Top 21 Things to Do During a Ghent Day Trip: A One-Day Itinerary

Ghent, Belgium, makes for the perfect day trip destination. Not only is it close to many of the larger cities in Belgium, but it also makes for an easy day trip from surrounding countries such as Germany, Holland, and France.

If you’re from The US, it may be a strange concept to drive into a different country for the day and drive back at night, but it was actually very easy to do and definitely worth the trip!

We visited Ghent from Cologne, Germany, which is just a short 2 hr. 30 minute drive away. We left at 9 a.m. and were able to be back in Cologne by 9 p.m. after a very full day of experiencing all Ghent has to offer.

Ghent, the medieval jewel of Belgium, seamlessly combines the allure of history with the dynamism of a modern city. With a massive, awe-inspiring castle and modern shops like Zara, this city truly combines the best of both worlds.

Whether you’re wandering through ancient streets, savoring regional delicacies, or soaking in the vibrant culture, a day in Ghent promises memories that’ll last a lifetime. After an extensive day trip to Ghent, here are the top things to do in Ghent.

1. Visit the Gravensteen Castle (The Castle of Counts)

The imposing structure of Gravensteen Castle in Ghent.
The Gravensteen Castle.

If you only have one day in Ghent, you definitely want to start your day with Ghent’s main attraction; the Gravensteen Castle! Located right in the center of the city, this medieval castle is hard to miss.

You can either book your ticket in advance online, or buy it in person. When you go to pay for your ticket, you will need to select a time to enter the castle and then wait for your turn. This ensures the medieval castle doesn’t get too crowded. The tickets also come with a free headset-guided tour. You can also take a boat tour and see the castle from the outside.

TIP: The Gravensteen Castle offers student discounts and discounts for teachers, so don’t forget to bring your ID cards!

This impressive medieval fortress, with its towering walls and moat, was built in the 12th century. As you explore the castle, you’ll discover historical artifacts, weapons, and torture instruments. While the stairs to the top can be a bit scary to climb, the panoramic view will make the small, windy staircase worth it. This view offers a picturesque vista of Ghent’s rooftops and waterways.

The ancient toilet of Gravensteen Castle in Ghent.
Gravensteen’s Ancient Toilet.

What to look for: Be sure to spot the outdoor toilet! This was the most shocking and unique part of the castle (in our opinion). This medieval outdoor toilet is also called the garderobe. The garderobe is a small room or chamber that sticks out from the walls of the castle. It has a hole in the benchlike structure, which leads directly into the river. This toilet was a common feature of medieval castles.

2. Stroll along the Graslei and Korenlei

The Graslei and Korenlei canals lined with historic buildings in Ghent.
Historic Beauty of Graslei and Korenlei Canals.

Korenlei and Graslei are two streets that are part of the canal system in Ghent. Ghent’s canals are a vital part of the history of Ghent and they played a significant role in the city’s economy and development. Now, these two picturesque streets are lined with many restaurants and bars, making them a popular tourist attraction. One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Graslei and Korenlei is to take a boat tour along the Leie River.

3. Enjoy the views from St. Michael’s Bridge

St. Michael's Bridge in Ghent with a view of the city's skyline.
St. Michael’s Bridge

St. Michael’s Bridge is a stunning bridge located on St. Michael’s Street next to the Korenmarkt. The views from the bridge are considered the best in the city, as you can see the major landmarks of Ghent, including Saint Nicholas church, Belfry Tower, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. These three medieval towers are a wonderful example of the stunning architecture of Ghent.

4. Stop By St. Michael’s Church

Saint Michael's Church in Ghent, showcasing its Gothic architecture.
Gothic Splendor of Saint Michael’s Church.

While you’re already on St. Michael’s street, be sure to wander over to St. Michael’s Church. Built in the year 1105, this church is an incredible Ghent institution. The original church was burnt down twice in the 12th century, but it was always rebuilt. The Gothic style of the church can be seen in its intricate decoration and art.

5. Take a Boat Tour

Tourists enjoying a boat tour on Ghent's picturesque canals.
Exploring Ghent’s Beauty on a Boat Tour.

Experience your one day in Ghent from its scenic waterways by taking a canal tour. The tour will take you along the canals and past the Graslei and Korenlei streets. With the historic guild houses and vibrant atmosphere, they are perfect spots for a leisurely boat ride. As you glide along the canals, you’ll get a fresh perspective of this medieval city, with stories and legends shared by your local guide, too. The canal tour is one of the most popular ways to see the charming canals, architecture, and Gravesteen castle from a unique view.

6. Visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral and the Van Eyck Altarpiece

Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece, stands tall as a testament to Ghent’s rich history. The inside of the cathedral has many significant art pieces, including the world-famous Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which is also considered the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. The “Mystic Lamb” is considered to be one of the most influential art pieces in Western art history. This multi-panel artwork has been the subject of intrigue, thefts, and restoration for centuries and is a must-see.

