BRUSSELS'n'BEYOND - day trips to ANTWERP, BRUGES, and GHENT

I'm a busy body with a chronic case of FOMO and Belgium got the cure: Belgium is relatively small, actually, the fifth smallest country of the European Union. It slumbers there nestled between Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Luxemburg pretty much undisturbed in the middle of the continent, not bragging with its beauty. And beauties it has all right!


Bruges - Historium
Dreaming of being a princess? Well, I go all the way and become king!

During my stay in Brussels, Belgium's and secretly also Europe's capital, I actually managed to visit three other beautiful cities, one more intriguing than the other so that I list them here fair and square in alphabetic order: Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent.

These three beauts lie north of Brussels in the Flemish part, hence, besides the language, they share the same culture and architecture: Medieval old towns with cobblestone plastered alleys, large market squares, and majestic churches with the iconic belfries. A belfry is a slender bell tower, and in Belgium alone, 33 of those were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Belfry of Antwerp
One of the proud belfries that made it to the UNESCO world heritage list:

But most importantly, there's water: Each of these cities is divided by canals which don't make them only scenic, it was the water that made them accessible and facilitated trade'n'commerce for the Flemish merchants. Bruges even used to be a proud member of the Hanseatic Leagues - you can learn more about this kind of a predecessor of the European Union in my post on its queen, the North German city of Lübeck.

When in retrospect we speak about the Dutch Golden Age, it's always these three cities in the center of attention with Antwerp being the world's most important harbor at that time.

The rise of Flanders is certainly due to the Protestant Calvinism-based work ethic and thrift and the promotion of education. This wealth also enabled the construction of a large fleet that carried the Dutch around the globe - where they could then enrich themselves with the treasures of peoples in Asia and the Caribbean. Even today, the Indonesian language is peppered with Dutch words, and the architecture of many old towns thousands of kilometers away from Europe clearly bears Dutch traces. By the way, in my eyes an inglorious chapter.


Dutch cycler in Bali
Remembering the Dutch occupants on their bycicles on the Indonesian island of Bali.

But wait a minute: Why all this yackety-yak about the Netherlands, isn't this post on Belgium? Yeah well, actually, the former Southern Netherlands seceded only in 1830 following the Belgian Revolution.

Therefore, to this date, there is a Dutch cultural predominance in the northern part of the country called Flandern, a French one in the southern Wallonia region, and a tiny German part at the German border.

But now enough with this national and regional tohubohu, let's focus on all the beauty the Golden Age brought and left behind.

Quick city breaks are easy to squeeze in; not only because of Belgium's moderate size but mainly due to its excellent system of public transportation. There are trains going crisscross country almost by the minute and the tickets are reasonably priced: You can get practically everywhere for about 10 €uros.


Belgian Rail Pass
Our manually completed ticket. This year, it's five €uro more, nonetheless, still a bargain.

If you are a small group or want to travel more, there even is a ticket of ten that costs only 83 €uro. You can use those ten trips any way you like, i. e. you can either take ten trips by yourself or you split them amongst your group. All you have to do is filling the date and destination in the respective fields and you are good to go.

But before you race to the station to get one of these passes, hold your horses, since there is also the Weekend Ticket that allows you to travel half price on return trips between Friday 7 p. m. and Sunday as well as certain holidays.


Brussels main station
Waiting for the train at Brussels' main station Central.

SNCB, the national train company, has a very comprehensive website that comes in four languages and is really easy to navigate. You'll find all the price info and schedules you need there.

Ready? So hop on the next train

....and let's go to ANTWERP

....and let's go to BRUGES

....and let's go to GHENT


ANTWERP


The glorious city of Antwerp is not only a gem, but it also is the world's most important center for the processing and trading of diamonds.

Already in the 16th century, the city was a famous diamond center. The convenient location with large inland port was an important factor in the rise of Antwerp to the diamond city
Today, about 80 percent of world's raw diamonds pass through Antwerp and three of the major diamond exchange stocks are located in the diamond quarter of Antwerp. Numerous jewelers have settled in the vicinity of this trade center. Antwerp is undisputably the diamond capital of the world.


