Ghent is the jewel in the crown of East Flanders, with a collection of canals, Medieval streets, and incredible architecture that puts most European cities to shame. Though it may not look like a very big city, there are a tremendous amount of things to do in Ghent. Here’s your guide to the perfect 24 hours in this beautiful and historic city to make the most of your time in Ghent.
Hopefully, you’ve arrived in Ghent or you’re waking up in the city—start the day off right with breakfast or a coffee from one of the restaurants right in the heart of the medieval center, then begin exploring. What better way to be introduced to the things to do in Ghent than to get the lay of the land from one of the city’s high points? Head up to the Belfry, one of Ghent’s three iconic spires. There are numerous exhibits on the town’s history—and the history of their formidable mascot, the Dragon—arranged in a series of chambers leading up to the top of the tower. Once you get high enough, you’ll be greeted by a beautiful panoramic view of the city and a magnificent display of the inner workings of the system of bells that chime regularly. Time your visit so that you can see it all in action on the hour!
Once you’ve seen the city stretched out below you, there are plenty of things to do in Ghent to actually get out there and enjoy some of the sights. Consider buying a day pass to one of the canal tours—this will allow you to putter around the gorgeous waterways of Ghent in a boat, and because it’s a hop-on, hop-off ticket you can use it as a sort of water taxi to bring you to the cool parts of the city that you want to explore! There’s a station right down by the river from the Belfry. It’s a relaxing way to see Ghent from the water, and a wonderful way to get around.
If you’ve floated around for a bit and you’re getting hungry, hop off and stop by the Vrijdagmarkt to find something to eat. This historic square has been having Friday and Saturday markets for centuries, but if you’re not here on either of those days you’re still in good shape. The square is surrounded by plenty of cafés, restaurants, and beer halls that are sure to quench your thirst and fill your stomach before a long afternoon of exploring and finding the best things to do in Ghent.
After lunch, your options are endless. Since you are in the capital of one of Belgium’s Flemish provinces, this is a wonderful opportunity to seek out some of the art produced by the legendary Flemish Primitives, a group of artists that contributed to the rise of the northern Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries. To see an impressive collection of their work, as well as some more unconventional pieces including a massive airship, head south of the city center to the Citadel Park. There you’ll find the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, called the Museum voor Schone Kunsten or the MSK. One highlight you can’t miss here is an exhibit on the long-running restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece, a treasure from St. Bavo’s Cathedral in the center of town.
Once you’ve explored the MSK, you can see an even greater collection of contemporary art just next door at the SMAK, Ghent’s contemporary art museum. No matter what, don’t miss the opportunity to take a leisurely stroll in Citadel Park. Named for a fortress that used to sit on its grounds in the 1800s, it is one of the larger nature spaces in the city. There are all the trappings of a successful park here—some beautiful water features (including a waterfall), quite a bit of lawn, and ample bench space. An old bandstand in the northern half of the park has become a center for comedy, concerts, and the occasional yoga class (all served by a tiny little pop-up bar). If you time it right, it’s a lovely spot to grab a drink and enjoy some good local music.
Once you’ve walked around the park and visited the museums to your heart’s content, it’s time to head back up to the Ghent town center and start looking for a place for dinner! There are a plethora of delicious restaurants right by the Belfry—we recommend finding something near the Grand Butcher Hall, or one of the many establishments lining the canal on either side. If you’re looking for a way to end the night in style, find one of the many bars in the area that sit right above the canal and enjoy the evening light! There might not be any more pleasant place to end a long, successful day.