Ghent is a city in the Flemish Region of Belgium and when on a Holiday in Brussels, Belgium, you must take a day out to visit this vibrant port and university city at the confluence of the Rivers Leie and Scheldt.
The cheapest way to reach Ghent from Brussels is to take a train but we decided to go in for a conducted tour, as having a guide along is always a good way to explore a new city. We chose ‘Brussels City Tour’ after I found it had good reviews from tourists and booked well in advance online.
It took us around an hour and half to reach Ghent. The day was cloudy but our enthusiasm at its peak. And the first look of the city made us feel quite excited to explore this city with a glorious past, including its medieval architecture. In the Late Middle Ages, Ghent was also one of the largest and richest cities of northern Europe. Our first stop, Ghent Townhall.
Ghent Townhall (Stadhuis) is where one gets married. The building is hard to miss as the detailed, ornate Gothic style in which the building was originally built is in stark contrast to the clean lines of the plainer Renaissance style, which the building was completed in. The inside is equally interesting with wooden vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, Wedding Chapel, a labyrinth and more.
The best part about Ghent is that you can walk the entire city center and all the historical buildings and churches are all in close proximity. We are now walking towards St.Nicholas Church.
St. Nicholas Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, Belgium. Built in the old trade center of Ghent next to the bustling Korenmarkt, St. Nicholas Church was popular with the guilds whose members carried out their business nearby. The guilds had their own chapels which were added to the sides of the church in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The central tower, which was funded in part by the city, served as an observation post and carried the town bells until the neighboring belfry of Ghent was built. These two towers, along with the Saint Bavo Cathedral, still define the famous medieval skyline of the city center. One of the treasures of the church is its organ, produced by the famous French organ builder ‘Aristide Cavaillé-Coll’.
We are now at Saint Michael’s Church which is a Roman Catholic church built in a late Gothic style. It is known for its rich interior decoration.
Come with us as we now walk on Saint Michael’s Bridge to enjoy some stunning views of the medieval harbor of Ghent on both sides of the Leie river. And then let’s go down to the river to spend some time in peace there.
As we spent some relaxing moments near the peaceful river, the sky decided to give the clouds a break as the blue started forcing its way out. It was time to move to explore more.
The Gravensteen meaning “Castle of the Counts” is a medieval castle. The current castle dates from 1180 and was the residence of the Counts of Flanders until 1353. It was subsequently re-purposed as a court, prison, mint, and even as a cotton factory. It was restored over 1893–1903 and is now a museum and a major landmark in the city.
We now walk towards the Groentenmarkt Square, a prominent square in the heart of the city. It is also famous for its ‘little nose war’ which I would tell you about a little later. Come let’s first experience why this place is so popular by visiting this renowned and historical attraction.
The ‘Great Butchers Hall’ houses the Center for East Flemish Regional Products. You will find everything here from individual products or even a gift hamper if you wish. The Great Butchers Hall was originally a covered market. This hall, which dates back to the 15th century, was the central place where meat was inspected and traded. This was partly because selling meat door-to-door was forbidden in the Middle Ages. If you wish to taste all their specialties, you could reserve a table at the restaurant across the aisle and enjoy local dishes right there on the spot.
Beside the Great Butchers hall is the smallest pub in Ghent, Galgenhuisje. The little bar fills up quickly but there is plenty of room on the terrace and it’s heated in winter.
And now the story that I promised or rather the reality. Carts thrown about, buckets of water thrown over heads, fisticuffs exchanged and the gossip thereafter. Here is the tale of Ghent’s two warring Cuberdon vendors, a candy war that Belgian papers have dubbed ‘the little nose war’.
It all began innocently with Carl Demeestere selling cuberdons, from his bakery window on the Groentenmarkt. The cozy square which regularly hosts street markets proved an excellent location to sell Ghent’s traditional cone-shaped candy, which is a a hard on the outside and filled with a raspberry-flavored liquorice. It has been for long a favorite with tourists. But Carl’s monopoly was short-lived. It didn’t take long before Sonny Breine, another shrewd merchant, set up shop meters away from Carl’s window. It was the first shot in a series of ever-escalating attempts to get the better of each other.
