One Day in Ghent: Exploring the Heart of Flanders

With its network of narrow canals, red-brick buildings and magnificent Gothic architecture, Ghent is one of Belgium’s glittering jewels. And as this is a small city, a day trip to Ghent (Gent in Flemish) will allow you to hit its highlights with ease.

But what are the best things to do during one day in Ghent?

This is where I can help you. I used this lovely city as a base to explore other places in Belgium and put together a Ghent 1-day itinerary to make sure that I didn’t miss the good stuff.

I’ve also included more things to do in Ghent if you are there for two or three days, plus advice on where to stay, how to get there and how to get around.

stone bridge crossing a canal in ghent surrounded by medieval buildings

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ONE DAY IN GHENT AT A GLANCE
view of church and cityscape with tramlines from high vantage point

TOP 5 THINGS TO DO

  • Gaze in wonder at The Adoration of Mystic Lamb
  • Take in the view from St. Michael’s Bridge
  • Climb Ghent’s Belfort
  • Visit Gravensteen
  • Join a Belgian beer tour with a local (find out more here)

HOW TO DO A GHENT DAY TRIP: Ghent is 30 minutes by train from Brussels or Bruges.

BEST WAY TO GET AROUND GHENT: On foot

CURRENCY: Euro. Cards are widely accepted.

LANGUAGE SPOKEN: Most locals speak Flemish, which is similar to Dutch. Many people speak English.

Is A Day Enough for Ghent?

You can cover most of Ghent’s main attractions in one day. However, I recommend allowing two days to do this in a more relaxed way.
 
I used Ghent as one of my bases for spending a week in Belgium. From here, I took a day trip to lovely Leuven and ate my way through the best chocolate shops in Bruges

My Suggested 1-Day Ghent Itinerary

It is easy to hit the highlights of Ghent in one day on a self-guided walking tour. As Its main attractions are spread over a small area, Ghent is a very walkable city.

From the starting point at St. Bavo’s Cathedral to the endpoint at Graffiti Street, the total distance is less than two miles. I suggest that you break off at the halfway mark for a relaxing boat cruise.

Here is a map to help you on your way. For an interactive map with walking directions, simply click here or on the image itself.

map of the best things to see in ghent in one day
Best things to see during one day in Ghent. Map data @ Google 2023

But if you prefer someone else to take care of the arrangements for you or you want to benefit from local knowledge, join an organised walking tour. This is also one of the best ways to meet people as a solo traveller.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR GHENT WALKING TOUR. IF YOU PREFER A PRIVATE WALKING TOUR, CHECK THE PRICE & AVAILABILITY HERE.

ST. BAVO’S CATHEDRAL & THE MYSTIC LAMB

Our day in Ghent begins with one of the world’s artistic masterpieces, Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.

Housed in the Gothic St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal), the so-called Ghent altarpiece has survived wars, fire and theft. It has been restored to its former luminous glory and is sited in the cathedral’s Villa Chapel.

mystic plamb painting showing group of people worshipping a lamb

St. Bavo’s Cathedral is also home to a typically energetic Rubens painting (St Baaf entering the Abbey of Ghent) and a massive marble and oak Rococo pulpit, representing the Tree of Life.

ornate marble and oak pulpit

Although visiting the cathedral is free, you’ll need a ticket to see the Ghent Altarpiece. Choose between a “standard” ticket that includes an augmented reality(AR) tour or admission to the altarpiece only. Based on less-than-glowing visitor reviews, I opted to skip the AR experience.

GERALD THE DEVIL

After you exit St. Bavo’s Cathedral, take a short detour to take a look at Gerald the Devil.

old grey stone turreted building by side of canal

Don’t be fooled by the name. A devil has never lived in this sombre 13th-century fortress. 

Staring life as a knights’ residence, it has been used as an arsenal, a monastery, a school, a bishop’s seminary, a 17th-century institution for the mentally ill and a home for male orphans.

BELFORT OF GHENT

Across from the cathedral, on the west side of the main square, is the UNESCO-listed Belfort of Ghent (Ghent’s Belfry).

Built from blue-grey limestone ferried from Tournai, work started on this tower in 1313. The building was tinkered with many times over the centuries and its current dragon-topped spire dates from the 20th Century.

Take the elevator to the roof of the belfry for windy views over the city centre. The entrance is on the south side of the adjoining Lakenhalle, Ghent’s historic Cloth Hall.

view over streets of ghent from high vantage point
view over city of ghent with prominent church in foreground

GHENT CITY HALL

Ghent’s striking City Hall or Stadhuis is a building of two halves.

The later section, dating from the 1580s, is pure Italian Renaissance with its perfect symmetry and majestic columns and pilasters. But turn the corner, and the flamboyant façade is pure Gothic. This style was intended for the entire building until the collapse of the wool trade killed the finances.

elaborate carved exterior of medieval building with spire in background
Ghent Stadhuis and Belfort

The only way of taking a look inside the Stadhuis is on an organised walking tour with a guide. More information here.

