How To Spend a Day In Ghent: 12 Things To Do in Ghent



After spending a few days in Brussels, members of the Frugal Expat Travel team decided it was time to get outside of the capital city and find the “Real” Belgium. When you visit the capital, you get a better feeling of everyday life for most Belgians.

This trip was extra special as four friends celebrated their 40th birthdays together. So, while the experiences we share may differ from what you might expect on a typical day in Ghent, they are all about making the most of this great little city.

Getting to Ghent From Brussels

credit: depositphotos

It couldn’t be easier. At least two trains an hour run from Brussels to Ghent, all running directly from Central Station without any changes. Travel can sometimes be overwhelming in foreign countries, but there is no need to worry, as a train to Ghent is straightforward. You can buy your tickets through an app but use plenty of machines—our ticket cost about 11 euros for a return, which was worth every penny.

Get the train to Gent-Sint-Pieters station, and then it's about a 20-minute walk into the center. The walk could have been miserable if the weather had been terrible, but when the Frugal Expat team visited, it was a pleasant 20 degrees, which made it a lovely walk.  

The following post will discuss what to do if you have a day in Ghent. If we had planned, we would have stayed overnight here to have more time in this fantastic little city.

1. Just Walk and Take it All in

Dog Walking
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

As mentioned above, one of the best ways to get around in Ghent is just to walk. When we arrived, we thought it had The Netherlands, which has a very Dutch feeling. After researching, we discovered that people in Ghent speak Flemish, which is very similar to Dutch.

We walked into the city and passed plenty of local coffee shops and cafes along the canal. The one we called at was a vegan cafe, which was lovely. It was a great place to people-watch while enjoying an excellent coffee and discussing what we wanted to do when we entered the center. When we sat down here, we realized Ghent has a slower pace of life than the capital, and it was somewhere we all felt more at home.

2. Walk up the Belfry

The Belfry is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage attraction, costing 11 Euros to go inside.

This wasn’t originally on our list of things to do in Ghent, but when we all saw a high building you could go up, we all went for it. This isn’t the tallest bell tower I’ve been up to. But if the weather's good, you should do it as you get to see Ghent from a different perspective.

Be warned. If you are scared of heights or not good with stairs, you should know that the stairs going up and down are very small and narrow. Luckily, there's a lift up, and you take the stairs down, but you may still have to pass someone who's decided to walk up.

At the top, there isn’t much room to move about, as the actual lookout point is thin and a one-way system. This didn't bother us, but it's something to be aware of.

As you can see by the image above, you are rewarded with stunning views.

3. Sample Some Belgium Beer

Craft Beer Flight
Credit: Depositphotos

One of the best things to do in Ghent is to drink beer. As mentioned before, the weather was good, so what better way to spend it than sampling some Belgian beers outside in the sun?

We visited Artevelde, which I would highly recommend. Artevelde beer is made right in the center of Ghent at the Artevelde micro-brewery, which you can find on the busy Botermarkt. This small brewery captures the authentic flavors of Ghent, making each batch with care and attention that you can taste in every glass. Unlike bigger beer companies, this microbrewery focuses on keeping things high-quality and close to home. One of the guys on the trip with us works in a brewery and appreciated the excellent beers.

There's a great choice of beers, but as you can tell from the picture, we all went to one of the beer platters, which gave you choices of quite a few beers. It looks like a lot of beer, but it only averaged about 1 pint each. 

However, Belgian beer is stronger than most beers, and we could certainly feel its effect after we stood up, so make sure you pace yourself.

We have written an article about some of the best bars in Brus, which you can read here (link to my other article).

4. Enjoy Belgium Fries by the Canal

Canal in Ghent
Credit: bloodua/Depositphotos

Belgium is known for its “Frites,” a cheap and easy way to grab something on the go. Many people in Ghent head down to the canal and eat by the side of the water.

We opted for the “Meat Sauce” on our fries. We didn’t quite know what it was, but it turned out to be essentially gravy, which was very tasty.

5. Take one of the Many Boat Tours

If you are looking for fun things to do in Ghent, take a boat tour. Plenty of boat companies offer the same tour through the canals.

Our boat was too crowded for our liking compared to other canal boat tours that we have been on in different cities. They did pile us on. So, if you don’t like other people's legs touching your legs or being very close to you, then pick a tour at a less peak time.

Our boat trip cost 10 euros, which lasted 50 minutes. The guide is spoken in French and English, and live commentary is given, along with plenty of humor. Apart from the crowded boat, it's one of the best boat tours we have done in Europe and was worth every frugal penny.

Even though boat tours are popular with tourists, you will see signs along the waterways saying, “Stop boat tours noise pollution.” The locals who live nearby are fed up with hearing the speaker systems on the boats. I can see their point, and this could be solved by giving people headphones, which we have used on other boats.

