A 45-minute train ride outside of Brussels will lead you to Ghent, a medieval port city complete with picturesque canals, churches, a castle, and more. While many Brussels visitors will tell you that on a day trip you must head all of the way to Brugge (30 minute farther on Brussels' coast), I disagree. A Ghent day trip will be a complete day filled with walking, shopping, dining, and relaxing, whereas in Brugge you might be wondering what to do after completing your walk up and down the canal. If you want to experience a fabulous, relaxing day in Ghent, look no further, your Ghent itinerary is here.
Enter the City over St. Michael's Bridge
If you take the train to Ghent, you'll be dropped off at Gent-Sint-Pieters station which is about a 30 minute walk or 15 minute train ride from the heart of the city. If you have the time and stamina, I highly recommend taking the walk so that you can unveil the city from St. Michael's Church across the canal. From the train station you'll follow the road to the right and turn left to cross the canal at either Verlorenkost or Gebroeders Vandeveldestraat. From here you'll continue walking up the canal until finally reaching St. Michael's Church and St. Michael's bridge. You'll take a right and enter Ghent's majestic square by crossing the bridge. Check out the walking map here.
Explore the Churches and Main Square
After crossing the bridge you'll be in Korenmarkt, the city's main square. Here your surroundings are St. Nicholas' Church straight ahead, behind that, the Belfort Tower, and yet behind that, St. Bavo's Cathedral. Take your time looking around and taking advantage of the photo opportunities. When you're ready, explore the churches from inside. The Gothic St. Nicholas' Church and later Gothic St. Michael's Church are both free to enter (though St. Michael's is closed to the public most of October to March). To enter St. Bavo's Cathedral you'll need to pay 4€. This covers your access to the chapel area that holds the famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the 24-panel altar piece painting that has been in the hands of Napoleon, Nazi Germany, and finally restored to its rightful owners in Ghent.
Check out the Belfort (Belfry) Tower
If you're inclined and the weather cooperates, during your Ghent day trip it's worth heading up the Belfort Tower. From the lookout point 91 meters (~300 feet ) above Ghent you'll experience fantastic views that were formerly used to keep the city safe from intruders and fires. Your ticket grants you access to the small museum as well as the tower, so make sure to check out both. If you're over 25 years old this stop will set you back 8€, but if you're 18-25 you can get this ticket for a steal of 2.7€.
Relax along the Graslei & Canals
After your strenuous morning of sight seeing, head up to the intersection of the Graslei & Korenlei Canals and pick either direction to stroll. You'll pass the 11th century Gravensteen Castle which you can tour for 10€ (6€ if you're under 26), as well as beautiful architecture along the canal ranging from the 13th to 17th centuries. Grab a seat at a cafe and enjoy lunch with a scenic canal backdrop.
One of the thing I love most about visiting smaller cities is wandering through surrounding neighborhoods without worrying about getting lost or straying too far. This is the precise final piece of advice I give to you for your visit to Ghent. There's loads to discover in the quaint Patershol neighborhood just past the Gravensteen Castle and heading back towards the center you can challenge yourself to find the Graffiti Street and Vineyard at St. Peter's Abbey.
If you're over 25 and interested in all of Ghent's sights as well as any of the museums within the city, it might be worth looking into the Ghent Card. For 30€ you have two full day's access to St. Bavo's Cathedral, the Gravensteen Castle, the Belfort Tower, The Design Museum (10€), the Musuem of Fine Arts (8€), and more.
Have you been to Ghent? What secret places do you challenge visitors to discover? I hope you enjoy your Ghent day trip!