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Day out: The Bulletin’s travel guide to Ghent
With its picturesque medieval buildings and quaint cobbled streets, Ghent was once a busy medieval port city, and the second biggest city in northern Europe. Today it is anything but a boring relic. It’s a creative hub, teeming with rebellious and innovative energy. Ghent has been touted as the top alternative city trip for 2015 by the Guardian, and in 2008 was ranked the third most authentic destination in the world by National Geographic. This little-known but vibrant city is a gem waiting to be discovered by young and old alike.
The Castle of the Counts was built by the Counts of Flanders to repress the people of Ghent. This medieval colossus is ideal for visiting with children: you can watch knights duel at one of their theme days. Sint-Baaf’s cathedral is home to the most stolen work of art in history, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which was painted by the van Eyck brothers in 1432. The painting is now being restored, panel by panel, at the Museum of Fine Arts, behind bulletproof glass.
Prefer your art modern? Head to Werregarrenstraat, or the graffiti street, the only street where graffiti artists of all calibres can legally paint on the walls. The result is an ever-changing, organic artwork. If you’re game to give it a go, there’s a small shop at one end selling spray paint for around €3 for a small can. Hang around until it gets dark, and marvel at Ghent’s award-winning lighting, which highlights the city’s beautiful architecture. You can download a map of the lighting route from the tourist website.
Ghent shows its rebellious side with its “kitchen rebel” scene, described as haute cuisine without the fuss. The most famous kitchen rebels of Ghent are the Flemish Foodies, who have opened several restaurants, including J.E.F. and Vrijmoed. To satisfy your sweet tooth, sample the local speciality, neuzekes, sweets with a raspberry centre, from one of the carts at the Groentenmarkt.
Head to the Graslei for a drink or an ice cream. You can choose a cafe or bring your own drinks and sit on the banks of the river and enjoy the scenery. Book lovers should make a bee-line to the Paard van Troje, a bookshop/coffeehouse with plenty of outdoor seating. The Gruut brewery is also worth a visit. The beer is brewed without hops, instead using special herbs from a medieval recipe. If you’re more of a cocktail fan, then Jiggers is a must. This underground bar serves classic cocktails with a twist.
Ghent has recently begun a hop-on, hop-off water tram service which takes you to most of the tourist destinations in the city; it operates on weekends until November. Alternatively, you can see all of Ghent’s sites on foot, or you can rent a bike from one of the rental services such as Biker, and cycle around.
Photo: © www.milo-profi.be
This article was first published in The Bulletin's Best of Belgium 2015