As well as acting as a river cruiser’s gateway to Bruges, Ghent is the capital of East Flanders and one of Belgium’s most important and beautiful cities, offering plenty of cultural and architectural attractions as well as a quant and enjoyable riverside atmosphere. Its location in Belgium’s Flemish region ensures a French feel and as it's situated on the Leie – one of the Dutch Belgian Waterways – it is ensured of an enduring popularity as a river cruise port. Its riverside location was doubtless a contributing factor to its reputation in the Middle Ages as one of Europe’s most prosperous cities and indeed, a rich medieval heritage remains one of the city’s biggest draws.
The Graslei and Korenlei area encapsulates everything that many river cruisers want out of Belgium but without many of the crowds. Historic buildings, quant cafes, restaurants, the option of a sight-seeing idle down a secluded waterway, it’s all here. In fact, the old city centre, which it is a part of, does an excellent job in that department too and there’s a wealth of beautiful architecture to be found along the canals and indeed, at every turn. One of the architectural focal points is St Michael’s Bridge, which leads to the city centre and offers what many consider to be the finest of Ghent views, with the city’s main church towers being a main focal point.
Indeed, it is those towers which comprise a number of Ghent’s other most popular architectural attractions. St Bavo’s Cathedral is perhaps the most popular, with some stunning architecture inside and out, not to mention a number of celebrated artworks, such as Rubens’ rendering of the saint himself and the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb Altarpiece, which dates back to the 15th century. The city’s Belfry is another very visible attraction, a gothic treasure full of atmosphere and offering fantastic views. There are over 250 steps to the top but thankfully a lift, too. The bells chime every 15 minutes, so you’ll be able to hear them for yourself, no matter how brief your visit is.
Gravensteen Castle is one of the city’s oldest attractions, dating back to the early 1100s and still in impressive condition considering its age. The architecture is attraction enough but the castle has the added bonus of housing a fascinating museum which exhibits a wealth of armour and weaponry from the city’s medieval days. Of course, castles were always built with strategy in mind, so it should come as no surprise that the view of Ghent which can be enjoyed from the castle is commanding and pretty special, too. For a complete overview of the city’s history, head to STAM, the Ghent City Museum which offers truly immersive experience.
Ghent’s great for stout European cuisine with a touch of delicate French flair, with mussels and spare ribs being two favourites. Friday is market day and has been for hundreds of years, so if you’re in Ghent then, it’s a great opportunity to pick up a bargain.