Jewels at DIVA, Antwerp


While today, the port of Antwerp is Europe's second-largest freight port and as an administrative unit, it is Belgium's largest city, during the Golden Age in the 15th and 16th century, Antwerp was one of the largest cities in the world and one of the most important trading metropolis in Europe as well as an important cultural center being home to artists like Rubens, one of the most celebrated artists of the Flemish Baroque.

No wonder his former residence and workshop is a museum now and thusly can be visited.


Rubens Museum
The courtyard of Rubens' former home
(Photo: Velvet, Anvers Maison Rubens, cropped 3:2, CC BY-SA 3.0)

I must admit that I'm not such a big fan of Mr. Rubens - neither of the role he played for the Spanish-Habsburg crown nor of his genre of Baroque. However, as the building lies practically on the way from the Antwerpen-Central train station to the Grote Markt, the main square, you can drop in if you like and are a fan.

Rubenshuis
Wapper 9-11
2000 Antwerp
Phone: + 32 - 3 - 201 15 55
Email: rubenshuis@antwerpen.be


Paleis Op De Meir in Antwerp
The main shopping street Meir flanked by majestic city palaces - like the Paleis Op De Meir.

We made our way straight to the Grote Markt, pacing through the shopping axis, lined with all those international chain stores you find everywhere but also with some truly local jewels - and we weren't even at the diamond district yet.


Paleis Op De Meir in Antwerp
The chocolate store at the beautiful town palace - a treat for all the senses.

One of the stores we couldn't possibly just pass by is The Chocolate Line, a store and café located at the Paleis op de Meir, a town Palais built in the 18th century.

The Chocolate Line
Paleis op de Meir
Meir 50
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: +32 - 3 - 206 20 30

The store is open every day from 9.30 a. m. to 6.30 p. m. - Sundays only from 10.30 a. m.

Once we got wrapped in the aroma of high-class chocolates, it was not easy to break away, but we knew there were more wonders waiting for us.

Such as the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, the Cathedral of Our Lady. This house of worship is a Roman Catholic cathedral. Interestingly, although its construction in Gothic style ended in 1521, it has never been considered completed.


Cathedral at Antwerp
The cathedral's lavishly decorated entrance gate.

Not only its facade is beautiful and the belfry that's on the UNESCO world heritage list impressive. Inside, you'll find a number of important works by various Flemish artists - like the unavoidable Peter Paul Rubens.


Cathedral at Antwerp - Diasporalia by Koen Theys
Diasporalia by Koen Theys: 12 beds and the belongings of refugees, made from bronze, dealing, obviously, with the topic of migration. This piece was commissioned by the church on the occasion of the Baroque year 2018.

What I liked a lot was the exhibition of contemporary sculptures. These pieces were put into a Christian dialogue with the old masters and show that a church can have a sound grasp of contemporary political issues.


Cathedral Antwerp - Jan Fabre The Man Who Bears the Cross
Is Jan Fabre The Man Who Bears the Cross?
The most expressive of these exhibits is certainly The Man Who Bears the Cross, a bronze sculpture by the famous artist Jan Fabre. The cross-bearer, who pretty much looks like Fabre himself, has made it to the church's permanent collection and stands in a prominent spot in the cathedral.

Like I said, also this belfry is included in the Belfries of Belgium and France entry in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

























A few steps further is the Grote Markt, one of these typical Flemish squares surrounded by magnificent buildings reminding the Golden Age - such as the Stadhuis, Antwerp's city hall. This renaissance building has also made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Stadhuis of Antwerp
The Stadhuis, Antwerp's city hall
 (Photo: No machine-readable author provided. Klaus with K assumed
(based on copyright claims)., Antwerpen Stadhuis crop1 2006-05-28, cropped 3:2, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Make sure to drop in at the Grote Markt 13-15 where one of the visitAnwerp offices is located - the other one is right at the main station.
Here you can get loads of information and printed material such as brochures and maps; and you can obtain an Antwerp city card.

With this card, you can use all public transport for free and visit many museums and landmarks at a reduced price - or even for free. According to the length of your stay, you can get the card for 24 hours, then it costs €uro 27. For 48 hours you pay €uro 35 and for 72 hours €uro 40.

Visit Antwerp
Grote Markt 13
2000 Antwerp
Phone: +32 - 3 - 232 01 03
Email: info@visitantwerpen.be

Open daily from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.

