This one day in Ghent itinerary is all you need to see the best of the city in a short time (including a map, how to get there and some insider tips).
Ghent (Gent in Dutch) is often overlooked by tourists, shadowed by its fairytale neighbour, Bruges. Yet, Ghent with its impressive castle, beautiful medieval old town and charming canals, is not to be missed.
During the Middle Ages, Ghent was one of the most important trade cities in all of Europe. Nowadays, it’s a vibrant university city, the capital of the Flemish region in Belgium. Nevertheless, Ghent still keeps its historic character and appearance, that makes it a great city destination.
If you love the medieval atmosphere of Bruges, but find it too touristy, then Ghent is the ideal option for you.
One day in Ghent itinerary
This Ghent itinerary is perfect for all who want to explore the city in one day. It’s great for day-trippers, too. In fact, I followed exactly this itinerary and managed to see all the important attractions.
Start the day with breakfast at Caffè Rosario.
Learn the history of the Castle of the Counts.
Have a healthy delicious lunch at Boon.
Enjoy a stroll along the Graslei and Korenlei.
Stop for amazing views at St Michael’s Bridge.
Visit the famous St. Bavo’s Cathedral.
Climb the Belfry.
Marvel at the architecture of the City Hall.
Try the best burgers in the city at Uncle Babe’s.
Having less than a day? Don’t worry, I’ll give you some suggestions on what you can skip to get most of your time.
Planning an overnight stay?
Then check out these excellent centrally located hotels – perfect to explore the city.
Modern hotel with a central location, right next to the City Hall. Great facilities, including underground parking and a restaurant.
Boutique hotel with gorgeous canal views. The location is perfect to explore the Old Town, next to the castle. The facilities include private parking and a heated swimming pool.
Well-equipped apartments at a central, quiet location. The bonus is a rooftop terrace with great views.
Looking for more options?
Then check out at my guide to the best places to stay in Ghent.
Morning – Castle tour
09:00 AM – 09:50 AM
Start your 1 day in Ghent with breakfast at Caffè Rosario. It’s a great local cafè with indoor and outdoor seating, quick service, tasty sandwiches and omelettes.
If you prefer something sweet for breakfast, then Himschoot is the place. This little bakery features excellent homemade pastries and waffles.
Castle of the Counts
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM
Castle of the Counts (Gravensteen) is a must-see in Ghent. The castle’s history stretches back to the 9th century when Arnulf I built a wooden fortification at this very place. Since then, the building went through a lot of transformations.
The current castle was built by Philip of Alsace. It was intended to serve as a residence of the Counts of Flanders. And it did, for almost two centuries (1180 – 1353) the castle housed these powerful counts.
You can tour the castle on your own (a free audioguide is included in the ticket price). Don’t miss to get to its top for wonderful views of the city.
12:00 PM – 01:30 PM
Stop for a healthy lunch at Boon. They offer super delicious veggie bowls.
For a tasty soup, go to Soepbar Sordo. Their soups are always made with fresh seasonal vegetables. A perfect lunch, especially on a cold day.
Afternoon – Medieval Ghent
Graslei and Korenlei
01:30 PM – 02:30 PM
This is the most picturesque place in Ghent. It’s perfect for a stroll or to enjoy a cup of coffee in any of the numerous cafés along the river.
In the past, these quays were part of the city’s medieval port. Most of the historic buildings along the river date back to the Middle Ages.
St Michael’s Bridge
02:30 PM – 02:45 PM
St Michael’s Bridge connects Graslei with Korenlei quay. It’s a great spot for photo opportunities. From here you can see Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, Saint Nicholas’ Church and the Belfry Tower at the same time.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
03:00 PM – 03:45 PM
St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint Baafskathedraal) is a Gothic architectural gem from the 16th century. The history of the cathedral can be traced back to 942 AD when a small Chapel of Saint John the Baptist stood at its place. The cathedral is named after Bavo, the patron saint of the city.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral is home to the famous religious artwork, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. It’s a 15th-century multi-panelled painting that is considered to be the greatest work of Jan van Eyck.
Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – opening hours
Summer season – 09:30 AM – 5:00 PM
Winter season – 10:30 AM – 4:00 PM
Every day at noon the panels of the altarpiece are closed, so you can admire the restored outside panels (more info about your visit).
03:45 PM – 04:30 PM
The Belfry (Belfort) with its 91m height is the tallest one in Belgium. Built in the 14th century, the belfry served as a watchtower, city archive and a bell tower at the same time. Its bells were used to announce the time and for various religious services.
A large copper dragon, the symbol of Ghent, stands on the top of the belfry, guarding the city for centuries.
Today, you can climb the tower and enjoy the impressive views from the top. There is a lift to the top (please note it’s available from the first floor).
04:30 PM – 04:45 PM
The City Hall (Stadhuis) is a unique mixture of two distinct architectural styles – Gothic and Renaissance. It’s hard to believe you’re looking at one and the same building when you pass along it.
