12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Ghent

The old city of Ghent (in Flemish Ghent, in French Gand) is a picturesque jumble of alleyways rimmed by quaint spire-topped buildings that line pretty canals. Along with Bruges, Ghent is Belgium’s architectural attraction, but unlike Bruges, it is without the hordes of the tour bus. A walk through the city on a summer evening, when most of the important buildings are illuminated, is an unforgettable experience, as is a cruise along the many tributaries of the Scheldt and Leie canals that cross the city. For history buffs and architecture fans, Ghent can’t be beaten, and the lack of tourists makes it a great place to get to grips with modern local Flemish culture.

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1 Cathedral of St. Bavo (Saint Bavo’s Cathedral)

Cathedral of St. Bavo (Saint Bavo’s Cathedral)

On the east side of Sint-Baafsplein is St. Bavo’s Cathedral, a majestic building of brick and granite with a Romanesque crypt of its predecessor, St. John’s Church. Charles V gave the cathedral its current name after destroying the old one to build a fortress. The High Gothic cathedral choir dates from the 13th century, while the Late Gothic tower and main nave were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. The light interior of the cathedral is richly decorated with a number of unique paintings. These include The Conversion of St. Baaf by Peter Paul Rubens (1624) and Christ among the Doctors by Frans Pourbus (1571). The most famous work of art here, however, is The Altar of Ghent , also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, known as by far the greatest masterpiece of old Flemish painting. Below the main church, the extensive crypt contains numerous tombs of bishops and a rich treasury. The remarkable 1464 Calvary triptych by Joos van Wassenhove (Justus van Gent) can also be seen in one of the chapels.

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Address: Sint-Baafsplein, Central Ghent

Saint Bavo Cathedral map
Saint Bavo Cathedral map

2 Gravensteen


Gravensteen is one of the strongest moated castles in Western Europe, surrounded by the river Lieve. It was built between 1180 and 1200 on the orders of Philip of Elzas, the former Count of Flanders, on the foundation of an earlier 9th-century structure and was made in the style of Syrian Crusader castles. Today it remains a unique example of the European medieval art of fortification. In the 14th century it no longer had a military function and was used by the counts for the management of the land. In 1800 it came into private ownership and was converted into a cotton mill and flats for the workers. The old Sint-Veerleplein expands in front of the castle, possibly the oldest square in Ghent, although the adjacent facades date back to the 17th century at the earliest. This square was a marketplace, but also the place of executions and burnings of the victims of the Inquisition

Address: Sint-Veerleplein 11, Ghent

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3 The Belfry

The Belfry
The Belfry

On the west side of Sint-Baafsplein is the 91-metre-high belfry, symbol of the city’s independence, where the charters of Ghent’s privileges were kept. The tower was started about 1300 and was mostly completed in 1338. The current spire was restored to its original 14th-century form early this century, replacing the wooden bell tower of 1380. The crown is crowned by a gilded copper dragon, first installed in 1377. Today it is a replica as the four armed figures on the corners of the platform. Only one of the originals of these survives and can be seen on the ground floor.

The beautiful Lakenhal is directly adjacent to the belfry. This building (1426-1441) by Simon van Assche was the meeting place of merchants in wool and linen and was converted into a prison in the 18th century. Today it has a cafe-restaurant, which is popular with tourists.

Address: Sint-Baafsplein, Central Ghent

4 Town Hall

Town Hall
Town Hall

Built over a long period of time, Ghent’s beautiful city hall combines a variety of architectural styles. On the oldest parts of the building on the Hoogpoort, completed in the style of the town hall of Bruges in 1482 and containing the council chambers, the architects Rombout Keldermans and Dominic de Waghemakere built a new wing in the finest late Gothic form, richly decorated with statues. However, construction work on this part, best seen from the corner of Hoogpoort and Belfortstraat, was suspended due to religious disputes in 1539. Only a quarter of the original plan was realized and only the Peace Hall (Pacification Hall; actually the courtroom for the Keure, the protectors of the city’s constitution) and the Marriage Chapel, both 1535, were built. Work was not resumed until the end of the 16th century, so that the wing opposite the Botermarkt is in Renaissance style, as is the Throne Room on the top floor.

