Thinking of visiting Ghent in Belgium? Although I’d recommend spending two or three days in Ghent (I spend 2 days there), it is possible to spend just one day in Ghent and see the main sights of the city. Today, I’m here to help you to plan your Ghent itinerary.
I first visited Belgium way back in 1991 when I was still a child (11 years old), and pretty much all I remember from that trip is the chocolate! Needless to say I returned in adulthood in 2010, and again for another week this autumn (2023).
Ghent is the third largest city in Flanders (the Northern Dutch speaking part of Belgium). The city of Ghent is a port city and a popular University town, with a historical centre full of stunning medieval architecture. Ghent is famous for its hipster vibe, sweet shops and Moules-Frites (Mussels and chips!).
Getting there and away
Ghent is accessible from Brussels-Midi train station which has the Eurostar direct from London St Pancras. Flights go to Brussels from most major UK airports including London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. I flew to Brussels Charleroi from Liverpool with Ryanair for just £17.99! Take the Flibco bus to Brussels and then the train from Brussels Midi to Gent-Sint-Pieters.
From Ghent-Sint-Pieters you can take the tram to the city centre (takes around 15 mins) or you can walk along the riverside in about half an hour. Hiring a bike or electric scooter is also a good option.
When to visit Ghent
Ghent can be very busy in August (the peak of the European and British school holidays) and so I would recommend visiting in the spring or fall. Avoid December and January which are the coldest months, unless you are visiting for the Christmas markets (usually early December through to New Year).
Ghent holds a famous annual festival – ‘Ghent Festival of Flanders’ -which sees various bands, street artists and forms of entertainment flood the streets of this medieval city. There is also an annual Jazz festival in Ghent held usually in July. If you would like to see the streets come to life with music then book to visit during these times, but if your main objective is site seeing then you may want to avoid them as it gets extremely busy.
There is also a famous flower show held in Ghent. If you’re visiting during the flower show, the Gentse Floraliën is a beautiful event showcasing stunning floral displays. It’s a ticketed event and you can book here.
Taking Ghent day trip from Brussels
If you are staying in Brussels, you will be pleased to know that you can do Ghent as a day trip from there. Take the train from Brussels Centraal to Gent-Sint-Pieters (2.5km South of the historical centre) and the journey is just 35 minutes. There are also organised tours from Brussels to both Ghent and Bruges with Get Your Guide and Viator.
So, let’s get straight to it….how do you spend one day in Ghent, Belgium?
Ways to explore Ghent Belgium
The great news is the Ghent is a very walkable city and best explored by foot. There are some great walking tours that you can book, which I really enjoy because you can learn more about the history and culture of a place, and all meet other travellers as well.
It’s a pleasure to explore the charming historic center of Ghent on foot, filled with narrow streets, beautiful facades, and lively squares like Sint-Veerleplein and Sint-Baafsplein. Bikes and electric scooters are also very popular in Ghent and so you can easily cover more ground by renting one of those.
Another great option for getting around Ghent is to take a canal tour. It’s a relaxing way to see the city from a different perspective!
Budgeting for one day in Ghent
To fully enjoy your one day in Ghent I would suggest a budget of at least 100-150€. This will cover entrance to Bavo Cathedral (to view the famous altarpiece which you should not miss), lunch, beer, evening meal, a boat trip and tipping of the guides for your two walking tours.
If you are staying over in Ghent the night before then add 50€ to your budget for Hostelling or another 100-150€ for a comfortable hotel. I recommend that you stay at Hostel Uppelink if you don’t mind youth Hostelling. Belgian can be pricey for accommodation, but Uppelink is good value, clean, centrally located and the meeting point for the legends walking tours.
How to spend one day in Ghent Belgium
This itinerary for one day in Ghent makes the most of the city by combining two walking tours and one boat trip along the canal, ending up at the famous beer bar Dulle Grit on Friday Markt. This itinerary is very intense, and you will need to have your best walking boots on and be prepared to cover in excess of 20,000 steps in one day. If this is too much for you, then take an overnight stay (or two) in Ghent at Hostel Uppelink, and spread this itinerary over two days, with an easier and more relaxed pace.
This itinerary starts at 9am sharp, and is a FULL day, so you will need to stay over the night before, or arrive at the main train station early (between 8-8.30am) to fit everything in. But as you will see, it is possible for you to spend just one day in Ghent, Belgium, and cover the main sites of the city.
