A Very Belgian Christmas: Glorious Ghent
I spent most of last week in Belgium exploring the markets of Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels. This is the second post of three in my Belgium Christmas Market series.
I had a feeling I was going to like Ghent, but I had no idea I would like it this much.
Ghent began to surprise me as soon as I alighted the tram in the middle of the main square. Having just come from Bruges where everything is small and cozy, on arrival in Ghent I quickly realized I was in for something completely different. The quaint and squared architecture was still there and the houses still exhibited the typical Belgian style “stepping stone” rooftops. But there was also a sweepingly epic quality to Ghent’s wide streets as trams and people went about their business with Ghent’s beautiful medieval buildings rising powerfully above it all.
While most of Ghent’s streets are lit by festive holiday lights, the actual market is about as central as it gets. Christmas stalls here were extensive, stretching the entire way through the main square and a little beyond. The market was punctuated by a mix of old and new buildings, most notably the old clocktower and the ice skating rink which looks beautiful and modern from pretty much every viewing angle. There was even a Ferris wheel at the end of the market area!
A Grand Feeling
I felt small when I walked through Ghent. The busy streets are lit in such a way that imparts a grand feeling to being there. By comparison Bruges felt like a popcorn city, a delicious snack that can be consumed quickly and without much thought; dependably enjoyable on the surface but ultimately unfulfilling on a deeper level.
Ghent is a place that begs you to look further, a multilayered city that makes you get to know her first before she tells you her secrets. With only two days there I still don’t know Ghent, but I do know there’s far more to this beautiful place than just what I experienced.
Ghent is a university city, a place where young people like to go out and the restaurants, bars, and long list of things to do reflect that. Just look at this person biking in 30 degree F weather (0 degrees C)! Not to mention all the outdoor restaurants, still busy despite the cold.
A Special Kind of Beer
I’m a huge fan of beer and I loved trying as many different kinds of Belgians as I could while staying reasonably able to walk a straight line. One beer that stood out was called Gueuze. It’s completely different from anything else I’ve ever tried. The beer tastes sour, and it’s treated as a kind of champagne by locals here. You must drink it slowly to begin to find any enjoyment, but once you find your acquired taste the beer becomes amazing. It can also be aged, and as years go by the beer’s taste slowly changes, often becoming either more muted or more sour depending on the variety.
Where to Stay in Ghent
While in Ghent I had the pleasure of staying in what quickly became one of my favorite hostels ever, Hostel Uppelink. The hostel has the sort of easy going, laid back vibe that I always look for when searching for a place to stay.
The building itself is huge. High ceilings impart a feeling of a grand space in keeping with the feel of Ghent itself, and the large windows provide hands down the best view from any hostel I’ve ever stayed. Such views imply a great location; the hostel is adjacent to the main square and in one of the most scenic parts of the city.
Other things I liked: The breakfast is good, the hostel bar has an assortment of Belgian beers from which you might choose, and owner Seppe is disarmingly friendly.
I loved Ghent and I’m already looking forward to returning someday.