If you love burgers, Uncle Babe’s is the place to go. They offer a fantastic selection of flame-grilled burgers, including vegetarian options. Plus, the potato wedges were one of the best I’ve ever tried!
For authentic Belgian food, visit Du Progres. It’s an excellent family restaurant that serves a variety of local specialities.
More ideas for your one day in Ghent
Saint Nicholas’ Church
Saint Nicholas’ Church (Sint-Niklaaskerk) is one of the oldest churches in Ghent. Among its treasures is a huge pipe organ, built by the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. I was lucky enough to stumble upon an organ recital. It was unforgettable!
A great view of the church is revealed from the Belfry Tower.
Great Butcher’s Hall
The Great Butcher’s Hall (Het Groot Vleeshuis) was built in the 15th century. Its purpose was to gather all butcher shops in one single market. In that way, it would be easier to monitor the freshness and the quality of the meat.
Nowadays, here you can find quality East Flemish regional products.
Graffiti Street (Werregarenstraat) is a must for every street art lover. Periodically the walls are turned into a black canvas, allowing the local artists to create new unique artworks.
Castle of Gerald the Devil
Although its sinister name, the Castle of Gerald the Devil (Geeraard de Duivelsteen) has nothing to do with the Devil. In the past, the castle defended the city’s port. Its dark name comes from its owner, the knight Geeraard Vilain. His nickname was Gerald the Devil, because of his dark complexion and hair colour.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to visit the castle from inside.
Best time to visit Ghent
Ghent boasts many festivals and cultural events, so check in advance before planning your trip.
In January (once every 3 years), the Ghent Light Festival is held. The city becomes a backdrop of various light installations and spectacular performances. You need about 2 hours to see everything!
If you’re visiting in December, you’ll find the city transformed into a medieval Christmas fairytale. Check out my detailed guide about Ghent Winter Festival.
How many days in Ghent
To see the major attractions, you’ll need one full day. Ghent is also a great option for a day trip from Bruges or Brussels (even in the winter).
It’s possible to see Ghent in only half a day, but you have to plan in advance what exactly do you want to see.
There are 3 major landmarks – St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Belfry Tower and Castle of the Counts. For the castle, you’ll need about 1-2h to see everything. You can skip climbing the top of the Belfry, as there are some great views from the top of the castle.
If you’re not into religious art, see St. Bavo’s Cathedral only outside and take a boat tour instead. For Graslei and Korenlei quays, you’ll need about 30min to enjoy the views.
Note that almost all of the attractions open after 10:00 AM. So, to get most of your time, get early, take a walking tour of the city and then visit the sites that are most interesting to you. If you want to take a boat tour, the service runs from 11:00 AM to 04:00 PM.
Also, include some more time in commuting to your plan, as the Ghent train station is further away from the Old Town.
It’s possible to do both cities in one day, but I’d strongly recommend to spare one full day for each of them. Otherwise, you’ll lose a lot of time in transportation and have to skip some of the interesting sites.
If you want to do the trip on your own, I’d recommend you starting with Bruges. The trip takes longer (about 1h), so if you take a very early train you can be in Bruges before 9 AM. Take a walking tour of the city and a boat tour.
Don’t climb the Belfry, it is usually super busy and you’ll waste hours waiting in lines. If you have time, you can visit some of the landmarks, but for only half a day, I’d recommend sticking to a walking tour only.
After lunch take a train to Ghent. You can visit the Castle of the Counts or St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Don’t do a boat tour in both sites. The one in Bruges is a better option when you have only half a day. If you really want to climb any of the Belfries, do it in Ghent, as it’s not so busy.
Find more info in my guide on how to spend 1 day in Bruges.
Getting around in Ghent
Find here a detailed map of this Ghent itinerary.
Everything in the Old Town is within easy reach. You won’t need any public transport.
Yet, if you’re arriving by train, you’ll have to take the tram to get to the city centre. The train station, Gent-Sint-Pieters, is about 2.5km away. You can walk of course if you prefer.
Take tram line 1 from Sint-Pieters station perron 2 to Korenmarkt perron 5. A single ticket costs €3.
If you plan to use the tram more than twice, buy a day pass – €7. It’s valid for 24 hours after activation (find more info here). You must validate your day pass every time you get on and off.
How to get to Ghent
The trip from Brussels to Ghent takes less than 30min and there are 2-3 trains per hour. There are two train stations – Gent-Dampoort and Gent-Sint-Pieters. The one you need is Gent-Sint-Pieters, it’s closest to the city. You can check timetables and book tickets online at SNCB official site.
There are several car parks in Ghent city centre (see a full list here). The most convenient is Parking Vrijdagmarkt (P1), very close to the castle and the Old Town.
For renting a car, check out Sixt Car Rental. They are very popular in Europe and offer the lowest rates.
From Brussels South Charleroi Airport, there is only one direct option. The Flibco shuttle bus takes you directly to Bruges (1h30min journey).