Using Antwerp as a base, I had a day trip to Ghent planned! I’ve wanted to visit ever since my trip to Bruges in 2014, and as I was in Antwerp with some spare time I decided to make the most of it. After a quick 1-hour train journey, I was wandering the super quiet streets of Ghent, wondering where all the people were.
My first stop was to a church, but after wandering all the way around the exterior it seemed to be shut. All of the nearby shops were also closed, and I was so confused. Had I come on a public holiday or something that I wasn’t aware of? Maybe Ghent isn’t as touristy as everyone makes out?
I spotted a cool building in the distance, and decided that if nothing was open at least I could admire the architecture and have a wander. As I got closer, I found myself in a large square surrounded by cafes. While not full, there were at least people which was an improvement on where I’d just been! It seemed like the perfect time to grab a coffee and work out if I was in the wrong area or if everything was indeed closed, but everywhere in the square seemed super expensive. Very aware that I was on a budget, lunch instead came courtesy of a supermarket in the corner of the square.
I found a spot by a canal, sat down and tucked into a croissant while googling to find out where I’d gone wrong. It would appear I’d just made my way to the outskirts of the city, so once I’d finished eating I continued walking and found the crowds slowly growing. Figuring that crowds flock to the sights, it meant I was going in the right direction finally.
A few recommendations had been made by friends of things to do in Ghent, one being the castle which is known locally as the Gravensteen. Dating from 1180, the medieval castle has served a variety of purposes: residence, court, prison and even a cotton factory. Now serving as a museum, I grabbed an audio guide and set to exploring. I’ve done a lot of tours on my travels, listened to many an audio guide, but have never laughed as much as I have to this one. Although the tour of the castle was interesting and very educational, the audio guide was definitely my favourite part. I even had a few moments of shocked laughter because I could see children were listening to the same one, and some of the content isn’t quite so kid-friendly – ‘I think that was bullsh*t’ – though hopefully the jokes went over their heads.
After enjoying the tour of the castle, it was time to tick off one of the things I see in every city – the cathedral! Walking through Korenmarkt, a large square in the centre of the city full of tourists milling around, and past the town hall, I spotted a shop selling the famous Ghent noses.
I’d done a bit of research the night before, and found that there was stiff competition in Ghent as to who had the best noses. And no, not noses on your face, but small gummy sweets that are hard on the outside with a soft raspberry jelly centre. They’re sold in the confectionary shops or you might spot carts being pushed around the city selling them. You can read about the rivalry that actually got physical here, but it made me wonder what was so special about these little sweets! I can confirm that the sweets are yummy, but I don’t think I’d fight anyone over them…
Arriving at the cathedral just before closing, I managed to get in and have a speedy tour of the building before making the trek back to the train station. I hadn’t realised that there are two train stations in Ghent, and I power walked to the station thinking a train would be there in the next few minutes. After waiting about 20 minutes, I checked the schedule again and realised that 1 – there were two stations and 2 – the station I’d come to didn’t have trains as frequently as the other. But as I was there and so tired, I just sat and waited it out. Another relaxing train journey back to Antwerp, and it had to be dinner out as the supermarkets were all closed, before turning in for an early night.