Ghent Stories and Tips

So, What's To See In Ghent?

Korenlei and Graslei Photo, Ghent, Belgium

So what's to see in Ghent? So what's not to see in Ghent? Ghent is a perfect city to illustrate what I mean when I travel. First though, what is there to see in Ghent? At the top of the list is St-Baafskathedraal (St Bavos Cathedral); then St-Nicklaaskerk; St. Nicholas Church; next is the Stadhuis (Town Hall) in the Groentenmarkt (Main Square) and, of course, Gravensteen (the Castle of Counts, and you don't have to climb to get there), then the Belfort,(the belfry - with a lift and a great view). If you have only one day for Ghent, those would be my list for the daytime. Then would follow the Klein Begijnhof, and finally, the Graslei and Korenlei at night if you are really moving. You will see the major "sights" of Ghent, but you will get neither the "feel" of this marvelous city or the ambiance or mood that should be part of your experience, nor will you see the major museums. You will not see the "real" Ghent, but it will give you a good first impression. At least enough to make you want return.

The list of things worth visiting in Ghent is pretty much the same as every other place you visit with different looks and names, and, quite honestly, it can become long and tedious after a couple of weeks. Eventually one gets "museumed" or "cathedraled" out. When that happens, everything kind of merges and you miss the true beat of the place you're visiting. At that point it is time to stop and take a break for a day. Do only what you feel like doing. One day per week is what I usually do and it is rejuvenating. I suggest Sunday because other than tourist traps, most places are closed. The ones that are open are usually worth a browse. Also, Sunday is the best day to "people watch," which is both fun and relaxing. After church (Belgium is very Roman Catholic), watch the people wearing their "church clothes" strolling along the canal or having lunch on the Korenlei or Graslei. Become part of the throng that is out and enjoying the day. You can start a new week on Monday.

As I mentioned, Ghent is a perfect place to illustrate a couple of points that need clarifying. First, I am not trying to tell people how to travel. I’m sure that millions of people have their own systems to follow and are not looking for help. I am trying to explain what works for me and why it works. However, if you are trying to jam a couple of month's worth of sightseeing into two weeks, my system is definitely not for you. My approach does take time, quite a bit of it. Ghent needs some time.

Second, when I use the word "wander" or "wandering," I mean walking slowly, taking in a spot almost by osmosis – just allowing the mental picture to sink in with enough time to emotionally process the information. "Wandering" means following the little side streets or alley ways that can lead to wonderful experiences, highlight of a trip experiences. It means stopping for an ice cream cone or a glass of wine. Ghent is the perfect place to find a romantic corner bistro and just relax. Because Flanders is quite fluent in English, it is the perfect place to get lost on purpose.

Many tourists make lists of the important things to see. Following guide book recommendations, some even make-up a time schedule! Following a list like that guarantees that you will be totally exhausted after your "relaxing" European vacation. If your face is stuck in a map or a guide book, you will definitely most of the beauty of the city, town, or attraction that you are visiting. If you return home more tired than when you left, I wouldn't call the trip a vacation.

A word about guide books; they're all good, but some are better, in my opinion. If I want historical information about a place, Blue Guides are by far my favorite series. For most of Europe, used copies of all guide books are available on Amazon.com for next to nothing and if all you are looking for is a well-written historical book, old copies of the Blue Guides will serve you well and you won't mind zipping them apart. Also, these are my favorites; they may not be yours.

The DK Eyewitness series is great if you want lots of photographs and, I think, very good and concise information. Eyewitness Travel also has a Pocket Map & Guide series that is very helpful. Rick Steves books are well-written and he has a sense of humor. There are many great tips in his guides. Rough Guides are information laden and updated regularly. They are particularly useful for backpacking and publishing reliable information. Lonely Planet and Time Out are also among my favorites. These are a few that I read before and after a trip. During the trip I read a few pages that have "zipped" out of a number of guides including the Michelin Guides. I don't ever use guides for restaurants; I ask local or make my own meals in hostel kitchens. The Michelin Red Guides are the best. Blue Guides does not review restaurants.

Some readers may not understand the term "zipped." Most printing shops can "zip" or cut the spines off of your old guides (or new ones if you want) and drill holes in the pages for small notebooks of each destination of your trip. Remember that paper is heavy and it gets heavier when you are lugging it all over Europe. Because I am not interested in hotels or restaurants I eliminate those pages. A friend of mine goes one step farther. He has his books zipped and then scans the pages into his netbook. I also met a man this year who pulls the files to his cell phone. There are lots of ways of organizing.

So, what's to see in Ghent? It depends on how one wants to see it.


Note: Most of the photographs are identified on the lower part of the image, but it is necessary to view them in "Full" mode.

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