Address: Botermarkt, Central Ghent

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5 Old market

Old Market Area Jean & Nathalie / photo modified
Old Market Area Jean & Nathalie / photo modified

The Oude Markt (Vegetable Market) started life as a fish market and then began to function mainly as a vegetable market in the 18th century. In the medieval era, the pillory of Ghent stood here. On the west side of the market area is the long Groot Vleeshuis , a medieval covered meat market with a guildhall, chapel and numerous gables in the roof. The building dates from 1406-1410 and was restored in 1912. On the south side of the Vleeshuis is the Penshuizeken (intestines cottage) where the poor received the entrails of slaughtered animals. Today the Vleeshuis building is a pretty good restaurant, but even if you’re not hungry you can walk through it to see the interior to watch.

Address: Groentenmarkt, Hoogpoort, central Ghent

6 Folklore Museum

The former children’s hospital, founded in 1363, was perfectly restored in 1962 and is one of the last remaining almshouses in Belgium. These houses were founded by wealthy families for the needy. In a picturesque courtyard are 18 typical Flemish houses, all connected to each other and now housed in the very extensive Museum of Folklore, which, with its remarkable collection of equipment, documents and everyday objects, gives a vivid picture of Flemish popular life around 1900. Of particular interest are the restored workshops and living rooms, a dining room, a barbershop, a cobbler’s workshop, an apothecary’s shop, a bakery for confectioners and a workshop for candlestick makers.

Address: Kraanlei 65, Ghent

7 Ruins of St Bavo’s Abbey

Ruins of Saint Bavo Abbey
Ruins of Saint Bavo Abbey

In the eastern part of the city, across the Slachthuisbrug over the Leie Canal, are the ruins of St. Bavo’s Abbey, an abbey founded in 630 by St. Amandus and rebuilt after being destroyed by the Normans in the 10th century. A gallery of the late Gothic cloisters, the octagonal lavatorium and parts of the chapter house and refectory still remain from the original abbey. The refectory, with its beautiful Romanesque frescoes from the 12th century, is home to the Museum for Stenen Objects (Museum for Stone Cutting and Sculpture) and contains an extraordinary collection of medieval tombstones, Ghent sculpture and architectural objects from the 12th to the 18th century , as well as mosaics.

Address: Godshuizenlaan 2, Ghent

8 Museum of Ghent (STAM)

Museum of Ghent (STAM) Pleuntje / photo modified
Museum of Ghent (STAM) Pleuntje / photo modified

Located in the brick buildings of the Cistercian Abbey of Bijloke, the Museum of Ghent is one of the richest in Belgium and displays a remarkable collection that traces the heritage and culture of the city in a unique historical setting. The numerous rooms chronologically tell the story of Ghent with exhibits including jewellery, weapons, textiles, books, paintings, religious icons and ceramics all enhanced by modern multimedia displays. The remarkable centerpiece of the museum is the 14th-century refectory with an exceptional brick facade. The interior walls are painted with frescoes, including a painting of the Last Supper ten meters long. In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts a series of temporary exhibitions throughout the year, housed in the neighboring convent building.

9 Museum of Fine Arts

The emphasis in the collection here is on painting from the 15th to the 20th century. The central hall next to the entrance hall has eight beautiful tapestries from Brussels: three with motifs from the story of Darius (17th century) and five with the theme “Triumph of the Gods” (1717). To the left of this hall are the Old Masters. Prominent are two works by Hieronymus Bosch in room B: Carrying the Cross and St. Hieronymus . To the right of the Tapestry Room are paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries, mainly by Belgian artists