Also, note that you should not attempt to do this on a Sunday as the Bavo Cathedral will be closed in the morning and some of the walking tours may not be running. Check and book the tours in advance on https://www.legendstours.be (walking tours) and the Ghent canal tour here on Get Your Guide. Book the Legends Ghent walking tour for 10.30am, the canal tour for 2.45pm and the evening Dark side of Ghent tour for 8pm.
8.30am St Michael’s Bridge
Get to St Michael’s bridge as early as possible, because the view from there is stunning, but it gets rather busy later and more difficult to photograph. Look from St Michaels Cathedral towards St Bavo Cathedral, which is one of the three towers of Ghent, the others being St. Nicholas’ Church and the Ghent Belfry. These are masterpieces of the 11th – 16th Century – Ghent’s Golden Age. You might also like to snap a few pictures along the river, before heading to Bavo Cathedral as the first visitor of the day.
9am Bavo Cathedral and the Lamb of God
Firstly, head straight to the stunning Bavo Cathedral, where you are going to go inside this Gothic Cathedral and see its phenomenal interior. The main part of the Church is free to enter and open from 8.30am), but I would recommend paying the 16€ to see the famous altarpiece ‘The Lamb of God’ painted by the Van Eyk brothers.
Note: Bavo Cathedral is closed to visitors until 1pm on Sundays.
10.30am Legends of Ghent Walking Tour
Next head to the entrance of Hostel Uppelink for around 10.15am to join the 10.30am Legends of Ghent free walking tour. It’s a free walking tour, so have some cash Euros ready to tip your guide (they run on tips rather than charge per ticket).
The walking tour starts at St Michaels bridge and the riverside, where you will learn about the history of Ghent, and why the city became so prosperous in the Middle Ages (grain tax and textiles mainly!). Your guide will point out a few interesting buildings along the river including the old tax house and a medieval ‘knocking shop!’
This medieval castle, also known as the Castle of the Counts, is a must-se in Ghent. You can explore its dungeons, towers, and enjoy panoramic views of the city from the top, but if you only have one day in Ghent, it’s honestly not worth going inside. The inside of the castle is mainly medieval torture equipment with a bizarre audio guide narrated by a Belgian comedian! Your Legends tour guide will show you some of the most beautiful views of Gravensteen castle (across the water) for your photos.
The Old Fish Market
Near to Gravensteen castle your guide will show you the old fish market which dates back to the seventeenth Century. The main building of the fish market is decorated with sea creatures including lobster, shrimp, plaice and crab. The main Baroque-style gatehouse, built in 1689, was is decorated with sea-gods. In front of the fish market and Gravensteen, you see one of the oldest squares in Ghent, which you will find out later (on the evening walk for the Dark Side of Ghent) that many hangings took place here!
Graslei and Kraanlei
These picturesque canalside streets are lined with historic buildings and are perfect for a leisurely stroll. Some of my favourite old buildings along Kraanlei were these two old houses – one was an orphanage and one was an old apothecary shop. There is a great deal of symbolism in the stone carvings on the front of these buildings, which you can ask your guide to explain.
Werregarenstraat, also known as Graffiti Street, is a constantly changing canvas of street art. It’s a unique and colorful place to visit – although it may be a place for young and inexperienced artists to practice, you can see some really cool piece and it’s a great vibe!
There are a few other stops on the morning walking tour, so I will leave some to be a surprise! You will be on this walking tour for around 2 hours, and so you should finish ready for lunch around 12.30pm. If you have a good experience and can afford to, don’t forget to tip your guide.
1pm Lunch at Tartaar Bar
It’s time for lunch, and trust me, you will never go hungry in Ghent! If you haven’t tried it yet, I recommend that you stop for lunch at Tartaar bar for the famous Belgian fries (I like them served with the Flemish stew sauce!) But don’t hang around more than an hour or so – you will need to head to the canal for your boat trip at 2.45pm.
Oh, and if you have the energy to climb the 366 steps up the Ghent Belfry, now is the time to quickly fit that in! Most visitors can make it in 30 minutes (1 hour max).
2.45pm Boat Trip
You are now going to take take your guided canal tour of Ghent, to see the city from a different perspective.
The city is built on the confluence of two rivers – the Lys (Leie) and Scheldt (Schelde) rivers, which contributed to the city’s wealth in the Middle Ages – they could tax the boats on grain as they travelled through from France. Along the river, you will see the beautiful stepped gable houses and other notable buildings such as the old meat market.
