In April I took my long-awaited trip to Ghent to visit my friend Mathilde, who was finishing up the second year of her PhD there. Lots of people told me that Ghent is “even more beautiful than Bruges” – pretty high praise considering that Bruges looks like a fairy tale come to life. After my experience, I would say that Ghent is more like the cooler older cousin of Bruges – just as good-looking, but with a Dutch hipster sensibility. 😉
After two short train rides from Paris, I met Mathilde at her very-cool loft-style apartment and we set out for a walk through the old town. Our first stop was the fry shop Frites Atelier, where I feasted on the most delicious fries covered in peanut sauce. I very quickly realized that people look at you funny when you try to speak French (which was sort of a relief haha!) because Ghent is very firmly in the Flemish side of Belgium. (Everyone seems to be blond and tall, and speaks either Flemish or English.) Somehow, I don’t remember Bruges feeling this Dutch, even if it was in the Flemish part of Belgium as well. After our fries, we went to a more traditional bar called Dulle Griet, which serves more than 500 kinds of beer, including one that you have to surrender your shoes for! Their “MAX” beer is served in a tall, hourglass-style glass that was so popular with tourists that they started stealing them. So now they require you to give over one of your shoes as collateral for the glass. We got normal beers, so we could keep our shoes, but they were still delicious. 😊
The next morning our mission was to have breakfast at a hipster brunch spot, and Mathilde directed us to Luv L’oeuf, which already had a long line of tall, blond people waiting to get inside. It was definitely worth the wait because the food was SO good! We both got waffles – mine with brie and bacon and sautéed pears, and Mathilde’s with delicious chili and cheddar cheese – along with some fancy teas and juices.
After spending the morning eating, Mathilde gave me a grand tour of the old town during the day, which was even more beautiful in the sunshine! On our way we stopped in the cutest kitchen and home good store called Dille & Kamille, which heartbreakingly does not ship to France. ☹ But I seriously do not care, for my next kitchen I’m coming back to buy all the knitted boiled egg covers and cute ceramic cooking instruments I never knew I needed but now desperately want. 😉
Afterwards we walked along the main canal, which was flanked by the most beautiful historic buildings, some of which date to the 11th and 12th centuries. We also stopped by the Gravensteen Castle, which looks exactly like the stereotypical medieval castle from every book or movie. We even managed to get a picture with a real knight, who I suppose was taking a break from defending the kingdom. 😉
Next we browsed some shops and enjoyed hot drinks at Le Bal Infernal, a combination cafe/used bookshop. Somehow there was still enough time before dinner to visit Gent Grutt Brewery, where we shared a sampling of five of their varieties: white, blond, amber, brown, and inferno (which was 9% ABV). I truly could not get over how delicious they were, and how different they all were from each other! There really is an art to beer-making and the Belgians definitely seem to know what they are doing.
Finally, after a day of eating and drinking and sightseeing, we went out to search for a place to have dinner and hit the mother load: a restaurant entirely dedicated to cheese! Talk about a genius concept! We ordered a baked cheese with herbs and a cheese platter to share, along with some fried cheese croquettes, and it was heavenly. 😊 We had to roll ourselves back to Mathilde’s place and then finished the night with some hot chocolate (just in case we hadn’t consumed enough dairy that day). 😉
So, I know it’s hard to believe but that was only day one! On day two, we enjoyed a lighter breakfast of pastries and stumbled upon a used book sale in an old church, before taking a magical boat tour on the canals! The guide repeated everything in English, French and Dutch, which was truly impressive, and it was so great to learn the history of the city in such a relaxing way.
For lunch we went to a very traditional restaurant that Rémi had recommended called Sint-Jorishof, where we both had the most delicious beer stew and fries. The most surprising part of the meal had to be the complementary dessert that came with Mathilde’s coffee. It consisted of some chocolate Easter eggs and two little cakes that looked like lemon tarts. Upon eating them however, it became clear that these were basically shots of alcohol! We asked the waiter what was going on and apparently the tarts were filled with Advocaat, a traditional Dutch drink made from eggs, sugar, and brandy. Clearly Belgians like to mix alcohol into all their food! 😛
Our last adventure of the day involved us scaling the Belfry of Ghent, a 14th century bell tower topped with a copper dragon. Miraculously for Europe, the belfry had an elevator that takes you most of the way up, where we were rewarded with incredible views of the city!
And just like that, it was time for me to return to Paris. I was so thankful to Mathilde for hosting me and showing me all the best parts of Ghent, I truly do not know how we packed all of this into two days. Especially with all the food breaks we took. 😉 So, is Ghent the coolest city in Belgium, as my click-baity title suggests? Of all the cities I’ve visited in Belgium (so just Ghent, Brussels, and Bruges), Ghent is definitely the one with the greatest concentration of hipster restaurants and cafes, and the one that feels the most “Dutch”, which is automatically cool. Plus, it’s gorgeous and historic and, most importantly, served as the temporary home of one of my coolest friends! So, taken together, I have to say that Ghent is indeed Belgium’s coolest city, hands down. 😊