Where The Locals Go In Ghent
Longing for that classic, pretty, medieval European city vibe – the kind that takes you back to all those fairy tales and medieval folklore you read as a kid? There’s no lack of options in Belgium, with Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges all a (cobble)stone’s throw away. But if you want an unparalleled experience of Belgium, many say that Ghent is “Europe’s best-kept secret”. These tips by our Ghent locals might just give you a taste of why that is.
How to get to Ghent by train: Belgium is the best country to travel through train - you can get anywhere in around an hour! Reach Ghent from Brussels in just half an hour, from Antwerp in about 55 minutes, and from Liège in 1.5 hours. Visit Europe by rail with the Global Pass or the Interrail Benelux Pass.
A gem of a library
Ghent locals are proud of their public library, De Krook, named in honor of the location of the library on a “wrinkle” (“kreuk” in Dutch) of the river Scheldt. The library also has a stunning view of Ghent’s three medieval towers — the Belfry of Ghent, Saint Bavo Cathedral Tower, and Saint Nicholas’ Church Tower — from its third floor.
What’s more, the complex includes an exhibition space, a café, and even a bar, which has Ghent local Bennie de Meulemeester’s stamp of approval. It’s also a picturesque spot to sit and take in the serene river views. We recommend stopping by again in the evening to see the building illuminated with light.
A city for night walks
If you find midnight in Paris charming, prepare yourself to experience midnight in Ghent. While there’s a lot to do in Ghent during the day, strolling Ghent by night is a must for any visitor, particularly because of its illuminated streets and buildings.
“It feels like you’re inside a fairytale,” said Ghent local Dieter Covent, adding, “it really brings out the city’s medieval character.” The city’s lighting has been specially designed to make the streets feel as cinematic as possible. There’s even a two-hour-long “Illuminated Walk”. Sounds touristy? It kind of is, but this dazzling experience can easily be enjoyed by tourists and locals alike!
What better way to enjoy a Sunday morning?
Spending Sunday morning at church may or may not be your cup of tea — but the Sunday market at Ledeberg Square, just in front of the church, is the perfect way to start a day in Ghent. You’ll find people of all ages here, making it an apt location to meet locals.
“I love to hang out with friends and enjoy a sparkling wine at the mobile wine bar, talking to people I don’t know,” said local Bennie de Meulemeester. Join him and discover the cheese stands, browse through music cassettes for sale and buy fresh produce from his favourite fruit and vegetable stand run by a vendor who always calls Bennie “little man” (nevermind that he’s almost 6’3”).
A preloved book café you'll love
Need a new book to read on your travels? At Le Bal Infernal, you can bring your own book and exchange it with any of the books you see on their loaded shelves (you’ll pay a very small price difference). Even if you don’t have a book you’d like to trade in, you’re free to shop or simply enjoy a hot cup of tea or coffee. Soak in the feeling of being surrounded by books that were once relished by avid reader like you and now long to be opened and devoured again. With one of the cosiest interiors in the city centre, Belgian local Tahnee Naesen promises, “You won’t be disappointed.”
Have some squeaky-clean fun
Here’s another one of Tahnee’s quirky favourites: a café/bar inside a laundrette! If you’re backpacking across Europe with your Interrail Global Pass, you might end up carrying a lot of dirty clothes in your bag — making places such as Wasbar a godsend.
At Wasbar, you can have everything washed and dried while treating yourself to a Belgian beer or coffee while you wait. You can also grab breakfast and lunch here, or even stop by for a weekend brunch. So, take our advice and bring your appetite along with those dirty clothes!
Belgium might be famous for its beer, but did you know it’s also known for its winemaking? The monks at St. Peter’s Abbey grew grapes on the hillside next to the River Scheldt going back to the ninth century. The abbey brought back its vine-growing tradition in 1983 and produces “abbey wine” from four grape varietals each year.
After a day of touring Ghent, the abbey’s open garden is an ideal place to unwind amid the vines and trees. According to Belgian local Nick Provoost, this might as well be paradise.
A beer at the docks
There are no more beer-making abbeys left in Ghent, but that doesn’t stop locals and visitors alike from having a good time. A bar/brewery called the Dok Brewing Company, in the Dok Noord food hall, should be your next stop if you grow tired of downing Duvels. Referring to the Dok Brewing Company as simply a bar wouldn’t do it justice – it has 30 taps and a 1000-litre brewing tank just next to its fridge full of bottles for visitors to peruse.
The hall also offers varied dining options, from authentic Italian pizza at Officina Raffaelli, to smoky, juicy burgers at RØK – highly recommended by Belgian local Heather Sills.
An oasis in the centre
What really makes Ghent special for visitors and locals alike are all of its tiny corners, which invite strollers to sit down, relax, and breathe in the fresh air. One such place is Appelbrugparkje. Even though it’s in the busy centre and not at all off the beaten path, Dieter and other locals worship it. Bring a nice book and a few beverages, download some soothing music or your favourite podcast, and enjoy the view over the water. There’s nothing quite like it.
For more local favorites across Europe, check out Spotted by Locals.
Edited by Sukriti Kapoor, Content Writer, Eurail.
Header image by Skitterphoto (Pixabay)
You might like this as well:
Where The Locals Go In Brussels Discover where the locals go in Brussels to enhance your trip to the capital of Belgium. Make an overnight stop when you’re on your way to London, Paris, or Amsterdam by train.
Winter in the Benelux Here’s our senior train travel guide for winter in the Benelux. Here’s how to visit Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in one seamless rail tour with the Interrail Benelux Pass.
Change of currency
You cannot change the currency once you have a Pass in your cart. Remove the Pass, and then change the currency on the website header.