This page may contain affiliate links, which means that we may earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you.
Ghent is an absolutely delightful city located in the Flanders region of Belgium. With cobblestone streets, sweeping canals, and its very own medieval castle, Ghent will transport you back in time.
Less touristy than its neighbor Bruges, Ghent is no less charming. While Bruges can at times feel like a bit of a tourist trap, Ghent feels much more grounded and authentic (don’t get me wrong, I loved our two days in Bruges as well!).
Out of all the places we visited while in Belgium, Ghent was probably my favorite. When I first walked up the street and saw the historic town center with its massive cathedral and towering bell tower, it absolutely took my breath away.
It’s a charming place to get lost for a day exploring the medieval castle, cruising on the canal, climbing an old belfry, and of course eating lots of waffles and chocolate.
If you only have one day in Ghent, you’ll definitely want to make the most of your time because there is a lot to fit in. This guide will help you maximize your experience for an amazing one day in Ghent!
Ghent one day itinerary overview
For this one day Ghent itinerary, we’ll be hitting all the main attractions this historic city has to offer. Although one day isn’t a lot of time, you’ll be amaze what you can accomplish in this charming city in one day.
Here’s an overview of the Ghent one day itinerary:
- Marvel at St. Nicholas Church
- Climb the Belfry
- Visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral
- Soak in the ambiance at Korenlei and Graslei
- Stop for a waffle and some artisan chocolate
- Admire the art on Graffiti Street
- Spend time in Vrijdagmarkt Square
- Explore the Castle of the Counts
- Take a canal cruise
Ghent one day itinerary
To start off your day in Ghent, first head to the scenic center of the city to see the Three Towers of Ghent: St. Bavo’s Cathedral, the Ghent Belfry, and St. Nicholas Church.
Marvel at St. Nicholas Church
Located in the heart of Ghent, St. Nicholas Church is a striking sight as you approach the city center. The massive gothic building is one of the oldest landmarks in Ghent, with construction beginning in the 13th century.
You’ll definitely want to take a few minutes to walk around the building and take some pictures of the remarkable architecture.
The church isn’t always open to the public, but if it happens to be open while you’re there it’s worth stepping inside for a few minutes to appreciate the soaring ceilings and stained glass windows.
Climb the Belfry
Behind St. Nicholas Church you’ll find the belfry. The Ghent Belfry has the distinction of being the tallest belfry in Belgium and a World Heritage Site.
The view from the top is spectacular, and it’s definitely worth the climb for the view. If you want to take the stairs all the way up, you’re in for a 366 step climb. However, we were so surprised to find that this bell tower actually has an elevator! You have to climb to the second floor and then you can take an elevator to the top.
We have a thing for belfries, so we always climb them whenever we have the chance. This was the first time we’ve found one with an elevator in Europe though! It definitely made things easier since we were climbing with our 18 month old.
The belfry plays a song every 15 minutes and tolls the hour on the hour. Plan to be at the top when the bells are active so that you can see how the mechanisms work in the tower.
At the top you can also watch an interesting video about the making of the bells.
The viewing area at the top takes you all the way around the tower, but it is extremely narrow, making it challenging to pass other people on the walkway. When we went there were only a couple other people there so we didn’t have a problem. And the panoramic views of the city are lovely!
It costs €10 to climb the belfry (ages 12-18 cost €1.60 and children under 12 are free).
Visit St. Bavo’s Cathedral
Located directly across the square from the belfry is St. Bavo’s Cathedral, the last of the three iconic towers of Ghent.
At nearly 300 feet tall, the cathedral towers over the square and provides an impressive bookend to the belfry on the other side.
The church has been built and rebuilt since the 10th century, starting as a wooden church, then a Romanesque cathedral, and then culminating in the Gothic structure that exists today.
Probably the main point of interest within the cathedral is the famous altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This 15th century oil painting by brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck is seen as a masterpiece of the Renaissance. The painting has been stolen several time over the years, including by Napoleon and later by Hitler during WWII, but has since been restored and returned to its former location at St. Bavo’s cathedral.
Entrance to the cathedral is free, but entrance to the altarpiece costs €4 per person.
Soak in the ambiance at Korenlei and Graslei
While you’re in Ghent, you’ll definitely want to take some time to visit Korenlei and Graslei, the scenic quays along the Lys River. This is the location of the old port of Ghent and probably one of the most beautiful places in the city.
Along the streets on both sides you can see the preserved facades of the traditional medieval port houses.
This is a great place to sit for a few minutes and eat some chocolate or some fries from a nearby shop while you take in the old-city vibes.
Stop for a waffle and some chocolate
You can’t visit Belgium and not eat the waffles and chocolate. That was one of the things I was most excited about when we were planning our trip to Belgium and I was not disappointed!
We tried a lot of waffles while we were in Belgium, but my very favorite out of all the places we visited was a little shop in Ghent called The Chocolate Home. It’s located right off of the canal at Meerseniersstraat 24. The waffles were mouthwateringly flavorful and tender and I never did find another place that quite compared. And the shop also has some really delicious chocolate!
