Provided by: Stad Gent/Visit Gent
The Castle of the Counts

The Castle of the Counts

A weekend trip to Ghent is simply not complete without a visit to the mysterious ‘Castle of the Counts’. This important sight in Ghent is a castle with a very turbulent past, closely intertwined with the complex—often stormy—political and social history of the city. It is the only remaining mediaeval castle with a moat and largely intact defence system in Flanders. Your visit to the Castle of the Counts will give you a complete picture of heraldic culture in the 12th century. The gatehouse, ramparts, keep, count’s residence and stables are open to visitors. Be sure to go up the long spiral staircase to the museum of torture devices on the top floor of the Castle of the Counts. Here, you will find a unique collection of instruments for torture and coercion, as well as a collection of weapons. The Castle of the Counts also hosts all kinds of cultural activities, events and activities, for example during the Ghent Festivities. It is also a popular place to get married for Ghent’s locals. Let’s not forget the time the Castle of the Counts was occupied by protesting students in 1949! Explore the castle during your weekend trip in Ghent and find out all about the ‘Battle of the Castle of the Counts’. The keep, symbol of the Counts’ power Go back in time inside this majestic fortress. Its history goes back to the time of the Roman occupation, when there was already a settlement on a sand bank by the River Lys. After a brief period of Viking plundering, the Counts of Flanders converted the earlier wooden constructions into a keep (living quarters) in the Middle Ages, with ramparts built entirely of stone, replete with 24 towers. The imposing building with its military architecture was a symbol of the Counts’ power in the turbulent city of Ghent. Do you want to dig deep into the history of Ghent? This is where you need to be. Ghent, full of charming history and modern vibrancy.
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The Mystic Lamb: supreme divine art

The Mystic Lamb: supreme divine art

The Mystic Lamb, or ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers, completed in 1432, is recognised worldwide as a great work of art, and one of the most influential paintings ever made. It is an absolute must-see on your weekend break to Ghent. A total of 18 panels form a magical evocation of scenes from the Bible, as well as a portrait of the church warden, Joos Vijd, who commissioned the altarpiece, and his wife Elisabeth Borluut. The monumental Mystic Lamb was painted on oak panels covered in thin layers of a mixture of chalk and animal glue. The figures were applied in several layers of oil paint. The combination of the painstaking work and transparent paint creates an extra dimension. Discover it for yourself as you stand in front of this masterpiece. You will see that an inner glow seems to radiate from the painting: the light of the divine. Hubert van Eyck painted part of the Ghent Altarpiece that includes the Mystic Lamb, but was never able to finish it. His younger brother Jan, an absolute master of the art of painting, is said to have finished this masterpiece a few years after Hubert’s death.
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History on the Graslei and Korenlei

History on the Graslei and Korenlei

Ships have been docking here since the 11th century and Ghent wouldn’t have it any other way. It is like the song of the Lorelei. The beauty of the Graslei in Ghent brings everyone and everything to a standstill. This is the place where beautiful façades are reflected in the River Lys. Tourists and residents alike relax on either side of the water, whether dangling their legs over the quay, or sitting comfortably at a café terrace. Lovely Grasbrug This bridge is positively poetic. And it’s every Ghent native’s pride. On your visit to Ghent, it would be a sin to miss this little bridge just around the corner from the Korenmarkt. Cross the river at the Grasbrug and soak in the scenery. There are still boats moored at the quays today. Even better, nowadays you can take a boat ride yourself! There’s nothing that will immerse you more in the history of Ghent. Façades on the Graslei The houses by the water live and breathe history. The Cooremetershuys is now an accessory store. In the Middle Ages, however, the official corn measurer presided over the grain trade there. Have a good look at the completely restored façade of the Guild House of the Free Sailors as well. A lot of money has been invested in this building over the centuries, and it shows! The stately stepped gable from the old corn store has been watching over the town since the 13th century. The corn store—also known as ’t spijker—has been redefined. It’s come a long way from those old sacks of grain. Of course you don’t have to push the boat out quite that far. You can also try a cosy brasserie on the Graslei or Korenlei. Or why not just buy finger food and sit down on the quayside! Because sometimes, appreciating the little things is the most romantic. Aperitif in the sun Tempted by all those café terraces? There is nothing more blissful than enjoying an aperitif—or two—by the waterside. When the sun is shining, this is a delightful spot to hang out ensconced by beautiful old buildings. Enjoying the first warmth of a spring day with a chilled white wine, putting the world to rights…but anyway, we digress.
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Old St Elizabeth Beguinage

