Having spent most of February working our way across the UK's most interesting cities, we've seen our share of impressive spires, imposing cathedrals and historic centres.... But Ghent (or Gent to locals) in Belgium is something else!!! It has a little of Amsterdam & Bordeaux about it.
Yet shares that amazing Belgium tradition for blending architecture across the ages... from Romanesque to Gothic or pre and post Reformation... But perhaps best of all, is the feeling of safety and the ability to allow your kids the freedom to explore this stunning city in the centre of Belgium. From our experience, that's rare and something that's worth it's weight in gold!
As regular readers will know, we love an opportunity to test a 'City Card' and Ghent certainly came up trumps with their 'CityCard Gent'... it offers free public transport on any number of water trams, trams, buses. But also provides opportunities to see the city by boat cruise or to hire cycles for the day! Perfect for an energetic family keen to explore!
We also had another motive to see such a beautiful old city as Ghent as we'd recently started experimenting with HDR photography. Lottie's continuing interest in photography has led to a desire to improve her skills... so the above photo's are all taken from HDR bracketing exposure (-2,0,+2) and combining them using the Aurora HDR software from Macphun. It certainly leads to an impressive increase in colour range and seems to have captivated Lottie. (We're even continuing that theme, by giving away a brilliant Fujifilm Instax Camera & Photobook Voucher in our latest giveaway - see here for more details)
Any family visitors would help themselves by heading straight for the 'Old FishMarket' and the impressive new tourist centre. Full of interactive tables with state of the art screens built into the table... it'll entertain your kids for at least an hour! Plenty of time to grab the information you need and head for the imposing 'Gravensteen Castle'
This impressive building has had many uses over the years, including prisons and market places... yet just wait until your kids start to investigate the catacombs, cellars and torture chamber... Having recently visited the London Dungeons, this is far less gruesome and certainly gives a real taste for what it must have been like to be a prisoner there... But don't forget to take the castle walls tour, head up to the battements and take a little time to read the excellent information boards...
As we mentioned above, the city centre is an easy place to access and to move around... especially using the City Card but there really is no better way to see a city built around the confluence of two rivers than to hop into one of Ghent's boat cruises (free with the City Card)
Thankfully, the amusing boat guide immediately got on with both girls and he amazed us with hint of what it must have been like to tread the streets of Medieval Ghent (all delivered with a welcome touch of humour!) But looking past the architecture, Ghent also has some novel, and perhaps unique sites to see too... from the graffiti tour of the city to the artworks that get shared in the illuminated 'Light Festival' (next one in February 2018)
We'd never heard of 'steam bakeries' and were amazed that the student's invaded the castle to protest about beer prices! But then again there's plenty about Ghent that most don't know.... in fact we'd go as far as to agree with Lonely Plant's view that this city is one of 'Europe's Best Kept Secrets'... often overlooked by it's neighbours at Bruges or Brussels... it easily places in our 'Top 10' on our European City Experiences Page.
Ghent was once Europe's 2nd most important medieval city... and boasts an impressive UNESCO recognised Belfort Tower... but if you're passing 'St Peter's Square, don't miss the secret Abbey garden... it's not to be missed (you just have to hunt around for the entrance!)
If you've got musical kids, why not try climbing the Belfort Tower... they can even use the supplied bell ringing instruments (beaters) to their heart's content... even trying to chime in with the bells as they play out for the good people of Ghent.
The views itself are worth every one of the steps... and there are quite a few (narrow but not impassable) but for others the lift might be a better option... but just look at the view beneath.... it's one of the best we've seen from a bell tower (and we've now climbed a few!)
So if you love a decent tower climb, don't forget to check out our posts for Porto, Bordeaux and York.
But what better way to finish your trip to a Belgium city, than to enjoy some of the mouthwatering chocolate creations that will tempt you all day!
It's been a fantastic first 24hrs in Ghent, we're keeping our fingers crossed the next 24hrs can match it!
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