Ghent started as a settlement at the confluence of the rivers Scheldt & Lys and in the Middle Ages it became richer than the mighty Venice. Being richer than Venice actually meant being the richest in the world, by the way! Our spree of architectural abundance in that period literally kick-started the artistic Renaissance. Today, Ghent is still a vibrant and progressive city with a big university, a vast cultural offer and a city centre that truly deserves the description medieval gem. But don’t expect a boring museum visit when stopping over: home of world acclaimed deejay and rock combo Soulwax (aka 2 Many Deejays), 20,000+ students and the biggest open-air city festival in the world (the ten-day Ghent Fest attended by two million visitors every year) it is regarded as the Lowland’s best kept secret.
Exploring medieval Ghent
The Ghent-Authentic Unesco World Heritage tour allows you to see, touch and feel our UNESCO landmarks from close by and to get to know all about it. But it doesn’t take an official tour guide to explore: just stroll around the city centre and take in the view(s): the Belfry, the Patershol, the Gravensteen (=castle of the counts), the Graslei (4) along the canal and the churches around the town centre are all worth a visit.
- Café & kunstencentrum Vooruit (1): A grand café and
impressive cultural house with allure and a rich 19th century history: great
for coffee and arty-farty people-watching.
- L’or and Labath are Ghent’s coffee answers to the too laidback and overpriced Starbucks.
Having a cocktail
- Check out Jiggers: a cosy and classy cocktail bar with capital C, or shall we say a mixologist bar. Be prepared for a liquid surprise. Reservations necessary, though.
- The more accessible Limonada (3) has very attractive cocktails (and ditto waitresses) in an eighties neon-lighter interior, with plenty of room to sit and talk. Ideal for digesting your dinner.
- Stroll around the Patershol cobblestone alleys: you’ll find dozens of restaurants in all possible sizes and genres, which have this in common: the food is way above average. You can go from a posh Thai experience at Baan Thai to modest but delicious Turkish grilled food at Akdeniz. Amongst many others here.
- The best Italian authentic restaurants in town are Aperto Chiuso, Il Mezzogiorno and Per Bacco<.
- Sushi lovers best head to Amatsu.
- For a bit more upscale and fancy eateries: do check out ‘t Pakhuis, CaféThéâtre (2) or Belga Queen, all based in and around the city centre.
- New rising restaurants with star ambitions include Jef, De Vitrine and our favorite, Volta. A bit more outside the centre, but very much so worth your while.
3 interesting areas that keep it exciting until the wee hours:
- Graslei/Korenmarkt: generally frequented by a mainstream but heterogeneous mixture of students, expats, young&old. Lots of bars, lots of choice and great views as this is the heart of the medieval town.
- Vlasmarkt: rock ‘n’ roll decadence are the key words here: nightclub/bar/pub Charlatan is an accessible recipe for success for newcomers to town: free entrance and decent deejays at all times. In the direct vicinity one can catch a beer and a breath in smaller rock-oriented bars like Kinky Star, Bar des Amis, Josetc.
- Overpoort: if you’re into a student bash and would like to get up close & personal with youngsters and observe how they behave in nightclubs today, go for Overpoort, especially on Thursday evenings (outside the city centre, though). Tens of bars are set the one next to the other. Expect heaps of drunken 18-year olds standing outside and making themselves noticed with all things they probably wouldn’t like to be reminded of in the future.