There are many amazing things to do in Brussels, and the capital also makes a great hub for exploring some of Belgium’s wonderful surrounding cities. We had one last day in Brussels before heading north and wanted to take a day trip. We chose Ghent because of its proximity to Brussels, it’s not as touristy as Bruges (yet), it’s quite beautiful, and there’s a range of activities perfect to fit into a day trip! Here we’ll cover some basic details of making a Ghent day trip from Brussels and our itinerary.
Getting to Ghent
There are multiple trains running between Ghent and Brussels daily. It generally takes about 30-45 minutes one way, depending on the station you transit through in Brussels. We took a train from Brussels Midi to Gent-Sint-Pieters, leaving Brussels at around 7:30 a.m. and returning around dinner time. But there are other stations in Brussels you can get to and from Ghent at. See the various timetables and routes here.
Once in Ghent, you can make the 30ish-minute walk to the city center, or take a tram or bus. Find maps and learn more about public transport in Ghent here.
Our Ghent Day Trip Itinerary
We arrived in Ghent around 8 a.m. and decided to walk to the city center from the train station, grabbing some breakfast on the way.
On the way to the city center from the train station, we walked through Citadelpark. It was quite beautiful as the leaves were just beginning to change for fall. We walked the paved paths, passing by pretty ponds, various sculptures, and unique rock formations.
Saint Bavo’s Cathedral
Cost: Free to walk through Cathedral, €12.50 to visit the Ghent Altarpiece, €16 for an augmented reality tour and visit to the Ghent Altarpiece.
As we made our way into the city center, we stopped at Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. This iconic building stands tall over the heart of Ghent. A church was first built here in the mid-900s, but the current Gothic structure was erected in the mid-16th century.
Visitors can stroll through the cathedral to admire all of the architectural details or buy tickets to visit the crypt to see the Ghent Altarpiece and various works of art. We just walked through the main cathedral, but if you’d like to see the crypt or learn more about the building, you can book tickets.
Check opening hours, see ticket options, and book tickets on the official website.
While we were waiting for the Belfry of Ghent to open, we headed over to Graffiti Street, walking by the pretty Ghent City Hall on the way.
The walls of this short pedestrian alleyway are covered in a ton of bright graffiti and some interesting murals. It seems that the pieces are ever-changing as works are added to the walls, so you don’t exactly know what art you’ll see!
Belfry of Ghent & Saint Nicholas’ Church
Cost: €11 for the Belfry, free to walk through Saint Nicholas’ Church
The Belfry of Ghent is another one of the prominent medieval towers standing tall over the city. This historic building contains a small museum spread across its multiple levels. As you climb the tower, you’ll learn about its history, get a look at the tower’s bells, and see a couple of Ghent’s dragons that have stood watch over the city from atop the tower for many years. The city views you’ll get from the old watchtower/belltower are beautiful as well!
Learn more about visiting the Belfry of Ghent in our other post.
Before or after your visit to the belfry, take a stroll by the City Pavilion and Saint Nicholas’ Church just nearby. You can also walk through Saint Nicholas’ church for free if you’d like to see its interior.
Walk along the Graslei, Korenlei & Kraanlei
The Graslei, Korenlei, and Kraanlei are promenades along the Lys River that runs right through the heart of Ghent. These beautiful walkways are lined with historic buildings, restaurants, and shops. Even on the chilly, windy day we had, quite a few people were out sitting along the canal, enjoying the area.
Along the water, you’ll also find spots to buy tickets for a boat tour or rental companies that provide kayaks. We walked along the river and down some of the surrounding streets, stopping in some shops along the way.
Cost: Depends on company and tour, but should be around €10
After walking around the downtown for a bit, we embarked on our boat tour to explore more by watercraft. Our guide maneuvered through the canals while telling us the history and significance of many of the buildings and other sites along the river.
Ghent is really so beautiful and we enjoyed seeing more of the city from the water. We booked our tickets with De Bootjes Van Gent. The tour costs €10 and lasts for 40 minutes. Note that prices for many companies increase during the peak summer months. During peak times, we definitely recommend booking your tickets in advance when possible.
We grabbed some lunch then headed to the Gravensteen. This is definitely one of Ghent’s more popular attractions. The old castle has served many purposes over its existence and has long been an important piece of Ghent.
The Gravensteen doesn’t contain too many artifacts and exhibits, but with the help of an audio guide, you can learn about the castle’s history. The views over Ghent from the upper deck are also pretty!
Read more on visiting the Gravensteen here.
Vrijdagmarkt & Dulle Griet
Cost: Free to visit the square
Our last main stop of the day was the Vrijdagmarkt square. Each Friday since the 1100s, a market is held here. Various vendors set up booths selling anything from prepared snacks and fresh produce to clothes and household items. Bring cash if you visit during a market day!
We were bummed to not be visiting on a Friday, but the square itself is pretty with the large statue monument at the center and historic buildings surrounding it.
Various restaurants line the square, and we headed to Dulle Griet. This famous pub offers over 500 beers! That’s quite the list, so we recommend taking a look at the menu beforehand. This bar is known for its MAX beer – a large portion of beer served in a tall glass. To prevent patrons from running off with the unique beer vessel, those who order one must take off their shoe and place it in a bucket that is hoisted to the ceiling. Is this place a bit touristy? Yes. Was it worth a visit? Also yes!
Worth Mentioning: Groot Vleeshuis
Groot Vleeshuis, or the Old Butchers’ Hall, was a meat market hall dating back to the 1200s. In recent years, small restaurant/food stalls and other booths selling local Belgian products have opened up within this historic building.
Sadly, the building was closed during our visit. It seems to have remained closed over a year later with no information on reopening. Check the Visit Gent page for any updates.
After our day exploring Ghent we walked back to the train station and returned to Brussels.
Extra Notes on Making a Ghent Day Trip
Is One Day in Ghent Enough?
Many people would say one day in Ghent is enough. Overall, we do think a day trip provides ample time to cover what are to be considered the city’s main attractions.
However, there are various other museums and activities in Ghent that you could fill more time with if you wanted to. And while we didn’t feel too rushed to run from place to place on this day as we had on other days during this Europe trip, we think it would also be nice to have a little more time to explore around the city center and just relax along the canals. Ghent is so beautiful and we definitely wouldn’t mind spending some more time here!
As mentioned, there are many other attractions that we didn’t squeeze into our Ghent day trip. If you are planning to spend multiple days in Ghent or want to consider other activities in the city, it may be worth checking out the CityCard Gent.
Like many other city passes, this card grants free access to a variety of attractions, offers discounts for some activities, and includes public transport within the city. The CityCard is available in a 48-hour and 72-hour pass. We did not purchase this pass for our day trip as it was not worth the cost based on the activities we did on this day. Learn more about the CityCard Gent here.
Ghent is quite easy to reach from Brussels, making it easy to take a day trip here. Furthermore, we like taking day trips on our own because we can visit attractions on our own time and can pick what we want to see. However, if you’d like a more structured visit or don’t have the time to plan out a day trip, there are various organized Ghent day tour options.
Day tours from Brussels often cover both Ghent and Bruges. Transport to and from Brussels is generally by private vehicle. Some options can be found from independent operator sites or on tour sites like Viator and Get Your Guide.
If you have any other must-visit cities in Belgium, drop your suggestions below!