Day trippin’ Ghent: Just not long enough!

Artwork, buildings along the quay: Ghent, Belgium

It would be difficult even for veteran travelers to say they’ve “seen” Ghent in a day. This is one powerful Belgium city, rich with historic buildings, art, and room for roaming.

As kids, we had heard of the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the U.S. But we knew little more about Ghent than that.

Bruges is the belle; Ghent is the rebel.

Hecktic Travels
Waterway in Ghent, Belgium
Waterways make great tourist attractions, so hop on if you have time.

If Bruges is charming for its quaint structures and meandering small waterways, then Ghent would have to be called “impressive” for its wide rivers flanked by walkways, Flemish architectural gems, and massive buildings.

Public walkway along Leie River: Ghent, Belgium
Residents and tourists alike enjoy paddling the river and walking the broad sidewalks of Ghent.

Ghent’s wide-open spaces wowed us as well.

We crossed bridges and joined other tourists on wide walkways flanked by tall, sturdy cathedrals and early stone buildings like Gravensteen Castle.

Canal beside Gravensteen: Ghent, Belgium
Waterway through Ghent

This 11th century city, rebuilt after Vikings plundered it, remains a stronghold for residents (many of whom are immigrants and newcomers) intent on preserving and protecting architectural gems and the rivers that run through this timeless place.

I have always believed that every great city in history needs a vibrant center.

Eli Broad

After strolling through the city, we stopped for a while at one of the gems of Ghent: St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint-Baafs Cathedral), Ghent’s oldest parish church. It stands on the former site of St. John’s Church which was destroyed, but some Romanesque elements remained. In the 13th century, St. Bavo’s was converted into a Catholic church and most of the chapels were extended in early Gothic style. With its black-and-white tiled floor, vertical grandeur, and the opulent Rococo pulpit, the church has become a repository of masterpieces of Belgian art.

We began our tour with augmented reality, and, using headgear, we moved through the lower part of the cathedral to see how it might have been reconstructed. (We must tell you: this is a better experience than we could have expected — well worth the ticket price!)

The main event (after our augmented reality session) was the viewing of the Ghent Altarpiece, a massive 15th century polyptych begun by artist Hubert Van Eyck but completed after his death by his brother, Jan Van Eyck.

Jan van Eyk and brother Hubert, St. Bavo's Cathedral: Ghent, Belgium
Sculpture of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck in front of St. Bavo’s

The altarpiece is currently being restored, but we were able to view the whole of the artwork, even its foldable sides, closely.

Restoring Ghent Altarpiece: Ghent, Belgium
The Ghent Altarpiece behind glass during its restoration

Also called The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the central scene of the altarpiece shows the redemption of mankind through the sacrifice of Christ, represented in the form of the lamb. Other panels include judges, hermits, and pilgrims as well as Christ on the throne flanked by Mary and John.

Ghent Altarpiece: St. Bavo's Cathedral: Ghent, Belgium
Our guide explained several details of this Adoration of the Mystic Lamb as a religious piece as well as remarkable art.

With a final visit to the cathedral itself, we marveled at workmanship we may never see again — not in our lifetime, at least.

So, if you’re visiting Belgium and have only a partial day between Bruges and Brussels, we can wholeheartedly recommend a stroll through historic, beautiful Ghent. You won’t find art and architecture on any grander scale!

Travel wide-open,

Rusha & Bert

This post is one in a series prompted by a recent trip to The Netherlands and Belgium. Thank you to Viking cruises (Holland & Belgium 2022) and our travel agent, Lauren Gunnels of Ortelius Travel Advisors, for the arrangements and free time to enjoy the scenery!

18 thoughts on “Day trippin’ Ghent: Just not long enough!

  1. Armando

    Loved your photos and captions! When planning our post-cruise extension, Gene and I considered a stop in Ghent, as well as Bruges and Brussels. Ultimately we chose not to, but now that I see how wonderful it is, I am sorry we didn’t do it! Perhaps we will get there some day. The augmented reality thing sounds fascinating.

  2. Amy

    Enjoy the tour here, Rusha! Beautiful images. I recall we visited there a few years ago, they had a record breaking summer heat that week. it was unbearable…

  3. travelgarb

    We spent 3 nights in Ghent, although that included a day trip to Bruges. Went to the cathedral, but missed that augmented reality tour – it sounds great! We really enjoyed kayaking around the waterways and the audio guided tour of Gravensteen Castle. All in a blog as you’d expect! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Toonsarah

    I really liked Ghent (we went for a football match some years ago but made sure to stay on to explore!) You’ve brought back lots of memories with your canal-side photos in particular 🙂 And that augmented reality tour in the cathedral sounds an excellent idea, a great use of modern technology. But I believe Brussels is the capital of Belgium and I’m sure also its largest city. Ghent is relatively small, from what I recall?

    1. Oh, the Places We See

      OMG! You are so right. I’ve misquoted, and I apologize. Brussels is the capital! Thanks for catching that early. So glad you went there. It wasn’t originally a must-see, but now that we’ve been there, it’s a stand-out city.

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