7. Admire Saint Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk)

Saint Nicholas Church in Ghent under a clear sky.
Saint Nicholas Church: A Ghent Landmark.

Ghent’s skyline is dominated by its three towers, and after St Bavo’s Cathedral, make sure to visit St. Nicholas’ Church. This splendid Gothic church stands as a symbol of the city’s medieval architecture. Saint Nicholas’ Church is one of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent. Its construction began in the early 13th century and was primarily completed by the mid-15th century. The church has been a central figure in the religious and cultural life of Ghent for centuries.

8. Climb the Belfry of Ghent, Ghent’s Bell Tower

The Belfry of Ghent standing tall against a clear blue sky.
Belfry of Ghent

Just a short walk away from St. Nicholas’ Church is the Belfry of Ghent. The Ghent Belfry tower was built in the 14th century, and it stands at 91 meters tall. Not only can you view this tower from afar, but you can also climb to the top, which will give you a breathtaking view of the city. The Belgry of Ghent is a perfect example of Gothic architecture, and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

9. Take A Stroll Down Graffiti Street (Werregarenstraat)

If you are near St. Michael’s Bridge, be sure to take a stroll down Graffiti Street. Graffiti Street, or Werregarenstraat, is a dynamic and colorful alley where graffiti is not only permitted but encouraged. The street art is done by local artists, and it contributes to the beauty and modernity of the city. Artists bring the walls to life with their ever-changing and vibrant creations.

When we visited, musicians also filled the streets playing both classical and contemporary music. The music was the perfect addition to a peaceful stroll among the Medieval Belgian streets. This beautiful street showcases the city’s artistic pulse.

10. Visit The Hotel D’Hane Steenhuyse

When walking the streets of Ghent, we happened to come across a sign for The Hotel D’Hane Steenhuyse, which was the winter palace of the count, Jean-Baptiste D’Hane. This mansion is considered one of the city’s best-kept secrets, and the opulence and grandeur of the nobility during this era is quite a sight to see.

An elegantly decorated room in Hotel d'Hane-Steenhuyse.
Elegance in Hotel d’Hane-Steenhuyse.

Despite the term “hotel” in its name, it’s not a hotel in the modern sense where you can book a room for the night. Instead, the term “hotel” here is used in the old sense, referring to a grand townhouse or urban mansion.

The Hotel D’Hane Steenhuyse is a stunning example of lavishly decorated mansions in the 18th century. If you are interested in seeing how the ultra-wealthy used to live, this is an excellent way to spend part of your day. It is free to enter the mansion, and they also have free lockers for you to store your backpacks while you walk around.

11. Try Belgian Waffles

Freshly made Belgian waffles, hot and ready to be served.
Freshly Made Belgian Waffles

A Ghent day trip is never complete without trying some of the best foods Ghent has to offer. If you are taking a day from Germany or Holland, we highly recommend you get a Belgian waffle. These waffles are made fresh, with a soft and chewy dough and slightly caramelized outside. I visited Belgium a few years ago, and I have been dreaming about them ever since. It’s safe to say getting a Belgian waffle was our first stop on the day in Ghent itinerary.

A Belgian waffle topped with fresh strawberries and drizzled with chocolate.
Belgian Waffle with Strawberries and Chocolate.

When you get a Belgian waffle, you can either get it plain (my favorite), or you can get it with toppings such as melted Belgian chocolate, fresh strawberries, and whipped cream.

12. Visit Belgian Chocolate Shops

The storefront of a Ghent chocolate shop.
Ghent chocolate shops

Ghent, like the rest of Belgium, is a chocolate lover’s dream! Belgian chocolate is one of the country’s most popular exports. There are many shops located all over the city where you can enjoy rich and creamy chocolate. A few prominent chocolate shops include Marion Coertjens, Daskalides, and Chocolaterie Vandenbouhede. Enjoy the chocolate yourself or bring it back from your trip as a present to friends and family.

13. Admire the lights of Ghent by night

Have some time before you have to catch your train or drive home? Check out the beautiful buildings at night. The buildings are perfectly lit to show off the medieval towers and architecture, and you can’t go wrong by enjoying a nice candle-lit dinner along the canals.

14. Visit The Design Museum Ghent

If you’re interested in learning about how people of the past used to live, check out The Design Museum Ghent. The museum’s collections span several centuries of design history, from the Industrial Revolution to the present day. It includes furniture, ceramics, glassware, industrial design, textiles, and other decorative arts. The museum focuses on Belgian and international design, with a special emphasis on 20th and 21st-century designs.

15. Marvel at the architecture of City Hall

The striking architecture of Ghent City Hall.
Architectural Brilliance of Ghent City Hall.