You can pay for your boat tour by credit or debit card; tour guides accept tips. As we didn’t have cash, we couldn’t tip, but I would have loved to, as the guide made the trip fun.

6. Hire a Kayak or Your own Boat

If joining a large boat tour isn’t your thing, you can hire your own boats. We found the boats closer to the train station than the center of Ghent. This is probably because the canal isn’t as busy, and there isn’t as much boat traffic.

Kayaks are also available for hire in the city center, and they were very popular when we were there. We didn’t opt for these as we didn’t realize it was an option, and there's a good chance you will be left with wet clothes for the rest of the day. Therefore, if it is something you are considering, think about bringing a change of clothes.

If you are visiting with your partner and after romantic things to do in Ghent, kayaking would be a great choice. You could even pick up some local food from the shops beforehand and stop for a picnic somewhere along the canals.

7. Visit the Castle of the Counts

Castle of the Counts
Credit: Kisa_Markiza/Depositphotos

If you are after things to do with kids in Ghent, head up to the Castle Of The Counts.

The Castle Of The Count is from the 12th century, and visitors are allowed inside the gatehouse, ramparts, keep, count residence, and stables. From the outside, it looks like a setting from Game of Thrones and has an authentic medieval charm.

We didn’t visit the inside; it was a choice between here and the Belfry. The overall decision was to go to the top of the Belfry instead and just take some pictures of the castle from the outside, as a few on our trip were a bit more Frugal than others and only had a limited budget. It costs 13 Euros, which we think is quite affordable, as it's not every day you get to go inside such a fantastic castle.

If you do go inside, then the audio tour is highly recommended by visitors. 

8. Hire a Bike

Woman riding in bike lane
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

If you want to feel like a local, hire a bike. There are plenty of places to do this, as biking is the number one mode of transport in Ghent.

An electronic sign on the main road into Ghent updates every time a car or bike goes past to show people how much traffic is going along the route. As you can guess, the number of bikes was many times higher than the number of cars.

Bike hire is available all over the city, and the Visit Ghent site lists them all. We recommend hiring one from Gent-Sint-Pieters station, as you will likely return to the station if you are only here for a day. Hiring a bike is one of the cheaper things to do in Ghent if you work it out on an hourly basis.

9. Comic Sans (A Comic Book Themed Bar)

This has to be one of the coolest bars we visited in Belgium and spent a good few hours here.

You can play a good selection of board games in exchange for handing over some ID. Cards Against Humanity was our choice of play, which provided a great laugh, and it’s something to do while having a beer that passes the time. 

There are plenty of pinball machines and other arcades to play on, and a nice-sized pool table we had a go of.

Overall, it's a great bar different from your average, and you should at least pop your head in to check out while passing.

10. Visit ‘t Galgenhuis – One Of Europe's Smallest Bars

If you are looking for alternative things to do in Ghent, head to ‘t Galgenhuis, one of the smallest bars in Europe.

If it weren’t for the informative tour guide, we would not have known this bar existed or where it was. The outside area is excellent, and we had a quick beer before returning to the train station.

11. Visit The Art Galleries and Museums

While we spent most of our time enjoying the great weather that Ghent had blessed us with, it is a city packed with incredible art galleries and museums that you shouldn't miss. Whether you're into modern art or the classic works of the Flemish Old Masters, Ghent has something for everyone. 

You can explore a range of themes, from psychiatry to the city’s industrial past. Don't miss seeing “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” by the Van Eyck brothers, which is one of the most popular attractions in Ghent.

If you prefer more contemporary art, the S.M.A.K. is known for its impressive international exhibitions. 

12. Visit the Citadelpark

Even though we were lucky to have great weather and spent most of our time outside, if you're in Ghent, you should check out Citadelhent. 

It’s a big green space between two rivers, where a big old fort used to be. Now, it’s an excellent place for anyone wanting to relax or picnic. There are many old trees to sit under, enjoy the day, and get away from the city.

The park is also full of history. It used to be a fortress, and later, they held a big fair here in 1913. If you like art, you’ll find a statue of Emile Claus, a famous painter from Belgium who used to paint scenes from around Ghent.

Perfect for the frugal traveler as it's one of the things to do for free in Ghent.

Final Thoughts

Ghent is a must-visit if you're exploring Belgium. 

It's easy to get there from Brussels, and you'll feel right at home with its relaxed atmosphere and friendly streets. Although we packed a lot into one day, having a few days to explore would be ideal. You can take it easy, walk through the city, and enjoy all the sights without rushing. 

Whether it’s the stunning views from the Belfry, tasting local beers, or just chilling by the canal with some fries, Ghent offers a perfect slice of Belgian life away from the usual tourist areas. 

If you think we have missed anything in this article or want to comment on anything we have mentioned, please let us know by filling in the comments below.

Leave a Comment