Gravensteen Gent
Once the largest city in medieval Europe, Ghent is now one of Europe’s best kept secrets. It has a unique character: small enough to be cosy, big enough to stay vibrant. Here are seven tips to enjoy this city of music, arts, food and celebration to the fullest.

1. Music, maestro!

Music maestro - Ghent - (c)Gent Jazz - Maarten Mellemans
Ghent has a soundtrack. And a very varied one. As one of the world’s five UNESCO Cities of Music, the city is stacked with opera houses, culture houses such as Vooruit and festivals like the innovative yet classical OdeGand or the edgy and alternative Boomtown festival. But the biggest feature of them all: the countless bars and concert clubs throughout the city. Go to Kinky Star for loud guitars, Café Video for something fresh or Hot Club de Gand for exhilarating jazz. In Ghent you can find out what’s hot, pretty much every night and often for free. And then we haven’t yet mentioned the Gentse Feesten...

2. 10 days of partying

10 days of partying Ghent
In the middle of July the whole of Ghent stops working, stops sleeping and goes out partying for ten days in a row. They call this the Gentse Feesten (‘Festival of Ghent’), which welcomes more than a million visitors every year. The city centre turns is filled with ten different stages, hundreds of (free) concerts, theatre performances, street art, and much more. Be warned if you visit Ghent right after the festival. Everyone is recovering from a well-deserved hangover. So it might be quiet for a couple of weeks.

3. A postcard of a skyline

Ye old skyline - Ghent
A skyline, but different: no sterile skyscrapers or office buildings, but a row of three magnificent medieval towers. St Nicholas’ Church, the old watchtower Belfry and St Bavo’s Cathedral are on almost every postcard of Ghent. Lovers of contemporary buildings are also in for a treat here: in between the church and belfry you’ll find ‘Stadshal’ (city pavilion), a brand new modernist piece of architecture, constructed in 2012. Even though the building won various prizes worldwide, not everyone loves it; hence its nickname ‘the sheep stable’.

4. Riverside relaxing

Sitting on the dock of the Leie
The picturesque rivers Leie and Scheldt come together in Ghent. And where there’s water, there’s cosiness. A favourite spot of the locals: the cobblestones of the Graslei. Join in for a nice conversation and refreshing drink. Chances are that you’ll get free background music from someone jamming on his or her acoustic guitar. Our personal favourite: rent your own boat and discover Ghent’s waters.

5. High art, high theft

High art high theft - Ghent - (c)
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb is a must-see whenever you visit Ghent. The 15th century masterpiece by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck is Ghent’s artistic pride and joy. And as the most stolen artwork in history it has a pretty wild backstory. The painting is being restored at this very moment and you can take a look at the workshop in the Museum of Fine Arts. If you prefer your art fresh and new, go to the museum of modern art SMAK, right across the Museum of Fine Arts. It offers plenty of interesting temporary exhibitions.

6. Give peas a chance

Give peas a chance - Ghent - (c)
Ghent is the veggie capital of the world thanks to the local organization EVA that invented ‘Thursday veggieday’. Soon, the city services, dozens of companies and even some restaurants joined the initiative and banned meat of the menu every Thursday. Just because Ghent really, really loves the environment. Join in by visiting one of the many vegetarian restaurants all over town. And not only the stereotypical ones. Go, for example, to De Frietketel, for arguably the best fries in town and a wide range of vegan/veggie snacks. Check out all of Ghent’s veggie places on this handy map.

7. Garden of Eden

Sint-Pietersabdij - (c)Stad Gent
Although an all-round vibrant city, Ghent also has plenty of quiet, inspiring spots. The gardens of St Peters Abby is one of those hidden gems. Lay down in the grass, surrounded by wine ranks and lavender. Pretty perfect, don’t you think?
Take a look at Lonely Planet and Use-it for more inspiration. Or even better: visit Ghent and find out yourself.
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