Ghent was our second stop in Belgium over the holidays. Equidistant from Bruges and Brussels, we made our way by train from our dreamy Christmas in Bruges and landed at our next AirBnB, the bottom apartment in a historical building (pictured below). If Bruges was the winter fairytale, Ghent was the forbidden gothic land; in a good way. I really wish we had been able to spend more time here rather than move on to Brussels so soon, but we didn’t know there would be so much to digest in this very attractive city.
There are some similarities to Bruges with another tipsy bell tower to climb and windy canals, but Ghent was dark and lovely with it’s incredible castle and sharp spired skyline. I enjoyed the Christmas markets in Ghent more than Bruges or Brussels. It was laid out nicely with many places to stop and warm up when it was just too freezing for this California family to face the wind for one more minute. We also ate very well here and there were pockets of the city that felt contemporary like the Holy Food Market located in a 16th century chapel (and right across from our apartment). Amen to that.
Read on to learn more about some of my favorite things we did in our short 3 day stay in Ghent.
Holy Food Market is located in the NE area of Ghent and was the first stop for us after settling in. A charcuterie plate, a pitcher of Sangria and some pizza hit the spot. Aside from being a good meal spot, there are a number of nightlife events held here on particular days of the week. This area of town also had some quaint coffee shops and a great sushi restaurant.
You know when you first get to a new city and you finally rest a bit, change your clothes and then venture out to get the lay of the land? That is simply what we were doing when we stumbled upon Gravensteen Castle sitting smack-dab in the middle of the city. It was almost dusk and we thought “Why not? Let’s just tour it now.” And what perfect timing it was. I highly recommend that you do the at-your-own-pace audio tour; it’s hilarious and takes you to all sorts of nooks and crannies you would normaly overlook. We also stopped for a beer and some nibbles in the pub within the castle- incredible! Best of all, we got to the rooftop right at sunset and looked out over all of the magic that Ghent had to offer us over the next few days.
Although this was the coldest day in Belgium, it was worth it to be out and about. The Christmas Market of Ghent is nestled around the Bell Tower and St. Nicolas’ Church, offering chalets selling the best selection of goodies & gifts of all the Belgian cities I visited. So thankful since I forgot a beanie that day and ended up buying my third headpiece of the trip (when in Rome…). It also made it easy to grab some freshly made churros and a hot chocolate or a hot toddy when the wind was almost too much to handle. I loved the modern events building that housed an indoor/ outdoor ice rink, with attached indoor beer garden, and the holiday themed rides kept us feeling like kids on Christmas for a little bit longer.
All of the things we did in Ghent were wonderful, but let’s be real. We are all just here for the architecture. I’m sure this place takes on an entirely different look in the warmer months, however it was perfectly moody in the late December days. There is almost too much to see in one’s view and when day gives way to night, a vortex opens up and takes you to yet another magical place.
If you’ve been to Ghent in warmer months, I’d love to know what you like to do there and how to spend the sunny days. Let me know in the comments!