Ghent in a few words
Short geography lesson
Located in Belgium’s Flemish region, the city of Ghent was built at the meeting point of 2 rivers: the Lys (or Leie) and the Schelde. The city is criss-crossed by numerous channels, the most famous of which are the Lieve and the Lys.
Short history lesson
The city’s history began in the 7th century AD when Saint Amand decided to build an abbey at the meeting point of the Lys and the Schelde.
As centuries went by, the city’s strategic location allowed it to thrive and become a key economic hub in Europe: between the 9th 16th centuries, Ghent was the 2nd biggest city in Europe, right after Paris. Ghent then counted 60,000 inhabitants and was even more populated than London!
The city prospered thanks to trade, mostly in the textile sector. Ghent’s channels played a key role in the city’s economic vitality. The names of some of the quays and streets are directly inherited from this period, just like “Korenlei”, which means “grain wharf” in Flemish.
After the 16th century, the city lost access to the sea and progressively declined.
Exploring Ghent’s waterfront
Ghent’s iconic quays: Graslei & Korenlei
With their picture-postcard facades, Graslei and Korenlei face each other on opposite banks of the River Lys. Captain Ulysses highly recommends that you take the time to explore the city’s quaint waterfront.
On sunny days, there’s nothing nicer than having a cup of coffee or a pint of beer on one of the quays’ many terraces.
The oldest building on Graslei – which is called Spijker – is said to date back to the 12th century. Most of the buildings along Graslei and Korenlei were built in the Middle-Ages, even though they may not look medieval as the majority was remodeled in the following centuries (mainly the 17th and 18th centuries).
St Michael’s Bridge (St-Michielsbrug)
Built in the early 20th century, St Michael’s Bridge spans the River Lys right by Graslei and Korenlei. From the bridge, the view on the river and the quays is quite simply stunning, with Gravesteen Castle, St Michael Church, St Nicholas Church, the Belfry and Saint Bavo Cathedral in the distance.
Much smaller (and quainter) than St Michael’s Bridge, Grasbrug Bridge also offers a panoramic view of the River Lys and the waterfront.
Historical boat tours in Ghent
Captain Ulysses is an old sea salt and always enjoys a boat ride: he can only recommend that you too embark on a boat in Ghent to discover the city’s top sights and learn more about its history.
Cruises are quite affordable: €7,50 per person for a 40-minute tour. 🙂
Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts of Flanders
Nestled above the River Lieve, the Castle of the Counts of Flanders in one of the most famous monuments in Ghent. Built in 118 on a site where ancient fortifications dating back to the 9th century used to stand, Gravesteen Castle is the only remaining fortified castle in Flanders.
It originally served as the Counts’ residence but was turned into a prison in the 14th century before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V decided to make it his residence again.
Fun fact: much later, in 1949, the castle was stormed by a group of rebellious students!
Inside the castle, visitors are free to explore the guard house, the fortified walls, the dungeon, the Counts’ residence and the stables. You’ll also find a vast exhibition on ancient instruments of torture… chilling!
Entrance fee is €10 per adults over 25 (audioguide included) and €6 for adults aged 19 to 25. Admission is free for children under the age of 18.
Driving to Ghent
Ghent is easily accessed from the most of the main cities in Northern France and Belgium:
- From Brussels: 50 min to 1hr30 depending on traffic (60 km)
- From Bruges, 40 min to 1hr10 (50 km)
- From Antwerp, 50 min to 1hr20 (60 km)
- From Lille, 1hr to 1hr30 (80 km)
If you’re planning on renting a car in Belgium, Captain Ulysses highly recommends that you rent it through Rentalcars : this website allows you to compare the offers from numerous companies (Hertz, Europcar…) in order to find the best deal.
Getting to Ghent by bus
The bus is a fairly handy and affordable way of reaching Ghent. You’ll find daily busses departing from Paris, Brussels, Lille and Antwerp.
Getting to Ghent by train
Daily trains reach Ghent from Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Lille. This is also a very affordable option (€5 to €10).
Find out more about fares and operating times on Trainline.com.
Day tours to Ghent
Last but not least: day tours are a great way to visit Ghent. Departing from Brussels in the morning, they’ll take you to Bruges and Ghent before getting back to Brussels at the end of the day.
Find out more here.
Interested in learning more about the top sights in Flanders? Check out Captain Ulysses’ articles:
Are you looking for an accommodation in Ghent ? Captain Ulysses highly recommends checking out Booking.com to find your hotel, appartment, hostel or B&B. If you are on a tight budget, the Captain recommends 2 hostels (Treck Hostel & Uppelink Hostel ) and one hotel (Ibis Budget Gent Centrum Dampoort ). Otherwise, the Captain recommends staying at the Astoria Ghent Hotel or the Place 2 Stay appartments. If you’re looking for a more exclusive hotel, the Captain recommends: the Pillows Grand Hotel Reylof, 1898 The Post &Ghent Marriott Hotel, ideally located on Graslei.
If you want to book attraction tickets and tours in Ghent, the Captain suggests that you have a look at the activities listed on Tiqets and GetYourGuide. Skip-the-line tickets, guided tours, food tours, cruises… : you’ll be able to book the best activities in Ghent !
You can believe Captain Ulysses when he says that cruises in Ghent are a must-do! You can find out more about operating hours and prices here.
If you are planning on renting a car in Belgium, Captain Ulysses strongly advises you to have a look at the website Rentalcars,which compares countless offers to find the best deal (Hertz, Europcar, Avis…).
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