Nestled in the heart of Flemish-speaking Belgium, Ghent is a gorgeous city with a rich historical heritage alongside a quirky, modern spirit. Ghent has been overshadowed in recent years by its more popular Belgian counterparts like Antwerp and Bruges.
Ghent is a hidden gem of Europe waiting to be discovered. Ghent has some of the most beautiful Cathedrals in Europe and makes a perfect day trip for those staying in Brussels – so here is what to do on a day trip spending one day in Ghent!
Discovering Ghent in One Day
Ghent is very easy to get to from Brussels. It’s a great idea to stay in Brussels to be able to make wonderful day trips to areas like Bruges and Antwerp, which you can easily visit in one day!
Unlike Bruges and Antwerp above, though, Ghent isn’t much to look at when you first pull into the train station – but just wait! Walk into its historic town center and Ghent is a remarkably picturesque city.
Ghent is known all over Belgium for its historic significance, incredible art, and culinary delights. Inside Ghent you’ll find a stunning medieval castle, winding canals, religious art, and endless bridges.
Even if you only have one day in Ghent – Ghent is absolutely worth visiting and should not be missed on your trip to Belgium.
Exploring Ghent in one day is a challenge, but is absolutely possible! I traveled to Ghent from Leuven – which is even further than Brussels – and spent an amazing day in this Unesco World Heritage Site city. There are plenty of things to do in Ghent, so follow this itinerary to make the most of Ghent in one day and discover the most amazing things to do in Ghent, Belgium.
Traveling to Ghent for a Day Trip
The best way to get around Belgium is by train. Belgium’s train system is efficient and while not the cheapest in Europe it is still relatively inexpensive. You can easily buy tickets online per route so you can use them at any time of day.
If you are staying in Brussels during your trip to Belgium, travel from Brussels to Ghent takes less than an hour and is very pleasant.
When you arrive in Ghent, at the Gent-Sint-Pieters Train Station, you might be surprised it doesn’t exactly look like all the tourist photos below! Ghent is a large city and the canals and tiered guild houses that made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site are only in the Historic Center.
It’s at least a 20-minute walk from Ghent Train Station to the city center. A better idea? One of my best Ghent travel tips is to take the buses or trams!
If you buy a Ghent Card for the day, free public transportation comes pre-loaded onto it. If you are on your own, just download the DeLijn app onto your phone and you can easily by a public transport day pass or individual tickets for 2.50 Euro each.
Just be careful and don’t get on the tram going the wrong way like I did! I got quite the unexpected tour of Ghent.
One Day In Ghent: 14 Best Things To Do in Ghent
Ghent has so much to do, and with only one day in Ghent you are going to want to start early to have enough time! I advise trying to arrive at the Historic Center around 9 am.
It’s easy to grab breakfast at any train station in Belgium to enjoy on the train then you can start your day fueled and ready to go! Follow this Ghent itinerary to make the most of your one day in Ghent!
Morning in Ghent: Take Canal Tour and Visit Gravensteen Castle
1. Take a Canal Tour in Ghent
One of the top things to do in Ghent is to take a boat tour through Ghent’s gorgeous canals! The best time to take a canal tour is the morning for two reasons: the light is gorgeous for photographs and a canal tour will give you a great orientation to Ghent. You can also beat the crowds in the morning – which is always a plus!
On your guided tour of the canals in Ghent, you will not only see the highlights of the city centre by boat ride, but also get a little further into the “real” Ghent where people live and work and go to school. You’ll pass truly beautiful buildings like the new Ghent library and your local guide will point out a lot of quirky, fun houses and share a lot about the city’s history.
If you want to play things by ear for your Ghent day trip, you can always purchase at the kiosks near where the boats leave from, at Groentenmarkt, at the Vleeshuisbrug which is a short walk from the main historical city.
Most canal tours cost between 8 and 10 Euro per adult and can be experienced in different languages (English is almost always offered!). The different companies offer slightly different types of boats and length of tour, but they are all great options I honestly wouldn’t spend too much energy on which is best and go with what fits in your schedule and budget.