As soon as we got our cards, we sat down at the very cozy Witzli-Poetzli to check our options. Of course, there was far too much to see and to do to squeeze it in one single day. By the way, the Witzli-Poetzli - what a name! - is said to serve some of the best hot chocolate in town. We don't know since when we were there, they were out of their signature drink! We enjoyed our break at this cute'n'cozy place, anyways.

Witzli-Poetzli
Blauwmoezelstraat 8
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: + 32 - 474 03 50 89

Open daily from 11.30 a. m. to 2 a. m.


The most interesting place to explore was, obviously, DIVA, a truly brilliant museum on everything related to diamonds. It's just around the corner from the Grote Markt.


Renata Green at the DIVA museum in Antwerp
Wearing my - virtual - tiara in a cocky fashion.
This building used to house the Ethnographic Museum before this super modern Diamond Museum with many hands-on exhibits was installed and opened in spring 2018.

































Absolutely fascinating are also the two Rooms of Wonder that were opened only in autumn 2018.


Toile de Jouy by Wim Delvoye  at the Room of Wonders at the DIVA museum in Antwerp
A particularly disturbing exhibit at the Room of Wonders: Toile de Jouy by Wim Delvoye (Collection Studio Wim Delvoye)

I would say, when in Antwerp, there is no way around this fantastic venue - totally worth the visit.

DIVA
Suikerrui 17/19
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: + 32 - 3 - 360 52 52

The DIVA is open from Thursday to Tuesday between 10 a. m. and 6 p. m.


Jewels at the DIVA museum in Antwerp
To hell with restraint and minimalism - show me your rocks!

Another gallery that opened relatively recently is the Museum De Reede. Since 2017, this graphic art museum focuses in its permanent collection on the work of Francisco Goya, Félicien Rops, and Edvard Munch.


Self-Portrait by Edvard Munch at the Museum de Reede
Self-portrait with bottle of wine by Edvard Munch.

However, they present also small changing exhibitions.
Actually, this museum is a bit quirky, a visit nonetheless quite relaxing between all this pompous splendor of diamonds and pearls and belfries and whatnot.

Museum De Reede
Ernest van Dijckkaai 7
2000 Antwerpen
Phone: +32 - 472 - 19 02 00
Email: info@museum-dereede.be

The gallery is open from Thursday to Tuesday between 11 a. m. and 5 p. m.

Not far from the graphic gallery is another small museum housed in a grand building, namely the Vleeshuis.


Trumpets at the Museum Vleeshuis in Antwerp
Look at those trumpets: At the Vleeshuis, quality matches quantity.

This historic building made of brick and sandstone and witnessing many centuries started out as a slaughterhouse, became a guildhall for the butchers - and houses today a museum on Antwerp's dance and music history. Especially the collection of instruments in the basement is quite impressive.

Museum Vleeshuis
Vleeshouwersstraat 38
2000 Antwerp
Phone: + 32 - 3 - 292 61 01
Email: vleeshuis@antwerpen.be


Another place we absolutely wanted to see was the wonderful Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library.
This library started out with 41 books in 1481. Since then, it augmented to more than 1,5 million volumes.


Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library at Antwerp
Paper treasures at the Nottebohm Room.

Although the library is considered one of the most important Flemish heritage collections, it is clearly under the tourist radar.

To be honest, we didn't come for the collection, we came for the elegant Nottebohm Room, a hall located in the oldest part of the library. This spacious room is far more than just a monumental bookshelf - it exudes all the grandeur and sophistication of knowledge and education.
Two precious masterpieces located at the gable end of this hall named after Antwerp patron Oscar Nottebohm are the Blaeu’s celestial and terrestrial globes.

Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library 
Hendrik Conscienceplein 4
2000 Antwerp
Phone: + 32 - 3 - 338 87 10
Mail: consciencebibliotheek@antwerpen.be


Street in Antwerp
Streetart is big everywhere in Belgium.
So that was it for landmarks. Yes, we certainly missed out on a lot, but as you know, a day does not have 24 hours when day tripping. Also, we wanted to enjoy the alleys and small shops and the city's atmosphere that we liked a lot.
What I regret the most is that we didn't have the time to explore the street art scene which must be vibrant - visit Antwerp even published a little guide.

