In the past two years, I’ve spent a combined total of about a week in Belgium. During that time, most of it was spent in Brussels, with an afternoon in Bruges and 48 hours in Ghent. Bruges was lovely, although perhaps a little small for my tastes, and Brussels is a huge city with a lot to offer, but it feels too much like it’s undergoing some kind of never-ending identity crisis. But Ghent? Well, to be honest, i fell in love with Ghent.
I spent two days there this July as part of the Ghent Festival, a 10-day celebration in the city. My trip there, sponsored by Flanders Tourism, was ultimately to cover music festivals, as well as experience all that Ghent had to offer.
While I did some research beforehand, I had no idea that I would love the city so much in the short amount of time spent there. But in retrospect, it makes sense. Overall, I think there are three reasons why Ghent appealed to me.
First is the history of the city. It goes back thousands of years, with evidence dating back to the Stone and Iron ages. And even its more “modern” existence dates back to the 4th century (compared to Berlin pointing back to the 12th century). But what’s remarkable is that the architecture and buildings in the city are well-preserved and kept in the medieval style. That, combined with the car-free town center, gives the city a much more authentic feel.
Second is the city size and overall demographic. There are close to 250,000 people, which is a pretty decent-sized city (I basically grew up in two cities, one with about 200,000 people and another with about 150,000). Considering there is a university in Ghent with a student body of 32,000, a comparatively large portion of the population is of students, which, in contrast to the ancient roots, give the city a young atmosphere and energy.
Third is the value system of the city. This might be a gross exaggeration, but from my experience in Ghent, the young population contributes to a vibrant music scene, as well as the city’s designation of the most vegetarian-friendly city in all of Belgium, if not all of Europe. And I am surprised that for such a small city (when compared to the 3.4 million people in Berlin), I still feel like I fit in. Ultimately, this is why I felt like I could spend a long vacation in Ghent. There is so much music to see live, and so many vegan-friendly places to eat at.
However, like most places, Ghent is perhaps better seen, or experienced first-hand, than explained in detail. I hope to eventually return, but in the meantime, here are some photos I took while walking through the city center.