GHENT, Belgium (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore Ghent? Located only 30 minutes outside of Brussels, Ghent is capital of Belgium’s Flanders province. The city has survived 1,400 years intact, but is so alive, it’s anything but a medieval history tour.
5:30 p.m. Head over to Temmerman’s, a local confectionary shop, at Kraanlei 79, before it closes at 6. Belgium is famous for its chocolate, but Temmerman’s has every type of sugary sweet you can imagine.
6:30 p.m. Ghent recently became the first city in the world to declare one day a week as meatless. Even though Thursday is “Veggie Day,” check out some of the city’s vegetarian restaurants for the local flavor, such as Avalon 1, at Geldmunt 32.
8 p.m. Head over to Kinky Star, a rock bar and nightclub located Vlasmarkt 9. A listing of concerts are on its website, www.kinkystar.com.
8 a.m. Take a walk along the River Leie. Head south past the university section to Citadel Park, the city’s largest park. Located slightly south of the city, Citadel Park is four 4 km (2.5 miles) from the Korenmarkt, the central square of the city. The walk takes about half hour if you go a straightforward route, but walking along the river and checking out different parts of Ghent are part of the experience. Stop for breakfast on the way and pick up the Mastel, a donut-shaped bun native to Ghent.
10 a.m. At the northeastern corner of the park are two of Ghent’s art museums: the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (SMAK), or the City Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, or Museum of Fine Arts. The two could not be more different, with SMAK specializing in modern art and the Museum voor Schone Kunsten carrying Belgian art dating back 1350. Both are worth trips if only to compare the journey of Flemish art from the late Middle Ages through the present.
12 p.m. Pick up lunch at the Cafe Cite in the International Convention Center in the Citadel and explore the park for a picnic lunch. Don’t just settle in near the Citadel (though that spot is lovely too), make sure to check out the Plantium, maintained by the University of Ghent and filled with all different types of flora.
1 p.m. Jump on the 1 tram and head north of the city to the Jozef Guislainstraat stop to visit the Museum Dr. Guislain, or the History of Psychiatry/Outsider Art. The museum explores the history of psychiatry from the Middle Ages through the Freudian era of the 19th century up to the present. Another wing is dedicated to photographs of patients in mental institutions, some of which date back to the 1860s. And the third, truly spooky, wing is devoted to artwork done from mental patients.
2 p.m. Take the 1 tram back down to Korenmarkt to check out the Design Museum and the MIAT, the Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textile. The two offer a stark contrast of the history of design: the Design Museum is housed in the Hotel de Coninck with an Art Nouveau collection, while the MIAT is located in a old cotton mill and offers the history of textile workers in the city.
4 p.m. After getting your share of design and textile history, take some time for some shopping. Ghent has a number of expensive retail stores lining the Veldstraat. For upscale boutiques, check out the Bennesteeg, just off the Veldstraat, which connects to the Mageleinstraat, home to some of the quirkier local shops.
6 p.m. After all the shops close, scope out some places for dinner. Try the Tavern Dulle Griet, located Vrijdagmarkt. The perfect place for trying beer, there are over 250 different types of beer available. If you’re willing to try the house specialty—a boot of beer—you will exchange your own shoe for the boot. Open until 1 am, it is the perfect place to stop and relax with a beer after a long day of walking and sight-seeing.
8 a.m. Explore the Sunday morning markets on Ghent’s careless squares. Start at the St. Jacobs market, located in St. Jacobskerk square. The flea market can fill up with clothes, handbags and other second-hand items, and it’s good to arrive early to avoid the crowds.
9 a.m. Head back near the center of the city to stop at Etablissement Max, located near the Sint-Baafs Plein. Legend has it that the Belgian waffle was first created here.
10 a.m. Continue southward and cross over the River Leie at the Sint Micheielsheling to the second-hand book market, the Ajuinlei.
11 a.m. Head back over the river to the Kouter Square, to the flower market. This and the bird market have existed since the 18th century. The square also boosts buildings that date back to the 18th century.
12 p.m. If you’ve already had Belgian waffles for breakfast, check out another Belgian specialty, the waterzooi, a meat or fish stew, at Groot Vleeshuis, in the Groentenmarkt. A former meat market dating back to the 15th century, the Groot Vleeshuis is now a huge cafeteria-style restaurant. The old days of the meat market are still present with huge warehouse style dining room, complete with meat hanging from the ceiling.
1 p.m. Head over to Gravensteen, the castle and former fortress that used to guard the city. Now a museum, there’s something for everyone: spectacular views over the city as well as a large chunk of the museum dedicated to torture practices.
2 p.m. It’s Sunday. Go to church. In the afternoon, the churches that make up the skyline of Ghent are open to tourists. Make sure to check out the Sint-Baafskathedraal which has one of the crown jewels of Flemish art: the altarpiece of Van Eyck’s The Adoration of the Mystical Lamb. The church is open until 5 p.m. on Sunday, but the Adoration of the Mystical Lamb can only be viewed until 4 p.m. The cathedral also holds Ruben’s Sint Baafs Enters the Covenant at Ghent, another artistic marvel. The cathedral itself dates back to the 10th century, and Charles the V was baptized there in the 16th century.
3 p.m. If you are still feeling spiritual, stop by the nearby Sint Niklaaskerk Church. Built in the 13th century, the high ceilings and Baroque interior have been restored in recent years to its earlier glory. The church still boasts the 19th century organ built by builder Aristide Cavaille-Coll.
4 p.m. Also in the Sint Baafsplein is the Belfry, which has some of the best views of the city. Constructed in the 14th century as a medieval fortress, the Belfry now has six floors of records and treasures detailing its history. Of particular interest is the clock mechanism on the fifth floor, which controls the bells on the floor above. The clocks are wound daily by a crank. On the sixth floor are the bells themselves: 54 chiming bells that play arias every 15 minutes. Only open for visitors from March to November.
5 p.m. Tired of all churches? Take a break and grab some ice cream at one of the vendors along the Sin Baafsplein.
5:30 p.m. After visiting the saintly past, take some time for the sinful present at the Werregarenstraat, or “Graffiti Street.” To prevent graffiti on the historic buildings, this street was designated for graffiti. The buildings and high walls that surround the narrow street are now lined with amateur art. You can even pick up a can and try it out yourself.
6:30 p.m. Get one last look at the city at the Korenmarkt, the main square. Under construction right now, restaurants along the square still have outdoor seating. If the construction noise is too much for you, head inside or take refuge in one of the many restaurants along the side streets.
Editing by Paul Casciato