Like any other city popular with tourists, Ghent has its fair share of major attractions. As one of the largest cities in the Flanders region of Belgium, you’ll find plenty of sights to see on a typical city break. Look at any list of essential sights to see in Ghent, including mine, and you’re bound to see the same places coming up again and again. Every visitor to Ghent should see these sights, from Gravensteen Castle to the Belfry and the canals. But what about the new and unusual Ghent sights?
One of the benefits of visiting friends who live elsewhere is they can show you places you’d never find on your own. This sort of local knowledge is invaluable. So with my two recent visits to I’ve been shown a number of unusual Ghent sights that likely would never have crossed my radar otherwise. With that in mind, I thought I’d pay it forward and share them with you too.
1. Holy Food Market
How often can you say that you’ve had tapas or beers in a church? Well after a visit to Holy Food Market, you can say you have. Only just opened in 2017, I actually visited this food court inside a church during its opening week. Around the sides of the converted church are food stalls with various cuisines including tapas, portuguese and japanese. But you can also find local favourites too, including scrumptious croquettes, which are hard to pass up.
Down the centre aisle sits a bar where you’re able to get a drink, which can feel a little wrong the first time. Although downstairs is mostly small bar tables and standing room only, upstairs you’ll find a more typical restaurant style of seating. When I went back after Christmas it was still decorated festively. If you’re after a different culinary experience in Ghent, this is a pretty great place to be.
2. New Ghent Library
A very new addition to the city of Ghent, the new city library is sure to be a real hit with its modern design. Only unveiled in March of 2017, the De Krook public library is a vast improvement over the old city library. In fact the building has already won architectural prizes for its incredible design. The library building hosts not only the usual library services, but also a cafe, study rooms and the offices of several institutions.
The new library was part of a revitalisation project for this stretch of the Muinkschelde canal. There still remains some work to be done landscaping the edges but once finished, should become a popular outdoor space in summer. From the upper floors, you can also score a pretty great view to the church towers and belfry of the city, but be careful to not disturb people. It is a library after all.
3. The Troll Pub
Go to Ghent and your spoiled with choice when it comes to bars and beer cafes. I mean, it’s Belgium. One of the more idiosyncratic pubs in Ghent is Trollekelder, which basically means the Troll Cellar. So it should be no surprise then that this pub is decorated with a whole bunch of funny little trolls. While the decor may seem a little kitsch at first, the three-storey pub quickly warms on you.
Like most Belgian pubs you can expect table service, as well as a great long beer list to choose from. But since you’re at a troll pub, why not at least try a Cuvee Des Trolls tripel beer. Strangely, despite both being troll themed, there’s no other connection.
4. Ghent Begijnhof
Before my visits to Belgium, I’d never heard of a beguinage before. Known as a begijnhof in Dutch, a beguinage was essentially a community for religious women who were single, whether unmarried or widowed. These beguinages are quite distinctive in Belgium, because of their close-knit streets and buildings, all made from brick and often painted collectively the same. While the best known beguinages in Belgium are probably in Bruges and Leuven, the Saint Elisabeth Begijnhof of Ghent is less well-known.
East of Gravensteen castle, the small neighbourhood is decked with boldly painted brick houses and the humble atmosphere you find in all beguinages. Although it’s really only a few hundred metres from common tourist spots, chances are it’ll be pretty quiet. Definitely a place to get some beautiful photos, not to mention culturally intriguing.
5. The Toilet Roll
Of all the ways for a museum to grab the attention of potential visitors, a giant toilet roll out the front is kind of unusual, but likely effective. And that’s what passersby will see when they pass the Design Museum of Ghent. The story behind the toilet roll, as I understand it, is one of protest against the local government. Basically, after being denied an extension by the local authorities, the museum decided to harness the Belgian sense of humour to get back at them. The result – a giant toilet roll art installation over a new toilet wing where the extension was meant to go.
To sum up the museum’s feelings towards the local government, you can see the phrase “De Pot Op” mounted above. The basic sentiment of this saying is “Go to Hell” although there’s some Dutch wordplay involved, which really piles on to the passive-aggressive message of the scene. The expansion has since been approved and possibly may be starting in 2018, so check it out while you can.
6. Graffiti Street
If there’s a chance to find some street art in a city, I’m all for it. Although there are some pieces around town, I was fully unprepared for Graffiti Street. More of an alley than a street, Werregarenstraat cuts between several streets of the city centre of Ghent. All down the alley you’ll find wild and wonderful graffiti and street art, if you can find it.
7. The Steyaert Architect Building
This last choice as one of the most unusual Ghent sights may just appeal to me, but I’m going to include it anyway. Although truly enchanting, much of the architecture of Ghent is fairly predictable, which isn’t a bad thing. However, when I was shown the above building designed by Dirk and Frank Steyaert on Prinsenhof, I was well and truly surprised. Surely no one expects a striking modernist building in the backstreets of somewhere like Ghent. And yet, there it was. When trying to find out more about this building, I learned that this architect/artist pair also have a gallery which is equally as eye-catching.
What do you think of these unusual Ghent sights? If you’ve been to Ghent, what other sights would you suggest? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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