Old St Elizabeth Beguinage

The beguinages of Flanders and the Netherlands are always oases of calm and stillness, where you might still expect to see an old beguine mumbling her prayers in a doorway. Two of Ghent’s three beguinages have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Although the Old St Elizabeth Beguinage, in Begijnhofdries in Ghent, is no longer enclosed by a wall, making it simply part of the city, it still has a unique atmosphere. Today the Old St Elizabeth Beguinage is known as ‘holy corner’, a place of religious tolerance, because it has no less than three different churches: one is Roman Catholic, one is Orthodox and the other is Protestant. From bleachfield to orchard This open beguinage grew into something of a ‘beguine city’ in the 13th century, with a church, the ‘Grootjuffer’s House’, an infirmary, a chapel, more than a hundred houses for beguines, a bleachfield (a field where linen was laid out to bleach) and an orchard. After the French Revolution, with increasing industrialisation, the inhabitants moved to their new beguinage in Sint-Amandsberg in 1873.
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Ghent Belfry, world heritage

Ghent Belfry, world heritage

Look up at the magical city skyline for a moment during your weekend trip in Ghent: you can’t miss it. The Belfry is the middle tower in the famous row of three, between St Bavo’s Cathedral and St Nicholas’ Church. A fiery dragon, the proud symbol and mascot of Ghent, guards the historic heart of the city. The Ghent Belfry symbolises the city’s prosperity and independence. The Cloth Hall, built onto the Belfry, was completed in 1907. The flamboyant Brabant Gothic style of the Cloth Hall is an ode to the industry to which Ghent owes so much. On the corner of the Cloth Hall is an old jailer’s house. The Ghent Belfry, a recognised UNESCO World Heritage, is well worth a visit. In 1402, it was the place where city privileges were kept: in a chest, locked up in the Belfry safe. The dragon, which has been up on the tower since 1377, kept an eye on the city as well as being the symbolic guardian of the belfry. The Belfry also proudly carried the alarm bell, the ‘Great Triumphant’. Today you will find this bell, nicknamed ‘Roland’ by the people of Ghent, not far from the Belfort on Emile Braunplein. Until 1442, St Nicholas’ Church was the main watchtower. In 1442, the watchmen in the tower moved across to the newly completed Belfry. Along with the bell ringers, these watchmen, or the corps of ‘men who guard the city’, served until 1869. Fire was a particular danger in Ghent. The Belfry tower is an absolute must-see! Climb the stairs, listen to the chiming sound of the carillon and enjoy the view of the vibrant city of Ghent. There is a lift from the first floor. The stunning view over Ghent is bound to enchant you. However, the Belfry is not accessible to visitors with reduced mobility. The Mammelokker, a legend behind bars In 1741, a building was erected between the Belfry and the Cloth Hall, which served as the entrance to the city jail. You will see a relief sculpture above the entrance. The sculpture tells an old Roman legend of a man, Cimon, who was sentenced to death by starvation. He survived his sentence because his daughter visited every day and breastfed him. ‘Mamme’ means ‘breast’ and ‘lokken’ means ‘suck’ in an old Ghent dialect.
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St Michael’s Bridge, romantic Ghent

St Michael’s Bridge, romantic Ghent

St Michael’s Bridge is the place for romantic hearts. Grab your smartphone and take some spectacular selfies. Wherever you look, there is a breathtaking view: you are surrounded by 360 degrees of Ghent’s charming beauty. Get an extra-special fairy-tale view of the heart of Ghent at twilight, when all the historic sights are gorgeously illuminated. In short, St Michael’s Bridge is where you will find out what makes the people of Ghent and everyone who has been here love Ghent so much. Experience a moment to remember on St Michael’s Bridge during your weekend in Ghent. Pause here to enjoy the picture-postcard views: the Graslei and Korenlei with the Old Fish Market, the Castle of the Counts in the distance, St Michael’s Church, the back of Het Pand and, of course, all three of Ghent’s famous towers in a row. It is only from this bridge that you can capture all three of them in one single picture. St Michael’s Bridge used to be a flat turntable bridge, but it was replaced by stone arches at the beginning of the 20th century. In the middle of the bridge is a beautiful central lantern with a bronze statue of St Michael. Cameras at the ready!
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St Bavo’s Cathedral: majestic tower

