Beer and a Bit of Culture: Exploring Ghent in 48 hours

Ghent at night

Thrifty’s my name, thrifty’s my game, so when I stumbled across the unbelievably cheap prices to Ghent from London on a Megabus (they’re not that bad…honest) I couldn’t say no, and promptly snapped up a couple of return tickets. I mean, six hours is nothing when you’re in good company and have a decent supply of music, wine gums and a bottle of red wine.

So, after booking a great priced airbnb located in the heart of the city (literally a ten second walk away from the beautiful St. Michael’s Bridge) my friend and I made our way to London’s Victoria station and embarked on our journey to the land of incredible beer, chocolate, waffles and…Bicky – a seemingly staple diet for the Belgian youth, which basically comprises of a sugar bun holding the deep-fried remnants of a mammal, covered in mayonnaise and grotte pakje friet AKA large fries. It has to be tried at least once, if not only for the fantastic layer of film it leaves on the inside of your mouth and nausea!

After arriving in Ghent and dropping off our bags, we needed to wet our whistle and stumbled upon a wonderfully authentic little jazz bar next door to our accommodation on the corner of Sint-Michielsstraat called Café Bornhem that served (as is always the case in Ghent) a great selection of beers and spirits and also had a piano where we played Crystal Waters’ seminal Gypsy Woman to our hearts content (much to the dismay of the other punters).

Our first stop was to visit S.M.A.K. (The Municipal Museum of Contemporary art) to see the Ghent-born artist Berlinde De Bruyckere exhibition consisting of some of her drawings, paintings, sculptures and installation works, and can safely say, without doubt, it was the greatest exhibition I’ve ever seen. Word of warning though, her works are not for the faint hearted.

Berlin De Bruyckere

Berlin De Bruyckere

S.M.A.K. Art Museum, Ghent
Our next stop was a place we kept hearing people mention when we asked where some of the best places to grab a great beer were – De Trollekelder AKA The Troll Cellar. Located just opposite the church on the east side of Vrijdagmarkt, De Trollekelder is a beautifully atmospheric bar, dark, wooden with lots of nooks and crannies located in an ancient merchants house. With over 140 different beers to choose from, you’re sure to find one that tickles your fancy. We found plenty and proceeded to devour the array of cured sausages they had hanging behind the bar.

Ghent, beers

By the evening we ventured over to another bar that kept cropping up in conversation, the Dulle Griet. Located on Vrijdagmarkt, the Dulle Griet offers the largest beer selection in Ghent, serving over 260 beers. We’d heard that one of the drinks called the Kwak required you to hand in your right shoe as a deposit, where the staff proceeded to ring a bell, and place your shoe in a basket that drops down from the ceiling, and is then hoisted up to the ceiling, until the contents of the Kwak (which is shaped like a giant test-tube and filled with surprisingly great beer) is empty! Why not? Yes, it’s clearly aimed at the tourists, but it’s great fun, especially looking at other willing participants stumbling about with only one shoe on – that beer is strong!

If graffiti’s your thing, head on down to Werregarrenstraat or Graffiti Street which was set up by the Ghent city council to combat the increasing problem of graffiti within the city. The walls are a free-for-all, so if you’re feeling particularly creative, then bring along a spray can and get stuck in!

Werregarrenstraat, street art, Ghent

If you’re looking for a night out in Ghent away from the tourists and city centre, then head on over to Overpoort, Ghent’s student district. Like any student district within a city, Overpoortstraat is lined with bars, clubs, restaurants and takeaways. According to some of the locals we spoke to in Ghent, Overpoort is usually bustling with life however unfortunately for us we arrived smack bang in the middle of the university holidays, so it was positively dead.

The great thing about Ghent is that even if you haven’t organized a list of must-see sites – which we most certainly didn’t – the city itself provides wonder on every corner. This is a fairy-tale land personified. Gothicism, gargoyles, elaborate stone masonry and labyrinthine back streets that weave their way through the city illuminated by dingy street lights. If you close your eyes and listen hard enough, you can almost hear the echoes of its medieval past.

Have you been to Ghent? Would you include anything else?

Guest post by Alex Shaw, a 20-something London dweller who works in the music industry. 

Alex shaw

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

'Beer and a Bit of Culture: Exploring Ghent in 48 hours' have 12 comments

  1. July 25, 2015 @ 9:29 am Richard

    Great city, great post and great title. I went on my stag do in 2010 to Ghent and vaguely remember handing over my left shoe in return for a beer. We went in summer too, so the student areas were quiet but the canal side was great for outdoor drinking in the sun.


    • July 25, 2015 @ 1:12 pm Shing Yoong

      I bet the pub accumulates a fair amount of uncollected odd shoes! Haha, the title may or may not have been inspired by a particular blog 😉


  2. July 27, 2015 @ 9:50 am Sarah Alexandra George

    Great post Alex!

    I’ve wanted to go the Ghent for a while – looks so pretty! What are the sculptures made of? They look so lifelike.. have you been to the Bodies exhibition? I feel like you’d enjoy that 🙂


    • July 30, 2015 @ 6:09 pm Shing Yoong

      Do Ghent! But would you upgrade to the Eurostar though? Haha.
      I think the sculptures were made of wax Sarah! Noooo neither of us have seen the Bodies exhibition but of course we’d love to!!


  3. July 28, 2015 @ 3:08 pm Claire Hall

    Awesome! We did Ghent on the Megabus Easter 2014, I wrote a short post for our blog at work on it here Our friend is from Ghent and he took us to a rave at Voorhuit (uber cool, Brixton Academy style venue) and I discovered my love for beer here (proper beer). Jamie (le boyf) said I can’t go to Belgium and not drink beer, and I haven’t looked back since! I am drooling at your photo of beer. I LOVED Ghent. We visited the Gravensteen too (the castle) which had a pretty gory torture chamber. And we saw the graffiti street! Here’s my pics if interested 😀


    • July 30, 2015 @ 6:23 pm Shing Yoong

      I am yet to discover my love for beer Claire – it doesn’t help when the tiniest bit of alcohol gives me the WORST Asian flush ever! – but I will hopefully discover it when I eventually visit Ghent! Loved your photos too! If only my other half spent more time taking photos and less time emptying Ghent’s beer barrels… ; )


      • July 31, 2015 @ 11:35 am Claire Hall

        Aww that’s not good! At least no hangovers, ever! You should definitely follow in Alex’s footsteps though. Such a gorgeous little city. Glad you liked my pics! I know you have lots of people to reply to so wasn’t expecting that you’d get the chance 🙂


  4. July 29, 2015 @ 9:57 am Victoria@ The British Berliner

    A lovely post! I haven’t yet been to Ghent but I have been to Belgium a few times. It’s a really tiny country with a huge heart and always a pleasure to visit. I ought to go again soon!


    • July 31, 2015 @ 8:43 am Shing Yoong

      I completely agree Victoria, Belgium’s a tiny country with so many offerings! I really want to go again too!


  5. July 29, 2015 @ 5:21 pm Claire Hall

    Shing – have you seen this!?

    PS, like your redesign 🙂


    • July 31, 2015 @ 8:45 am Shing Yoong

      Darn, I wish I had gone instead of my bf! I would suggest the link to him but he spent too much time drinking beer and taking blurry photos 🙂

      P.S. Thank you, I’m really happy you like it Claire!


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