Best of Ghent in One Day (or Half a Day)

one day in ghent itinerary

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).

one day in ghent itinerary
Always book skip the lines tickets with GetYourGuide or Tiqets (you get a mobile ticket voucher + free cancellation up to 24 hours before the activity). Tickets from the attractions’ official websites, in most cases, are non-refundable.

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.

To save time and learn more, take a guided walking tour (this is the best one). In 2 hours, you’ll discover the most important medieval monuments and taste typical Flemish food.

How to spend one day in Ghent (the best itinerary)

  • 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 of Ghent
  • Marvel at the architecture of the City Hall
  • Finish your one day in Ghent with burgers 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.

At the end of the article, you’ll find a detailed map of the itinerary. In addition, there are some tips on how to do Ghent and Bruges in only one day if you’re really short on time.

My favourite place to stay in Ghent is Hotel Harmony. It has a fantastic location for sightseeing, right next to Gravensteen Castle. Plus, there is a heated swimming pool.

Looking for more options?
Then check out at my guide to the best places to stay in Ghent.


Booking.com
Morning – Castle tour

Have breakfast at Caffè Rosario

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.

Caffè Rosario

If you prefer something sweet for breakfast, then Himschoot is the place. This little bakery features excellent homemade pastries and waffles.

Visit 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.

Castle of the 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.

Castle of the Counts view top

Have healthy lunch at Boon

12:00 PM – 01:30 PM
Stop for a healthy lunch at Boon. They offer super delicious veggie bowls.

Boon

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

Stroll along the 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.

From here you can take a boat tour along the Lys and Lieve Rivers. There are boats every 15-20 minutes. It’s a great way to see the most scenic parts of the city.

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.

Ghent boat tour
Graslei

Amazing views from 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 Michael's Bridge
St Michael's Bridge view

Visit the famous 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.

It’s free to visit the cathedral but to see the altarpiece you’ll have to pay €4 per person. Note, that the chapel with the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb has its own opening hours (different from the cathedral that opens at 08:30 AM).

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).

St. Bavo's Cathedral

Climb the Belfry

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.

Belfry

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).

Belfry view

Marvel at the architecture of City Hall

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.

Ghent City Hall

Have dinner at Uncle Babe’s

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!

Uncle Babe's

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.

Saint Nicholas' Church

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.

Great Butcher's Hall

Graffiti Street

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.

Discover more street art on this bike tour. You’ll explore more than just the typical tourist highlights, including some hidden spots.

Graffiti Street

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.

Castle of Gerald the Devil
More popular tours

How many days in Ghent

How many days to spend 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).

I used this DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to prepare for my trip to Ghent. I love their travel guides, as they have practical information, walking tours and a durable map!

I have only half a day, what to do?

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.

How to do Ghent and Bruges from Brussels in one day?

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.

Yet, if you’re short on time, the best option is to take an organized tour. This day tour to Bruges and Ghent is well organized and very informative.

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.

Ghent

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!

Every July, there is a Jazz Festival. The Ghent Festivities, a popular festival with performances of international artists, also takes place in July. 

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.

Ghent Winter Festival

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

By train

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.

By car

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.

If you’re planning to rent a car, book with Sixt Car Rental (you can save up to 25% if you book early enough).

By air

You can take a direct train from Brussels Airport to Ghent – less than 1h journey, about €15 per ticket. A cheaper option is FlixBus – 1h40min journey, price is about €8.

From Brussels South Charleroi Airport, there is only one direct option. The Flibco shuttle bus takes you directly to Bruges (1h30min journey).


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About the author
Avatar Milena Yordanova
I'm a travel blogger based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Travelling has always been my passion and I love to discover new places and cultures. I want to show you how easy it is to organize your vacation all by yourself.

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2 Replies to “Best of Ghent in One Day (or Half a Day)”

  1. Hey Milena, this is a nice post of a place quite unknown to me, but it is so interesting! Looks like a really ideal side trip from Brussels. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hey Keith, it’s really a great day trip. Happy travels! 🙂

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