15 Things To Do in Ghent, Belgium, in 2024

Last Updated on February 12, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Ghent, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Belgium, offers a captivating blend of medieval charm and contemporary culture, making it a must-visit for travellers seeking to explore beyond the usual tourist trails. Known for its well-preserved architecture, vibrant art scene, and gastronomic delights, Ghent is a city where history and modernity walk hand in hand along its cobblestone streets.

Whether you’re an art aficionado, a history buff, or a foodie, Ghent promises an array of activities that cater to every interest. From marvelling at the majestic beauty of the Gravensteen Castle to indulging in the local culinary specialties, there’s no shortage of things to do in this enchanting Belgian city.

ActivityDescription
Waterways and BridgesBoat tours, picturesque views along Leie and Scheldt rivers, Gravensteen castle, Patershol area.
Old Town ExplorationLabyrinth of lanes, historic squares, street performers, Kouter, St Bavo’s Cathedral, Vrijdagmarkt.
St Bavo’s CathedralGothic architecture, artwork including the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.
Contemporary Art CenterModern art installations, changing exhibitions, Flemish arts post-1970.
Design and FashionKantienberg arts promenade, fashion and arts scenes, MIAT museum.
Cycling Graslei WaterfrontBike paths, vibrant blooms, Prinsenhof and Oudburg parks, scenic views.
Gentse Feesten Music FestivalOpen-air music event, performances, food stands, vibrant atmosphere.
Street PerformancesImpromptu shows, festivals, artistic displays throughout the city.
Belgian Chocolate ToursChocolate ateliers, tasting experiences, luxury boutiques.
Cafe CultureHip cafes, art exhibits, diverse culinary offerings.
Gravensteen Castle MoatNighttime strolls, picnic spots, medieval ambiance.
Belfort BelfryPanoramic city views, historical significance, architectural marvel.
Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen ParkNature park, bird watching, hiking, cycling, scenic beauty.

In this guide, we will take you through 15 must-experience activities in Ghent, ensuring you capture the essence of this city’s unique allure. Prepare to be enchanted by the hidden corners and vibrant squares of Ghent, where every turn reveals a piece of history, a work of art, or a culinary delight waiting to be discovered.

Explore Ghent’s Picturesque Waterways and Bridges

Name and Location: The waterways and bridges of Ghent, Belgium. Ghent is crisscrossed by rivers and canals, including the Lys, Scheldt, and countless smaller waterways.

History and Significance: Ghent’s waterways date back to medieval times and were crucial for industry and transportation. Today, the picturesque rivers, canals, and bridges are an iconic part of the cityscape.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore Ghent’s waterways by boat tour or just by wandering the idyllic canal-side paths. Key sights include the Graslei, Korenlei riverbanks, St Michael’s Bridge, and the famous Gravensteen Castle moat.

Visitor Information: Boat tours run daily and are a great way to see the waterways. Walking along the riverbanks is free. Bring your camera!

Ghent’s scenic waterways and bridges have captivated visitors for centuries. Take a boat tour along the Leie and Scheldt rivers to view architectural gems lining the riversides up close. Meander the winding corridors of Graslei and Korenlei, dotted with cafes perfect for soaking in riverside views over a Belgian beer or cup of coffee. The iconic medieval Gravensteen castle rises majestically from the Leie’s banks, while the 13th century Patershol neighborhood charms with cobblestone streets and Instagrammable facades. Cross the architecturally stunning St Michael’s Bridge for picture-perfect vistas any time of day.

Wander the Old Town’s Charming Streets and Squares

Name and Location: The old town of Ghent, situated within the medieval city center. Key areas include Vrijdagmarkt, Groentenmarkt, and St Baafsplein.

History and Significance: Ghent’s old town dates back to the Middle Ages and still retains much original architecture and charm. The winding alleys and atmospheric squares buzz with life.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore on foot, stopping in lively squares and cafés. Don’t miss St Bavo’s Cathedral, the Belfort, and medieval alleyways like Werregarenstraat.

Visitor Information: Wandering the old town is free. Guided walking tours are available to learn more about the history. Come day or night to experience the ambience.

Lose yourself amid the labyrinth of narrow lanes and historic squares comprising Ghent’s magical old town. Each corner turned reveals a visual surprise, from soaring spires peeking above red-tiled rooftops to intricate gilded facades gracing medieval alleyways. Street performers and buskers entertain passersby at casual pace with the centuries-old belfry clocktower as the perfect backdrop. Must-see squares include Kouter known for rallies and festivals, St Bavo whose plaza holds the famed St Bavo’s Cathedral, and Vrijdagmarkt anchored by the imposing 16th century Old Post Office.