3pm Stop for a Belgian Beer or two!
It’s time to take a rest and a drink! You have already done a lot! Why not consider stopping for a Belgian beer? Some great places to stop for a drink include the Waterside Beer Bar (Het Waterhuis can de Bierkart) and Café Galgenhuis (the old gallow house!)
6pm A Traditional Belgian Dinner
I have no doubt that you will have a fantastic dinner in Ghent – it’s hard to find a bad restaurant in all honesty! Go for something traditionally Belgian if you can, but bear in mind that Belgian food can be very heavy. Here are a few ideas on what to eat in Ghent….
- Gentse Waterzooi: Try the local specialty, Gentse Waterzooi, a creamy Belgian stew typically made with chicken or fish.
- Mussels: Belgium is famous for its moules-frites (mussels and fries). In Ghent, you can find these delicious shellfish served in various styles like steamed in white wine, garlic, and herbs.
- Flemish Stew (Stoofvlees): This hearty beef stew cooked in beer is a Belgian favorite. It’s typically served with fries and is a must-try when visiting Ghent.
- Ganda Ham: This dry-cured ham, made in Ghent, is often served as an appetizer or in sandwiches. It’s a local delicacy.
And for desert….
- Speculoos: These spiced, crunchy biscuits or cookies are a favorite snack in Belgium and can be found in Ghent.
- Cuberdons: Also known as “noses of Ghent” or “Ghent noses,” these cone-shaped candies have a raspberry flavor and are a specialty sweet treat in the city.
- Belgian Waffles: Indulge in authentic Belgian waffles. In Ghent, you can find them with various toppings like whipped cream, chocolate, fruit, or ice cream.
If you would like some recommendations for good restaurants in Ghent, you will enjoy any of these…
- ‘t Vosken (Sint-Baafsplein) – Classic Belgian restaurant
- OOOST – On Goudenleeuwplein OOOST has good traditional Belgian food without being rip off prices!
- Eithuis Augutijnje – Scampi, lobster and all the Belgian classics.
- Oudberg – International Street Food.
- Keizershof (on Vrijdagmarkt) – Belgian Brasserie.
8pm Evening Walking tour – The Dark Side of Ghent
Head back to Hostel Upperlink for around 7.45pm ready to start your 8pm evening walking tour. This tour is a little ‘dark’ – you will find out where the hangings happened and where they used to burn or dunk ‘witches’! But it will also take you to some less discovered spots in the city that are beautifully lit up at night.
You will be shown the ‘pillory posts’ on the main squares of Ghent where they would torture and hang people. You will also learn the story of Ghents ‘noosemen’ when the citizens revolted against the taxes imposed by Emperor Charles. There are some memorials and statues we found on this tour that I would not have discovered by myself, and certainly would have not understood what they meant. The people of Ghent are proud of their people throughout history.
You will end your evening tour in the Patershol district – this is one of Ghent’s oldest neighbourhoods, known for its medieval architecture and charming atmosphere with cobbled streets. Back in the Middle Ages, it wasn’t so beautiful – you will hear how there was little in the way of sewerage and people used to pour their bed pans into the street!
And finally….if you still have any energy after all that, head to the Dulle Grit Beer Bar on Friday Markt. Here, you can purchase a carriage beer served in the old style tube glass that the drivers used to use back in the day when drinking and driving was legal and not frowned upon! But beware, you will need to give up your shoe as a deposit one the glass!
Got an extra day?
If you have more time, consider visiting some of these additional museums and attractions in Ghent….
- STAM – Ghent City Museum: Learn about the history of Ghent through interactive exhibits and multimedia displays in this modern museum.
- The Design Museum Gent: For those interested in design and contemporary art, this museum showcases a wide range of design-related exhibits.
- Museum of Fine Arts (MSK): This museum features an impressive collection of Flemish art, including works by Van Eyck, Hieronymus Bosch, and more.
- St. Peter’s Abbey: Explore the abbey and its gardens, which offer a tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle.
Further reading on Ghent
If you are spending one day in Ghent then you might also like to read about…
If you would like to spend more time in Belgium, I would highly recommend a trip to Bruges and Brussels. Also you can get to Amsterdam and Rotterdam easily by train if you would like to explore The Netherlands.
How did you enjoy Ghent? I’d love to hear some of your comments on my blog!