GETTING TO GHENT
Most travelers who do not stay in the city will visit it as a day trip from Brussels, arriving by train.
The main station is Gent-Sint-Pieters; it has some architectural appeal itself, but the historic center, where the main attractions are located, is about 2.5 km north. Although you can walk, the truth is that it is not a very interesting part. I recommend taking tram 1 (3 €) to Korenmarkt, 10 minutes.
If we arrive from Antwerp, the station is Gent-Dampoort, which is about 15 minutes walk east of the center.
We start in Korenmarket a circular route.
To the left we will find Sint-Michielsbrug (St Michael’s bridge).
It is not so interesting itself as the views that are contemplated from it: it is impossible not to look towards east, where one after another you can see the church of St. Nicholas (Sint-Niklaaskerk), the Belfry (Belfort) and St. Bavo Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal), a succession of Gothic towers that seem to compete in ornamentation and majesty.
And impossible not to look to the north, with the image of the buildings of Graslei Street reflecting on Lys River.
This area is the most beautiful of Ghent canals. Continuing north to the next bridge, where the canal forks, we will continue parallel to the west canal.
If we are interested, when we reach Burgstraat, we can go west, and 500 meters away we will find the Begijnhof of St. Elizabeth, much less charming than the Beguinage of Bruges.
If we have decided to visit it, we must return on our steps to the canal, from whose bridge you can observe the well-restored medieval castle of Ghent (Gravensteen); open from 10 am to 6 pm in summer, 9 am to 5 pm in winter, adult admission € 10. It is interesting, although it is true that the admission seemed too expensive to me.
And now is the time to wander around the area immediately east of the castle, Patershol, the trendy district, where you will find a large number of beerhouses and restaurants, many of which overlook the canal.
We cross in a southeasterly direction the Zuivel bridge. Continuing straight on, we will reach the main square of the city, Vrijdagmarkt. It is delimited by 3 floor buildings with triangular roofs, with a statue in the center. Almost everyplace at street level are restaurants, cafes or shops, almost all of food and typical products. From the square you can see the three towers, specially the central one, of the enormous church of St James (Sint-Jacobskerk), romanesque in its origins, with gothic additions.
To the east there is another optional route, unless you have arrived in the city from Gent-Dampoort station. The canal in that direction, although more modern, is one of my favorites.
If we decide not to go east, I recommend continuing to the south on Belfortstraat, which as its name suggests, takes us back to the belfry, allowing us to appreciate the beautiful facade of the City Hall on the right.
Once back in this area, we have the possibility to visit the three buildings:
- Cathedral: open from 8:30 am (Sundays at 10 am) to 6 pm in summer, 5 pm in winter. Admission 4 €. Inside is the chapel with the famous painting “Adoration to the Mystic Lamb”, open from 9:30 am (Sundays from 1 pm) to 5 pm in summer and 10:30 a.m. to 4 pm in winter.
- Bell Tower: open from 10 am to 6 pm daily. Adult admission 8 €. Together with others in Belgium, it is included in UNESCO’s heritage list. 91 meters high, built in the 14th century; you have to climb a lot using a spiral staircase.
- Church of St Nicholas: open from 10 am to 5 pm, free admission. Built in the 13th century; it is surprising that its main tower is not at the entrance but over the central area of the building.