Be Impressed by St Bavo’s Cathedral

Name and Location: St Bavo’s Cathedral, Sint-Baafsplein, Ghent. This immense Gothic cathedral is located right in the historic heart of the city.

History and Significance: St Bavo’s origins date back to the 10th century. Today the cathedral is most renowned for housing the showstopping Ghent Altarpiece.

What to Expect: Visitors can admire the cathedral’s soaring architecture and intricate artwork. The altarpiece is considered Flemish art’s leading masterpiece.

Visitor Information: St Bavo’s is open daily. Admission costs around €4. Be sure to see the altarpiece’s Mystic Lamb panel.

Step inside St Bavo’s Cathedral, whose origins trace back to the 10th century AD, to discover one of Europe’s most impressive Gothic structures. Marvel at the cathedral’s cavernous interior with impressive rib vaulting, ornate chapels, and sets of Baroque altars constituting masterworks of the Flemish Primitives. Yet the resplendent centerpiece is the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a monumental work by Hubert and Jan van Eyck crowning the altar. With 6 centuries of history spanning art and architecture movements, St Bavo’s stands among Christianity’s most historically significant sites.

Experience Cutting-Edge Art at Contemporary Art Center

Name and Location: S.M.A.K., Jan Hoetplein, Ghent. This renowned museum for contemporary art is set right beside the old Citadelpark.

History and Significance: S.M.A.K. opened in 1999 and is a top destination to experience provocative, avant-garde works by both Belgian and international artists.

What to Expect: The striking triangular building houses temporary exhibitions showcasing modern paintings, installations, sculptures, and more. Be ready to encounter weird and wonderful art.

Visitor Information: S.M.A.K. is open Tuesday to Sunday. Admission is around €10. Free guided tours run on Sundays.

Venture to the Contemporary Art Center to encounter thought-provoking modern installations across 2 repurposed industrial buildings. Changing exhibitions feature rising Belgian talents alongside internationally renowned names like Marina Abramović and Ai Weiwei, with past shows spanning painting, sculpture, photography, video, performance art and more. Don’t miss the permanent collection focused on key innovations in Flemish arts post-1970 in context of global avant-garde movements. Sign up in advance for a guided tour, artist talk or hands-on creative workshop for deeper insight into the vibrant world of contemporary art.

Discover Ghent’s Proud Design Legacy

Name and Location: Ghent has a long history of innovation in design and textiles. Major design sights include the Design Museum Gent and MIAT museum.

History and Significance: Ghent was an early center for floral textile designs in the 19th century and remains influential in fashion and product design today.

What to Expect: Visitors can learn about Ghent’s design heritage in museums and see it reflected in cutting-edge shops, boutiques, and galleries around the city. Don’t miss the Design District.

Visitor Information: The Design Museum and MIAT have exhibits on Ghent’s design history. Just walking around you’ll spot the culture of creativity.

As the epicenter of Belgium’s flourishing fashion and visual arts scenes, Ghent overflows with inspired design at trendsetting shops, galleries and creative events. Head to the legendary Kantienberg arts promenade, where the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts fostered noted alumni like Dries van Noten and Kris Van Assche. Nearby concept store LABEL IT stocks avant-garde fashions by promising graduates. The inviting MIAT museum spotlights Ghent’s interface of technology and art across textiles, lacework, furniture and more. Don’t miss signature events including the vibrant Floraliën flower show bringing imaginative horticultural and landscape installations.

Cycle Along the Flowerful Graslei Waterfront

Name and Location: The Graslei and Korenlei embankments along the Leie River offer scenic waterside cycling. These areas are in central Ghent close to St Michael’s Bridge.

History and Significance: The Graslei historically served as Ghent’s port. Today the landmark stepped-gable buildings house lively bars and restaurants.

What to Expect: Visitors can rent bikes and cycle slowly along the cobblestoned quaysides overlooking the pretty boats and architecture. The flower boxes and vibrant buildings make colorful viewing.

Visitor Information: Bike rental outlets are plentiful around town. The embankments get busy so cycle carefully and watch for pedestrians.

