The ultimate guide to Ghent, Belgium

The ultimate guide to Ghent, Belgium

This article used to be produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

In the 16th century, Ghent lost all of it on the harmful bet. Constructed round rivers and canals, it used to be Europe’s second-largest metropolis centre, falling valid leisurely Paris. When Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who dominated over Belgium, raised taxes to fund armed forces action in a foreign country, the metropolis refused to pay out. They’d already given a finest-trying portion, locals argued, and completely Charles, who had been born in Ghent, wouldn’t flip on his residence. In response, he marched into the metropolis with his military, stripping it of its finery and parading its leaders in their undershirts, nooses round their necks.  

Today, you would possibly well have the option to find evidence of the metropolis’s current previous in its historical centre, residence to a UNESCO-listed belfry and the Gravensteen, a stone fortress acknowledged to had been inspired by Crusader castles. And whereas its heyday is now leisurely it, Ghentians proudly expose the story of their fall from grace as proof of their rebellious dawdle. 

This spirit survived, the signal of a plan that’s relaxed with its identity: socially conscious and entire of fresh tips. Initiatives worship Nucleo are repurposing empty spaces into artists’ studios, and moving the overall public to thought in yearly — in 2024, the open day is on 5 May doubtless. In the intervening time, chefs are experimenting with the earth’s pantry, casting Ghent as a European vegetarian capital. This energy is partly due to it being Flanders’ supreme college metropolis: out of some 267,000 residents, over a quarter are students. This ensures a come never-ending present of speciality-roast coffee within the Overpoort scholar district, and nightlife starting from candle-lit wine bars to sweaty warehouses, reverberating with the extra or less techno extra veritably linked to Berlin. 

The metropolis used to be named 2024 European Formative years Capital by the European Formative years Forum — and it’s no surprise. In April, it is far going to celebrate the accolade as share of the biennial Ghent International Competition, which is ready to feature opera to boot to dancers on roller-skates. Events will proceed for the length of the year, with locals as young as 15 invited to make a contribution tips. As for what they’ll attain up with, all bets are off.

What to gaze and enact

1. Historic quays
Whenever you’ve viewed photos of Ghent sooner than, chances are high they’re of the Graslei and Korenlei. As soon as the metropolis’s centre of commerce, these quays stay a hub of task, lined with cafe terraces and moorings for boat tours. They’re the gateway to the historical centre, to boot to the neighbourhoods of Patershol, a mature working-class district grew to change into culinary hotspot, and Prinsenhof, a residential home that used to be as soon as residence to royalty.

2. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb
This altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers is the most stolen art work of all time — it used to be even robbed by Napoleon, and over the years, it’s been solid and nearly destroyed. It marked the transition from Center Ages to Renaissance in Flemish art work: worship its sort-defining small print at St Bavo’s Cathedral, the set a VR tour leads visitors by its history.

The food hall Hal 16, nestled in Ghent’s renewed factory complexes, is residence to the Dok Brewing Company, a microbrewery providing a rich prefer of 30 fairly just a few beers on tap.

Photograph by Kevin Faingnaert

3. Street art work
Ever since a historical centre passageway — now identified as Graffiti Alley — used to be given over to avenue artists within the Nineties, murals maintain claimed Ghent worship vines. Free to obtain, the ‘Sorry, No longer Sorry’ scheme pinpoints just among the most notorious. Items from homegrown talent consist of the rabbits by stout-establish ROA on Tempelhof and the foxes on Napoleon Destanbergstraat, which helped artist Kitsune create a establish for herself. 

4. Dok Noord
In the metropolis’s northern reaches, an worn factory complex has been grew to change into into Dok Noord, with out a doubt one of Ghent’s most up-to-date leisure and plan of job trends. Its major draw is Hal 16, a food hall in a mature brick warehouse. Strive barbecued dishes or Italian specialities including mafaldine pasta with octopus ragu, then quench your thirst at Dok Brewing Company. There are 30 beers on tap, but Waar is Loca, a faded ale brewed on set, is a crowd favourite. 

5. Museum of Industry
Belgium used to be the first country in mainland Europe the set the Industrial Revolution took set. Housed internal a mature cotton mill, this museum traces Ghent’s rise to textile powerhouse. The critical particular person of the sequence is Belgium’s first spinning mule, a machine created to flee up fable production: native Lieven Bauwens smuggled its parts out of the UK, as export of such equipment had been banned.

Where to luxuriate in in Ghent

1. Knol & Kool
The prefer at this vegan cafe, just a few steps from the belfry, ranges from vegetable lasagne with rocket pesto and almond parmesan to bánh mì overstuffed with tofu, pickled carrot and red cabbage. Strive the on-set vegan minimarket for hibiscus-flavoured beer, inexperienced leek miso paste and nut cheese made within the community.

2. Lepelblad
This contemporary restaurant in peaceable Onderbergen, come the historical centre, works with native farmers and small producers to celebrate the season’s bounty. The menu would possibly well doubtless commerce relying on the day’s present, but query dishes worship chicory tarte tatin with onion cream and mustard salad or marinated pork with salsify, soy and herbs. Every comes with a counseled wine and beer pairing.