Therefore, we'll be certainly back - and then we can hopefully take advantage of the 72 hours Antwerp city card.
























BRUGES



Brussels to Bruges is a half an hour ride - and trains are frequent and reliable.

While Antwerp is being rocked by rocks, Bruges made a fortune with textiles: In the late Middle Ages, this region was one of the centers of the European textile industry. Actually, Bruges was one of the most economically and culturally rich cities in Europe and also an important and proud member of the Hanseatic League.


No matter what, water always adds to a city's charm.

Nevertheless, like many other grand merchants' towns, Bruges, too, had to swap trade for tourism and welcomes currently 8.3 million visitors per year. Albeit, with almost 120,000 inhabitants, it is West Flanders' largest city, in the most visited part, the historic old town, are living less than 20,000 people. With 126 visitors per 100 inhabitants, Bruges is suffering from over-tourism; the price for being one of Europe's most beautiful cities.

Yes, Bruges is due to its picturesque historic old town and the canals very scenic.

But no, Bruges is not the Venice of the North - this title is already taken by Amsterdam, Hamburg, Copenhagen and any other city that has a creek or a runnel; I promise: You won't find this lame, overused metaphor in this post or anywhere on my blog!

This said, Bruges is very striking, indeed. Although we visited on Christmas day so that many museums and stores were closed, we'd spent a lovely day out.


Albert I on his horse. Since he died mountaineering and not in a battle, the animal is standing with all four hoves on the ground.

Once we got off at Brugge main station, we crossed the Albert I park - Albert I was, in contrast to his cruel predecessor Leopold II, a good guy: "There may not have been many monarchs in history who have made such a worthy contribution to democracy as the in every way exceptional Albert", points out German historian Christoph Driessen.

Since Bruges hasn't been destroyed either by wars or by other powers, the medieval cityscape and historic buildings are very well preserved and there are dozens of fascinating museums and landmarks to be visited.

The medieval town center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000 and in 2002, Bruges was the European Capital of Culture for a reason.

We checked out only the very core of the historic city, starting at the Sint-Janshospitaal, the Old St. John's Hospital.


Old Saint John's Hospital behind a stone fence.

Founded in 1150,  Sint-Janshospitaal was actually the city's medical center until 1977.
Today, at the former patient room are paintings - including works by Hans Memling, antique furniture, and medical items illustrating the daily lives of patients and the cleric personnel for several centuries.

The former pharmacy has retained its 17th-century layout and can also be visited.
In the courtyard, herbs are still being cultivated and fill this serene place with a wonderful smell.

From here, we got through an underpass to the famous Onze Lieve Vrouw Brugge, Church of Our Lady Bruges. This prominent Gothic house of worship was founded in the 13th century and is one of the earliest brick structures in Flanders with its tower being the second tallest brick tower in the world. Another amazing feature is the marble Madonna created in 1503 by Michelangelo.


Our Lady of Bruges' high tower. 

Old masters, new masters: Across from the church is the XPO Center Bruges - which, unfortunately, was closed - Christmas day, remember?! However, since one of their permanent exhibitions is on Picasso whom I pretty much dislike, I wasn't too sad although usually, I'm a sucker for art exhibitions. The other - late - artist in residence is Andy Warhol, though, plus they have also a changing temporary exhibit so it might be worth checking this gallery out.

xpo
Site Oud Sint-Jan
Mariastraat 38
8000 Bruges
Phone: + 32 - 50 - 47 61 00
Email: info@oudsintjan.be

Tip: If you don't go to Bruges on a day trip but intend to stay overnight, check with your hotel whether you'll be supplied with a DiscoverBruges discount card. It is a complementary card you receive upon check-in at some hotels in order to receive discounts at some attractions and stores.

Since we were very lucky with the weather, we enjoyed a little walk that took us down the cobblestone street Katelijnestraat along all the small specialty shops - many of which specialized in beer, by the way.


An incredible choice of different kinds of marzipan and nougat at one of the many cute specialty shops on Katelijnestraat.

One of the cutest structures we noticed was the Spanoghe, a house of worship between Katelijnestraat and Stoofstraat. These tiny houses were commissioned by Francesca Spanoghe in the 17th century and intended for accommodation of elderly women.
Another place for the pious single ladies would be the Ten Wijngaerde Begijnhuisj, Bruge's only preserved beguinage.