Another great place for chocolate in Ghent is Van Hoorebeke in the square between the belfry and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. In this shop there’s a window set into the floor so that you can actually watch the chocolate being made in the workspace below.
Admire the art on Graffiti Street
As you might guess from the name, graffiti Street is a narrow street completely covered in graffiti. This street is set aside as a free space for people to express themselves artistically in an attempt to prevent graffiti from being placed in other areas that might damage the historical architecture of the city.
It’s bright, colorful, and well worth taking a few minutes to visit as you make your way through the city.
Spend time in Vrijdagmarkt Square
Vrijdagmarkt Square is a charming city square lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. It’s a lovely place to grab a meal or spend some time relaxing.
And If you happen to be in Ghent on a Friday, this is one spot you don’t want to miss. On Friday this square turns into a bustling market with stalls selling food, flowers, clothes, and more!
Explore the Castle of the Counts
One of the highlights of a trip to Ghent is a visit to the Castle of the Counts, also known as Graversteen Castle. Surrounded by a moat, the formidable medieval castle is quite the sight to behold.
Within the castle, you can tour the gatehouse, keep, and ramparts, along with the residences. The free audio tour provides insights about the castle and life in the 12th century as you tour the various parts of the complex.
Reservations for a specific time slot need to be made in advance, so plan ahead for your visit. Entrance to the castle costs €12 for adults, €2 for ages 12-18, and children under 12 are free.
We found the castle to be a fascinating place to visit and loved learning about its history.
Take a canal cruise
Finish off your evening with a canal cruise through the historic old city. It typically costs about €9 for a 40-minute cruise and it’s a great way to experience Ghent. Along the way, the guide provides information about the history and famous spots throughout the city.
You can purchase your tickets from the stands located along Graslei and Korenlei earlier in the day to reserve your spot at the time of your choice.
We found a canal cruise to be an enjoyable and relaxing way to end our trip to Ghent!
Is one day in Ghent long enough?
While you can absolutely spend more time in Ghent, one day is enough to get a very good feel for the city. The city is small and walkable, making it easy to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.
Just make sure to plan ahead so that you can get to all the best sites in the city. This guide will help you know exactly what to see so you don’t miss anything important!
How to get to Ghent
One of the easiest ways to get to Ghent is by train. By train, it takes about 30 minutes to get to Ghent from Brussels and about an hour from Antwerp.
Once you arrive at the Ghent train station, it’s about a 10 journey by tram or bus to the city center.
If you get a CityCard Ghent, public transportation is included. You can also buy a 10-use pass card, which includes the buses and trams. This pass can be bought at the transportation center at the train station and includes all trams, buses, and metro within the Flemish region of Belgium (Bruges, Antwerp, etc.). Each time you clock in, you have a two hour window included in that use.
Of course if you have your own car, you can drive to the city. However, a car is more of an inconvenience than a help once you arrive in Ghent. You’ll need somewhere to keep your car as you explore the city.
Is CityCard Ghent worth the cost for one day?
The Ghent City Card provides access to the main attractions of Ghent. It also includes a boat trip, free bicycle rental for a day, and access to the bus and tram. You can get either a 48 or 72 hour pass. The 48-hour pass costs €38 and the 72-hour pass costs €44.
For only one day in Ghent, the CityCard typically won’t be worth the cost unless you can really pack a lot into that one day. It will likely make more sense to just pay for each attraction individually on a one day visit.
How to get around in Ghent
The best way to get around Ghent is to walk! The city is small and all of the main attractions are within easy walking distance. This is also the best way to take in the ambiance of the picturesque city and get in all of those pictures you’re going to want to take!
If you’d rather see the city by bike, there are several bike rental shops located in the city. This is a nice way to cover a lot of ground more quickly and get a nice overall feel for the city.
There are also trams and buses, but the distances are short enough that it’s easier and faster to just walk where you need to go unless you’re going to an attraction closer to the perimeter of the city. You’ll want to take a tram or bus to get to the city center, but once there you’re better off seeing the city on foot.
Where to stay in Ghent
There are several great options for hotels in Ghent. Since you’re only planning on being in Ghent for one day, you’ll probably want to stay close to the city center to maximize your time in the city.
For an upscale option right in the heart of the city, the Marriott in Ghent is an amazing choice. And it’s a great redemption of a free night from a Marriott credit card.
The hotel is actually built behind the façade of several historic buildings along Korenlei, one of the famous streets paralleling the old harbor. As you step out of the hotel, you find yourself along the banks of the Lys River facing the old port of Ghent.
The hotel is also only a few minutes walk from most of the other main attractions in Ghent, making it a perfect jumping off place for your one day in Ghent!
We had an amazing experience staying at the Marriott, especially because we were lucky enough to get a room upgrade to a harbor-facing room. From our window we could look out along the historic canal. The ambiance was unbelievable.
If you’re visiting Belgium, you should absolutely consider making a stop in Ghent. Fascinating historical sites, scenic views, and delicious food will make it a visit you won’t soon forget!
Due to it’s small size, the city is easy to navigate and perfect for exploring on foot. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in one day in Ghent.
We had an incredible time during our visit to Ghent and look forward to a time when we can visit again!
Other posts you might be interested in: