The Graslei is one of the most enchanting night time settings I have ever seen. Its captivating mediaeval buildings and St Michael’s Bridge reflect off the River Leie. But aside from its beauty, what else does Ghent have to offer a solo traveller? Here’s how I spent 48 hours solo in Ghent…
Things to do solo in Ghent • Where to stay • Food and Drink
Today, Ghent is most famous for its beer, exquisite chocolate and strangely, its small nose shaped sweets, neuzekes! Historically however, it was well known for manufacturing luxurious cloths made from wool. The capital of the East Flanders region, has a rich history and is Belgium’s third largest port. It is a city which will present the solo traveller with cultural, historical and culinary delights.
Ghent has a large pedestrianised zone which encourages most people to get around on foot, by bicycle or tram. While you wander around seeking out the buildings with stunning architecture and fine façades, make sure to look out for the spectacular street art too!
How to get to Ghent
Flights from London Gatwick to Brussels with British Airways take just 50 minutes. On leaving Brussels airport you will need to follow the clearly marked train signs to the station. Purchase a ticket to Gint-Sint-Pieters from the manned ticket office or self-service machines. Return tickets cost £31. Take a lift down two levels to Platform 1 to board the train. Direct trains run hourly and take just under an hour and a half. As you exit the station at Gint-Sint-Pieters, to the left is a large pink circle which indicates the location of the Kiss & Ride taxi service. Yes it really is called that! A taxi into the city centre with its main attractions, cost Euros 8.50. The journey takes around 15 minutes depending on the traffic.
The City Card
Ghent is a compact city and most attractions are a short walk from one another. It is therefore worth investing in a city card as you can visit a lot of attractions within a short period of time and save quite a few Euros. Cards can be purchased from your hotel, Tourist Information office or when at the attractions. The card which lasts for 48 hours costs Euros 30 and includes the following….
- Free entry to all top attractions, monuments and museums
- A guided river boat tour
- All public transport e.g. trams and buses
- One hour of bike rental
- Use of the hop on hop off water-tram (Sat & Sun 1/4 – 1/11)
Check opening times of museums etc before purchasing your ticket however, as some attractions are not open on certain days.
Where to Stay – Hotel de Flandre
There are a number of hotels with varying star ratings and hostels to suit all budgets, many of which are close to main attractions. I stayed at the Hotel de Flandre, a 4 star hotel, for 2 nights and I highly recommend it if you are solo in Ghent. I had a very enjoyable stay for the following reasons….
- Located in a quiet street less than 2 minutes walk to the River Leie.
- Very comfortable rooms with ensuite facilities
- Lounge/Bar area
- Breakfast area
- 24 hour reception with friendly, extremely helpful English speaking staff
Things to do solo in Ghent
There are plenty of things to do in Ghent for a solo traveller. My top 7 were…
- Gravensteen Castle
This is an imposing moated castle in the heart of Ghent. It dates back to 1180 and was once the residence of the Counts of Flanders up until the late 14th Century. Later it became home to several courts, followed by a prison, executions and a textile factory. The individual audio tour included in the ticket, allows you to roam the halls and its winding staircases at your own pace. Use your imagination while listening to the comedic stories played through your earphones provided.
- House of Alijn
Take a step back in time to this former hospice. The House of Alijn is split between 2 buildings around a courtyard. One building is home to the museum of daily life where you can view interesting exhibits such as old televisions, watches and computer games. The other contains an exhibition of Belgian military service.
- Riverboat Cruise
The hour long, guided riverboat cruise, is a relaxed way to learn a little of Ghent’s history. The leisurely sail along the city’s waterways offers plenty of photo opportunities as you pass many points of interest and beautiful architecture.
- The Belfry
The dragon atop the Belfry is the symbol of Ghent and was placed here in the late 14th Century to watch over the city. Climb the medieval tower measuring 91m in height for far reaching views across the City. This was particularly enjoyable around sunset.
- St Bavo’s Cathedral
This gothic cathedral dates back to the 10th Century. It has undergone extension works over several hundred years so incorporates many building styles. In the 16th Century it became a cathedral and is home to the famous ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers.