The churches are beautiful, but have you seen the city hall?! The Ghent City Hall (Stadhuis van Gent) is a beautiful and historic building that was created in a Gothic and Renaissance style. You can take a guided tour of the city hall and see the many halls and rooms that are extravagantly decorated.

16. Walk up the Botermarkt Street

The Botermarket square.
Ghent’s Botermarket.

Botermarkt, which translates to butter market, is a street located in the historic center of Ghent next to the town hall, Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, and Belfry of Ghent. Like many streets in European cities with rich histories, in the Middle Ages, Botermarkt would have been a hub of commercial activity, where merchants and townspeople gathered to trade goods, including butter and other dairy products. Today, you can shop on this street, dine at a restaurant, or relax at a cafe.

17. Ghent Market Hall

The modern structure of Ghent's Market Hall against the city skyline.
Market Hall.

The Ghent Market Hall, or Ghent City Pavillion is a stunning and modern architectural structure that was created by Robbrecht and Daem. This covered space often has many performances, markets, concerts, and public events. When we went, we saw a young dance team performing K-pop songs. Even if there aren’t any events taking place, be sure to stop by the Ghent Market Hall and see the architectural marvel.

18. Visit STAM – The Ghent City Museum

While the Ghent City Museum is a bit further out from the city, you can get there in around 20-30 minutes if you are walking. You can also use a bus or tram to reach this museum. The museum has many interactive multimedia exhibits that can be fun for the whole family.

19. Great Butcher’s Hall

If you love meat and history, the Great Butcher’s Hall is a must-visit on your trip to Ghent. Originally constructed between 1407 and 1419, the Great Butcher’s Hall was the central place for meat vendors in Ghent. In the Middle Ages, it was important for cities to centralize the sale of meat to ensure quality control and fair prices, which is why the hall was established. When you visit the Great Butcher’s Hall, you can also sample some of the ham, cheese, and beer sold in the hall.

20. Take a Look at the Beautiful Courthouse

The imposing structure of the Ghent Courthouse.
The Ghent Courthouse.

Not to be confused with Ghent City Hall, The courthouse, or Gerechtshof, is a stunning building located just outside of the city center. This modern building was built in the early 21st century by the famous architect Stephane Beel.

21. Go Shopping

The Pandora shopfront.
Pandora’s Elegance in Ghent.

If you have some extra time while exploring Ghent, you can always wander into the stores and go shopping! It is an incredible experience to shop globally recognized brand names in a medieval city with cobblestone streets and old castles.

Right in the Ghent city centre, you can find stores like Massimo Dutti, Zara, H&M, Pandora, Levi’s Mango, and Stradivarius. Ghent offers a blend of trendy boutiques, vintage stores, and modern shops. From unique souvenirs to high-end fashion, Ghent’s shopping scene is perfect for everyone.

Common FAQs For Your One Day in Ghent

How to get to Ghent from Brussels

Getting to Ghent from Brussels is quite straightforward, given the excellent transportation network in Belgium. You can get there by car, train, or even bus.

By Car

Duration: 45min to 1-hour drive from Brussels to Ghent

Directions: Start on the R20 road from Brussels. Merge onto E40/A10 towards Gent/Oostende from the R0. Follow E40 to N60 in Merelbeke. Take exit 16-Merelbeke from E40. Continue on N60. Drive to the center of Ghent.

NOTE: Remember to check parking facilities and regulations in Ghent before driving. Some parts of Ghent have a car-free city center.

By Train

Duration: 45 mins to 1 hour, depending on what train you take

Train Stations: You can leave from the Brussels Central train station, Brussels Midi/Zuid train station, or Brussels North train station. From there, you can take an Intercity (IC) or regional train to the Ghent train station.

Note: There are high-speed trains (like Thalys) that can take you to Ghent, but for such a short distance, the standard Intercity trains are more cost-effective.

By Bus

Duration: 1 hour to 1.5 hours

What Bus to Take: If you want to take a bus from Brussels to Ghent, you can get on the FlixBus.

Things to know before visiting Ghent

  • Try to avoid visiting on a Sunday. While the major attractions in the city center will still be very busy, many of the shops and restaurants in the residential area will be closed.
  • While this itinerary highlights all of the best spots to hit during your day trip to Ghent, you can also easily spend more than a day in the charming city.
  • Ghent is a very walkable city. Once you get to the city, you should find somewhere to park and spend the day walking to each destination.
  • Like all of Europe, Ghent has many cobbled streets, so it is important to try to pack light or get an Uber directly to your hotel/Airbnb.
  • The tourist attractions are predominantly located near each other, so don’t worry about walking too far or taking public transportation to each destination.

