In case you missed my Insta spam, I went to Ghent to speak at a conference and lived the dream. The city was an actual gem. So hereâ€™s my pole dancer guide to Ghent for you to enjoy it too.
If you are traveling from London, getting to Ghent via the Eurostar is waaaay more pleasant than queueing for hours at the airport. I booked a few months in advance and got tickets for Â£100 return, including the connection from Bruxelles to Ghent, covered by the train ticket. With the Eurostar, you donâ€™t have to worry too much about extra luggage weight or liquids, you only need to get to the station an hour in advance and you go from city centre to city centre instead of landing at some faraway airport.
*When I say I got tickets… well, my uni got them. My travel and accommodation where sponsored by them*
If you really must fly, you can fly to Bruxelles and then take a 40-minute train to Ghent from Bruxelles-Midi station.
Getting Around Ghent
Ghent is very well-connected by buses and trams, but itâ€™s also small and easily walkable.
If when you get to Gent-Sint-Pieters you donâ€™t want to walk or take a cab to your hotel, make sure you carry cash with notes no bigger than â‚¬20. Single tram tickets are â‚¬3 and you can only buy them from machines on the platform if you donâ€™t have big â‚¬50 notes – which is what I had, so I had to queue at the ticket kiosk for 40 minutes. Spare yourself that.
If you are planning on using transport a lot, you can buy 10-trip cards for â‚¬16, but you will most likely want to walk around the picture-perfect marvel that is Ghent instead of taking public transport.
What To Wear In Ghent
Can’t believe I’m adding this section but it is necessary. I’m sure you wanna look fab in your Insta shot just like the rest of us, but look at the weather forecast, and always pack something warmer than you think you need. Every single time I go to Belgium I think it doesnâ€™t sound too cold, but temperature in the mornings and evenings really drops down and the winds are treacherous. Donâ€™t be like me: a cold isnâ€™t fun on holiday. Or at a conference.
I stayed in a former monastery, Monasterium PoortAckeere, once again sponsored by my university. Itâ€™s a beautiful hotel just under ten minutesâ€™ walk from Ghentâ€™s most beautiful viewpoint, St Michaelâ€™s Bridge, looking over the three towers of Ghent and the river Leie.
Ghent is a medieval city and even if the monastery has been renovated to give its patrons the best of comforts, itâ€™s still a pretty old hotel where every step makes creaking noises and where things might need repairing. Because of that, I didnâ€™t sleep too well.
It was a beautiful location to explore Ghent, and I am glad I stayed there, however I am not sure if the â‚¬567 (about Â£520) price tag for five days matched the experience.
If you are on a tighter budget and are feeling more adventurous, you can try staying in a hostel… on a boat. While hostels wouldnâ€™t exactly be my first choice, I feel like I might give Ecohostel Andromeda a go if I were to go back to Ghent. Just for the experience.
A variety of colleagues who attended my conference chose Airbnb and found flats in good spots for decent prices. Some suggestions below:
Eating in Ghent
Full disclosure: I have often hated my life when going to Belgium. I have been to Brussels twice and couldnâ€™t find food I liked apart from the sweet stuff. Ghent changed my mind: while I would say Flemish food isnâ€™t my thing, I found a fantastic selection of options from all over the world in quirky, cosy places with innovative menus and great staff.
If you are into cute tearooms and pastel colours, look no further than Alice. A pink heaven inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Alice is your go-to brunch spot for yummy quiches and rich cakes. Lunch and a drink: under â‚¬20.
Healthy, experimental restaurant Boon is in the heart of Ghentâ€™s centre, in front of its famous Castle of the Counts. They have a variety of interesting salad options, they make a mean brownie, but I was feeling super ill and hungover so I went for their soup of the day – courgettes and thyme – out in the sun and it healed me like nothing else. Boon’s staff are lovely and they will look after you and your needs. It seemed like the ultimate chill healthy spot – and you will need some of that if you enjoy Belgian beer like I do.
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Binnenkort op het menu!!!! Onze nieuwe herfstsalade met knolselder, snijboontjes, gekarameliseerde appeltjes, geitenkaas, krieltjes en pittige paprikaspread! ðŸ‚ðŸ Glenn, Maud en Pastis zijn alvast fan ðŸ˜‰ #boongent #homemade #9000 #gravensteen #veneziana #veggie #vegan #purefood #puretaste #gent #lunch #breakfast #ontbijt #salades #catering #groepen #ondernemeningentiswijs #coteculturegent #bedandbreakfast
Aux Merveilleux de Fred
Another day, another tearoom, this time focusing on cute meringues and sugary bread. Aux Merveilleux de Fred caught my eye while walking to the main university campus because of its colourful meringues, but I went in for that fresh bakery smell and was glad I did it.
