After my lovely few days spent near Utrecht, I met my sister and brother-in-law in the northern Belgium city of Ghent in June 2018. I’d been here before for a few hours with my friends in January and we were all impressed, so when I described it to my sister and brother in law they were keen to visit. They both really like beer too, which helps.
The weather couldn’t have been any better, or more different from the cold rainy few hours I spent here in January – it was glorious. Similarly to Utrecht, the main railway station gives a false impression of the city it serves, being a fairly uninspiring grey place on the edge of town. We caught one of the modern trams from outside the station to near the AirBnB we were staying at, a quirky little place about 10 minutes walk from the centre but perfectly adequate for the little time we were going to spend in it.
A short walk along some quiet back streets and we crossed St. Michael’s Bridge, one of the main gateways to the city and your first view of the Liei canal that runs through the centre. There are historic buildings everywhere, including the imposing town hall which we admired from a seat outside a pub opposite. Here we had the first of many delicious beers, and where we were given a very thorough run through of the extensive beer menu by a most friendly waiter.
One of the best ways to see Ghent is by canal cruise, and we took one of these to get our bearings of the city while enjoying the commentary from our captain, Jan. There’s an extensive network of canals and we spent an hour or so cruising up and down, with the most beautiful views of the castle from the water a particular highlight (cover photo).
Away from the canals there are squares both large and small, all surrounded by a plethora of cafes and pubs serving the best beer in the world. The beers are all strong, most 6% or higher up to the almost suicidal ones in the mid-teens. We tried different ones in each place, drinking halves and quite slowly so as to avert a messy end to the evening. Sitting outside a pub overlooking the canal in the evening sun as small boats pass by – bliss. We rounded the evening off at a slightly strange local bar called Hotsy Totsy near our AirBnB where we played pool and drank rose wine – just for a bit of a change from the beer.
The next day we visited Saint Bavo’s cathedral which isn’t anything special as far as cathedrals go, but does house the beautiful and fascinating Ghent Altar Piece by Van Eyck. We also climbed to the top of the belfry which gives fabulous views of the city from all sides.
The rest of the day was spent sauntering in the sun, with pit-stops for beer and snacks – a popular Ghent snack seemed to be cubes of cheese and salami – which was disconcertingly pink – but I have to admit it did go very well with a beer. We rounded off our tasting experience at the Gentse Gruut, a slightly ramshackle brewery down a side street where we had a small sample of all of their beers, including the incredibly potent and aptly named “Inferno”.
After that it was back to the station and a train to Brussels for our Eurostar back to London – with a warm glow of satisfaction from a lovely weekend of sightseeing, sunshine and supping.