Ghent is a city that has succeeded where many others struggle. Beautiful medieval architecture sits alongside scores of bustling restaurants and quirky bars making this Belgian city the perfect blend of old and new.
What started as a couple of abbeys at the confluence of the rivers Lys and Scheldt soon became a prominent settlement and, thanks to the cloth trade, development flourished. By the 13th century, Ghent was one of the most important cities in Europe and second only to Paris in size.
The architecture in the old city centre reflects nearly 1400 years of history. The belfry is a proud city of the city’s independence and stands in the middle of a three-tower row, together with Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church. Attached to the belfry is the cloth hall which served as the headquarters of this illustrious trade.
The journey through time continues with the Castle of the Counts, a 12th-century stone castle complete with moat, turrets and arrow slits. At the heart of the city is the medieval port of Graslei with its rows of historical buildings reflected in the river. All of this looks particularly beautiful at night when illuminated by the city’s well thought out lighting plan. Every three years there is a light festival with magical light sculptures and installations.
Ghent isn’t just beautiful on the outside and one of its highlights is the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a painting by the Van Eyck brothers. Throughout its time it has been stolen, forged and almost destroyed in a fire but thankfully it now hangs safely in St Bavo’s Cathedral. The city’s museums are well worth exploring. The STAM museum documents the city’s history and the buildings themselves are a journey through time, consisting of a 14th-century abbey, a 12th-century convent and a 21st-century development. There are also museums of contemporary and fine art.
In amongst all these Gothic gems, you’ll find a thriving restaurant and café scene with locals and visitors alike soaking up the atmosphere. And this is Belgium, so there is an abundance of watering holes to choose from to sample the mind boggling selection of local beers.