See Ghent at its most idyllic while cycling the vibrant Graslei and Korenlei quaysides bursting with summertime blooms. Many central hotels offer free bicycle rentals, allowing easy cruising past the Leie River dotted with florid planters in vibrant pinks, reds and purples. Extended bike paths run for miles further along the verdant banks through the fairy-tale Prinsenhof and Oudburg parks. Stop to sniff fragrant roses, snap photos of vibrant perennials like petunias and marigolds, and wave to passing boats from bench swings beneath shady weeping willows – quintessential summer relaxation at its finest!

Groove at Gentse Feesten Music Festival

Name and Location: Gentse Feesten, held for 10 days each July, transforms Ghent into a massive open-air music festival with multiple stages around the old town.

History and Significance: Gentse Feesten began in 1843 and today attracts over 1.5 million visitors making it one of Europe’s biggest street festivals. There are music acts to suit all tastes.

What to Expect: Visitors can enjoy free live music on outdoor stages into the night, street food stalls, parties, cultural events, and an electric atmosphere throughout the city.

Visitor Information: Gentse Feesten runs July 15-24, 2024. Most events are free. Come ready to celebrate and don’t forget earplugs!

For 10 days each July, Ghent morphs into Belgium’s biggest, boldest open-air music bash during the epic Gentse Feesten (Ghent Festivities) filling streets and squares with over 2,000 performances. Food stands waft enticing aromas as soundstages bring continuous free concerts spanning rock, world, electronic and jazz across venues citywide. Livelier open-air acts pack the Kouter’s central stage while Vrijdagmarkt hosts late-night club mixes. Join the vibrant, costumed crowds dancing nightly under fantastic lightshows and fireworks in this summer highlight of Belgian Festival season not to miss!

Take in Mesmerizing Street Performances

Name and Location: Ghent’s squares and pedestrian streets host an array of captivating street artists and performers, especially in summer. Key areas include Vrijdagmarkt and Groentenmarkt.

History and Significance: Street performance is a celebrated art form and cultural tradition in Ghent. You’ll encounter colorful characters from mime artists to magicians.

What to Expect: Visitors can watch or join in the acts – breakdancers, living statues, comedy acts, and musicians. Performers pass around hats for tips.

Visitor Information: Wandering around the car-free city center you’ll chance upon street artists, especially on weekends and summer evenings. Enjoy the spontaneous shows!

At any given moment wandering Ghent, you may chance upon impromptu opera arias soaring over cobblestone squares, dazzling circus tricks astounding passerby audiences, or hiphop dance-offs breaking out on street corners. Such is the energetic and creative spirit that infuses the air of artistic Ghent! Schedule your visit to coincide with major events like the Theater Festival and Gentse Feesten bringing world-class buskers vying in competition, or simply roam the atmospheric alleys and bridges on balmy weekends to discover delightful surprises round every bend. Wherever encountered, Ghent’s magnetic street performers charm, move and delight like nowhere else!

Tour Authentic Belgian Chocolate Ateliers

Name and Location: Ghent has a long chocolate-making heritage. Choco-Story (Wijnzakstraat 2) offers tours and tastings at its live workshop.

History and Significance: Ghent was an early innovator in praline-style filled chocolates. Today, artisanal chocolate shops thrive, many using centuries-old techniques.

What to Expect: At Choco-Story’s museum and workshop, visitors learn about chocolate’s history and production. You can sample treats and watch chocolatiers at work.

Visitor Information: Choco-Story is open daily. Tickets cost around €9.

Discover why Belgian chocolates rank among the world’s finest on tours of Ghent’s prime chocolate ateliers. Sites like Chocolaterie Van Hoorebeke and Zaabär give insider glimpses of techniques from bean-to-bar while explaining nuances distinguishing origins like Ecuador, Madagascar and São Tomé that lend distinct flavors. See molten couverture flowing into moulds, sample handmade truffles and pralines, enjoy hot cocoa in vintage cafes and browse indulgent gift displays. Don’t depart without browsing luxury boutiques like The Chocolate Line famed for daring flavors like wasabi, smoked bacon and masala chai truffles – chocolate heaven for cacao connoisseurs!

Indulge in Ghent’s Innovative Cafe Culture

Name and Location: Ghent is renowned for its convivial cafe culture found across the historic center. Key areas to find trendy coffee shops and cafes include Patershol neighborhood.

History and Significance: Belgians are among Europe’s biggest coffee drinkers. Ghent’s cafes range from classic antique bruin cafés to Third Wave specialty coffee vendors.

