When last in Brussels on solo travel, I was nearing 48 years of age and wanted to see more of Belgium by way of fun day trips. If this is you, too, then here’s how to spend one day in Ghent over 40 that you’ll totally enjoy. It’s a day full of art, history, and beer tasting, that makes a great addition to your Brussels solo travel itinerary.
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This post is dedicated to my aunt Susie, an amazing lady who loved dragons. She would have loved Ghent, too. She is sorely missed.
Susan Hubard (November 2, 1952 – July 19, 2021)
I’m just going to say it: Ignore all of the other Ghent one-day itineraries out there. Use this one. Trust me. You’ll get the best of Ghent’s old and new, beer and food, all in one day.
Furthermore, check out my Belgium travel guide for currency, language, culture, holidays, safety, tipping information and more, along with my travel resources and the free WIFI Ghent offers, for planning your over 40 solo travel to Ghent.
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Is Ghent worth visiting?
Open market squares filled with lively gatherings and dining, Gothic cathedrals and medieval buildings and castles surrounded by the Leie and Scheldt rivers, and epic art like the Ghent Altarpiece are just some of the reasons Ghent, Belgium should be on your solo travel bucket list.
What is Ghent known for?
Located in the Northern region of Flanders, Ghent (Gent in Flemish), was once a major clothing manufacturing city making it one of the largest cities in Northern Europe from the 13th to 15th centuries. It also experienced many conflicts and upheavals leaving the city to be passed to the rule of the Hapsburgs. Since the 16th century, the textiles industry has seen Ghent flourish, largely due to its geographical position on canals leading to docks able to house large trading vessels. It also has benefited from paper and chemical manufacturing, oil refining and banking. Also, Ghent is best known for its Gentse Floraliën (Flower Show) that happens every five years.
Today, like Bruges, Ghent has held onto its historical and cultural sites, like its Het Belfort van Gent (Ghent Belfry), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making Ghent ideal for tourism, another important aspect of its economy. Spot the many dragons around Ghent, not just atop the Ghent Belfry – Ghent’s symbol of freedom and power since the 14th century.
This is Belgium, so Ghent is by no means exempt from the prolific offerings chocolate, frites with mayonnaise, waffles, stews, or other savory dishes that go well with Belgian beer.
Ghent is laid back but also lively. It’s trendy but it’s old. Ghent made me want to explore even more of Belgium, which makes me consider Ghent one of the best cities you should visit in Belgium.
How Much Time Do You Need in Ghent?
Like a day trip to Bruges, if you arrive in Ghent by 9am, you will have enough time to see the top sights in Ghent. Ghent is larger than Bruges, but don’t let the one day in Ghent time limit deter you. Like Bruges, put Ghent on your Belgium solo travel itinerary. You won’t regret it.
Day Trip to Ghent from Brussels
Ghent is easily accessible by multiple transportation methods. For my solo day in Ghent I took the eco-friendly train from Brussels to Ghent, of course.
How to Get to Ghent from Brussels
From Brussels to Ghent, the train departs Bruxelles-Central station. Trains run from Brussels to Ghent every 30 minutes and take 38 minutes to reach the Gent St Pieters station. Check here for Brussels train schedules and current ticket prices.
Here’s a bonus if you’re taking day trips from Brussels on the weekend: buy a Weekend Ticket. They are non-exchangeable and non-refundable, but as long as you outbound and return anytime between 7pm Friday through Sunday, you save 50% on train fare. On any destination in Belgium, as a matter of fact.
If it’s more convenient, however, you could catch a bus from Brussels to Ghent – also inexpensive and eco-friendly. Outbound and return travel needs to be made between Friday after 7pm and Sunday
If you don’t feel like going to Ghent alone, try a Brussels to Ghent day tour. Just make sure it hits a lot, if not all, of the top sights in Ghent and activities I provide below.
Can you do Bruges and Ghent in one day?