The picturesque little homes at the Spanoghe.

The beguines were religious women who lived in small communities without taking vows or retiring from the world, so that beguinages were not convents. This unique form of communities were particularly popular in the Low Countries, i. e. the Netherlands and Belgium and made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Behind the Onze Lieve Vrouw Brugge - practically in its backyard - lies on of the most popular photo spots - today, you would call it the most instagramable place - the Bonifacius bridge from where you have the quaintest views of the canal and the surrounding old buildings.


View of the Dijver canal from the Bonifacius Bridge.

Yet there is an even more famous spot, namely the Rozenhoedkaai, just a pleasant walk along the Dijver canal towards the north.


Bruges' most iconic view: The Rozenhoedkaai.

You don't feel like walking? Then maybe one of the canal tours are for you. For only 10 €uro, you get a perspective of Bruges from the water. But note that you can only get on board at Nieuwstraat 11 behind the Church of Our Lady Bruges.


Our Lady of Bruges from a different angle.

Since we are based by the waters, we cannot be impressed by boat rides hence we walked. A bit further up the river to the Vismarkt, a square surrounded by a covered arcade, built in 1821 for the purpose of selling fish. And that's what's happening here every morning still, but only from Wednesday to Saturday and, obviously, not on Christmas day.


The covered fishmarket - but please notice also the incredibly beautiful buildings in the back. 

However, we had our share of delicacies since we took a break at the Hollandse Vismijn pub that is clearly rather frequented by locals than by visitors which is reflected not only in their menu, but most of all in their civil prices; otherwise Bruges is really, really pricey when it comes to the gastronomic offer.


View of the Markt, Bruges' main square, from the balcony of the Duvelorium, the bar on the first floor of the Historium.

Albeit, there are all these Belgium delicacies to be found, especially around the large Markt square and the adjacent streets: The delicious smell is lingering in the air and chocolates, truffles, and waffles in all shapes and flavors are tickling the hungry visitor's taste buds.

Some of the Belgian delicacies have even made it to museums: The history of fries - why on earth are they called French, anyway? - can be traced at the Frietmuseum, located just minutes north of the Markt. And on the Breidelstraat that connects the Markt with the Burg square, the interactive exhibitions Bruges Beer Experience teaches you about the beer brewing history and makes you an alcoholic by filling you up with varied beer samples.

Frietmuseum
Vlamingstraat 33
8000 Bruges
Phone: + 32 - 50 - 34 01 50
Email : info@frietmuseum.be

The museum is open daily from 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.

Bruges Beer Experience 
Breidelstraat 3
8000 Bruges
Phone: + 32 - 50 - 69 92 29
Email: info@mybeerexperience.com 

The museum is open daily from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.

But also those who are rather into sweet than bitter will get dizzy on Breidelstraat which is basically 200 meters covered with chocolate and waffle dough - has anyone counted the stores selling these Belgian specialties?

However, the two squares connected by Breidelstraat are well worth a closer look since at the Markt square, you'll spot Bruge's belfry - one of the 33 special towers listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This one can be climbed over 366 steps so you get a grand view of the city and beyond.


The main square Markt with the statues of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, two freedom fighters from the 14th century. On the market's northern side, here to the right, are the Historium - with the flags on the balcony - and the Provincial Palace. 

Then, there is the Provinciaal Hof, the Gothic Provincial Court House that looks impressive, but cannot be visited - in contrast to the neighboring building that houses the Historium Bruges, kind of an educational indoor theme park where we learned a lot despite my shenanigans with the costumes.


Playing around with history.

Not to be missed is their café bar Duvelorium on the first floor - which would be the second floor for all those nations where houses don't have a ground floor. From here, you have a grand view of the entire Markt.
However, I find the entrance fee to the Historium a bit too high, but you can access the Duvelorium for free.
Other than that, the Markt is tightly packed with restaurants, cafés, and bars, you don't have to leave either hungry or thirsty.


The Burg square with the police station, the Baroque courthouse, the Bruges City Hall, and a partial view of the Basilica of the Holy Blood - from left to right.

