Ghent, Belgium was one of the first towns I visited in my travels, and I’ve been in love with it ever since. There’s plenty to do there, tons of history and really delicious food, but one of my favorite things to do is to just wander the streets of Ghent at night. The medieval and gothic buildings all lit up with lights make the town look like something right out of a fairytale.
Ghent was once one of the largest and most prosperous cities in Europe, something which is still evident around the old town to this day. particularly with the Three Towers of Ghent in the heart of the Old Town – Saint Nicholas’ Church, Het Belfort van Gent (The Ghent Belfry), and Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. Bruges, not far away, is possibly more popular, although they look very similar. As it was put to me, Bruges is for tourists while Ghent is for the locals.
During the day, there are countless attractions to visit. You can view Van Eyck’s masterpiece – the Ghent Altarpiece – in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, climb the 350 steps to the top of the Belfry, take a walking tour along the canals and through the street art alleyways, or indulge on Belgian chocolate at Café Barista and Texan ribs at Amadeus.
However, it’s at night when the city really starts to shine.
Ghent is built on the confluence of the Rivers Scheldt and Leie, both of which meander around the town. Typical of cities in this region of Europe, there are several canals. As such, there are a lot of waterfront properties.
At night, many of these properties come to life, lit up from below by recessed lights on the streets. The result is a truly enchanting backdrop with reflections on the water.
After having dinner in the hip Patershol district (I’d highly recommend the aforementioned Amadeus restaurant), head to the 10th-century Gravensteen Castle. It might not be as grand as the castles in Germany or Luxembourg, but it still looks great reflected in the moat at night.
From there, head south to the Old Fish Market, now the Tourism Information Center. The baroque building was built in 1689 and features a statue of Neptune standing on the roof over the entrance. In the square outside, there is a very special street lamp which lights up every time a baby is born in the nearby hospital – something much easier to see at night.
Now make your way down to the Grasbrug Bridge where you’ll see some of the most iconic houses of Ghent. On the west bank of the canal, you’ll see a red-brick building now used as a front to a very modern Mariott Hotel. There are two swans on the facade. If they were facing each other, they would form a heart and symbolize love. As they’re facing away, they depict the opposite, proclaiming the building as originally being a brothel. Across the canal from this is one of Ghent’s smallest buildings – formerly the Tax Office.
You’ll probably notice the roofs have a peculiar design, almost looking like steps. They were in fact stairs, once used by the chimney sweeps of old. The number of steps were indicative of how wealthy the family was.
Finally, continue south to Sint-Michielsbrug Bridge where you can see the Three Towers all in a row. It’s hard to say which one is most stunning, and they get better as you walk beneath them. Around their bases, you’ll also find the 19th-century post office (now a bohemian shopping center), the Town Hall, and the slightly-too-modern Stadshal event venue, all of which are beautifully lit up at night.
The above route is only about half a mile, but there are plenty of other walking streets, canals, churches, and parks to wander through at night. There are also plenty of bars, beer gardens, and restaurant terraces to ship wine at, but why spend time at those when you could be meandering around the streets of Ghent.