2. Take a Free Walking Tour of Ghent
Like so many cities in Europe, there are plenty of options for so-called “Free Walking Tours” of Ghent. If you prefer to keep your feet on dry land or are interested in a deeper historical exploration of Ghent, a walking tour is a great way to start your Ghent day trip.
Most likely, with only one day in Ghent, you won’t have time to do a canal tour and a walking tour – so you can choose which you prefer.
There are a number of companies providing Free Walking Tours of Ghent – perhaps the best known is Legends of Ghent which provides a daily tour at 10:30 am (that goes until 1:30 so be prepared for lots of walking!), a nighttime tour if you do stay in Ghent overnight, and even a tasting tour – yum!
Remember – Free Walking Tours in Europe aren’t, technically, supposed to be completely free and it’s customary to generously tip your guide.
3. Explore Gravensteen Castle, the Castle of the Counts
Gravensteen Castle, which translates to “Castle of the Counts,” is an incredible medieval fortress constructed in the late 12th century. Gravensteen was built during the reign of Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders and throughout the Middle Ages it served as a residence for the Counts of Flanders. It’s a prime example of medieval architecture in Belgium and frankly one of the coolest castles you can visit in all of Europe!
Over the centuries, Gravensteen witnessed a huge number of historical events, including battles, sieges, and political developments. Gravensteen also played an important role in the many conflicts between the Counts of Flanders and the citizens of Ghent over the years.
In the 19th century, sadly Gravensteen was falling apart, and there were discussions about demolishing the castle in Ghent. However, it was eventually restored in the 19th and 20th centuries, preserving its historical significance and allowing it to be open to the public.
Today you can visit Gravensteel Castle and stroll along its medieval towers. You can buy your ticket online here or at the gate. Do not forget the audio guide! It’s wonderful and well worth it
You also have the option to climb the battlements for panoramic views over Ghent’s historical city!
Lunch Time in Ghent: Savor Local Delicacies, and Wander Ghent’s Cobblestone Streets
4. Savor Ghent’s Culinary Treasures
Anyone visiting Ghent, even for only one day in Ghent, needs to take time to enjoy the local Belgian cuisine! There are lots of great restaurants in Ghent, but wherever you go make sure to try local delicacies such as Ghentse Waterzooi (creamy stew), Belgian fries with their delicious sauces, Belgian Waffles, and hearty Flemish stew. And, of course, don’t forget about having a good old Belgian Beer along with it all!
For a quicker meal, but utterly delicious, stop by Soup’r – a little restaurant that serves amazing soups with tons of accoutrements, as well as sandwiches on the most delicious bread. It’s at Sint-Niklaastraat 9 – a stone’s throw away from the canals and cathedrals of Ghent.
5. Sit by Ghent’s canals like a local
One of the best things to do in Ghent is to take whatever Belgian foods you order and sit by the canals! There are a few lovely restaurants right along the canal in Ghent if you’re looking for more sit-down fare, but for to-go foods in Ghent, it’s great to have a picnic by the canal.
It will be easy to spot where to do this because all the students and locals enjoy sitting by the canals during lunch hour and afternoon! It’s delightful to watch the boats go by and get an up-close sense of daily life in Ghent this way!
6. Climb the Belfry of Ghent, Ghent’s Bell Tower
The Belfry Tower in Ghent is located near two of Ghent’s major churches, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church. The Ghent Belfry was originally built in the 14th century when it was part of the city’s cloth hall and served as a symbol of Ghent’s prosperity and autonomy during medieval times.
The Belfry of Ghent is part of a group of belfries in the Flanders region of Belgium, which were prominent structures in medieval cities.for the best views over the historic city of Ghent! Ghent’s Belfry is one of the tallest belfry in the region and is a great spot for the best views over Ghent.
You can buy your ticket to the Ghent Belfry online to save time, or when you get there. As of 2023, a regular adult ticket costs 11 Euro, with discounts for young persons and students.
7. Walk up the Botermarkt Street
Very near Ghent’s Bell Tower is Botermarkt Street. This is the old market of Ghent. Here you can see Ghent’s (somewhat controversial) Stadshal – a modern recreation of Ghent’s rooftops.