To get to the Burg square, Bruges' other historic, walk across the beforementioned Breidelstraat. Here, you'll spot Bruges' city hall and the Brugse Vrije, a courthouse built in the 17th century with a beautiful Baroque facade.


What a glory, right? The courthouse with the magnificent Baroque facade is one of Bruges' most beautiful buildings.

I was most impressed by the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed, the slightly creepy Basilica of the Holy Blood, opened in the 12th century and famous for housing a phial supposedly containing a cloth with Christ's blood.


Inside the Basilica.

So what can I say - we missed out on the canal tour, on parks, and some of the museums - however, we got sort of a tempting foretaste of what Bruges must be and we'll certainly be back one day for more.


Next time, we make sure to stay overnight. Maybe at a tiny guesthouse like this.

Since already one day was far too tight for the majestic city of Bruges, you'll probably won't make it to one of the city's strongest suits, the seaside resort of Zeebrugge - only 20 kilometers west from the city center.
However, if you have more days, a trip to the beautiful coast is certainly worth it.






GHENT



Ghent is located halfway between Bruges and Antwerp and from Brussels it's about half an hour by train. Unfortunately, the Ghent Sint Pieter station is about 3 kilometers respectively 2 miles from the historic center so instead of walking, you might want to take tram #1 to the Korenmarkt and visit from there.


First artistic structure as you arrive at Ghent: The lavishly decorated hall of the Sint Pieter train station.

Like Bruges, Ghent became a center of textile production and an economic power already in the 11th century. Actually, the city was the Netherlands' largest city - and one of the largest cities in all of Europe until the mid 16th century.

At the MIAT Ghent Industriemuseum, you can still trace Ghent's glorious history of industrialization and the textile industry. The exhibition is charmingly displayed in an old cotton-spinning mill.

Museum of Industry
Minnemeers 10
9000 Ghent

The museum is open from Thursday to Tuesday from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m., weekends from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.

Ghent also played an important role in the rise of Calvinism and during the Flemish Golden Age in the 16th century. Today, with almost 250,000 inhabitants, it is Belgium's third-largest city after Brussels and Antwerp and also known as the Flower Town due to its location in a vast area of ​​flower and plant breeding businesses.

Since during our visit it was pouring, we had to visit Ghent darkened by grey clouds.


Looking up north the river Leie.

It is always unfair to a city when you visit for the first time in bad weather. The place has to offer a lot to make up for the poor impression you automatically have. And yes, Ghent did quite good.


Sweets for my sweet....fresh from a traditional cart.

After having picked up some information and most importantly, our Ghent cards, we took a waffle-break at one of the cute cafés surrounding the historic town square Korenmarkt. Over a crispy waffle with a generous chocolate'n'cream topping, we decided where to go and what to see in order to make the most of our visit and at the same time stay as dry as we possibly could.


Delicious as well as overpriced: Belgian waffle at the Koffie 3, 14 Thee (yes, that's actually the name of the place).

Gravensteen - translating to Castle of Counts - seemed like the perfect place to begin with - after all, it dates way back and grants a good look at Ghent's early history.


The intriguing Flemish architecture along the Kleine Vismarkt with the Gravensteen castle in the backdrop.

Gravensteen is a medieval castle whose origins date back to the 10th century. However, the current castle dates to 1180 and was the residence of the Counts till 1353. Eventually, these sturdy structures served as a court, a prison, a mint, and - very proletarian - even as a cotton factory. Today, it houses a museum and grants wonderful panoramic views of the city.


View from the top of the Gravensteen. The towers belong to Saint Nicholas, Saint Bavo, and the historical clock tower of the former post office (from left to right).

As a matter of fact, with a few exceptions, the historic center is not very widespread and can be visited on an extended walk.

Walking north along the river Leie on the street Kraanlei, we were enchanted by the cute old houses, today inhabited, transformed into shops and cafés - or into museums like the House of Alijn, a former almshouse, where today clothing, furniture, documents, and more are telling us about the ordinary life in the 20th century; yap, the last century is already history....scary!

Huis van Alijn
Kraanlei 65
9000 Ghent
Phone: + 32 - 9 - 235 38 00
Email: info@huisvanalijn.be

The museum is open from Thursday to Tuesday from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m., weekends from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m.