Where to Stay in Ghent, Belgium

While Ghent can be easily explored within a day, it is also a beautiful city to relax in. If you have a few extra days, consider taking in the scenery and enjoying slow travel. We recommend staying in the city’s history center, which is the most fun for tourists. The City Center, which is also the Historical Center, is close to all major tourist attractions such as Bavo’s Cathedral, Gravensteen Castle, and Graslei and Korenlei streets. There are also plenty of cafes, restaurants, and shops nearby. The Ghent Marriott Hotel, located by the canal, is an excellent choice for those who travel in luxury.

If you are looking for a more affordable area with a local feel, you may want to consider Patershol. This charming neighborhood is known for its cobbled streets and quaint buildings. It is still close to the city center, but it is a bit further out.

What to Eat When Visiting Ghent, Belgium

Traditional Belgian nose candy displayed in a colorful arrangement.
Colorful Assortment of Belgian Nose Candy.

Ghent’s culinary scene is a delightful mix of traditional Belgian cuisine and modern gastronomy.

  • Don’t miss trying the local specialty, ‘Gentse Waterzooi,’ a creamy stew made with chicken or fish.
  • Get a bag of cuberdon, or “nose” candy, which has been a Ghent classic since the Middle Ages. This delightful, sweet treat has a hard outer shell and a soft, gooey center. They come in an array of flavors, including grape, raspberry, and lemon. We ordered an assortment of candy, with 2 types of each color. Cuberdon is often sold from quaint pushcarts that are spread throughout the city.
  • For a quick bite, grab a portion of Belgian fries at one of the many friteries. Here, you can try a large array of various fry sauces, including curry, sweet and spicy, mayo, and many others.
  • Mastel is a traditional bread that originated in Ghent, Belgium. It is dense and sweet and has a caramelized center. The bread is sliced and smothered in both brown sugar and butter before being placed on a hot griddle that caramelizes the sugar into a sweet and rich flavor.
  • Vegetarians and vegans will love Ghent’s reputation as the veggie capital of Europe, with numerous restaurants like ‘Le Botaniste’ offering delicious plant-based options.
  • And of course, your visit won’t be complete without indulging in Belgian chocolates and waffles, available at various confectioneries and street vendors across the city.
  • Pair lunch with a Belgian beer or try jenever, a traditional juniper-flavored liquor.

How to Get Around Ghent, Belgium

A local tram by the Gravensteen Castle.
The Local Tram of Ghent in Motion.

Navigating Ghent is a breeze thanks to its efficient public transportation system.

  • Take The Local Tram – When spending one day in Ghent, it is a great idea to try out the local tram. Not only does it make getting to each destination quicker, but you can also experience Ghent like a local. The Tram system connects all of Ghent, Belgium, and makes it easy to get to Ghent-Sain-Peter’s Station, which is the main train station in the city, shopping areas, museums, and universities. You can pay for the ticket right in front of the bus stop and quickly hop on to get to your next destination. One tram ride costs € 2.5. Within the same hour, you can take any bus or tram free of charge.
  • Walk – Walking is another great option, as most of Ghent’s attractions are located within a short distance of each other.
  • For a more scenic route, consider renting a bike. Ghent is incredibly cycle-friendly, with well-marked bike lanes throughout the city.
  • Taxis and ride-sharing services (such as Uber) – taking a car is also very convenient. However, they are a pricier option compared to public transport and walking.

Best time to visit Ghent

We visited Ghent during October, which worked out perfectly for us, as the weather was cool but not too cold. It also didn’t rain at all while we were there. The cool weather and medieval atmosphere were truly a match made in heaven. If you are visiting during the Fall, be sure to check the weather and make sure it doesn’t rain during your day trip, as many of the things to do in Ghent are outdoors.

While we went during the Fall, most people would agree that the ideal time to visit Ghent is during the Spring (April to June). Springtime is beautiful in Ghent, and the city is filled with blooming flowers. The Spring also offers pleasant temperatures and moderate tourist crowds.

If you’re interested in experiencing local events, you should consider the summer months, especially July. During July, the city comes alive with the 10-day Gentse Feesten festival. Even though summer promises warm and sunny days, it also attracts the highest number of tourists, making the city more crowded with longer lines. If you only have one day in Ghent, you may not want to choose the summertime, when it can take longer to visit each destination.

Is One Day in Ghent Enough?

Yes, one day is enough to explore Ghent since the city is quite small. Ghent is an extremely walkable city, and you can quickly get to each of the landmarks and tourist attractions. This makes a Ghent day trip the perfect place to visit from nearby cities. You can also join a walking tour if you want to see the popular tourist attractions quickly without worrying about how to get to each one.

Get Ready For Your Perfect Day in Ghent

We loved visiting Ghent, as it had a perfect blend of history, culture, religious art, and modernity. The surrounding architecture, castles, and cathedrals offer a truly cultural experience that immerses you in the Medieval period. If you have time to stop in Ghent in your Belgium itinerary, we definitely recommend it!

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Hey there – we’re Majd and Victoria, and we are so excited to share our adventures with you! 

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