Belgium // Discover the Medieval city of Ghent
So we guess it’s time to stop talking about our foreign adventures for a minute and go back to the basics: home! Even though we’re calling Australia home for the moment, Belgium is the place where we grew up and it’s still our reference point whenever we go traveling.
Before coming to Australia we were living in the gorgeous city of Ghent. Not the most famous of cities in Belgium, as it’s usually outshined by Bruges, Antwerp or Brussels in tourism brochures. Although this has been changing since Lonely Planet listed Ghent in its must-see-cities-list and said it’s one of Europe’s best kept secrets (*proud*)!
With a population of around 250,000 and probably 1/3 of them students, Ghent is a very ancient city with a young heart. People have been hovering the area since the Stone Age, and with good reason. It’s located just 60km (37 miles) from the North Sea, at the cofluence of the Schelde and the Leie rivers.
Much of Ghent’s Medieval architecture still stands strong today, and parts of it are UNESCO World Heritage listed. You’ll find some of the best museums, cathedrals and Medieval buildings Belgium has on offer.
Within these layers of ancient architecture you’ll discover some of the most modern shops and restaurants, a clash we’re always thrilled by :)
Where to start exploring?
To have an immediate impression of the beauty of the Medieval Center of Ghent, start at the old Graslei harbour. If you come here on a sunny day during the week it’ll be packed with students skipping class and relaxing by the waterfront (speaking from own experience).
We bet you’ll want to come back to this spot later in the day to enjoy a Trappist (strong Belgian beer) on one of the many terraces and watch the boats float by amidst the tumult on both quays. After enjoying the views on the Graslei walk over the bridge to the other side (the Korenlei), to continue checking out some of the best photo opportunities in the city.
Make your way further down to visit the impressive Gravensteen (meaning “Castle of the Counts”). Built in 1180 it was originally the seat of the Counts of Flanders. But during its long lifespan it has also been used as a courthouse, a prison and a factory.
After years of decay it had been fully restored and visitors can make their way to the top tower to enjoy great views over the historical skyline of Ghent. It also holds a lugubre museum about torture devices, including a guillotine. And just recently Hollywood made camp here to shoot scenes for the new movie Emperor (starring Adrien Brody)!
If you don’t carry a map, ask a friendly local to direct to Patershol next. Cobblestone streets, exquisite restaurants, cosy bars, quiet corners and Medieval architecture will ensure you’ll get completely enchated by this typical Flemish neighbourhood.
As you wander further down the historic center you’ll notice that in between these ancient buildings there are lots and lots of terraces. Belgians are NUTS for these :) As soon as the first ray of sunshine breaks through (be prepared: rain is very common in Belgium) people start pouring out and filling up these lovely outdoor spaces in no time!
Ahhhh what’s better then gulping an excellent cold beer in the sun? Hm?… Did you just say chocolate? Well then you’re in luck, plenty of chocolatiers around this awesome city!
When you’re walking around this beautiful city you’ll surely notice lots of street art. There is even a little car-free street reserved for this purpose, which seems to get narrower every year, as graffiti artist keep layering up their creativeness :) We can assure you, this street looks completely different every time you pass by!
During summer Ghent also hosts one of the biggest festivals in Europe: the “Gentse Feesten“! This 10-day festival draws about 2 million visitors each year, who come to enjoy the many cultural and musical highlights. Party hardy!
So… have we convinced you yet that this mesmerizing city is worth stopping by on your next trip to Belgium? We surely hope so :) ! We promise you’ll love it! And definitely let us know if you’re paying a visit, so we can go and grab a coffee – that is, when we’re back from Australia of course ;)!
Tot de volgende!*
(*See you next time!)