The Ghent-branch of Confiserie Temmerman, a traditional Belgian sweet store, located on the Kraanlei street along with many other cute specialty shops, cafés, and eateries.

Crossing the bridge over the Leie, we got to the Vrijdagmarkt, named Friday Market after the traditional market day. And to this date, there is a farmers market taking place on Fridays and Saturdays - overseen by Mr. Jacob van Artevelde, a merchant and statesman who went into politics to prove neutrality during the Hundred Years’ War and thusly save the textiles industry in Ghent. Although he was murdered during a riot in 1345, he is still looking over the burghers of Ghent from his pillar in the center of the Vrijdagmarkt.


Jacob van Artevelde pointing towards England while watching over his people - and the Vrijdagmarkt, another one of Ghent's historic squares.

The greatest assembly of historically important buildings stand along the Cataloniëstraat and the Emile Braunplein: At the corner of the Korenmarkt is St. Nicholas' Church, a house of worship built in a Romanesque-Gothic style by using blue-gray stones from the Tournai area. 


Busy yet picturesque: Even the Cataloniëstraat, one of Ghent's most bustling shopping streets, is flanked by old Flemish facades.

Since Saint Nicholas' Church was popular with the guild members doing their business in the vicinity, these guilds had even their own chapels; mind you, it was the time of easy indulgence.



The Grand Altar of Saint Nicholas' Church  Roman Catholic church with 18th-century statues and Baroque paintings.
Only a stone-throw away - a stone-throw east that is - is one of Ghent's most important landmarks, the belfry. This tower is listed together with 32 other Belgian and French belfries as a world heritage site.
Next on this medieval path is Saint Bavo - and that's really unique since Saint Bavo of Ghent was a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox saint who lived in the 7th century. He was even married and had a daughter - pretty worldly for a saint.

Construction of the church they named after him began in the 13th century. It is famous for its exquisite paintings of whom the Ghent Altarpiece should be the most remarkable one. Formerly known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,  it is considered Jan Van Eyck's masterpiece and one of the most important works of the early Northern Renaissance.


The Ghent Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers Jan and Hubert.
(Photo: Jan van Eyck creator QS:P170,Q102272 Hubert van Eyck creator QS:P170,Q364350, Lamgods open, cropped 3:2, CC0 1.0)

Ghent's Gothic mile finds a glorious end at the Kasteel Geeraard de Duivel, the Castle of Gerald the Devil. Of course, it never was a devil's accommodation, however, its everchanging past has been colorful, to say the least: Since the 13th century, it served over the years as a knights’ residence, an arsenal, a monastery, a school, a mental home, a boys' orphanage as well as a prison. Today, it is a museum.

Geeraard de Duivelsteen
Geraard de Duivelstraat 1
9000 Ghent


Make sure to look up from time to time otherwise you might miss the artistic gables - like this one on the Masons' Guild Hall.

To this day, I regret that we missed out on the Graffiti street, but not only was it raining, I also absolutely wanted to visit the museums at the Citadelpark and we had only one day.

The Citadelpark is close to the train station on the summit of a hill between the rivers Scheldt and Lys. This public garden was installed on the location of the former Dutch citadel in 1875.

Today, two great art museums can be found on the grounds: One is the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, the Museum of Fine Arts that houses a vast permanent collection from the Middle Ages until the mid 20th century.


Exhibition of statues at the half rotunda.
To spice things up, they temporarily also add some contemporary artists'n'pieces. A must-see when visiting Ghent.



The shell-shaped house by quirky'n'contemporary artist Patrick van Caeckenbergh amidst paintings from the 19th century.

Museum of Fine Arts Ghent
Fernand Scribedreef 1
9000 Ghent
Phone: + 32 - 9 - 323 67 00
Email: museum.msk@gent.be


Since 1999, the S.M.A.K., Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, was added. Installed at a former casino from 1949, it houses an interesting permanent collection as well as quirky and provocative temporary exhibitions.


Venus of the Anthropocene by Lynn Hershman Leeson. The mirror in this exhibit is equipped with a facial recognition system. Also, there are electronics to read the viewer's DNA. Interesting....and disturbing, i. e. the way art should be.