Their cappuccino was the best I had in Ghent, and I tried one of their mini hazelnut meringues and their sugar bread for breakfast. The best way to start my day.
Right in front of the Ghent Belfry, Max has been making waffles and apple fritters for six generations. It looks like a roaring 20s establishment, and its waffles are light and crispy, filling without being heavy. If itâ€™s waffles you want in Ghent, this is where you should get them.
I walked in front of this restaurant by chance, I was looking for something fresh and healthy after one of those destructive conference apertifs.
YallaYalla saved me with the best Lebanese mezze platter Iâ€™ve ever had.
The food itself was everything youâ€™d expect from a Lebanese restaurant, but it was perfectly executed with tangy flavours and the perfect amount of options. While it doesnâ€™t look like the obvious option when in Ghent, if Iâ€™m back Iâ€™ll definitely be going again.
Coffee shop CafÃ© Labath reminded me of some of my favourite places in Hackney. They are cashless, do great Oat milk cappuccinos and they have a co-working space vibe, with lunch and brunch options and people working on their laptops. Itâ€™s a relaxing break from fancier spots in town.
Le Bal Infernal
Le Bal Infernal is coffee shop goals. This used book cafÃ© and cocktail bar faces one of Ghentâ€™s most beautiful squares and itâ€™s the perfect spot to get stuck into a book while sipping hot mint tea, Amsterdam style.
I may or may not have enjoyed Belgian beer a little too much. A word of warning: Belgian beers are WAY stronger than British ones. They get you drunk way quicker: my favourite, Delirium Tremens, is 8.5% ABV and does cause quite a bit of delirium. So donâ€™t be like me and donâ€™t retouch your nail polish after youâ€™ve had one. Spoiler alert: it wonâ€™t look good.
Groentenmarkt and The Great Butcher’s Hall
A former slaughterhouse, this Butcherâ€™s Hall now serves some of the best craft beers in Ghent in a stunning square and indoor restaurants with ham legs hanging from the ceiling. Drinking here is an experience.
Hot Club Gent
To get into this jazz bar you have to walk through a tiny door in the centre of Ghent, leading you into a garden and into a small venue where craft beer and live jazz go hand in hand. You canâ€™t talk during shows – which is refreshing – but musicians tend to sit at the bar with you in breaks. Loved it. More info here.
Another great jazz bar, Hotsy Totsy has more of a speakeasy vibe, with a pool table, hidden corners and flapper girl paintings. All the glam.
Have you even been to Ghent if you donâ€™t sip on some ridiculously strong Delirium Tremens blond beer on the canals? You havenâ€™t, which is why youâ€™ve got to get your butt to the Bierhuis and do it. Asap.
Unfortunately for my pockets, I wanted to buy everything in Ghent. A city full of designer shops and independent boutiques, it really did challenge my saving ability. I didnâ€™t buckle down, but if youâ€™re ready to make it rain hereâ€™s where you should go.
Bookz & Booze
This shop had me reach for my wallet in longing more than once. Bookz & Booze is like a designerâ€™s atelier, but instead of art it pairs books up with fancy booze – think wine, gin, whiskey etc – and itâ€™s really pleasing on the eye. Without mentioning how dangerous it is for your pockets.
There were many Belgian chocolate shops in town – duh – but Yuzu was the most special and affordable one I could find. Its yellow decor and chocolate still life on the shop window caught my eye, and the shopâ€™s story convinced me to buy my chocolates there.
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Nicolas Vanaise is a local chocolatier who hand-makes truffles that resemble art work, mixing strange combinations of flavors and textures. Lavender. Matcha and wasabi caramel. Almond praline and yuzu peel. Strawberries and violets. Caramelized creme brÃ»lÃ©e. Lapsang Souchong and jasmine. Griottes cherries. Ginger. Coffee, cinnamon, cardamom. Chinese 5 spice. Coffee ginger, hazelnut. #belgiumchocolate #chocolate #truffle #truffles
While the owners are Ghentian, they have worked a lot in the Middle East creating truffles inspired by that experience. Every chocolate looks like an impressionistâ€™s work, with brushes of lilac, turquoise or red over white or dark cocoa, and their names are inspired by migration-related places such as Lampedusa, Aleppo and the like. Worth a stop.