Since Sonny brought with him a quaint, old-fashioned cart and displayed his sweets in attractive-looking little pyramids, Carl went out, bought a near identical cart, and placed it next to Sonny’s. The two, who have different suppliers that make the candy according to different secret recipes, were at each other’s throats from the start. Both claim to sell the only authentic cuberdons, and both showed no qualms about bad-mouthing the others product. In the summer of 2011, things got so bad that police had to confiscate Sonny’s cart for a while. The incident drew the attention of the press, and Sonny’s and Carl’s feud was dubbed the ‘neuzekesoorlog’, or ‘little nose war’, after the candy’s local nickname.
For a couple of years, apart from little grumblings, they seemed to have buried the hatchet, and relative peace had returned to the Groentenmarkt. However during 2017’s Ghent Festivities, a 10-day culture extravaganza that traditionally has sales picking up for the cuberdon trade, the fresh-faced salesman Younes (who now mans Sonny’s cart) started the conflict again by throwing a bucket of water over Carl’s head. The ‘little nose war’ still rages on. We supported both though and bought a little from each, but found them too sweet for comfort. And we moved on.
The 91-metre-tall belfry, Bell Tower of Ghent is one of three medieval towers that overlook the old city center of Ghent, the other two belonging to Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas’ Church. Its height makes it the tallest belfry in Belgium. The belfry of Ghent, together with its attached buildings, belongs to the set of belfries of Belgium and France inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Saint Anne’s Church is the most important building in Ghent in Rundbogen style, an eclectic style with Romanesque, Byzantine and Gothic elements. Both the interior and the surroundings of the church were protected as a monument in 1980.
In 2018, it was decided to convert St Anne’s Church into a commercial destination. There would be a market hall, restaurant and wine bar built in the church. The outdoor areas would include a public community garden and a wild and vegetable garden. The front part of the church would be open to everyone. Work is yet to start.
Saint James Church a rough, Romanesque fortress of God is an imposing architecture dating back to the 12th century. It has been damaged, scarred and then repaired, restored and extended time and again. That has led to an interesting mixture of styles. The architecture is Romanesque with Gothic and Baroque elements and is a genuinely remarkable piece of religious architecture.
The mighty church stands in the middle of a square called Bij Sint-Jacobs which is the epicenter of the world-famous Ghent Festivities, the ten-day annual people’s festival in mid-July which really signals the beginning of summer in Ghent.
The festivities were given a new lease of life in 1969 at Café Trefpunt, by the folk singer Walter De Buck. What started out as a small affair among artists around St James has grown into an event that takes over the entire city center. The ten-day, non-stop party is packed with folklore, street theater, puppet shows, music and has now grown into one of the biggest street parties in Europe.
Flea market at Bij Sint-Jacobs is weekly flea market and a real hot spot for bargain hunters at the weekend. If you happen to be holidaying in Ghent during the weekend, do not miss out on this lovely shopping destination to pick up a few items for your home or for gifting to your family and friends. We now move to another very interesting place that you cannot afford to miss out on.
A lot of us recognize a vibrant city by its street art. And Ghent is a free-thinking cultural city where everyone is welcome and free to do their thing. Werregarenstraatje in Ghent is a public canvas for young street artists. Let’s head there.
In Graffiti Street, street artists create striking spray-can art to their heart’s content. This means that Graffiti Street in Ghent never looks the same from one week to the next. Ghent is a graffiti-friendly city, with many works by artists such as Roa and Bue the Warrior. A view of few more masterpieces before we move back to another historic destination of Ghent.
The Saint Bavo’s Cathedral is an 89-meter-tall Catholic, Gothic cathedral in Ghent. It is the oldest parish church in the lively heart of Ghent and stands on the site of a 10th century church and a 12th century Romanesque church. It is the seat of the diocese of Ghent and is named after Saint Bavo and contains the well-known Ghent Altarpiece. Let’s go around a bit in this rather quiet square.
Ghent. A vibrant city in this beautiful country, Belgium.
Hope you loved the day traveling with us. PIN it for later