Address: Fernand Scribedreef 1, Liemaeckereplein, Ghent

10 Vismarkt and Kraanlei

Fish market and Kraanlei
Fish market and Kraanlei

The beautiful baroque building at Sint-Veerleplein no. 5 is the old fish market, built in 1689 according to plans by Artus Quellin. The gate shows Neptune and allegorical representations of the Scheldt (male) and Lys (female). To the northeast, the Kraanlei canal borders Sint-Veerleplein, all lined with elegant houses. Immediately on the left is number 1, de Craenenburgh , then the row of houses De Lelye (No. 3-11), built around 1500 in Brabantine Gothic style. Number 13, In den Bliekenmarkt is a former fish shop. Further along the Kraanlei is house No. 75, De Klok , dating from the 17th century, with a spiral staircase and decorated with numerous allegorical reliefs. No 77.,The Seven Works of Mercy and No. 79, The Flying Deer , are baroque mansions from the 17th century, decorated with beautiful reliefs

Address: Kraanlei, central Ghent

11 Graslei


Some of the most beautiful guild houses in Belgium are located on the Graslei Canal. This is an excellent place for a stroll for anyone with more than a passing interest in architecture. Check out the adjacent Gildehuis der Vrije Schippers (House of the Free Boatmen), built in 1531 in the Brabant Gothic style, and Gildehuis der Graanmeters (House of the Grain Weighers), with its stepped gable dating from 1698. Further on, see Tolhuisje (Customs House ), a Flemish Renaissance building from 1682, which stands next to the Romanesque Spijker or Koornstapelhuis (around 1200). The Guildhall of the Bricklayers(House of the Freemasons) from 1527 in Brabant Gothic style completes this unique row of guild houses.

Address: Graslei, Central Ghent

12 Korenlei

St Michael’s Bridge leads to the Korenlei canal, itself lined by beautiful gables and offering the best view of the even finer houses across the river Graslei . As you wander around here, keep an eye out for the following houses: No. 15 is the site of the former Hof van Gruuthuse , (House of Duke Egmont), which dates back to 1352 and is now replaced by a building with a neoclassical facade, which also no. 17-19, the Hotel de Ghellinck . No. 7 along the Korenlei is the Gildehuis der Onvrienden Schippers (House of the Tied Boatmen), a baroque building from 1739. Note also the beautiful façade of number 24, Lintworm en Krocht. This was a 12th century Romanesque castle that was rebuilt in the early 20th century.

Address: Korenlei, central Ghent

Where to Stay in Ghent for Sightseeing

To see all of Ghent’s famous sights and enjoy the picturesque scenery, the best place to stay is in the compact and easily walkable city center – preferably in the historic center. Most of the top attractions, such as St Bavo’s Cathedral and the large Gravensteen fortress, are a short walk from each other. Here are a few highly rated hotels in this convenient location:

  • Luxury hotels: The Marriott Ghent Hotel is located in the heart of the city and offers a view of the Korenlei and the Graslei. It offers spacious, comfortable rooms with soft beds. Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof is located a stone’s throw from the historic center of Ghent and combines bold, contemporary touches with elegant Empire style and has a wellness center with a swimming pool, spa and gym. The hotel also offers apartments for long stays. Located around the corner from Gravensteen Castle, on a picturesque canal in the old town, the boutique hotel Harmony is known for its helpful staff and beautiful canal views.
  • Mid-Range Hotels: In the historic center, opposite the town hall, the stylish NH Gent Belfort is less than a five-minute walk from the cathedral, castle, and belfry, as is the nearby pet-friendly Novotel Gent Centrum, which has a gym and sauna ; outdoor pool; and playgrounds for children. The affordable Aparthotel Castelnou is ideal for families and longer stays. It is located about 15 minutes walk from the historic center. All apartments come with a kitchenette and breakfast is included in the price.
  • Budget Hotels: The boutique hotel Onderbergen is located in a quiet street, a ten-minute walk from the cathedral. It offers clean, stylish rooms, some of which can accommodate families. If you like old-world elegance on a budget, Erasmus is in a beautiful 16th-century stone building with steep steps, a few minutes’ walk from the historic center. The complimentary breakfast is served in an attractive room with oil paintings and antiques. Meters from the cathedral, Ibis Gent Centrum St-Baafs Cathedral offers compact but comfortable rooms for a good price.
Ghent Map - Attractions
Ghent Map – Attractions

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