My favourite shopping street has to be the one connecting Ghent Universityâ€™s main campus with its UFO and Plateau campuses, Kortedagsteeg. With independent boutiques, a variety of shoe shops, stationery shops and high-end stores like Xandres, this streetâ€™s shop windows were tempting and cosy. Next time I have to go back with money.
More info from the tourist office here.
St. Bavoâ€™s Cathedral
I am not a Christian but I come from a country that knows a thing or two about church architecture. I was left speechless by St. Bavoâ€™s Cathedral in Ghent, built in the 12th century. Itâ€™s one of the most imposing churches Iâ€™ve ever seen, with an elaborate altar and giant mosaic windows that will blow you away. Itâ€™s free entry, so make sure you go in. I didnâ€™t burn and neither should you.
The Belfry was a symbol of power, freedom and prosperity. It was the safest place in Ghent, housing the cityâ€™s vaults, protected by an alarm bell and by the â€œDragon of Ghentâ€, a giant golden statue on the top of the building.
The lovely folks at Gent Watertoerist offered me a free boat trip to explore Ghent through its canals and it was such a lovely experience that I did it twice (paying the second time, and adding a glass of bubbly to the excursion).
Especially on a sunny day, the view of Ghentâ€™s Medieval buildings, and the flowers and bikes along the river Leie and the canals fill you with happiness. Guides speak English, French and Dutch and they share fun facts about buildings and Ghentâ€™s history. Itâ€™s definitely the best way to explore the town.
More info about the tours here. You can just show up – the tour lasts for 40 minutes and you can hop on a boat any time from 11 AM to 6 PM.
A temporary art project during a 1995 festival, the alley is now a permanent fixture in Ghent, allowing local artists to have a blank canvas for their work.
Castle of the Counts
The Castle of the Counts is the only remaining medieval fortress in the area with its defence system still intact. It dates back to the Roman occupation of Ghent. It apparently has a very impressive torture chamber where people get married. Which sounds weird, but… Iâ€™d probs do it. Which is why I will die alone.
The Patershol area is Ghentâ€™s oldest neighbourhood, full of narrow, tiny alleys, exotic restaurants and vintage boutiques. Itâ€™s your go-to area for cute pictures.
Just donâ€™t try to buy a house there: an elderly lady on our boat tour said her parents bought a house there for the equivalent of â‚¬125 in the Twentieth Century and that she resold it for about â‚¬3m now. Ouch.
I wanted to do a pole hire session at a Ghent studio while I was here – I always like to visit new spaces and understand the vibe of a pole gym in different countries, but it was hard to attend classes with my conference schedule. Unfortunately, I got quite ill and felt very weak, so by the time I could try and pole I figured I should look after my body and rest instead.
If youâ€™ve seen my stories, you might have seen that someone from a Ghent studio answered quite rudely to me when I asked about pole hires. That person isnâ€™t featured in this post – there are very few studios in Ghent so the one Iâ€™m featuring is the one that was nice to me cause Iâ€™m petty like that. #PettyLaBelle
Pole Arena Ghent
Pole Arena was the only Ghent studio that seemed to offer Exotic Classes – always a good sign for my tribe. Their videos showed a cool, urban, warehouse-like space that caught my eye.
Gabriela, the owner, was super lovely and offered to be around when I booked the hire and recommended me classes I should take. Unfortunately this time I didnâ€™t get to go because I was feeling ill, but I trust itâ€™d be a fun and welcoming space if you are looking to train in Ghent!
Should You Visit Ghent?
HELL YES. I would already go back. Ghent seemed like a livable fairytale village. People were friendly, everybody I talked to had excellent English and was ready to help out with tips and directions.
The city has such a fascinating history – from rich merchant town to rebellious city fighting oppressors – and every tour I went on stressed how the people of Ghent would bear their fiery temperament like a badge of pride.
I enjoyed this corner of Belgium a lot more than Bruxelles: I found it had all the comforts, activities and attractions for tourists without being overly touristy. While in Bruxelles you often get hassled to get into restaurants, in Ghent walking around as a tourist is a relaxing experience.
The tourist office did a fantastic job with its city guide, including activities, bars and restaurants that everybody would want to go to – whether theyâ€™re a tourist or a local. In fact, this time I didnâ€™t even need to ask the locals for the best places to go to, because they were already on the guide, and then the locals would confirm.
Ghent is the perfect location for a solo traveller, but itâ€™s so romantic I really want to come back with a partner at some point. Those canal tours got me in the mood.