You can also see Ghent’s Stadhuis – the beautiful town hall with amazing carvings all along it! (It doesn’t quite beat the one in Leuven though – which is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Belgium!)
Afternoon: Ghent’s Cathedrals and Ghent’s Museums
You can’t go to Ghent, even for one day, without visiting at least one of Ghent’s beautiful and famous churches.
With only one day in Ghent, I advise you to choose one Cathedral to visit.
Of course, I recommend Saint Bavo Cathedral for the Van Eyck Altarpiece “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” but Saint Michael’s Church and St Nicholas Church are wonderful choices as well! If you have time I highly recommend you visit one of the Museums in Ghent.
8. Visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral and the Van Eyck Altarpiece
Aside from being one of the largest and most stunningly beautiful Cathedrals in Europe, St Bavo’s Cathedral is one of the most famous and storied pieces of religious art in the world: the Van Eyck Altarpiece, also called the ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.’ This is truly one of the most incredible pieces of art I’ve ever seen and is well worth the admission price to see – it’s also one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Belgium!
Aside from simply being stunningly detailed and symbolic, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is known as the most stolen painting in history!
Created by the Flemish artists Jan van Eyck and his brother Hubert van Eyck, first the Ghent Altarpiece was taken during the French Revolution in 1794 and briefly displayed in the Louvre before being returned to Belgium.
The worst blow came in 1934 when the lower left panel, called the Just Judges, was stolen from the Van Eyck Altarpiece overnight – it has never been recovered but many Belgians and Art Historians dream of being the one to find it! There is a copy in place today – but honestly it’s just not nearly as incredible as Van Eyck’s original work.
Later the Nazi’s looted the Ghent Altarpiece in 1942, and it was finally recovered by Allied Forces in 1945.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral itself is a wonderful example of gothic architecture with beautiful stained glass windows and a soaring nave. Don’t miss some of the other art treasures inside, such as paintings by Rubens!
9. Visit St. Michael’s Church
St. Michael’s Church is another gorgeous Gothic Cathedral in Ghent that dates back to the 10th century when it was founded by Bishop Notger of Liège. The original church was constructed in the Romanesque style, and fragments of this early structure can still be seen in the church today.
In the 13th century, the church underwent significant renovations and was transformed into the Gothic style.
St. Michael’s Church is known for its impressive Gothic architecture, with soaring vaulted ceilings and beautiful stained glass windows. It’s also known for the art inside, including a magnificent Baroque high altar and a carved pulpit. The Ghent Altarpiece was originally housed in Saint Michael’s Church before being moved to Saint Bavo’s Cathedral.
You can find St. Michael’s Church just past St. Michael’s Bridge near one of the nicest areas of canals in Ghent – the bridge offers a beautiful view of the church and some of the famous guildhouses in Ghent.
Even if you only have one day in Ghent, I recommend popping inside St. Michael’s Church at least briefly!
10. Visit St. Nicholaschurch
St. Nicholaschurch is very near Ghent’s Belfry and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Saint Nicholas Church was started around 1200. It was commissioned by the local guilds and merchants who wanted a church that would rival St. Bavo’s Cathedral.
Like the other two main churches in Ghent, Stt. Nicholaschurch is built in the Gothic architectural style. In medival Ghent, St. Nicholas’ Church served as a place of worship for the city’s merchants and guild members. It was also used for important civic functions and meetings.
St. Nicholaschurch originally had a tall bell tower, but it was severely damaged in a storm in the 15th century and was subsequently shortened. The current tower is still impressive!
11. Visit MSK – Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent
Even with only one day in Ghent, the Museum of Fine Arts is a must-visit for art enthusiasts in Ghent! I recommend doing this towards the mid-late afternoon. In the summers you’ll beat the heat and this makes a great capstone to your day before heading back to Brussels or enjoying dinner by the canals of Ghent.
The MSK Ghent has an impressive collection of old masterpieces, including works by famous artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and Jan van Eyck.
For those who prefer more modern art, The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent also features an extensive collection of 19th and 20th-century European art. including works by artists like James Ensor, Gustav Klimt, René Magritte.