ST NICHOLAS’S CHURCH (SINT-NIKLAASKERK)

St. Nicholas’s Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk) is a few minutes walk from Ghent’s City Hall. This Gothic church was built from blue-grey Tournai stone and was completed in the 13th Century.

exterior of st nicholas church in ghent belgium

Step inside to take a look at the Baroque high altar and its representation of the Last Judgement.

wooden carving of cherub in church

ST. MICHAEL’S BRIDGE

No day in Ghent is complete without stopping to admire the view from St. Michael’s Bridge (Sint-Michielsbrug). This landmark was built in 1913 to offer visitors to the Great Exhibition the best vantage point to view the city’s skyline.

woamn walking across a bridge towards a gothic church

To the south, there is the handsome Gothic Sint-Michielskirk. In the opposite direction is Tussen Bruggen, Ghent’s oldest harbour and its iconic quays, the Graslei and the Korenlei.

exterior of st michael chruch in ghent with reflection in blue water of canal
Sint-Michielskirk, Ghent

THE GRASLEI

Back in medieval times, Ghent’s boatmen and grain weighers were essential to the fortunes of the city. A lasting legacy is the row of gorgeous guildhouses that line the Graslei, the gable of each decorated with a symbol indicating its function.

row of gabled medieval buildings along the side of a canal in ghent belgium

THE KORENLEI 

On the opposite side of the harbour, the Korenlei is home to an ensemble of 18th Century merchants’ houses built in the Neoclassical style. Take a look at the Guildhouse of the Unfree Boatmen at number 7 which has a façade that features exaggerated dolphins and lions.

row of medieval houses reflected in the canal of ghent in belgium

GHENT BOAT TOUR

Now it’s time to rest those feet. You deserve it.

Boats depart the Graslei and the Korenlei for a 50-minute trip along Ghent’s canals. This is an excellent way to learn more about the city.

people on a canal boat tour on a sunny day

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR GHENT BOAT TOUR

JAN BREYDELSTRAAT

We are now going to make our way towards Ghent’s castle via Jan Breydelstraat. This is one of the city’s prettiest streets and is lined with inviting shops and restaurants.

pretty medieval street in ghent

HET GRAVENSTEEN

old grey stone castle surrounded by water

The hulking and forbidding walls and turrets of Het Gravensteen, or the castle of the counts in Flanders, look like they have been lifted straight from a child’s storybook. It was first built in 1180 to intimidate and protect Ghent’s unruly citizens in equal measure.

A kitsch (and overlong) self-guided tour takes you through its main buildings, passing medieval military hardware and instruments of torture along the way. From the castle’s wall, there are lovely views over Ghent’s city centre.

view of a medieval square with tower of church in background through a stone window frame

PATERSHOL

pretty old street in ghent belgium with redbrick and pastel terraced houses

Northeast of Het Gravensteen is the Patershol, a picturesque labyrinth of brick terraced houses, dating from the 17th Century. This was once the heart of the city and is a good spot to grab a bite to eat.

VRIJDAGMARKT

statues of king pointing in a grand square in ghent

For centuries, the Vrijdagmarkt was the political heart of Ghent and the site of public meetings and executions. The imposing statue in the middle of the square is that of the guild leader Jacob van Artevelde.

GRAFFITI STREET (WERREGARENSTRAAT)

graffiti on wall in ghent belgium

From the artwork in Brick Lane in my home town of London to checking out the MUAS Initiative in Málaga, I try to seek out street art wherever I am. Visiting Ghent was no exception.

Street artists are let loose with their spray cans on Werregarenstraat, otherwise known as Graffiti Street. It’s worth taking a detour to this narrow alleyway to look at works by artists such as Roa and Bué the Warrior.

JOIN A BEER TOUR WITH A LOCAL

group of people sitting around table with belgian beers

If you are staying overnight in Ghent, you must join this excellent beer tour with a local guide.

Beer is one of the things for which Belgium is famous and prior to World War II, there were over 100 breweries in Ghent. Today’s brewers have rediscovered Ghent and both microbreweries and larger breweries are booming.

Liselot, our super-enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide, introduced us to five types of Belgian beer in three bars. At the end of the tour, she provided personalised recommendations for beer that is widely available in Belgium.

In case you’re wondering, I should go for Gulden Draak Quadruple, a mere 10.7% ABV. Cheers.

>>> CLICK HERE TO BOOK YOUR TOUR

Other Places to Visit in Ghent, Belgium

But perhaps you are spending two days in Ghent (or longer) and want to squeeze in more sights. Here is my pick of the best of the rest.

ST. PETER’S ABBEY

St. Peter’s was a Benedictine abbey founded in the 7th Century by St Amand. It thrived during the 14th and 15th Centuries, growing into a sort of abbey village with farms, gardens, homes and estates.

Its garden is gorgeous and has a fine courtyard and vineyard. But the highlight for me was clambering up to the organ for a view over the fabulous Renaissance Our Lady of St. Peter’s Church.

the aisle of a magnificent renaissance church with grey stone pillars

HOUSE OF ALIJN (ALIJN HUIS)

This folklore museum is housed in a former children’s hospital, St Catherine’s Hospital, the only conserved almshouse in Ghent.

row of white almhouses with terracotta roofs and courtyard with tables and chairs

The almshouse was founded in 1363 to resolve a long-running blood feud between two of the city’s patrician families: the Rijms and the Alijns. Think of them as the Flemish version of the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo & Juliet.

