Ghent (Photo:Dmitry Rukhlenko/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Ghent

Brugge (Bruges) may be the better known -- and possibly better looking -- of Belgium's medieval cities, but Ghent (Gent) is a viable alternative, as it is larger (twice the population), more authentic and less crowded, especially during the busy summer months. Its central location puts it almost equidistant from Brugge, Brussels and Antwerp.

About Ghent


Pro

It's easy to explore the sights of this medieval city on foot and, in fact, cars aren't permitted in many areas

Con

Though street crime isn't particularly common, you should still be on guard in heavy crowds

Bottom Line

Ghent offers an authentic experience with lots to see and do amid easily walkable streets


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In medieval times, Ghent was second only to Paris in power and population. The source of its wealth was the making of cloth, using imported English wool. Ghent was also once a major trading port, due to its ideal location at the intersection of two rivers (Schelde and Leie) and along a network of connecting canals. Today, the waterways are used mostly for pleasure barges and sightseeing launches -- the latter recommended as an alternative to walking -- and the city's heady past is reflected in the richness of its civic, commercial, religious and residential architecture.

Ghent is reached via the cruise ports of Antwerp or Zeebrugge. (River boat passengers arrive just outside the city center.) No need to be cooped up in a bus there -- the best methods of transportation are two feet, two wheels or a boat. In fact, most of Ghent's historic center is car-free, and its narrow lanes are inviting to explore. And, when you're not walking, feel free to stare at the city's eclectic architecture -- whether it be the three towers of Ghent (the belfry, St. Bavo's Cathedral and St. Nicholas' Church), the foreboding Gravensteen Castle, the schizophrenic Stadhuis or the elegant facades along the Graslei and Korenlei Rivers.

Where You're Docked

Large ships dock at Zeebrugge or Antwerp. At Zeebrugge, a large commercial port, most lines provide shuttle buses to Blankenberg railway station. Hourly trains run, via Brugge, to Ghent Sint-Pieters and on to Brussels. The fare to Ghent is about 14.60 euros, roundtrip, for the 45-minute ride. Seniors, except on summer weekends, pay only 4 euros, roundtrip, to any station in Belgium. The fare doubles on weekends but is still a bargain. The Belgian Coastal Tramway runs from Zeebrugge to Blankenberg and to the seaside resort of Ostend every 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the time of the year.

If you're docked at Antwerp, catch a train every half hour from Central Station to Ghent. The ride takes 50 minutes.

Ghent is also a stop on some river cruise itineraries, especially tulip season cruises. River boats dock less than a mile and a half (about two kilometers) from the city, and the transfer to the city center takes about 5 to 10 minutes. (Transportation is usually provided -- if not, a taxi is about 15 euros each way.)

Good to Know

Be careful of your belongings when in crowds of people; otherwise, there is virtually no street crime.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

Belgium uses the euro, and ATM machines are available in several locations throughout Ghent. Money exchange facilities are found in the train station, and an ATM is located next door at the post office. Kiosks, small stores and some transportation providers may not accept credit cards, so you should keep a stash of euros with you. Check www.xe.com for current exchange rates.

Language

The official languages are Flemish and French, but many people speak some English. You should have no problems in locations that are geared toward tourists. In general, if you speak both English and French, use English when talking to Flemish speakers. Belgium experiences considerable tension between the Flemish (similar to Dutch) and Walloons (French), so you don't want to unknowingly offend someone.

Shopping

Belgian chocolates are great buys, but it's better to eat them on the spot than to pack them in your suitcase. For take-home souvenirs, handmade Belgian linens are your best bet.