Ghent or Bruges?
We took the Eurostar from London to Ghent to settle that age-old argument. We planned to stay in Ghent and take day trips to the Ypres battlefields, Brussels and Bruges.
Ghent’s naysayers complain about the city’s gray, modern suburbs.
Its cheerleaders celebrate the city’s authenticity and livability.
It has cobblestone streets and canals lined with beautiful, ancient buildings.
A castle looking over the old town and river…
Cathedrals, extraordinary art and historic architecture. All things we love about European cities.
It was the unexpected things, however, that made me fall in love with Ghent.
Every night, students, couples and families picnic along the waterfront and sat for hours drinking wine and socializing, watching the sun set. The bars and cafes along the streets were packed with people. Live music trickled out the doorway of even the tiniest bar.
Ghent’s food scene was a huge surprise. The city had everything you expect in the way of Belgian cuisine…excellent waffles, chocolate and beer. We certainly had our fair share of heaping plates of meat and frites so we were stunned to find that Ghent was a vegetarian’s paradise.
Ghent supports “Thursday Veggieday”, a cringe-worthy term, but interesting concept. Even ardent carnivores will find something to please them in the huge range of organic and vegetarian restaurants in the city. Also, chocolate is vegetarian, wine is a fruit and waffles are for everyone!
Independent shops are alive and well in Ghent. Chain stores exist if you want them, but there were plenty of small, owner-run establishments, funky bookshops, design stores and local artisans creating and selling novel and interesting things.
The most enjoyable way to spend the day in Ghent is walking over the city bridges and through the ancient streets. Ghent was pleasantly free of umbrella-toting tour guides, tour buses and throngs of people crowding the sites and sidewalks (with the exception of the The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in St. Bavo’s Cathedral).
So, what’s my conclusion to the Ghent or Bruges debate?
This might be unfair since I only saw Bruges on a day trip, but I favor Ghent as I found the crowds in Bruge overwhelming. I’ll try and get back to Bruges someday to see if an overnight stay changes my mind. So, for now, Ghent.
**Note I usually take my own photos, but I learned on this trip that memory card + puddle of coffee means a sad, sad day. Photo credits listed below.
photo credits: Kiev Victor, Madrugada Verde, Kiev Victor, Botond Horvath
Have you been to either Ghent or Bruges? Did you prefer one or the other? Tell me about it in the comments below….
Things to Know
While I usually look for small, boutique hotels, we were chasing Marriott points on this trip. We stayed at the Ghent Marriott and have only good things to say. The location was fabulous (the hotel sits in the heart of the old city). The rooms were standard Marriott and comforatble, the staff outstanding and the bar downstairs a nice place to hang out.
We rented a car for one day on the battlefields, but it was a tough go driving through the city due to construction. If you don’t have to, don’t.
Ghent was 36 minutes by train to Bruges (8euro, round trip) and 1 hour (10 euro return) to Brussels. Book locally or buy in the station.
Your Eurostar ticket from London includes transportation to Bruges (appx £84 return, depending on season). Book tickets from London to Brussels and switch to regional transport to Ghent. Your Eurostar ticket allows regional transport for that journey at no additional charge.
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