This is Belgium - beautifully preserved buildings with welcoming facades and canals running through the middle of town.
This past February, J.J. and I made a last minute decision to cross the pond and visit London and Belgium. We had never been to Belgium, but had heard wonderful things of this small country tucked in between the Netherlands, Germany and France. We decided to make our home away from home in Ghent, Belgium - which is conveniently located in between Brussels and Bruges and just a 20-30 minute train ride to and from.
So, to start things off on our "Visit Belgium" tour, let's begin in Ghent.
To get to Ghent -
We booked our nonstop, round-trip train tickets on Eurostar prior to our trip. Their website is easy navigate and can save quite a bit of money by booking ahead of time to ensure you get a seat and if traveling with a companion, can sit together. We booked our ticket from London St. Pancras International to Any Belgian Station via Brussels. Upon getting to Brussels, we looked for our connecting 20 minute train to Ghent.
Ghent is super walkable and bike-able. Because of this, public transportation is most used and there are not many taxis and at the time we went, no option for Uber. Upon arriving at Ghent (Gent-Sint-Pieters train station), we used the local mass transit to get us to the city center where we were staying. I'm going to be honest, we did not research how to use the local transportation and spent some extra time asking questions and figuring out where to go next.
Here's how we did it -
Outside of Gent-Sint-Pieters are buses and a small ticket booth. You can buy one way tram tickets at the kiosk or inside the ticket booth before boarding your tram, depending on destination and validating on the tram. Our hotel was in the city centre and by using Tram 1 toward Evergem we were able to reach our destination. Please note, you definitely could walk it, but we wanted to save the time and hassle of lugging our luggage.
Where we stayed -
Korenlei 10, 9000 Gent, Belgium
Spacious hotel that's true to Marriott standards and has impeccable views situated near the city centre. It's also located near Gravensteen Castle, one of the tourism spots in Ghent.
These are the views from outside of the side hotel entrance.
What we saw/did-
Climb the Ghent Belfry Tower - in the middle of city centre is St. Nicholas Church. For €8 per person, you can take a step back into time and climb this UNESCO World Heritage site from the 1400s. Plus, you get sweeping views of the city.
Ghent Altar Piece - if you've taken an art history class or have heard of the WWII art heroes - Monuments Men - you'll definitely want to pay the €4 per person to visit the Van Eyck brothers' 18 paneled masterpiece depicting Jesus as the Lamb of God. You can see this in St. Bavo's Cathedral.
Gravensteen Castle - truth be told, we did not actually tour this castle. However, this may be a spot worth checking out if you're interested in medieval history.
Where to eat -
Donkersteeg 35, 9000 Gent, Belgium
This is where the locals get their morning cup of coffee and was recommended to us by a local and I'm sure they'd probably like to keep it that way. When we entered, heads turned, as in 'Who are you and why are you here?" But here's why - the coffee was delicious. Euros only.
Heilige-Geeststraat 30, 9000 Gent, Belgium @beomarkt We literally stumbled upon this organic market and cafe. When you're traveling, sometimes a piece of fresh fruit just sounds perfect. This is the perfect place to pick up some snacks for the day and a quick bite to eat before touring. And just a side note, their chocolate croissants are pretty much perfection.
Burgstraat 2, 9000 Gent, Belgium
We didn't have reservations, but would highly recommend them. We walked by this beautifully lit restaurant on our way back to our hotel and stopped in for one of our favorite meals in Belgium. Incredible food, drinks, service, and ambiance. Cozy date night place!
Kleine Vismarkt 3, 9000 Gent, Belgium
Our first night in Ghent, we were hungry and tired. After looking up places open and near our hotel, we decided on Otomat Gent - for pizza and Belgian beer. Great service, yummy pizza, and crisp beer.
Ghent was a perfect landing place for our three day trip to Belgium. More on Brussels and Bruges to come!