There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of this city, but you should book your next trip here, ASAP. It’s a walkable city with Medieval roots that’s full of charm, friendly people, delicious food, and perhaps most importantly, Belgian beer. It’s a perfect destination for young travelers as the city has a huge student population, meaning there are deals for young people everywhere! Seek these out while exploring the many bars, museums, castles, and churches in this lovely city. Ghent isn’t quite a touristic city (yet), and its proximity to other major cities, reasonable prices, and cultural and historical richness made Ghent one of my favorite European cities I’ve visited so far.
Where to Stay:
Hostel Uppelink- I can’t recommend this hostel enough. Through the hostel’s stained glass windows, you can look out on the best view of Ghent’s city center: a winding, cobblestone street with impressive cathedrals, the busy Sint-Michielsplein Bridge, and a river-side platform that serves as a perfect location to pack a picnic and chill out on a sunny day. The hostel is clean, the WIFI and hot water works well, and there are tons of activities offered by the hostel, such as a free walking city tour, kayak rentals, and a weekly beer tasting. I easily made friends from all over the world in the cozy common room, which holds a bar stocked with plenty of Belgian beer (and a discount for hostel guests).
What to Do:
Go On a Free Walking Tour- It departs daily from Hostel Uppelink’s front door at 1 pm. Walk on your first day for an interesting intro to Ghent and its history!
Eat Lots of Waffles– I suggest heading to ‘Koffie, 3.14, Thee’ in the Groetenmarkt, grabbing a warm take-away waffle, and eating it along the river. Side note: The Belgians prefer plain waffles, and think tourists ruin them with toppings! However, I can’t resist whipped cream or melted drizzled Nutella…
While you’re in the Groetenmarkt, also Try Cuberdons (‘Purple Nose’ candy) from the two competing vending carts. Expect a hard gummy outside with a syrupy inside. Expect to feel a sugar high after eating just one.
Taste Belgian Beer- I recommend the beer tasting event offered by Hostel Uppelink. It’s great if you’re on a budget and want to learn about what you’ll be drinking for the next few days.
Hop on a Boat Tour- Can board at many locations along the river at almost any time of day for a quick, enjoyable tour. Student discount!
’t Dreupelkot Jenever Bar- Jenever is the traditional liquor of Belgium, and it’s what gin evolved from. This bar has literally HUNDREDS of flavors of jenever to try, and you can enjoy them on the outdoor patio if its warm out. Small shots are about 2-3 euros, 3-4 euros for a large. Good deal, good alcohol.
Climb the Belfry Tower- Provides an amazing view of Ghent from above, and is very cheap with a student discount.
Go to St. Bavo’s Cathedral- and learn about the Stolen ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ painting- an art history mystery. Notice that you can choose to either see a copy of the painting in the church (for free), or pay to see the real painting.
Most travelers in Ghent are also traveling to the romantic city of Brugges, as it is only a cheap, 30 minute train ride away. Others are taking trains or busses to the bigger Belgian metropolises of Antwerp or Brussels, and some are traveling internationally to Holland. If you are taking a train, use the Gent-Sint-Pieters Train station, and expect to take a tram to connect you to the city center.