We traveled to Ghent, Belgium, on a day bus tour from Brussels we booked on Viator. The tour combined a trip to Bruges and Ghent in a full day bus ride. The tour company was a short walk from our hotel, the Brussels Marriott Hotel Grand Place.
We were excited about seeing these two important cities of Belgium. Our guide gave us some basic information about Belgium, Brussels, Ghent and Bruges along the way. Ghent was about an hour away. The first stop was Cuberdon.
This attraction since is a man with a pushcart selling nose candy. No, I’m not talking about illegal drugs. Even if you are not familiar with Belgium, you probably are aware of Belgian specialties like chocolate, waffles and beer. Perhaps you like Belgian lace a very expensive lace with exquisite detail.
We didn’t go in search of cuberdon, but our guide directed us to his market stall in the Groentenmarkt. Cuberdon is a Belgian specialty candy that has the nickname, neuzeke or little nose. This style of candy was invented by accident in 1873.
A Belgian pharmacist had thrown away some medicinal syrup and found that it had turned hard on the outside but gooey on the inside. After he figured out how to substitute medicine with sugar and fruit, the pharmacist opened a candy shop. The most popular flavor was dark fruit that gave the candy a purple hue.
By the end of the 19th century, copycat vendors were selling their own versions. The candy is almost pure sugar with fruit. It is mostly made of gum Arabic, starch, glucose and other sugars.
We bought a bag of 10 for five Euros. Madeline tried one and said it was not her favorite. Who could blame her when there was so much Belgian chocolate to try? But I’m glad we tried it and learned of this Ghent specialty. For more on this cart vendor check out A Tale of Two Cuberdon Vendors: The Story Behind Ghent’s ‘Little Nose War'.
Belfry and Cloth Hall
You can’t miss the belfry in the old city center of Ghent. It stands nearly 300 feet tall. Though the belfry looks like it belongs to a church, it’s connected to a cloth hall. This served as the headquarters of the cloth trade during the Middle Ages. The belfry was used as a bell tower to track time and warn citizens of incoming enemies.
When the belfry is open, you can go to the top, by elevator or stairs, and take in beautiful views of Ghent, the Flanders countryside and take photos.
St. Michael's Bridge
We enjoyed great views of the city from the St. Michael’s Bridge. A bronze statue of St. Michael stands in the middle of the bridge. You easily can take in views of St. Michael’s Church, the Castle of the Counts, Graslei and Korenlei from here. It’s a great place to take lots of photos. And why not? These days, they’re digital so the more the merrier!
Graslei and Korenlei
Graslei is a wharf on the right bank of the Leie River. The opposite wharf is called Korenlei. Both wharves were part of a medieval port. Today, people enjoy bars, cafes and restaurants, all with a beautiful view of the river. It's a great place to take a break during your tour.
Korenlei translates to cranes. This area is famous for the wooden cranes that used to be everywhere along the Leie River. Today, it’s more famous for restaurants and shops and people taking pictures. Ghent was a major trading location for the region and Europe, and the river was used to ship goods, thus the cranes nearby.
Ghent City Hall
Ghent is divided into two sections: the Historical City Centre and Artistic Quarter. Graslei and Korenlei are part of the city center along with the belfry and cloth hall.
The Ghent city hall also is in the city center and an interesting building. On the Hoogpoort side, it uses a Gothic architecture. On the Botermarkt side, it shows a Renaissance style. It’s almost like the architect was having a bout of schizophrenia.
Gravensteen translates to English as the Castle of the Counts. The castle dates to 1180 and was the residence of the Counts of Flanders until 1353. It’s a medieval fortress in the middle of the city with real battlements from the Middle Ages. It’s an impressive place to visit or snap a photo. The castle has been repurposed several times and served as a cotton factory, a prison, a court and even the treasury mint.
St. Bavo's Cathedral
There was plenty to see at St. Bavo’s Cathedral both inside and out. The cathedral asks for a donation to see the Mystic Lamb, which surprised me a little. But it's a tourist draw, and I'm sure the church uses the donations to keep and preserve its artifacts.
Korenmarkt translates to wheat market. It’s also the home of the former post office. The prosperous wheat trade began in the 10th and 11th centuries. Grain would be transported up the Leie River to Graslei (grass dock) and KorenLei (wheat dock). It then was sold in the Korenmarkt. Ghent was the center of the wheat trade beginning in the fifth century.
Old Fish Market
The Old Fish Market represents another sight of trade for Ghent. Starting in the Middle Ages, it lasted until the 1960s. A statue of Neptune stands watching over the market. In this same area is the Castle of the Counts.
In the front of the square stands a sculpture of a Flemish lion holding the Flemish coat of arms. Both the lion and the coat of arms are symbols of the Flemish national movement, which has long struggled for recognition and autonomy within Belgium. The Flemish people are native to Flanders, the region in northern Belgium of which Ghent is the dominant city.
This was an impressive site in Ghent. It looked very interesting from the outside, but our guide said the locals huddle under it if they are caught in the rain. Here is the underside view.
The idea of the large canopy is not just for rain protection. The location hosts concerts, dance performance and markets.
I was pretty surprised at how much there was to see. Ghent is the second largest city in Belgium after Brussels. Between the cloth, wheat and fish trade, it flourished, becoming the largest city in the Flanders region. Today it’s a worthwhile visit. We only stayed for a half day. But if you’re a history or architecture buff, you easily can spend a lot more time here.