City of bikes, beers and fries
I was in Ghent last week. If you follow my Instagram or Facebook you have probably already noticed what an interesting place Ghent is. For me, Ghent is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited: small enough to walk it, interesting enough to never get bored. There is no recipe in this post, but many pictures of Ghent instead and a few words on what delicacies you can enjoy when in Ghent.
I found myself in Ghent and I was neither on business nor pleasure. My sister decided to take the leap and leave London for Ghent and of course I was there to give a helping hand. For this trip I did little if any research before going. I knew of Ghent’s medieval charm, maze like waterways and its buzzing young crowd that populate the Universities. Once you get to visit someone, with a full agenda for the coming week, all planning seems pointless. Landing in Brussels airport, hopping on a train and hopping off in a station where there is no single sound of familiar (to me) French is quite striking. Of course everyone is speaking perfect English and what’s more important they greet you with a huge smile, a helpful word of advice to navigate the city and very good tips on where to have a good time.
Things to do in Ghent
Let’s have a look though, what are the most interesting sights in Ghent? Of course all of it is in the cent er and you can easily walk or cycle. A short canal tour by boat will give you a very good grounding on where is what in the city. It certainly beats the ubiquitous double-Decker busses that haunt every touristy European city (a necessary evil in my opinion).
St Nicholas church – in the heart of Korenmarkt, the main square. Think blue-grey stone and 13th century architecture. If you go in, check out the organ.
St. Bavos’ Cathedral – home to ‘the adoration of the mystic lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers and Roman crypts (at the time of writing the piece is found for much needed restoration in MSK museum).
The Belfry – a UNESCO heritage site – It’s not just a simple bell tower – the tower has been used to sound the time, and issue warnings and alarms. Being the tallest building in Belgium no wonder the views are amazing.
Patershol district for great picturesque walks in the medieval center of the city.
If there on a Sunday, have a stroll at the flower market. It’s located at Kouter, just in front of the Opera house.
As for museums I only had time for the Museum of Fine Arts, mskgent for short. The permanent collection holds a few treasures I didn’t expect to find – Hieronymus Bosch for instance and obviously exemplary works from the Flemish masters. They have already inspired the dark food photography movement, needless to say more. Sheer delight to see these pieces up close. Check out the current exhibits there is always something interesting up as well as interactive activities.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list– it’s what I managed in my free time. For more information check out the tourist information center of Ghent. For what I was actually doing, look below:
Flemish cuisine -beer-jenever-chocolate
Ghent is at the center of Flemish cuisine. Some of the most famous dishes are the waterzooi, originally a fish stew but more recently made with chicken (blame river pollution); the wonderful stoverij , a beer beef stew of course with a side of fries; and delectable savoury bites, shrimp or chicken croquettes that go by the name garnaal of kippekroket. As for sweets there is no need to mention chocolate and waffles. There are also the delicious sugar bombs that go by the name of cuberdons. The nose-shaped sweets come in many flavours, although the traditional is raspberry. You will not struggle at all to come across these.
But what I was more interested in is what food is trending in Ghent. Brunch is a huge thing in Ghent too. I would definitely recommend the Pain perdu, I had my second breakfast there and I wish I had gone on an empty tummy. There are plenty a soup joints to grab lunch. I spotted a couple of wash-bars – think juice and a washing machine – backpackers take notes.
Chocolate is everywhere but so are the vegetarian restaurants. Back in 2009, Ghent declared Thursday as their Veggie day. Why? It’s good for the climate, (global meat production is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – a little more than all of the world’s cars, trains and planes combined.), it’s good for your health and your taste buds. I could not agree more and I truly relished my veggie Thursday. I enjoyed a wonderful sweet potato & lentil curry stew with 5 different and very tasty side salads at the Walrus in Coupure links . Walrus is also well known for the live jazz every weekend, so if you go make sure you stay for a drink too.
Beer – look out for Trappist and Witbier to try. Many places have beer of the month. Trust the locals to know their beer. Just don’t expect to try them all, there are 71 different types of beer brewed and 350+ house label .
Jenever – the ancestor of gin. Yes it is made all around Belgium and the Netherlands.
Places I tried, enjoyed and definitely recommend:
Pain perdu for brunch
Cafe labath for coffee
The walrus for dinner and a drink or two
Mosquito coast for dinner and another drink, this is a little more central
What souvenirs to take with you:
Apart from your wonderful pictures, there is obviously, chocolate! better still chocolate/hazelnut spreads. Forget anything you know about nutella or any other brand. There are many artisan places that make their own and God, it’s good!
I also took mustard. Not just any mustard, Yves Tierenteyn-Verlent mustard, it’s mustard known since Napoleon was at his height, made today as it has been since 1790.
Cuberdons – mustard and spices can all be found in one very central spot.
What I will do on my next visit?
- Hire a bike
- Go on a beer tasting – (OK that’s my euphemism for getting merry)
Beware Ghent, I will be back!
From Athens with love,
PS 1 The places I went are locals favourites, I just asked and they pointed my to them. 🙂
PS 2 More historical information on Ghent – visit their tourist information center.
PS 3 I used – USE IT app – iPhone friendly offline map for young people to show you where you are and where the closest frites (french fries) will be.