The best way to get to the MSK Museum in Ghent from the historic center is to hop on Tram 1 heading towards “Flanders Expo”. There is a stop on that line right in front of the art museum! Otherwise, it’s about a 20-25 minute walk from the city center.
12. Visit STAM – The Ghent City Museum
The Ghent City Museum is another of Ghent’s museums that is well worth visiting, even with only one day in Ghent! This museum in particular might warrant visiting in the morning, as it will give you a comprehensive overview of Ghent and its history. It’s also a nice capstone to your one day in Ghent!
STAM offers a comprehensive overview of the history of Ghent. Using a combination of artifacts, multimedia displays, maps, and interactive installations, the STAM tells the story of the city from its early origins to the present day. One of the coolest features of STAM is a large-scale model of the city of Ghent that allows visitors to explore the city’s layout and development over time.
Don’t miss that STAM offers excellent panoramic views of the city from its rooftop terrace! It’s a great place to relax for a few moments and enjoy a gorgeous view of Ghent, Belgium!
13. Visit S.M.A.K. – The Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent
For those who prefer more contemporary art to historic art, Ghent is an amazing place for modern art! Not only is Ghent known for amazing street art (see below) but the SMAK Museum, or Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent is world-renowned!
S.M.A.K. boasts an extensive and diverse collection of contemporary artworks spanning a lot of media, including painting, sculpture, photography, video, and installation art. It’s particularly known for site-specific installations and contemporary art installations that engage with the museum’s architecture and spaces, providing visitors with immersive and unique experiences.
14. Explore Ghent’s Amazing Street Art Scene
Ghent is a real hub in Belgium and in Europe for Street Art. You’ll have a chance to view some of the most famous pieces on your Canal Tour in the morning, and probably continue to explore Ghent’s Street Art throughout your day in Ghent! Major Belgian street artists like ROA, Strook, and Bue the Warrior all have famous murals in Ghent.
Don’t forget to check out Werregarenstraatje (Graffiti Street) – a legal zone where artists are encouraged to express themselves. The Graffiti is always changing and gives a real contemporary pulse of the city and its art!
Other Suggestions of Things To Do in Ghent
If you have more time in Ghent, or you are there on Sundays or Fridays, you should check out the markets in Ghent.
The Flower Market in Ghent is famous and is held on Sundays. It is held on the Kouter and you can immerse yourself in gorgeous flowers and plants of all varieties, while picking up some delicious Belgian street food delicacies.
Sundays also boast a Book Market in Ghent on the Ajuinlei.
The Friday market is also famous and has lots of delicious local foods to try. It’s held on the square that shares its name: Vrijdagmarkt.
Where to Stay in Brussels for a Day Trip to Ghent
If you’re planning to take a day trip to Ghent while you visit Belgium, and perhaps other great day trips in Belgium like a day trip to Leuven or Antwerp or – of course – Bruges, then you should definitely consider staying near one of Brussel’s main train stations. This map shows the two main train stations in Brussels as well as some great accommodation options in Brussels!
Where to Stay in Ghent, Belgium
You may choose to stay overnight in Ghent to give you more than one day in Ghent – since there’s so much to do! If you choose to do so, I recommend paying that little bit extra to stay in the historic center, near the canals, to fully embrace the beauty of Ghent by night and enjoy every minute of your trip to Ghent!
Three great hotel options in Ghent, Belgium at different budget points are:
1898 The Post ($$$) is perhaps the best hotel in Ghent right in the historic center! It’s such a beautiful property and would make an amazing treat after your day in Ghent!
At a more budget price, the B&B Petit Prince is a highly-rated hotel in Ghent that combines comfort with being a bit more budget-friendly!
Enjoy your One Day in Ghent!
There are so many highlights of a day in Ghent it’s hard to summarize them, but Ghent is really a must-see city in Belgium for its art, castle, churches, and romantic canal atmosphere!
It’s so easy to get to Ghent from Belgium on the train that everyone should really make sure they have at least one day to spend in Ghent on their Belgium Itinerary!
Of course, with any list of suggested activities – you can and should always adapt this list to fit your interests – whether that’s culture, food, art, or just enjoying the local atmosphere. However, you spend your day in Ghent, soak up every moment in this truly charming Belgian city!
More Travel Resources
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