After having explored Brussels and Bruges, it was now time to explore Ghent. I used to think that Ghent was a quite popular city in Belgium, however on questioning a handful of people regarding its whereabouts and reviews, I came across strange looks and blank expressions and even questions asking me which country does it belong to? That is when I realized that Ghent was such an underrated city which people often tend to skip. Yes, you can think it to be an offbeat location. There is so much to this tiny city to explore that it is almost impossible to believe that at each walking step in Ghent, you find to be surrounded by historical stories, marveling architecture & intriguing atmosphere around you.
Ghent (interchangeably used as Gent) is the largest city of the East Flanders region. Not only is it easily accessible through all modes of transport, it also is one of the most important cities in Europe due to its prime location (especially in the olden times). And the best part? It is the fact that you can literally walk everywhere in this city. A great pair of shoes and you are good to go walking and exploring on your own. Here are some of the places you need to go exploring if you are planning on visiting Ghent (Don’t just plan, you have to go):
1) St. Nicholas Church
Built in the 13th century in a local Gothic style, this church is one of the oldest & the most prominent landmark in the city of Ghent, Belgium. This church was a landmark location where people living in nearby areas would come together and conduct business & trade activities. It is one of the significant medieval structures in Ghent which narrates to us about the day-to-day happenings during the historical times in the city. The most popular part of the church is the organ (musical instrument) inside the Saint Nicholas Church. It is one of the most important romantic organs of Belgium & was built by the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.
2) Belfry of Ghent
Belfry of Ghent has been declared as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also the tallest Belfry in Belgium (91 meter tall). It accommodates a large bell named Roland which was built on the top of the tower. Similar to the St Nicholas Church, the Belfry was also constructed in the 13th century near to what is today known as the city center. In the olden times, the Belfry was used as a watchtower to keep a watch on the day-to-day happenings in the city and also to inform the citizens about the time & emergencies. Belfry being the tallest of all the towers in Ghent, it was easy to keep an eye on the battles fought & on any approaching enemy. The belfry of Ghent is one of the three medieval towers overlooking the entire city along with Saint Nicholas Church & Saint Bavos Church.
3) Ghent Town Hall
The town hall is the most unusual landmarks one will come across in Ghent. The reason why it is unusual is due to its difference in architecture. Also called as Stadthuis in local language, the town hall has witnessed centuries of history of Ghent. Today, it is the office of city officials, but its construction began way back in the 15th century which was later stopped due to certain reasons and was later resumed again in the 16th century. As you approach near to the Town hall, you will easily make out the stark difference in the architectural styles which is a complete mix of Gothic & Renaissance architecture. It almost feels like 2 separate buildings being joined together. This difference is due to the fact that the Town hall was constructed in different centuries. The best time to visit here would be on a weekend & you might catch a glimpse of a bride and groom exiting the building. Weekends are a particularly popular time for wedding ceremonies to take place here.
4) St. Bavo’s Cathedral
As mentioned earlier, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral is one of the three medieval structure that dominates the skyline in the city of Ghent. It is an 89 meter tall Gothic cathedral and is also called as also known as Sint-Baafs Cathedral, or in Dutch Sint Baafskathedraal. This cathedral houses the artistic works of various renowned artists which you can see on entering the cathedral. The most famous one being the Ghent Altarpiece which is a 15th century painting made by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck.
Graslei, also known as Grass Quay in English is one of the oldest part of Ghent dating back to 5th Century. Ships have been docking over this quay since 11th century for carrying out several trading activities & hence during the olden times, this was a prominent part of this city. Today, it is a major hotspot with history all around. Even the houses that are lined up in front of the Quay breathe history as they were constructed during the middle ages. One can find plenty of cafes on both the sides of the river Leie. People, both residents and travelers alike, can be found sitting on the edge with their legs dangling over the quay and enjoying local street food. One can also find plenty of cafes lined up with a splendid view of the Quay.
The Gravensteen also called as the castle of the count, as the name suggests, is a castle built during the middle ages by Count Philip of Alsace. This castle is open everyday between 10am – 5pm for visitors to visit and explore the insides. And the best part? The castle is located right in the middle of the city! Yes that is correct! How often do you come across a castle in the middle of a city? The castle was abandoned in the 1300s, after which the city of Ghent purchased the location in 1885 to reconstruct the castle. Inside the castle one can find torture weapons used in olden times, old weapons & knight’s armors and also a dungeon. During my visit the castle was being renovated, however it definitely offered breathtaking views from the top of the city. It is definitely a must do while in Ghent.
7) City Pavilion
City pavilion or Stadshal as they say is a modern day architecture located in the city center of Ghent which easily offsets the historical monuments in the city. It is an open structure which serves as a great spot for musicians to showcase their local talents. At times, several competitions are held beneath this structure and serves as a great spot for socializing with locals.
It really is amazing when you go outside those renowned places, to explore a town which is hidden with so much of history all around! Ghent is one such place which you definitely should go when you are in Belgium. It is a great option for a day trip both from Bruges as well as from Brussels. It won’t take much time due to this city being really small in size and also you will add a new place to your collection! 🙂
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