What can I say- Ghent was probably the highlight of our 2016 Europe trip. It was a last minute decision to spend three nights here instead of Brussels after reading a good amount about it and getting some word of mouth recommendations. Boy are we glad we made this decision. Ghent is a castle-filled, young, lively, friendly bustling and underrated European town. Easy to get to from the train station and even easier to get around the city once you are in it, we tell everyone to put this on their list when we hear they are going to be remotely near it. I’d recommend no less that 3 nights here- there is so much to do and see. Our favorites are below!
AirBnB: Our place was located in Vrijdagmarkt and we couldn’t recommend it or the location more highly. It’s in the most historic part of the town, where it’s a tad more quiet, but you are still right on a square and walking distance to the main “downtown” within just a few minutes.
ABA-Jour: Stumbled upon this little cafe after our AirBnB host told us about a cool local street “Oudburg” which happened to be celebrating the last day of a colorful PRIDE festival. It was magical- loud music, crowds of people laughing and dancing and enjoying cocktails on a warmer, sunny afternoon. It couldn’t have been more perfect and then we decided to grab an open seat here, to watch the crowds pass by. This place had the best olives with garlic spread my husband had ever tasted (I don’t like olives, weirdly).
Balls and Glory: Just go. All they sell is giant meat balls that come with sneaky sauce in the inside so when you cut into them, whatever sauce of your choosing come oozing out onto mashed potatoes or veggies. They typically seemed to have 3 balls of the day. Our recommend would be to order a ball, a drink and then grab a seat at a communal table outside.
T’vosken: This was a great cafe in the more downtown area- we grabbed a seat after hiking up the Belfry. It was the best Water Zooi and Stoverij met friten met mayonnaise we had. Not to mention, packed with locals reading, smoking and chatting. Just a pleasant lunch spot overall.
Brasserie Pukhuis: Go to eat, go to drink, it doesn’t matter. Just go. It’s on a very nondescript street but once you walk in, it takes your breath away. It’s a restaurant and bar located in a restored former textile warehouse- high ceilings, old equipment everywhere, multilevel- it’s stunning.
Soup Lounge: Located right on the canal near Oudburg street, it’s a charming spot we found when looking for breakfast one morning. And honestly, what is better than breakfast soup? We are weird. You simply go to the counter, choose the soup you want, the toppings you want, get it from the nice lady behind the counter along with a piece of bread and an apple and can sit at a cafe table outside. It couldn’t get any better.
Lucy Chang: If you get beef stewed out and just want something different, Lucy Chang’s is a great option. It’s some flavor-filled asian food- noodles, stirfrys, you name it. There is plenty of food to eat in Ghent but if you want a little change, we had a nice dusk meal here, sitting outside.
Dulle Griet: This is located on the far end of the square we were staying on. Hundreds of beers on tap with both indoor and outdoor seating. There was a rumor that if you ordered one type of beer they take one of your shoes to ensure you pay, and the ceiling has shoes dangling from it.
Hot Club de Gand: We liked this place so much we went back twice. On a rather narrow foot traffic alleyway before you cross a bridge over the waterway (that was actually under construction when we were there), there is a VERY dicey looking sign that reads “Hot Club de Gand.” At first we thought it might be a strip club, but it looked cool and once you walked under the sign, we realized there was a LONG narrow (one body wide) alley that stretched WAY far back off the street. Elliott encouraged me to check it out and once I made it to the end, he must’ve seen my face and followed me. At the end of the alley to the right was a hidden courtyard with a handful of tables, groups of all ages (students catching up smoking cigarettes, a group of 60 year olds drinking beers) enjoying this outdoor cafe which appeared to be connected to a quaint pink house. Inside was a stage for nighttime entertainment. It was darling, eclectic, and one of our favorite places to pop in for an afternoon drink while in Ghent.
Proof: Located across the street from the Design Museum (see below), this place was a real charmer. Looks like a hip bottle shop from the outside. Once inside, yes, you are greeted with floor to ceiling bottles- whiskey, tequila, you name it- to purchase and take home. However if you would like to “taste” something, make your way down the nondescript steps and you’ll find there are three tiny tables in the back, RIGHT on the canal. Read the menu and order a flight of whatever you choose, or a glass, or buy a bottle and drink it- your choice. You sit amongst the cute flowers, read the incredible back story of the place and if you are lucky enough, you’ll get to have a lovely conversation with the even more lovely owner/founder. She is a gem, as is this place.
Eat Ghent “Water Zooi” and “Stoverij” everywhere you can- both are local dishes and HOLY F*CK are they good. The former is basically chicken pot pie in a soup (if that makes sense) and the latter is almost like a beef bourguignon but instead of wine, it’s made with local Belgian beer- a beef-meat-stew thing, if you will. Both are just divine.
Gravensteen: One of the more famous castles in the center of the city- lines can be long and crowds can be great but it’s worth a gander. Hot tip- Go right before they close. We came across the castle accidentally and walked right in- we ended up being the last people they let in and shut the line right behind us. It was meant to be!
Het Belfort van Gent: If you feel like a bit of exercise, visit this Belfry and hike to the top. It’s pretty quick but definitely a workout ending with some cool views of the city.
Design Museum: A very strange museum- old architecture mixed with new designs. It’s pretty interesting and worth a 30 minute walk through- when we there, they were having a “Bike To the Future” exhibit full of designer bikes and “Back to the Future” references. A fun afternoon.
Graffiti Street: It’s exactly what it sounds like- pretty cool to do a walk through.
Shop: Everything is cheap AF. We bought some killer new threads at Zara and didn’t spent more than $20 on anything.
Be outside: Park it by the main canal in town like the locals do with a beer or find a nearby park- we loved Baudelopark. We brought a bottle of wine, some books and cards and sat there for about 3 hours watching homeless people wander by, lovers canoodling with rose, and families playing with their dogs.