3. Oak
This one-Michelin-starred restaurant is celebrating its Tenth anniversary with a refurbished thought but has retained the minimalist, darkish-toned decor that lets its menu shine. Brazilian chef Marcelo Ballardin’s multi-route menus lean into his worldwide background with creations akin to mackerel with Philippine calamansi lime or sea bass with tucupi sauce, extracted from wild manioc root within the Amazon rainforest.

Where to scurry browsing 

1. Dwelling Linen
This boutique on the Korenlei has been crafting its find designs on yarn of the Nineteenth century. A lavender scent permeates the set, which sells lace tablecloths embellished with red lobsters, retro evening gowns and young folks’s dresses embroidered with rosebuds. It’s all fairly priced, regardless of Belgian linen being neatly-known for its softness.

2. Antiques
Ghent has a apparently never-ending assortment of classic retail outlets. Situated reverse every other on central Baudelostraat, Antiek-Depot has overflowing cabinets of curios, whereas Moca has ceilings hung with chairs and tambourines. For extra accurate perusing, Galerie St-John has a pedigree prefer of cutlery, porcelains and Belgian art work, all housed in a mature baroque church.    

3. Sweets & condiments
While Belgium is identified for waffles and chocolate, Ghentians will suggest fairly just a few specialities. Cuberdons are nose-formed laborious sweets packed with fruit syrup; obtain a packet at Patershol’s Confiserie Temmerman, which dates to 1904. Even older is Tierenteyn-Verlent within the historical centre, selling a within the community notorious mustard made the spend of a secret recipe.  

After hours

1. ‘t Dreupelkot
It’s been over four decades since Paul Rysenaer opened this pint-sized pub just a few steps from the Graslei, the set barrels attend as excessive tables and wood cabinets negate shot glasses. Head right here to are attempting jenever, a juniper-flavoured Belgian and Dutch spirit: there are some 200 sorts on the cabinets, some distilled by Paul himself.

The Cobbler cocktail bar at 1898 The Post resort transforms after hours to a low-lit venue

Photograph by Kevin Faingnaert

2. The Cobbler
Stroll up a spiral staircase and into this low-lit cocktail bar internal 1898 The Post resort, with out a doubt one of the significant metropolis’s trendiest addresses. It’s laborious to disclose what’s better: the positioning on the Graslei, overlooking gothic St Nicholas’ Church, or its signature concoctions. Strive the fruity pear sonata with vodka, Cointreau, cassis and pear, or the herbal downstairs harry, a combination of rum, cognac, vermouth, Chartreuse, maple syrup and yarn.

3. Jazz clubs
A UNESCO Ingenious Metropolis of Song, Ghent has a fairly just a few affinity with jazz. Every July, Gent Jazz takes over a mature 13th-century clinical institution with performances by the likes of Gregory Porter and Norah Jones, but you’ll find classes to jam out to all year. Hot Club Gent, an intimate bar, and Missy Sippy, a self-styled ‘contemporary juke joint’, are correct locations to open within the historical centre.   

Savor a native

1. Portus Ganda
Ghent’s establish comes from ganda, Celtic for ‘confluence’. The metropolis used to be founded the set the rivers Lys and Scheldt meet; when the Graslei and Koreneli obtain too busy, apply the canals to this very space, now a peaceable marina. If visiting in warm months, detour to St Bavo’s Abbey, the set hornbeam bushes label the outline of a long-lost church. 

2. The Bakery
When pastry chef Joost Arijs pickle up a chocolate shop in SoGo — Ghent’s browsing district — in 2011, it used to be swiftly named Belgium’s supreme by restaurant guide Gault & Millau. Opened down the avenue in 2023, his apply-up bakery used to be constantly going to draw in extraordinary locals but, a year on, the morning queues negate no signal of subsiding. Near early to maintain your opt of the crispiest croissants. 

3. Veggie Thursdays
In 2009, Ghent used to be the first metropolis within the realm to introduce a weekly meat-free day — an initiative that’s since been replicated from Taipei to Los Angeles. Rob share yourself at Boon, an airy, Scandi-sublime vegetarian lunch bar reverse the Gravensteen. The seasonal soups, salads and slices of quiche can maintain you coming support for added regardless of what day of the week it is far.

Where to stay in Ghent

1. Ganda Rooms and Suites
You’ll be laborious-pressed to find better price for money than this B&B, pickle in an 18th-century townhouse within the historical centre. The eight rooms set long-established mantelpieces and wooden beams, and the owners worked with artisans to furnish them with bespoke beds and Belgian art work.

2. Pillows Enormous Hotel Reylof
Fair to its mature lifestyles as a baronial set, this four-critical particular person resort dazzles on the starting set thought with a sweeping staircase in its marbled, neoclassical foyer. Save in a separate building, the 157 rooms are a extra pared-support affair, but with frequent areas including a library and a bijou spa in what used to be a carriage home — plus the Graslei a stone’s throw away — there’s good enough to set you busy.

3. Hotel Verhaegen
Frescoes, a landscaped garden, a bathe home with vaulted ceilings: there’s nothing refined about this metropolis palace, a transient stroll from the historical centre. It used to be reimagined as a four-room guesthouse by a pair of interior designers, who blended hand-picked antiques with Twenty first-century touches. Splurge on the Suite des Annees ’40 — although at some 750sq toes, the term ‘suite’ hardly does it justice. 

Printed within the April 2024 mumble of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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