Well, yes, you technically can do a day trip to Ghent and Bruges from Brussels (a half a day in each), but only if you are truly crunched on time. Both Bruges and Ghent are small towns with much to offer. Therefore, I implore you to add at least one more day to your Belgium solo travel itinerary and do one day in Bruges and one day in Ghent.
How to Get Around Ghent
Ghent is not as compact as Bruges, but still very walkable. In fact, Ghent is a low emission zone, making it very environmentally friendly – another reason why I love Ghent. Therefore, there are no cars allowed within the walls of the city center.
Like Bruges, however, are the large number of bicycles. Feel free to rent one if you like.
Alternatively, make use of Ghent’s three tram lines for your one day in Ghent. The Ghent public transportation could not be easier to use. It can to and from the city center’s top things to do in Ghent faster than walking. Consider a day pass for riding more than once.
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Best Time to Visit Ghent
I believe the shoulder months (April/May and September/October) are best for visiting most of Europe, including Belgium, when it’s not as crowded and less expensive. In Ghent, plan to dress in layers.
Get in the know of what’s going on Ghent before you go, including its festivals. If you’re visiting in July, try to catch the Ghent Festival. I hear it’s amazing fun. If the cold doesn’t bother you, try the Ghent Light Festival in November or the Ghent Winter Festival in December.
Where (and What) to Eat in Ghent
Or should I say drink in Ghent? Even if you’re not a huge beer fan, it would be the ultimate shame not to indulge in at least a couple of the over 1500 types of tasty beers Belgium brews in over 200 breweries. I love beer, but being (well) over 40 it doesn’t love me. Still, that didn’t stop me from trying many of the beers at hand when in Ghent.
From Trappist to Pils, Blonde to Limbic, or Tripel to Stout, you’ll never be at a loss to find a bottle of beer, some served with their own shaped glass, to quench your thirst or wash down a pile of frites with mayonnaise (when in Rome…), hearty stew or pub food.
In fact, I found a great beer tour in Ghent by a local recommended to me by a man in the Visitor’s office in Grand Place, Brussels. Today, you can find her beer tour online. I was the only female on this tour, besides our extremely knowledgeable tour guide, Liselot, and it was one of the best experiences I had in Belgium. We hit several locations for tastings, including the traditional gastropub Sint Jorishof, Great Butcher’s Hall, and Otomat Gent.
Do her tour. It’s well worth carving out three hours of your one day in Ghent for learning about Belgian beer in between Belgian culture and history (and with a buzz).
For dining, do it like I did and wing it. You’ll come across multiple market areas with outdoor restaurants and cafés where you’ll feel the life of the Ghent city center while you’re absorbing the top Ghent sights.
Top Things to Do in Ghent, Belgium
Spent right, one day in Ghent will leave you with wonderful memories (and wanting to go back). Here are what I consider the top things to see and do in Ghent that can make that happen.
Sint-Baafskathedraal (Saint Bavo’s Cathedral) – this 12th century Gothic church is top of the musts when in Ghent.
This church, beautiful in its own right, is home to artworks by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan van Eyck, most notably his The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432), more commonly known as The Ghent Altarpiece. To the side of the church sits the Monument of the Van Eyck Brothers.
The Ghent Altarpiece was on my art bucket list, for sure, being it’s an instrumental piece of “new realism” from the Northern Renaissance period. Additionally, like the Madonna and Child in Bruges, the Ghent Altarpiece was also rescued by The Monuments Men, however, one of the panels is still not an original. Ghent has lost and regained this historic piece of art on several occasions. It’s no wonder they take such pride in housing it. Do not miss it on your one day in Ghent.
Het Belfort van Gent (Ghent Belfry) – directly across the square is the 91-meter high UNESCO World Heritage site and tallest belfry in all of Belgium. Book your ticket in advance to climb the 350 steps of the 14th century tower, where the city’s dragon mascot sits, or get a guided tour, for sweeping views of Ghent.
