This festival, every July, celebrates Belgian Independence Day in great style.The party goes on for over a week. There is every sort of music from reggae to folk to classical both indooor and on outdoor stages, with buskers and street entertainers.
The city has a wealth of museums, galleries and old churches. There's something for all ages. And most of the music is free! There's a variety of places to eat and stay.
Eurostar to Brussels, then a short local train ride.Theres a city tram network; the local information office sells a city pass for use on the trams which includes entry to all the museums and galleries.
This is a fantastic vegan restaurant that does an all you can eat buffet for about 13 euros. Drinks are extra. Good tasty food and a variety of dishes, this is really good value. The decor is tasteful and clean.
A bar specialising in gin (jenever) - weaker and sweeter than British gin but watch out for the pepper-flavoured stuff! Belgium's 70 jenever distilleries produce some 270 varieties. You can buy gin in stone bottles in shops in the city (notably on Kraanlei).
Groentenmarkt 12, 9000 Ghent, Belgium
+32(0)9 224 21 20
Google map: bit.ly/fkiJUi
Quiet bar (well, it was when I was there) about 10 minutes walk southeast of the centre. The food menu is not extensive, but does the job. The beer menu definitely is extensive, and runs to 150 or more, listed by category and alphabetically to make it all nice and simple.
This is a website which lists availability on all the B&Bs in Gent (or if not all, then certainly most of them).
Just click on the date you require and it can show you availability across the city. From there, you can deal directly with the establishment by email (and, as it's Belgium, you can do that in English!).
A great concept: fast soup!
Join the queue and choose from four soups of the day and ask for all the trimmings (cheese, chicken meatballs, herbs) and you get two rolls and an apple on your tray too.
Pull up a stool and warm yourself up - it's cheap too, despite the weak exchange rate.
A most charming bed and breakfast on a quiet street away from the town centre, but near an efficient bus line. For nine years, the owners have been perfecting the art of discrete care with attention to detail being their USP. The house (over 100 years old) is fascinating and the rooms decorated with antiques, bric a brac and souveniers. Breakfast is on a long table with an open kitchen, providing good coffee, breads, cheeses, meats and fruit salad. The crockery and cutlery are part of an extensive collection of Victoriana, so you can dream of a golden age as you sip your morning caffeine. The owners also provide hints and tips on what to see and do and where to eat. They also speak good English, being regular visitors to the UK, to buy the antiques!
Logos is completely surreal, a metal pyramid that houses an entire orchestra of robots. The founders of the centre, Godfried-Willem Raes and Moniek Darge, host weekly concerts of new/experimental music and the robot orchestra usually plays once a month. (You can find their schedule on the website, usually a couple of months in advance.)
Logos is in the centre of Ghent, about 10 minutes' walk from the Graslei but light years away from the clichéd weekend break / beer and chocolates thing.
Simon Says is a great coffee/tea shop and B&B right in the centre of Ghent. It is housed in a fantastic art nouveau building. The coffee shop serves great coffee including some very special single estate coffees. The best bit is the B&B with fabulous rooms over looking a little square.
Very friendly restaurant in Patershol designed on a wacky clock theme. Good food at reasonable prices.
Ghent specialisms including waterzooi, eels and a magnificent beef in beer stew. A good range of others too, including a delicious fish soup and a rather special pork, bacon and sausage dish served with sorrel mash.
The waiters were good fun and 'very good' in Flemish turned out to be 'veer lekken' with a bit of Welsh (as in coch) on the double kk.
Corduwainers 65. Just off Kranlei on the edge of Patershol. Tel 32(0)9 223 42 41.
Google map: tinyurl.com/lkxa7l
The Voorhuit is a Ghent institution. A Artdeco/socialist building, it has not lost its roots.
The huge café area plays host to multiple activities from quiet union meetings to cinema and concerts. Most of the latter are free. The French and Flemish press are available.
Sit down at any of the tables and you can be left alone or join in on the conversations. Nearly everyone talks English. The bar is good and very cheap and the food is wholesome. Homemade soup and bread for 2.60 euros which is great and pasta for about 8. Mostly fair trade and not bad for veggies.
For the stay over there my favourite in an ex-convent called Geertje Henckens on Zwartezusterstraat in the centre of town. There are only two bedrooms so book. A breakfast to die for and the second day it gets better.
If it is full try Faja Lobi in Tarbotstraat, a little further from the centre but with a lovely garden and (if possible) an even better welcome from the gay couple that run the place. Both are about 60 euros for a couple.
Then take a wander. Everything is within 30mins walk but take one of the river tours if you haven't done any research. The Cathedral is a must.
For light refreshment I recommend The Pink Flamingo in Onderstraat as possibly the most kitsch bar in the world. I go at least twice a year with my wife to Ghent and we are never disappointed.
The thing about the chip shop is true - it is the best.
It is a little chip van that provides quality frites with mayonnaise. Just what is needed for a truly Belgian experience!
Vridajmarkt, near the massive socialist style building with a large window and clock.
Google map: tinyurl.com/ko8erz
After I read about this truly unique "guesthouse" I decided to check it out.
It was even better than expected. It may only be a "bed and breakfast", but it is one of world class.
Super-friendly owners. The 18th-century restored mansion has kept its original features while incorporating dazzling flashes of modernity.
It made my stay feel like a visit to a friend's grand country house.
Ghent has a surprisingly large number cultural and musical activities on offer, and is a great medieval city.
Brasserie Pakhuis is a fantastic restaurant just off the main shopping street (Veldstraat).
It is housed in a fantastic, converted warehouse which makes an amazing setting for a meal.
Food is a wonderful mixture of French and Italian. They also do great fish platters with whole lobsters etc. There is an extensive wine list, and also (of course) an extensive list of beers. As well as the restaurant there is also a bar which you can visit for a drink.
Pakhuis is popular with locals, which I always think is a good sign.
Have a look at their website for a menu and an idea of what it looks like.
The Castle of Counts was founded in the 12th century and after an interesting history that saw it converted to a cotton mill in the 19th century, has been restored more or less to its former glory. The armoury displays some startling weaponry but is surpassed by the exhibition of 'Instruments of Correction', a highly euphemistic name for the tools of torture seen here. Fascinating.
This bar has a menu of over 250 beers - just about the widest selection in Ghent. It also has a huge, friendly bar-room with helpful staff and attracts congenial beer lovers from around the world. Find it just a minute's walk from the cannon that gives it its name ("Mad Meg" in English). A little touristy, especially during the day, but nonetheless appealing.
09 224 24 55
A classic Flemish cathedral with huge wooden pulpit and everything you'd expect, but made slightly more special by the presence of the van Eycks' polyptich 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb'. It's kept in a side chapel and you have to pay a few euros to view it, but it's expertly displayed with a welter of illuminating information in the audio guide, covering both the painting itself and its unusual history. The 12th-century crypt is also worth a visit.
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