Ghent (map) is a city in Flanders. It was once considered the second largest city north of the Alps, after Paris. The impact of this rich past can be clearly seen when viewing the imposing architecture of churches and the houses of rich traders.
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The whole of the city center is restored in this fashion, and still breathes the atmosphere of a thriving late-medieval city state. As the city council made the center free of cars, it is now a very welcoming and open area, which does not fail to impress even the people who live there.
The center of Ghent is quite small, so you can walk around on foot. However, the main station (Gent Sint-Pieters, map) is not in the city center, but takes a walk of about half an hour. The best option is to take the tram, which takes you directly to the center in 10 to 15 minutes.
A bicycle is the recommended way to get around in Ghent. However, there are many roads with cobblestones that make cycling a shaking experience.
Belfort en Lakenhalle (Belfry and Cloth Hall, map). The Belfry was a symbol of the city’s autonomy, begun in 1313 and completed in 1380. This municipal tower holds the great bells that have rung out Ghent’s civic pride through the centuries. Take the elevator to the Belfry’s upper gallery, 66 m high, to see the bells and take in fantastic panoramic views of the city.
Gentse Feesten (Ghent Festival) is a cultural music and theatre festival held throughout the city. It is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, attracting about 2 million visitors every year. The multitude of squares in the city centre are taken over by stages, each of them with their characteristic programming.
Prondelmarkt bij Sint-Jacobs (Sint-Jacobs flea market, map). Antiques, second-hand records, books, and others can be found in the weekly flea markt at Sint-Jacobs. Prices can be high, but keen eyes can find a lot of gems!
For authentic pubs, go to St. Veerleplein (the square in front of the Castle), the pubs around St. Jacob’s church (especially during weekends), or the student area around Blandijnberg (Mount Blandin), especially in the proximity of the School of Arts and Philosophy.