One Day in Ghent, Belgium: Itinerary + 20 Awesome Things to Do in 2022

Ghent is one of Belgium’s glittering jewels.

With its network of narrow canals, red-brick buildings and magnificent Gothic architecture, it has a medieval cityscape to rival that of Bruges, its more famous neighbour. Better still, as this is a small city, a day trip to Ghent will allow you to hit its highlights with ease.

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

Whether you are visiting Ghent on a day trip or spending a few nights there, this Ghent itinerary will ensure that you see the best things that it has to offer. If you have more time to spare –  I recommend spending two days in Ghent if possible –  I have included some additional tourist attractions.

stone bridge crossing a canal in ghent surrounded by medieval buildings

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A Short History of Ghent

Much of the appeal of today’s Ghent is rooted in its prosperous past.

Ghent thrived in the Middle Ages due to the Flemish cloth trade. During the 13th and 14th Centuries, this was one of the largest towns in Western Europe.

Around 1482, the city came under the rule of the mighty Habsburg Empire but slipped into a slow economic decline in the centuries that followed. Thanks to an ambitious restoration programme over the past 20- years, Ghent’s historic core has been restored to its former medieval glory. 

WHAT LANGUAGE IS SPOKEN IN GHENT?

Belgium has three official languages: French, Dutch and Flemish. In Ghent, people speak Flemish which is essentially Dutch, albeit with some different pronunciations and words. However, many people will also speak English as a second language.

Top 5 Things to Do in Ghent in One Day

triptych painting on wooden panel
Gaze in wonder at The Adoration of Mystic Lamb
bridge and medieval buildings reflected in canal
Take in the view from St. Michael’s Bridge
view of church and cityscape with tramlines from high vantage point
Climb Ghent’s Belfort
view of rooftops and spires of old city of ghent through stone window
Visit Gravensteen
bottle or beer with beer in glass
Join a Belgian beer tour with a local

One Day in Ghent: Itinerary

Ghent self-guided walking tour map

To help you on your way, here is a map with my pick of the best things to do in Ghent. For an interactive map, 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 2022

You can also use this as a self-guided walking tour of Ghent. From the starting point at St. Bavo’s Cathedral to the finish at Graffiti Street, the total distance is a mere 2km.

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 to be restored to its former luminous glory and 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
VISITING ST. BAVO’S CATHDERAL & THE MYSTIC LAMB

Address: Sint-Baafsplein

Opening hours: The cathedral is open Monday to Saturday 8.30 – 5.30 pm; Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm. The Ghent Altarpiece is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Saturday; Sunday from 1 pm to 5 pm

Entrance fee: You can visit the Cathedral for free.

Admission fee applies for the Ghent Altarpiece. Choose between a “standard” ticket that includes an augmented reality tour or admission to the altarpiece only. Based on less than glowing visitor reviews, I opted to skip this tour.

Admission is deeply discounted (€10 in 2022) with the Ghent City Card (CityCard Gent). To take advantage of this, you need to book your ticket online, selecting the Inkomticket CityCard option from the dropdown menu.

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, throughout the centuries it has been used as an arsenal, a monastery, a school, a bishop’s seminary, a 17th Century madhouse for the mentally ill and a home for male orphans.

That’s quite a CV.

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 ensuing 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
CLIMBING THE BELFORT OF GHENT

Address: Sint-Baafsplein

Opening hours: Ghent’s Belfry is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm

Entrance fee: Admission fee applies. Free with CityCard Gent.

cart selling brightly coloured sweets

CUBERONS: GHENT’S SWEET TREATS

Try Ghent’s local candy when you are in town. The famous cuberon is a conical sweetie, traditionally flavoured with raspberry. These sweets are sold from wagons across the city centre.

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, the style 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)

A few minutes’ walk from Ghent’s city hall is St. Nicholas’s Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk). Another of Ghent’s landmarks, this Gothic church built from blue-grey Tournai stone 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

Entrance is free.

