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Discover Ghent - Belgium’s Best Kept Secret

Written by  Michael Schoenberger

EUROPE FLANDERSAny agent selling Europe knows that for the last few years, the Flanders area of Belgium has been a hot destination. The vast majority of travelers generally visit either Brussels, the European Union capital, or Bruges...everyone’s choice for Europe’s medieval town “cute” capital.
Bruges is definitely a great place to visit, as it is Europe’s best preserved medieval old town and has a real-life fairytale atmosphere. Not quite 2 square miles, this UNESCO World Heritage city center has something of a Disneyland feel to it. Most tourists visit Bruges between 9am and 4pm, and if you’re having a beer at a hopping café, suddenly by 5 pm, it becomes a quiet, somewhat empty café.
For those travelers looking for something beyond a fairytale experience, what’s the solution? The answer is... a visit to the beautiful city of Ghent!

What to see & do in Ghent
Ghent is an old medieval city with lots of beautiful, historic buildings, yet it is also a real working city. Ghent is home to Belgium’s third largest port, and is the location of a number of universities. Ghent has been a major city for a thousand years; in the 13th century it was home to over 65,000 people, and today is Belgium’s third largest city.
The city can match any medieval town’s historic ambience, as much of this city’s medieval architecture remains intact, and is remarkably well preserved and restored. Additionally, its city center is the largest car-free pedestrian area in Belgium. The student population is what really sets Ghent apart from other historic towns - the students help to create a “hip and happening” atmosphere in the city center. From its bars and restaurants, to just lounging along the canals - this city feels alive. Ghent doesn’t go to sleep when the sun sets, it comes alive. It’s a vibrant city where people live and enjoy the good life.

Things to do and see
Gravensteen, known as “Castle of the Counts” in Dutch, is an amazing building that was created in 1180. Today it houses the Arms Museum and the Museum of Judicial Objects. These display various weapons used in warfare and other contraptions used for punishment and torture during medieval times.
Grab your camera, as St Michael’s Bridge is the most picturesque spot in Ghent. You can gaze at the surrounding architecture and down the river to Korenmarkt (Wheat Market). The angle of this bridge offers the perfect spot from which you can see the Medieval Towers of Ghent - St Nicholas’ Church (Sint Niklaaskirk), the Belfry of Ghent and St. Bavo’s Cathedral - all aligned for a great photo opportunity.

St Bavo’s Cathedral was constructed on the site of the former Chapel of St. John the Baptist, a primarily wooden structure that was consecrated in 942. Traces of the original structure are evident in the cathedral’s crypt. This Gothic cathedral’s tower rises 292 feet and is home to works of art of note. It holds the painting Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent by Rubens, and there are also works by Lucas de Heere, including one titled a View on Ghent. Also located here, Frans Pourbus the Elder painted 14 panels representing the History of Saint Andrew (1572), and a Triptych of Vigiliius Aytta (1571). Caspar de Crayer is represented with paintings St. Macarius of Ghent, The Decapitation of Saint John the Baptist, and The Martyrdom of Saint Barbara. The cathedral is best known as home of the Ghent Altarpiece.

The Ghent Altarpiece has been called “the most influential painting ever” and it’s probably also the most frequently stolen. Additional restoration to the altarpiece, also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, was unveiled in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent this summer. The work, in its entirety or just in part, has been stolen six times, and found itself at the center of no fewer than 13 crimes and mysteries. Thanks to a partial 4 year restoration completed in 2016, much of the Ghent Altarpiece looks the way it did originally - electric, radiant, gorgeous and glorious. It is anticipated that the full restoration will be completed in 2020.

Probably the most beautiful spot in Ghent, the Graslei (Grass Quay) and Korenlei (Corn Quay) lie at the very heart of Ghent. These quays stretch along the Leie river with Graslei and its unique medieval buildings on the right bank, Korenlei along the left. This is Ghent’s most popular meeting spot with lots of great cafés.

Canal cruises are a must in Ghent as they are a wonderful way to see and learn about the city. There are a few locations in the city where you can hop on board and your captain doubles as your guide.
Other points of interest include Saint Nicholas’ Church, Vrijdagmarkt, Patershol, and local Belgium beers! For more information on what to do, or where to stay in Ghent (or Flanders) a great resource is VISITFLANDERS, the Tourist Office for Flanders- Belgium.
(www.VISITFLANDERS.com) and their great sales executive, Marco Frank.

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