St Bavo’s Cathedral: majestic tower

This magnificent sight on Sint-Baafsplein in Ghent is a proud old lady: don’t just walk past her on your city trip. St Bavo’s Cathedral is the oldest parish church in the lively heart of Ghent. It stands on the site of a 10th century church and a 12th century Romanesque church. The latter was dedicated to St John the Baptist. In the Middle Ages, Ghent was a rich and powerful city that had the means to commission ever-larger and more opulent churches. So the Church of St John the Baptist was converted during the 15th and 16th centuries into the imposing Gothic St Bavo’s Cathedral. Looking for a weekend getaway that is just that little bit different? Do you like to explore off the beaten track? Welcome to Ghent, the city of rebels! St Bavo’s Cathedral literally carries Ghent’s rebellious history in its very stones. In the crypt, the Romanesque style can still be seen in the central nave. In the 15th century, it was decided that the Romanesque structure would be replaced with a larger Gothic church that was completed in 1559. In 1540, the church became the seat of the Chapter of St Bavo, and St Bavo became the patron saint of the church. Later, in 1559, the church was converted into the cathedral of the Bishops of Ghent. St Bavo’s Cathedral has a rich history and it is also filled with art treasures that make many an art-lover’s mouth water: from the baroque high altar in white, black and red flamed marble, the Rococo pulpit in oak, gilded wood and marble, to a masterpiece by Rubens: Saint Bavo enters the Convent at Ghent, and the Calvary Triptych by Justus van Gent, the Gothic chandelier/sanctuary lamp, the opulent tombs of the Bishops of Ghent – and of course the world-famous Mystic Lamb. Admire the divine glow of ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers in St Bavo’s Cathedral. Read all about this famous work by the Flemish Primitives. Do you want to visit the Mystic Lamb? Find out the opening hours of the chapel where the Mystic Lamb is on display at St Bavo’s Cathedral. ‘Festive’ view of the city of Ghent You can only go up the tower of St Bavo’s Cathedral during the Ghent Festivities. Negotiate the stairs and enjoy the magnificent view of this unique party for the people in the heart of Ghent. At other times of the year, you can enjoy the most beautiful view of Ghent from directly beneath the golden dragon, Ghent’s mascot, on the Belfry tower opposite. From there you can continue exploring the heart of Ghent. Anything goes.
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Magical Ghent in the evening

Magical Ghent in the evening

As evening falls, the daylight in Ghent does not simply make way for the streetlights. There is light art to enjoy as well. Streets, squares and buildings are covered in an artistic light display. It is almost as though the city were getting dressed up for the theatre. The effect is awe-inspiring. Discover Ghent Alight and immerse yourself in this de-light-ful evening experience! The Ghent Light Plan was first designed in 1998. The idea was to provide sustainable lighting for the city without wasting energy. But at the same time, it has transformed the centre of Ghent into a magical nocturnal landscape of light and shadow. Architectural accents, streets, monuments and squares are lit up to display them at their best. Ghent is a leading light in combining environmentally conscious lighting with beauty. Let the play of atmospheric lights spark your imagination. Rediscover the city by night in a whole different way. The city has received many prizes and international acclaim for its pioneering role in integrated city lighting and illumination. Would you like a sparkling tour of Ghent’s most beautiful illuminated buildings and squares? Follow the light walk and discover it for yourself! Start at the Kouter for a walk of approximately three miles. The walk takes you past all the highlights of the Ghent illuminations. You will need about two hours to complete the entire walk. It’s best not to start too late, because at the stroke of midnight, the atmospheric lighting is replaced by ordinary streetlights. Plan your walk with one of the guides. Or explore for yourself!
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Flea market at Bij Sint-Jacobs

Flea market at Bij Sint-Jacobs

A square steeped in folklore. Whether you visit during the Ghent Festivities in the summer or come to the weekly flea market, there is always something going on here. It is a real hotspot for bargain hunters at the weekend. And in mid-July, it is the epicentre of the Festivities with a capital F. The main stage at St James’ Church gets the whole city rocking! Ghent Festivities Sint-Jacobs, the popular square around the stately St James’ Church, has been the centre of the Ghent Festivities for decades. This was where the festivities were given a new lease of life in 1969 at Café Trefpunt, by the folk singer Walter De Buck. An old Ghent tradition was reborn. What started out as a small affair among artists around St James’ has grown into an event that takes over the entire city centre, thanks to support from Ghent city council. The ten-day, non-stop party is packed with folklore, street theatre, puppet shows, and music, and has now grown into one of the biggest street parties in Europe! Before and after the Ghent Festivities, the local atmosphere is never far away at Bij Sint-Jacobs. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning, this lively square is taken over by trinkets, baubles, small antiques and old junk. The flea market is a real Ghent tradition. And the market is so firmly rooted in Ghent culture that a whole host of vintage and curiosity shops have moved into the streets around the Romanesque church of St James, beside the famous antiques gallery, Gallery St-John. Bij Sint-Jacobs is the absolute place to be for collectors! The mighty St James’ Church stands in the middle of the square. A rough, Romanesque fortress of God. Its imposing architecture, dating back to the 12th century, may be the reason that this old church is still standing. It has survived desecrations and an iconoclasm. It has been damaged, scarred and then repaired, restored and extended time and again. That has led to an interesting mixture of styles. The architecture is Romanesque with Gothic and Baroque elements. It is a genuinely remarkable piece of religious architecture.
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