What to Expect: Visitors can sip artisan coffees and sample Belgian sweet treats and savory snacks like waffles, moules-frites, and stuffed croissants at Ghent’s cafes.

Visitor Information: Simply walking around the old town you’ll encounter cozy cafes. Try local favorite Tartine on Reepstraat for delicious breakfasts and baked goods.

Between centuries of university presence and strong arts scene, a distinctly hip and happening cafe culture thrives in Ghent perfect for lazy, lingering afternoons. Quirky-chic hangouts like Barista blend killer coffee with art exhibits, vinyl listening stations and occasional poetry slams. For sweet tooths, Zwart Wit serves over 50 chocolatey desserts alongside classic Belgian waffles and ice cream. Find healthy organic eats at cozy lunch spot Plantoverture, afternoon tea and cake at tea room Zuute, or Asian gastropub concept Superloop Noodle Bar shaking up the food scene. Wherever you go, the vibrant yet laidback vibe invites settling in.

Unwind Along Historical Gravensteen Castle Moat

Name and Location: The moat around medieval Gravensteen Castle offers a peaceful oasis in Ghent’s center. Find it at St Veerleplein.

History and Significance: Built in 1180, the Gravensteen moat provided defense for the Counts of Flanders’ imposing hilltop castle. Today it’s been restored into a serene park.

What to Expect: Visitors can stroll or picnic along the moat and admire romantic views of the Gravensteen’s turrets rising above the trees.

Visitor Information: Entry to the moat park is free. Follow the path around the castle perimeter and cross the bridges for idyllic scenic views.

Though the imposing stone towers and arched bridges of medieval Gravensteen castle evoke awe by day, the fairy tale allure magnifies after dark when illuminations cast enchanting reflections across the moat’s rippling waters. By night, locals claim this magical atmosphere for lazy strolls, intimate picnics and hushed conversations in the peaceful backlit nights soundtracked by croaking frogs and lapping waves. Bring some Trappist ales, artisan cheeses and crusty bread to create your own bespoke Belgian soirée against this quintessential romantic backdrop straight from the Middle Ages!

Take In Panoramic City Views from Belfort Belfry

Name and Location: The 14th century Belfort tower on Botermarkt square offers sweeping views from its belfry over Ghent’s rooftops.

History and Significance: The Belfort was Ghent’s medieval lookout and contains a bell tower and dragon weathervane dating back to 1380. Today it provides a stunning 360° vista.

What to Expect: Visitors can climb the Belfort’s 366 steps to the roof terrace for panoramic views across the city and St Bavo’s Cathedral.

Visitor Information: The Belfort is open daily. Admission costs around €8. Be prepared to climb many steep steps but the outlook is well worth it!

Rising majestically over Ghent’s rooftops, the soaring 14th century belfry attached to St Nicholas’ Church rewards fitness-minded visitors with breathtaking 360 degree vistas from its rooftop lookout. A brisk climb up the belfry’s 366 stone steps leads to unbeatable views encompassing the city’s maze of snaking canals, the atmospheric jumble of church spires and intricate gables, and fanciful facades bedecked with sculpture and ironwork dating back centuries. Come around sunrise or sunset for a photogenic spectacle when fading golden light sets this stunning urban tapestry aglow!

Relax Along Scenic Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen Nature Park

Name and Location: This 600 hectare nature reserve lies just 3 km from Ghent’s center. It encompasses woodlands, grasslands, creeks, and lakes.

History and Significance: Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen has been protected since 1995. This oasis provides a habitat for rare plants, bird species, and other wildlife.

What to Expect: Visitors can hike, cycle, canoe, or simply relax along the waterfronts and immerse themselves in beautiful nature. Don’t miss the 19th-century Ossekop fortress.

Visitor Information: The park is freely accessible year-round from dawn until dusk. Get a map at the visitor center to explore the vast natural escape.

Just a quick ride outside central Ghent unfolds the green expanses of Bourgoyen-Ossemeersen nature park, a peaceful escape joining woodlands, meadows and wetlands surroundings the scenic Leie river. Well-marked hiking and cycling paths under leafy canopy traverse habitats populated with ducks, swans, cranes, storks and hundreds more bird species. Ramble over wooden footbridges and stop to photograph vibrant wildflowers in the ABC garden’s themed sections. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy on the grassy riverbanks dotted with boaters drifting by. An afternoon immersed in nature provides the perfect city getaway!

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