Ghent & Bruges: A Tale of Two Flemish Cities

Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited! 

IMG_3383Ghent and Bruges were obviously going to be part of my Belgium itinerary. I had heard and seen nothing but good things about both cities and knew that I must see both. Given their proximity to one another (about 35 minutes by train), I decided to stay in one city and visit the other as a day trip. I chose Ghent for my lodging as it was cheaper for me to stay here and was very happy with my choice. The only bummer was that the weather in Bruges was not so great and it poured 80% of the time that I was there. The forecast was not great for either day I had available so I just went for it. And came home soaked.

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Ghent

It’s a very charming city and I think I preferred Ghent as a base. It has a bit more of a city/urban vibe than Bruges and had a lot of great options for food (read: lots of non-Belgian options). And it was also easier for me to find affordable accommodations! I stayed for 3 nights which felt a little long, but it gave me two full days (the first spent in Bruges), and I got to just hang out in Ghent without much to do on the second. Everything you want to see is in a small area so it is definitely easy to do as a day trip as well. 

Getting There: Easy train ride from Antwerp (the same train goes to Bruges). Take the tram from the train station into the center of town (tram 1 or tram 4). The trams are located just outside the train station – don’t listen to Google Maps which tells you to walk to a further tram stop! You can buy a ticket at the stop (so long as the machines are working – I had a few issues with the machines and wound up not paying for a few of my tram rides. Oops!). 

Where to Stay: Somewhere near the center, you will be in close proximity to all of the major sights and it is easy to get to the train station via tram. I stayed at De Draecke Hostel which I really liked. Definitely popular with families as there were quite a few while I was there. It was the nicest of the 3 hostels I stayed in at this point in the trip. Very good breakfast included, nice common areas (including a bar), and good rooms. It’s also in a great location, quiet but easy to get to all of the main sights.

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hanging out at the park near my hostel
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Castle of the Counts

What to Do:

  • Visit the Belfry – I didn’t do this, but apparently, it has great views of the city, has an elevator, and it is not as crowded as the one in Bruges
  • See St Bavo’s cathedral which also houses The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (you can visit for a fee)
  • Take a walking tour – I did one that started at my hostel just an hour after checking in. It was fantastic! A good way to get oriented to the city and learn more of the history about this very interesting town. Ben, the tour guide, is from Ghent and very passionate about his city! I really enjoyed his stories and learning more about why the noose is a proud symbol of Ghent!  
  • Castle of the Counts – Don’t go inside, just walk around for photos (you can walk in a little bit before you have to pay)
  • Take a canal tour – I saw a lot of these go by while I was in Ghent though I did not choose to take one
  • Check out the main square which houses a market every Friday morning
  • Graffitistraat – great for some photos

Eating & Drinking:

  • Oudburgstraat has a ton of different restaurants (Belgian, Turkish, Greek, Japanese, Indian…). There are a lot of great restaurants on the side streets near here as well. Wander around and find something busy where you can get a table.
  • La Malcontenta – Tapas in Patershol, this place was packed. I snagged a seat at the bar and ate too much, but it was all very good! One of my favorite meals thus far on my trip! The bread is incredible!
  • Basta – Mediterranean, healthy. This was on a street with a few other healthy cafes, I liked this area as it was a whole different side of Ghent. This is also near the Red Light District (one street).
  • Get some frites – Friturr Jozef in the main square is very good (i like mine with curry ketchup!)
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Frites!

Bruges

Super charming, but also very popular and busy with tourists. Because it was raining most of the time I was there, I found myself ducking into different places to avoid the rain and to try and dry off.

Getting There: I took the train from Ghent, you can get there by train from Brussels/Antwerp as well. When you arrive you can take a bus from the train station to the Center of town (just look for the bus marked Centrum and go to Markt stop). However, I chose to walk and was so glad I did. It’s about 20 minutes to the Markt and it’s a real pleasure to wander around different side streets in Bruges as you make your way there.

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Belfry
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Market Square
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Trying to ignore the rain
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Views from the Belfry

What to do:

  • Visit the Belfry – Very busy, I waited 90 minutes to get in. They only let a few people inside at a time. There are about 366 steps to the top. 12 euro to visit. The visit itself only takes about 20-25 minutes. When you get to the top you have beautiful views of the town, make sure you stay to hear the bells chime 🙂
  • Take a canal tour – Also seemed very popular, but since it was raining I did not do this

Eating & Drinking:

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Waterzooi
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Pork rilette & pickles
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Chocolatier Dumon
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Chocolatier Dumon
  • Get some chocolate – Chocolatier Dumon, the original location near the square, is a small shop with beautiful chocolates. Still family-run. Get a treat to go (I opted for the mixed assortment and was not disappointed)
  • If you want to try waffles, my friend suggested Chez Albert near the square
  • ‘T Zwart Huis – around the corner from Dumon. Jazz cafe also open for lunch. I am so glad I found this place. It was a little more expensive than I had planned for (I felt like Bruges, and Ghent to a degree, were a bit more expensive), but very good. I had some delicious complementary pickles and pork rillette to start. I tried the Waterzooi, a Belgian stew, this time with fish. Perfect for the rainy day. Very friendly service
  • Oak & Coffee – a cute little cafe, family-run. Stop in for a coffee and a sweet treat
  • DeHalve Maan brewery – I didn’t take the tour, but that is an option. Had a beer here (tripel) and tried to dry off
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DeHalve Maan tripel

 

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