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As it is one of the oldest cities of Belgium, Ghent’s history can be found in many forms: in its monuments, its museums, as well as its everyday life. So here are some suggestions that can help you discover a part of this city’s charm.
The quays that form the center of Ghent are an outdoors museum. For example, you can marvel at the picturesque houses of Graslei, one of the oldest areas of the city. You will see the same scenery on the opposite side of the Leie river, at the quay of Korenlei, where the medieval port was to be found. There is also Kraanlei with its cafés and restaurants. You can even discover the area by boat. For more information click here:
The history of the church dates back to the 10th century. During its first phase of enlargement, the Romanesque style was applied. Its construction was completed some years after it became the seat of the newly found diocese of Ghent (1559). By that time, it had transformed into the Gothic cathedral that is today. It is noteworthy not only for its architecture, but also for the works of art that it encloses. The church is decorated by numerous paintings from some of the most well known Flemish artists, such as Lucas de Heere, a Ghent native, and Rubens. But you shouldn’t miss the most famous possession of the cathedral, the Ghent Altarpiece. This magnificent painting was designed and completed during the first half of the 15th century. It is credited to Hubert and Jan van Eyck, two brothers thought to be among the major representatives of the old Flemish school. Divided into many sections, which are painted on both sides, this altarpiece was commissioned by the mayor of Ghent especially for the chapel of the church of Saint Bavo. As a result, this world-known work of art is entwined with the city and its cathedral. Opening hours: 08:30-18:00 (Ghent Altarpiece: 09:30-17:00).
Important note: if you think about visiting the Ghent Altarpiece, you should know that a big project for its restoration is in motion since 2012 at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK). As a result, only a part of the altarpiece is exhibited at Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. Nevertheless, you can watch the restorers at work if you visit the MSK. For more info, check here:
This is a monument that shares a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites together with other belfries from Belgium and France. Mostly known as a bell tower, it is the tallest one in the country. The building attached to the belfry was constructed as the of the cloth trade, the main source of wealth for Ghent for centuries. A part of the cloth hall was used from the middle of the 18th century as the prison of Ghent up until the beginning of the 20th century. Don’t forget to look for the dragon that is at the top of the belfry. It is the symbol of the city that overlooks its skyline since the Middle Ages. Opening hours: 10:00-18:00.
The triptych of Ghent’s major monuments is completed with the church of Saint Nicholas. Built throughout the 13th century according to the Gothic style, it bears some elements unique to the region. For example, there is a single large tower that was placed at the center of the edifice. The church was located right next to the trade market (Korenmarkt). That was a major reason why many representatives of the business activity of Ghent commissioned their own chapels that were added to the main structure of the building. The organ of Saint Nicholas’ Church was built in the middle of the 19th century by one of the most important specialists at the time, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. Opening hours: 10:00-17:00.
MSK has a permanent collection mainly of paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages up to the middle of the 20th century. Some of the displays are creations of renowned Flemish artists, such as Hieronymus Bosch and Rubens. You can also find temporary exhibitions that take place, including the one that shows the visitor the restoration process of the Ghent Altarpiece. Opening hours: 09:30-17:30.
Facing the MSK, inside the Citadelpark, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Ghent was inaugurated 20 years ago. Taking up from where the MSK collection left off, SMAK focuses on the second half of the 20th century and beyond. It has works from critically acclaimed artists, like Warhol and Francis Bacon. Opening hours: 09:30-17:30.
It is an international film festival that was created in 1974. Its 2019 edition will be held from the 8th to the 18th of October. The concept of the festival since the beginning has been to shed light on the alternative part of the film industry. As a result, many provocative works have made its screening list. In addition, Film Fest Ghent takes great notice of film music. Since 2001, it has formed the World Soundtrack Academy, which gives the World Soundtrack Awards. They have many categories, such as Soundtrack Composer of the Year, Best Original Song Written Directly for a Film or Discovery of the Year. It is a unique feature that sets the Ghent Festival apart from other film fests. Furthermore, it has organized in the past special exhibitions dedicated to the greats of cinema’s history, such as Bergman, Fellini and others. For more info on the festival and its activities, check here:
Belgium is world known for its chocolates and its beer. Charlie Tours can show you both aspects of the nation’s identity as they can be found on the streets of Ghent. Based on the brewery tradition of the city, you can choose from a wide variety of tastes. You can even find beers made out of herbs at Gruut, maybe the most known brewery in Ghent. There are some more beer tasting tours offered by other organizations, such as Beerwalk and Belguim Beer Days. If you are interested, you can check the links below:
You can see most of the monuments mentioned above for free with the CityCard Gent. It also provides you with free transportation, as you can use all the buses and trams in the historic center of Ghent at no extra charge. The cost of the CityCard Gent for two days (48h) is 30€ per person. For more info, check here: