Welcome back to Travel Tips Tuesday! This series has been seriously so much fun to do; I love connecting with and learning from some awesome blogging ladies. Today one of my fav Philly bloggers, the fabulous and fashionable E.M. Ricchini of LARK+LACE, is taking us to one of her most beloved cities. Her blog has been a great source of information for my upcoming trip to Iceland (two more days!), but I think I’ll have to plan a trip to the city she’s talking about next. Without further ado, let’s go…
Hello! I’m E.M. (yes, just the letters) and I’m so excited to share my favorite city in the world with you. When my husband and I were planning our Icelandic elopement a few years ago, we knew we wanted to spend our honeymoon in Europe but wanted it to be a little more laid back. (Iceland was incredible but we knew we were going to be spending a minimum of five hours a day in the car to see everything we wanted to!) While narrowing down a few cities we hoped to visit, we stumbled upon Ghent, a small, very old city in Belgium’s Flemish Region. It seemed quaint and walkable but that was about it. We had no itinerary at all and didn’t know anything about the city but it ended up being our favorite stop and forever has a special place in our hearts. (So much so that we’re hoping to have a second home there in the future!)
What to see and do:
Ghent is the perfect place to go if you’re traveling around Europe and need a few days to get relax and soak up the local culture but it’s also worth visiting on its own. Before doing anything else, I’d recommend aimlessly wandering around. We stumbled upon so many great things because we decided to walk in whichever direction seemed most interesting. The city is lined with canals, which are enjoyable to walk alongside of to nowhere in particular.
After you’ve gotten a feel of the town, it’s time to set out with more intention. (Though you may have accidentally stumbled upon some of these gems accidentally by this point.)
Graslei Canal: I’d recommend walking down the canal at least once during the daytime and another at night. The guild houses are so perfect that they almost look fake. (Think: gingerbread.)
Gravensteen: You’re walking down a quaint cobblestone street when you look up and BAM: medieval castle. It was built somewhere between 1180 and 1200. Though a majority of the structure has been remade, you can do a tour, which includes a look at the original dungeon. Creepy but very, very cool.
Werregarenstraat (Graffiti Street): Like most of Europe, Ghent has a huge graffiti problem. In an attempt to fix it, the government outlawed graffiti everywhere– except this one street. What resulted was a constantly-changing street art exhibit.
Paterhsol: This neighborhood is everything you could ever want if you dream of pastel building facades and narrow thousand-year-old streets. There are also plenty of candy and ice cream shops so if you don’t go here, you’re seriously missing out.
Kraanlei: This neighborhood is where you’re going to want to go to experience some nightlife. Even in November, (when we were there) groups of people are gathered outside, drinking, laughing, and having a generally good time. In this neighborhood, there are no “strangers.” Everybody seems like everybody else’s old friend. (I hate going out and still had fun here.)
Where to eat:
I never would have thought this because it’s such an out-of-the-way place with old world charm but Ghent should definitely be considered a foodie destination. Like the mix of modern and Gothic architecture, Ghent’s food scene offers traditional fare as well as some totally Instagrammable options.
Greenway: Even if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, this restaurant is worth a visit. It offers savory yet still completely healthy dishes, which is a rare find in a country where fries smothered in gravy is the de facto national dish. (Not to mention the gigantic waffles.) I love frites as much as the next girl but sometimes you just want to nosh on some Thai Curry.
Eat Love Pizza: This pizza is life-changing. I’ve never seen so many varieties of relatively fancy pizza. There are also plenty of options for vegan and gluten-free foodies.
Panaché: Perfect for a quick meal while out and about in the town center. Soups, sandwiches, and other simple bites. Nothing too exciting but everything tastes amazing so it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Brasserie Midi: This is maybe the most old-school place I’ve ever been. They don’t have a website or wifi but that’s exactly why you should go. It’s the quintessential Belgian brasserie. The outdoor seating is a huge plus. Imbibe with a gorgeous view of the bustling historic streets.
Frittur Jozef: Remember those fries I mentioned earlier? Of course you can’t leave Belgium without at least tasting just a few. We grabbed ours at Frittur Jozef, which is conveniently located in the Vrijdagmarkt, which is the perfect place to grab a seat and do some people-watching.
And last but not least, this nameless chocolate shop. You simply cannot visit Belgium without having some chocolate. I have no idea what the café was called but I had the most amazing sipping chocolate. Fret not, here’s a Google maps view of it. (It must be from before it existed, because there’s no signage, but this is definitely the place.)
Why you love this city/what’s your favorite thing about this place:
It doesn’t take long to feel at home in Ghent. It’s a small town with a lot of character, full of incredibly kind people. The architecture and general atmosphere are absolutely amazing. Our AirBnb was a flat that was built in the early 1700’s– so yeah, it’s technically older than the United States of America. In addition to the beautiful historical buildings, there’s also some stunning modern architecture. The city blends both together really well. Another thing we really loved about the city is the trams– they were clean, which is nice, but we were enamored with the sound they made instead of beeping or honking a horn– it was like an old fashioned bell. (I found an example here, if you’re curious.) I know it’s such a small detail but it says a lot about the town and how it manages to keep its historic charm while still being technologically advanced and forward-thinking. Best of both worlds, for sure.
Anything else a first time visitor should know?:
Ghent’s public transportation is fantastic but since the town is so condensed, you may not even need it. (Just bring comfortable shoes!) Though mostly everyone we met spoke at least a little bit of English, almost all of the signs were in Flemish, which can be a bit confusing because it’s a language that almost no one in the world speaks. (Just that small region of Belgium.) We got by just fine with our Americanized English and a bit of French so if you’re a conscious traveler, you shouldn’t have any problems at all.