Sint-Niklaaskerk (St. Nicholas’ Church) – across from the Ghent Belfry is St. Nicholas’ Church and the third of the Three Towers of Ghent’s medieval skyline. Originally started in the 1200’s as a Romanesque church, it was not completed until the 14th century and in the Gothic style. It is one of the oldest buildings in Ghent. It’s also free to enter.
Stadshal (City Pavilion) – across from the Ghent Belfry is the modern City Pavilion. Host to concerts and markets, the glass and wood roof structure offers a stunning juxtaposition to the surrounding Renaissance era architecture.
Werregarenstraat (Graffiti Street) – continuing with the modern Ghent, stroll a few minutes away to find a tunnel of art. Cool and funky, and always changing (the walls are repainted solid for continuing new art), this is a fun little side trip away from the old and into the now.
Korenmarkt (City Square) – fabulous for people watching and soaking in the Ghent vibe. Just on the far side of St. Nicholas’ Church and leads you to St. Michael’s Bridge.
Sint-Michielsbrug (Pont Saint-Michel / St. Michael’s Bridge) – on the south end of Korenmarkt you can’t help but cross the arched, stone bridge offering massively pretty views of the historic city center and boats and the outdoor lounging area of Ghent locals along the Leie River.
Walk down to either the Graslei (right bank) or the Korenlei (left bank) for better views, cop a squat for a breather with the locals, or catch a canal cruise.
Leies River Cruise – if you have the extra time this will surely highlight your Ghent visit. There are different cruise tours to choose from. Just confirm their tour time and pick up / drop off locations. I recommend booking in advance since you only have one day in Ghent.
Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts) – Restored 10th century, moated castle complete with ramparts and a dungeon. This attraction closes at 6pm and tickets are available until 45 minutes before closing. Movie guides are also available. If anything, go inside to get the feel and space of the architecture and go up top for fabulous views.
Patershol – conveniently located near Gravensteen is this adorable Ghent district is full of narrow cobblestone lanes, quaint buildings and hidden restaurants and bars.
Belgian Beer Days Tour – as mentioned previously, a day in Ghent would not be complete without a beer tour by a local. Sip your way through several Ghent bars and restaurants while learning the best of Belgian beer tradition and pouring do’s and don’ts. Definitely carve a few hours out of your one day in Ghent for this and book in advance.
MSK (Fine Arts Museum) – When I visited Ghent, a few of the Ghent Altarpiece panels were being restored within this museum, making it a must to visit this museum just off the beaten path of other attractions. However, the museum made for a visually stunning experience. Take in works from Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Paul Rubens, Antoon van Dijk, and Auguste Rodin and more from its 40 galleries and stroll the surrounding Citadelpark.
My Ghent One Day Itinerary
So, what to do in Ghent for a day? Here is my recommended, self-guided itinerary on how to spend on day in Ghent over 40 to add to your solo Belgium travel. It’s a lot in one day, but worth it. Enjoy!
- 9am – Bruxelles-Central, train to Ghent
- 9:40am – Arrive Gent St Pieters station / walk to SMK Museum
- 10am – MSK Museum
- 11:30am – Tram 1 north
- 11:45am – St. Bavo’s Cathedral, The Ghent Altarpiece, Ghent Belfry (no tour)
- 1pm – Grab and go lunch
- 1:30pm – Liselot’s Beer Tour and Graffiti Street
- 4-4:30pm – Korenmarkt,St. Michael’s Bridge and walk along the Leie River
- 5:30pm – Gravensteen Castle and more great Ghent views
- 6:30pm – Wander the Patershol district
- 7:30pm – Outdoor dinner and people watching
- 9pm – Tram 1 to St Pieters station
- 9:30pm – Train back to Brussels
Want to see more of Ghent? Stay overnight. I would recommend staying within the historic center for easiest access to the top sights you may have missed.
Let Me Hear From You
I would love to hear if this post was helpful to you on how to spend one day in Ghent over 40. Post me your thoughts or questions in the Comments section below. Thank you!