in Europe and home to international figures like Charles V, who became Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain in 1500 (and actually punished the city after the Revolt of Ghent in 1539). Ghent’s international profile was hugely damaged by the Religious Wars of the 16th and 17th centuries but retained an important role in world politics, being the site of the Treaty of Ghent in 1812, ending the war between Britain and the United States.

Although the city today is recognised more for past glories, the port remains a European trading centre. More importantly, this focus on Ghent’s history only bolsters its attraction to tourists.

Attractions & Culture

Visitors come to Ghent for the sights and it’s easy to see why. Perhaps the most famous of these is the Saint Bavo Cathedral. Named after Ghent’s patron saint and based upon the Chapel of St. John the Baptist, the original building was consecrated in 942 AD. Since then, the edifice has undergone frequent expansion projects, traversing Romanesque and Gothic styles before its official ‘completion’ in 1569. As well as the sublime Gothic façade, the Cathedral is renowned for its altarpiece. Officially known as ‘The Adoration of The Mystic Lamb’, this polyptych painting was the handiwork of the great Flemish painter Jan van Eyck and his brother Hubert. Completed in 1432, it is now considered a seminal piece of medieval art due to its evocative portrayal of major biblical scenes and acts as yet another reason to seek out the fantastic Cathedral.

Saint Bavo is one of the sites of the three medieval towers of Ghent, the second (and equally famous) one being [ Saint Nicholas’ Church]. Constructed during the 13th century in the idiosyncratic local Scheldt Gothic style, the beauty of the Church’s central tower is supplemented by the grand church organ located inside.

Last but by no means least is the Belfry of Ghent. A former bell tower, watchtower and treasury for the city, the Belfry was built between 1313 and 1380 and acts as a spectacular reminder of Ghent’s medieval glory. This point is further emphasised by the preserved 15th century Cloth Hall, which was actually built to serve the municipal trade, and the 18th century Mammelokker annex. The Belfry is also classified a UNESCO World Heritage Site, testifying to its enduring beauty.

Also well worth a visit is the Gravensteen, built in 1180 by former Crusader, count Philip of Alsace (hence the translation ‘Castle of the Count’). Once home to the Counts of Flanders until the 14th century, the Castle rapidly lost its standing and was even marked out for demolition until a radical renovation project was initiated in the 19th century. Now standing tall, the Gravensteen is a prominent reminder of authentic medieval architecture.

For a panorama of this city of towers and spires, the best place is the Boekentoren (Book Tower). Designed by Henry van de Velde in Art Nouveau style, the Tower’s 64-metre height and location on the raised Blandijnberg ensures fabulous views of Ghent in its entirety.

Ghent is home to a number of museums and galleries, including the Museum voor Schone Kunsten (containing historical artworks by artists such as Bosch and Jean Fouquet) and the nearby Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (specialising in contemporary art) in Citadelpark and the Museum voor Industriële Archeologie en Textial in Minnemeers (exhibiting Ghent’s industrial history, particularly the 19th century).

The city also hosts the annual Gentse Feesten (Festivities of Ghent), one of the biggest street festivals in Europe. Held in July for 10 days, it encompasses a wide array of affiliated celebrations, including jazz and Latino music festivals.

If sport is what you’re after though, the local football team, K.A.A. Gent, play their games in the Jupiler League at the Jules Ottenstadion.


As a port city, you can expect a huge range of goods to be available in Ghent. Good places to start for outlets are Bagattenstraat and Groetenmarkt.

Belgium is hailed for its chocolate, so it’s no surprise that Ghent has its faire share of chocolatiers like Temmerman in Kraanlei.

Nightlife & Dining

Flemish cuisine is one of the main attractions for visitors, amalgamating both French and German styles with unique results. Ghent has plenty of outstanding upmarket places serving traditional Flemish dishes in the Patershol quarter, as well as a number of more innovative establishments like Vier Tafels. However, if you’d prefer something a little cheaper, you can find excellent restaurants all over the city, such as Grade in Charles de Kerchovelaan.

Ghent has a strong pub culture and you’ll find yourself spoilt for choice when looking for a drink. Particularly good are the pubs around Overpoortstraat, St. Veerleplein and Blandijnberg. For a dance to go with that drink, Ghent has a number of nightclubs and live music venues like Muziekcafé Charlatan in Vlasmarkt and Manteca in Cataloniëstraat.

If you’re fortunate enough to visit in July, keep an eye out for the 10daysoff Festival, part of the aforementioned Gentse Feesten and focusing more on electronic music.

Tourist Info

Visit Belgium Tourist OfficeCrypt of the BelfryBotermarkt, 17AB-9000Ghent

  • Tel: +32 9 266 5232
  • E-mail:
  • Web: [ Visit Belgium]


Although lacking its own international airport, Ghent is just 30 minutes away from Brussels on the train. The best option for international visitors is therefore Brussels Airport.

As the main airport in Belgium, you can expect international and domestic connecting flights to be regularly available to multiple destinations.

British Airways (London-Heathrow, Manchester), bmi (London-Heathrow, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford) and SN Brussels Airlines (London-Heathrow, Manchester, Newcastle, Birmingham) all use Brussels Airport to and from British locations.