Are you looking for a fun way to explore Ghent? Then why not take part in a scavenger hunt? Armed with a smartphone app, you’ll uncover Ghent’s highlight solving riddles along the way.

For further information, click here.

ST. MICHAEL’S BRIDGE

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

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

This boat tour is included in the CityCard Gent.

>>> 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. First built in 1180 to intimidate and protect Ghent’s unruly citizens in equal measure, the castle has had many incarnations in the subsequent centuries.

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
VISITING HET GRAVENSTEEN

Address: Sint-Veerleplein 11

Opening hours: Het Gravensteen is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm

Entrance fee: Admission fee applies. Free with the Ghent City Card.

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, that was once the heart of the city. This 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.

WHAT ABOUT THE GREAT BUTCHER’S HALL?

In better times, the Great Butchers’ Hall would be included on any Ghent itinerary. The culinary delights of east Flanders are displayed within its 15th Century walls.

However, in 2022 the Great Butchers’ Hall is closed for renovation.

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 Great Places to Visit in Ghent, Belgium

Ultimately, how you spend your day in Ghent will depend on your tastes and interests, and how relaxed you wish your itinerary to be.

So what else can you do if you want to squeeze in more sights or if you have two days in Ghent?

Here is my pick of the bunch.

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, boasting farms, gardens, homes and estates.

Its garden with its vineyard is gorgeous and it has a fine courtyard. 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
VISITING ST. PETER’S ABBEY

Address: Sint-Pietersplein

Opening hours: Check the museum’s website here for opening times

Ticket price: Admission fee applies and includes a (very) detailed videoguide. Free with the Ghent City Card.

HOUSE OF ALIJN (ALIJN HUIS)

This folklore museum use is housed in 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.

VISITING THE HOUSE OF ALIJN

Address: Kraanlei 65

Opening hours: Check the museum’s website here for opening times

Ticket price: Admission fee applies. Free with the Ghent City Card.

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
VISITING MSK

Address: Fernand Scribedreef 1

Opening hours: Check the gallery’s website here for opening times. It is closed on Mondays.

Ticket price: Admission fee applies. Free with the Ghent City Card.

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.

VISITING S.M.A.K.

Address: Jan Hoetplein 1

Opening hours: Check the gallery’s website here for opening times. It is closed on Mondays.

Ticket price: Admission fee applies. Free with the Ghent City Card.

Is the Ghent City Card Worth It?

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.

READ THIS NEXT: Is the Ghent City Card Worth It?

Plan Your Day in Ghent, Belgium

How many days do you need in Ghent?

You can cover most of Ghent’s main attractions in one day. However, I recommend allowing two days to see all that the city has to offer in a leisurely fashion.
 
I used Ghent as one of my bases for spending a week in Belgium. From here, it was simple to take a day trip to lovely Leuven and discover the best chocolate shops in Bruges

READ THIS NEXT: A Perfect 1-Week Belgium Itinerary by Train

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 to the historic city centre. However, if you are feeling weary or want to save time, tram line 1 runs between the station to the city centre every ten minutes.

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

How to visit Ghent as a day trip from London

Thanks to Eurostar, it is easy to 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.

How to get around Ghent

Ghent is a very walkable city. Its main attractions are spread over a small area and the best way of getting around is on foot.

Where to stay 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 recommendations:

Mid-range apartment

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 BOOK YOUR STAY

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

Mid-range hotel

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 BOOK A ROOM

Splurge

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 BOOK A ROOM

>>> None of these take your fancy? Explore other great accommodation choices in Ghent here.

Can You Visit Bruges and Ghent in One Day?

As Bruges and Ghent are separated by a mere 30-minute train journey it is possible to visit the two cities in one day.
 
Both 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 has excellent reviews, is affordable and offers free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.

Is Ghent Safe for Solo Travellers?

Overall, 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, 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

Is Ghent Worth Visiting?

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. 
 
All the ingredients for a perfect weekend break.