When you visit Brussels, you feel like you are in a bustling world capital, where English is fast becoming the most common language, especially while the french- and dutch-speaking Belgians can’t agree on anything. People might suggest you visit Bruges, the charming UNESCO World Heritage site in northern Belgium. While it is lovely, it does have a very groomed, tourist-oriented, Disney-like feel, which might leave you wondering where the Belgians are. To this I say, try Ghent.
Ghent is a vibrant Flemish city with a port and a university, and lots of preserved medieval architecture. At the convergence of two rivers, Ghent has the feel of a canal town like Venice or Amsterdam, with medieval buildings seemingly dropped into place in the water. If you’re heading to Ghent with kids, here are five great things to do.
1 – Ride a Bike
If you take the train from Brussels, you might be shocked to see the thousands of bicycles parked outside, but with it’s flat landscape and well-marked bike paths, and the largest car-free area in Belgium in its center city, you’ll understand. You might even want to join the fun.
2 – Take a boat
A 40-minute tour will give you a new perspective on this lively place.
3 - Get medieval
Gravensteen Castle in the center of Ghent has been on this spot since 1180. It has been used for many purposes over the years, but today is a tourist attraction mainly because it looks the part. Don’t miss the torture museum inside.
4 – See Some Art
Ghent is home to some of the finest museums in Belgium, covering modern art, design, fine arts, science, and folkways, and they all offer something for kids. The MSK (Museum of Fine Arts) was voted best museum for children by children in 2011 for its Saturday workshops for kids and families. While the adults visit the Flemish masters in the galleries, children can take part in a hands-on workshop or children’s tour. The Huis van Alijn exhibits folkways of times gone by, with dioramas and artifacts from generations and centuries past. Kids might enjoy the replicas of a grocery and barber shop, or the continuously streamed collection of home movies from the 1930s to the 1980s. The Design Museum may not have the most interesting collection for kids – furniture and housewares – but they may have the most engaging activity for kids – they have hidden Playmobil figures in some of their displays for kids to find. And it’s not always easy! See if you can spot this one.
Ghent has a lively street art scene, and if you can find it, a trip down this graffiti alley in the center of town is a treat. You may happen upon an artist at work, as we did. A map from the tourist office shows prime viewing locations.
5 - Eat sweets
Adults might like the artisan chocolates at Yuzu, with flavors like passion fruit, tea, and salted caramel. Your kids might prefer their rewards in pancake form. Try Gwenola at Donkersteeg 10 for Breton-style crepes with butter and brown sugar, or Julie’s house at Kraanlei 13.