The museum’s rooms depict life and work in 19th and 20th Century Ghent with reconstructions of living spaces and shops.

FINE ARTS MUSEUM (MSK)

Ghent’s Fine Art Museum displays over 600 pieces from its collection of about 9,000 works, spanning the Middle Ages to the first half of the 20th century. These works are arranged thematically, starting with Religion and ending with Progressives vs Conservative (I liked room 16: Travelling around the World).

painting of people at a wedding feast
The Peasant Wedding in a Barn by Pieter II Brueghel

S.M.A.K.

If contemporary art is more your thing, head across the road to the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, or the S.M.A.K. for short. It’s not my cup of tea but its collection is considered to be the most important of its kind in Flanders.

The Ghent City Card Can Save You Money

Like many cities, Ghent has a tourist pass – CityCard Gent – that offers free or discounted admission to its main attractions from €38. It also includes a boat tour and bicycle rental for one day.

But is the Ghent City card good value?
 
I’m not usually a massive fan of these city cards but, for me, it was a travel bargain. Like any of these city cards, you will need to do the maths to work out if it is the right choice for you.
 
You can pick one up at the city’s tourist information centre or at participating attractions.

How to Get to Ghent from Brussels or Bruges

Ghent is located at the midpoint of the train line between Brussels and Bruges. From either city, it’s a 30-minute journey.

Trains are frequent and not expensive.

The only downside is that Ghent St. Peter’s Station is a 30-minute walk from the historic city centre. However, if you are feeling weary or want to save time, tram line 1 runs from the station to the city centre every ten minutes.

wall mural of ships in old port of ostend
Ghent St. Peter’s Station

Thanks to Eurostar, you could even take a day trip to Ghent from London. You will need to change trains at Brussels Midi / Brussels Sud.

For example; if you caught the first Eurostar train from London St. Pancras International at just after 8 am, you would be ready to start your day in Ghent at midday. The last train for London departs Brussels just before 9 pm.

Where I Stayed in Ghent

If you are staying overnight in Ghent, base yourself in its historic centre to be close to the attractions included in this one-day itinerary.

Here are my top choices:

Snooz Ap Holiday & Business Flats

I stayed at this superb apartment in the heart of the historic city centre, which is a great self-catering choice in Ghent. The washing machine, Nespresso machine and roof terrace were welcome bonuses.

room in a rental apartment with sofa table and chair and kitchenette
roof terrace of apartment building

>>> CLICK HERE TO CHECK RATES

Here are some other choices of accommodation that may suit other tastes and budgets:

B&B Inn Between

If you are looking for a first-rate accommodation choice that is closer to the train station, this could be it. This 4-star B&B has gardened fabulous reviews.

>>> CLICK HERE TO TO CHECK RATES

B&B The Verhaegen

Push the boat out and stay at this guesthouse housed in a historic building in the heart of the city. There is also a peaceful garden in which to relax after a hard day’s sightseeing.

>>> CLICK HERE TO TO CHECK RATES

Visiting Bruges and Ghent in One Day

As Bruges and Ghent are only 30 minutes apart by train, it is possible to visit them both in one day.
 
These two cities are very walkable. Whilst there are similarities between Bruges and Ghent cities, they each have something unique to offer.
 
However, visiting both of these cities in a day will be a rushed experience. Furthermore, you will need to be highly selective in what you see and very organised to make the best of your day.   
 
My advice is to spend a day in both cities if possible. If that’s not an option, then pick a city.
 
But life isn’t always perfect. If you are short on time, I recommend joining an organised day tour to make the most of your precious day.
 
This day trip to Ghent and Bruges from Brussels is affordable and has excellent reviews.

Is Ghent Safe for Solo Travellers?

Belgium is an easy country for solo travellers, even if you are travelling alone for the first time. It has an excellent infrastructure, relatively affordable accommodation, a rich history and buzzing nightlife in the main cities.
 
Keeping safe is a key concern of female solo travellers. Ghent is a friendly city with locals, students and tourists enjoying its attractions, bars and restaurants. Even after dark on weekdays, I felt safe.
 
That said, a little bit of common sense goes a long way. Watch out for pickpockets, especially in popular tourist areas and transport hubs. Remain vigilant and keep your belongings close to you. If you have a safe at your accommodation, use it to store valuables. 

bicycle chained alongside a pretty canal in ghent belgium

Why I Loved Ghent

Whilst Ghent is not as well-known as either Brussels or Bruges, ignore it at your peril.
 
It attracts a fraction of the visitors descending on these two cities which has to be a good thing. If you ever visited Bruges on a weekend day in summer, you will know what I mean.  
 
It has history and culture in spades, friendly locals, glorious architecture and meandering canals. And if that’s not enough, Ghent also has a lively restaurant and bar scene and is home to a growing number of breweries. 
 
I hope that you have a wonderful day in Ghent. If you’ve enjoyed this guide, take a look at my other Belgium articles to help you plan your trip:

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.