S.M.A.K.
Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst

Jan Hoetplein 1
9000 Ghent
Phone: + 32 - 9 - 323 60 01
Email: info@smak.be


Like I said, weather conditions make city breaks unfair - to the cities: When it's sunny, even the dullest place has something charming to it, and in the rain, even New York, Rio, Tokyo seem sad and worn.

This being said, I think that Ghent is well worth a visit and should be on your list of day trips when you're spending a couple of days in Belgium.



Sint Veerleplein where i. a. the tourist information bureau is located.

Once you're there, make sure to pick up some info material at the tourist info on Sint Veerleplein square just below the Gravensteen:

VisitGent Sint-Veerleplein 5
9000 Gent
Phone: +32 - 9 - 266 56 60

They are open every day from 9 a. m. to 6 p. m.

All the sight described and recommended in this post - and many more - are free with the Gent Card which costs 30 €uro for 48 hours and 35 €uro for 72 hours; there is no 24 hours-option.




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* Disclaimer: I appreciate that visitGent as well as visitAntwerpen supported my blogger trip by supplying me with the respective City Cards. However, all opinions on these services are mine and weren't by any means influenced by my cooperation partners. 

11 comments:

  1. Wow, you certainly had a fun few little trips. I haven't tried the Belgium public transport unfortunately, but I had a friend living in England for a year who would travel around Europe on his weekends. He adored Belgium. I didn't know that Antwerp worked with so many diamonds. That must have been fascinating to view.

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  2. I used to work and live in Brussels (Bruxelles) and Brugge (Bruges) about ten years ago and love Flanders region. Not a huge fan of Brussels but Brugge is a great place for historic buildings, good food and a boat ride (I also love cycling in this area to nearby Oostende and Nederlands). Gent (Genk) is my favourite town but for a night out on the town (as its a student city). Love the bars and atmosphere there and the old town is beautiful to walk around. Defo places for first time visitors to visit. :) Great post here and sure did bring back some memories. (But hate the word Ghent - its the British spelling (I am British) for Gent/Genk and no one knows why it stuck, its not even used much in the area and even the locals hate it..he he!) :D

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  3. I never knew that Brussels used to be Dutch. That explains a lot really. I am also not sure that water ALWAYS adds to a city's charm, but the Dijver Canal certainly does. That looks like it came straight from an oil painting.

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  4. Wow, you are right! We should have stayed two more days in Brussels and gone to these three cities! They are only 45-60 minutes away. OMG, each has its own charm.

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  5. Now I want to go explore Belgium. As in, right now! I have a mixed view of Rubens, but I would love to investigate the home. That chocolate store in Antwerp is astonishingly beautiful, as is the Cathedral of Our Lady (two things that aren't usually in the same sentence). Ghent's scenery surprised me -- I'm not sure why. But I'd love to take a walking tour along the river and through the museums. And, of course, Bruges will always charm me.

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  6. We missed Brussels on our last visit to the area. Hubby spent time in Ghent when he was in the military and had fond memories. I would want to start in Antwerp for diamonds! But hubby will want to visit the Chocolate Line. Bruges looks like a great canal city. And I will not call it the Venice of the North. Brussels definitely needs to get our our planning board!

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  7. Brugges is definitely the best of these three. I fondly recollected my memories of my trip to these cities. You are right about how the canals add to the beauty here. The facades are most beautiful. I wish I could visit again.

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  8. I've been to Bruxelles a couple of times. Usually make it a point to stop there before I head out to my favorite spot: Brugges. You're so lucky to be able to just make short trips like that, I wish had the same opportunity! I've yet to go to Antwerp and Ghent but I'll keep your guide as reference for future visits :)

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  9. Wow, what amazing transport deals. Makes it easy to visit so many new places. We've been to Brussels a couple of times, but not yet to Bruges. I'm sad to hear about the overtourism, but it is truly gorgeous. Great pics. Thanks for putting Antwerp on my radar now. Interesting history in diamonds. Love your King costume. Fun!!!

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  10. All of these places are incredible to visit, I would love to spend a day in the Hendrik Conscience Heritage Library, I'm sure there is so much knowledge in the pages. I will have to make a visit if I go to Antwerp soon xo - Kam

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  11. Great photos and that is a stunning necklace. Would love to visit Antwerp one day, the city has so much rich history and culture, thank you sharing - appreciate it.

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