Ghent was a perfect quick day trip from Brussels and a MUST do on my art history bucket list because of the famous Ghent Altarpiece, but there were a lot of other redeeming factors about it! Plus it has two UNESCO Sites: Belfries of Belgium and France & Flemish Béguinages. 🙂
Travel tip: There are two train stations that serve Ghent and you can stop at either, just know that the Dampoort station is going to be a farther walk.
St. Bavo Cathedral
We started off at 11 am high mass in the Ghent Cathedral, which cool enough was located in the crypt. Although I do not understand a lick of Dutch, Catholic mass is the same all over the world so I could follow along with my English.
Read more: Catholic Culture: Traveling during Lent
St. Bavo’s Cathedral contains the Ghent Altarpiece (it is currently undergoing restoration). There is way too much to talk about the piece here but there is an audio guide that everyone was listening to (I opted out). Anyways, even knowing nothing about the artist or the time period the detail and intense skill demonstrated in the Ghent Altarpiece is enough to blow you away. It also helps that the Ghent Altarpiece was featured in the Monuments Men story.
Read more: Falling in Love with Still-life Painting
Belfries are unassuming buildings with great historical significance;the Ghent Belfry is part of a larger UNESCO Site of the Belfries of Belgium and France. These Belfries were built between the 11th and 17th centuries and they represented the growing urban influence on Northern Europe, namely the power of the merchant class.
Confiserie Temmerman Candy Shop
So I don’t normally go out of my way to see candy shops but Ghent is small enough that we made a point to walk into Confiserie Temmerman’s shop located on 79 Kraanlei. Although tiny by any American standards this place was filled with walls of jars of candies, very Willy Wonka! I didn’t buy any because (gasp!) I don’t like candy, I am much more partial to dark chocolate. This stop was listed in Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe on their “Top Ten Old-Fashioned Candy Stores.”
Read more: Foods of Belgium & the Dutch
The Béguinages are enclosed communities of a women called Béguines (similar to nuns). This unique living style began in the 13th century for these unmarried or widowed women to entered into a life dedicated to God, but without retiring from the world like a traditional cloistered nun. They are in the middle of cities but entirely apart from them, like another world. Ghent’s Béguinages are part of a larger UNESCO Site.
Read more: UNESCO: Flemish Béguinages
Funny enough we did not have french fries in Ghent, but according to National Geographic book Food Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 Extraordinary Places to Eat Around the Globe, Frituur Jozef is a fantastic place to get some piping hot fries while walking around.