Shopping in Ghent is diverse and a great solo activity! Some of the large public squares host markets such as Vrijdagmarkt, a Friday market, with Vendors selling food and clothing. Weekend mornings you can visit flea markets on Bij Sint-Jacobs for a range of bric-a-brac items. Veldstraat is the main shopping area with a large selection of shops including main High Street brands such as Zara and H&M.
- Self-Guided Culinary Walking Tour
A 2.5km self-guided walking tour incorporating some of the best local produce stores in Ghent….
Butcher’s Hall enjoy samples of regional favourites
Tierenteyn-Verlent A mustard shop dating back to 1867. Mustard is still made in the cellar
Bakery Himschoot – the oldest bakery in Ghent with over 60 types of bread
Mokabon – mmm …smell the coffee as you enter from all the beans on show! Serves delicious, smooth coffee and homemade biscuits
Sophie’s Sweets & Chocolates A delicious range of sweets and chocolates available to purchase
Chocolaterie Luc Van Hoorebeke The producer of famous Belgian pralines
Confiserie Temmerman – Old fashioned sweets for sale including the famous ‘little noses’ but in the shape of masks
Cafe Folklore An authentic folk cafe that serves heavily salted peas baked in oil ‘kroakemandels’ alongside beers on weekend evenings
Dreupelkot – Call in for a shot of local genever, a kind of gin! There are over 200 varieties to choose from.
Food and Drink
Oh the food in Ghent!!! It is heaven for foodies! There are a large number of restaurants within the City which serve local and international cuisine.
Some popular takeaway favourites include Belgian waffles and Belgian hot chocolate with amaretto. These were lovely to eat or drink ‘on the go’ while walking along the riverfront on a cold winter’s afternoon. Choose a chocolate, white, dark or milk and stir it into your alcoholic milk while you wander, delicious!
Belgian Frites…Choose from one of the many types of sauce or mayonnaise to accompany them
2 local restaurants I can highly recommend for solo dining of an evening are…
Meme Gusta – food how Grandma used to cook it, I was told by a local
This restaurant is a ‘must visit’ place in Ghent in my opinion. The decor is an eclectic style of modern meets old and serves amazing, local dishes to Ghent. The complimentary bread served was accompanied by butter and dripping. I was delighted with my main course, stoemp. It was outstanding! A tasty, meaty sausage served with creamy root vegetable mashed potato with gravy. This was topped with crispy spirals of carrot and sweet potato with a sprinkling of chervil, giving the dish a twist of aniseed. If you want to know what you are eating, be ready with google translate because 2 out of the 3 menus are in Dutch!
De Graslei – Picturesque restaurant in a riverfront location
This is definitely a restaurant for tourists, in a prime position for views of the River Leie. Having said that, it is an excellent choice of eatery, offering a wide selection of local dishes and old fashioned comfort food. There is a large outdoor area for dining which is filled with heaters, perfect on a cold November’s night! As my dish was served, steam poured from it as the heat of it met with cold air. The traditional chicken waterzooi comes highly recommended. The chicken was so tender it fell off the bone. This was served with a delicious creamy sauce, baby potatoes, leeks and carrots.
Where can you get a good coffee from?
Well, I found 3 places which served excellent coffee and they were all quite different!
Julie’s House is a wonderful cafe/restaurant on Kraanlei serving delicious coffee, teas, soft and alcoholic drinks, sweet treats and pies! Mokabon on Donkersteeg serves 5 types of coffee. The latte I had from here was incredibly smooth and easy to tell it was made from quality coffee beans. Finally, I visited Patisserie Aernoudt on the wonderful square of Groentenmarkt. This was a super place, selling a range of bread, pastries, cakes and chocolate too. The coffee was very enjoyable and accompanied by a delicious chocolate biscuit flavoured with cinnamon.
Would I Return to Ghent
I would return to Ghent in a heartbeat. It is one of my favourite cities I have ever visited. 2 nights was plenty of time to see everything I wanted to see. However, I regret not having stayed 3 purely to enjoy the ambience for longer. Even though it is incredibly beautiful, perhaps fairy-tale like in places, do not be led to think it is for romantic weekend breaks only. There is plenty for the solo traveller to enjoy and I never felt out of place at all. I noticed plenty of other solo travellers during my time here too, both in restaurants and visiting attractions.
Suggested Further Reading:
Solo Travel Destinations – Other places I can recommend for solo travel