Port of Ghent
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In medieval times, Ghent was second only to Paris in power and population. The source of its wealth was the making of cloth, using imported English wool. Ghent was also once a major trading port, due to its ideal location at the intersection of two rivers (Schelde and Leie) and along a network of connecting canals. Today, the waterways are used mostly for pleasure barges and sightseeing launches -- the latter recommended as an alternative to walking -- and the city's heady past is reflected in the richness of its civic, commercial, religious and residential architecture.
Ghent is reached via the cruise ports of Antwerp or Zeebrugge. (River boat passengers arrive just outside the city center.) No need to be cooped up in a bus there -- the best methods of transportation are two feet, two wheels or a boat. In fact, most of Ghent's historic center is car-free, and its narrow lanes are inviting to explore. And, when you're not walking, feel free to stare at the city's eclectic architecture -- whether it be the three towers of Ghent (the belfry, St. Bavo's Cathedral and St. Nicholas' Church), the foreboding Gravensteen Castle, the schizophrenic Stadhuis or the elegant facades along the Graslei and Korenlei Rivers.
Top Ghent Itineraries
Avalon Vista7 Night Tulip Time CruiseAmsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Ghent, Amsterdam, AmsterdamNow
AmaPrima7 night Tulip TimeAmsterdam, Ghent, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, AmsterdamNow
AmaStella7 night Tulip TimeAmsterdam, Ghent, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, AmsterdamNow
Avalon Artistry II7 Night Tulip Time CruiseAmsterdam, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Ghent, Amsterdam, AmsterdamNow
Viking Mimir9 Night Tulips & WindmillsAmsterdam, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Antwerp, Ghent, Amsterdam, AmsterdamNow
Where You're Docked
Large ships dock at Zeebrugge or Antwerp. At Zeebrugge, a large commercial port, most lines provide shuttle buses to Blankenberg railway station. Hourly trains run, via Brugge, to Ghent Sint-Pieters and on to Brussels. The fare to Ghent is about 14.60 euros, roundtrip, for the 45-minute ride. Seniors, except on summer weekends, pay only 4 euros, roundtrip, to any station in Belgium. The fare doubles on weekends but is still a bargain. The Belgian Coastal Tramway runs from Zeebrugge to Blankenberg and to the seaside resort of Ostend every 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the time of the year.
If you're docked at Antwerp, catch a train every half hour from Central Station to Ghent. The ride takes 50 minutes.
Ghent is also a stop on some river cruise itineraries, especially tulip season cruises. River boats dock less than a mile and a half (about two kilometers) from the city, and the transfer to the city center takes about 5 to 10 minutes. (Transportation is usually provided -- if not, a taxi is about 15 euros each way.)
There is nothing in the immediate vicinity of the Zeebrugge docks, except other cruise vessels and container ships. Don't expect to be able to walk from the ship to anywhere interesting. At Antwerp, the walk into the city is just a few minutes.
Good to Know
Be careful of your belongings when in crowds of people; otherwise, there is virtually no street crime.
From the fortress-style Ghent Sint-Pieters railway station, take trams 1, 10 or 11 into the city center. Note the hundreds of bicycles lined up in the forecourt -- they're intended for commuters, but anyone can use them, free of charge, as long as they're returned to the station. The half-hour walk (about two kilometers -- less than a mile and a half) into the center is also recommended, as the pleasant route follows a commercial shopping street (same as the tram route) and passes through the university quarter. By going one block left, you can also parallel one of the city's many canals, which are lined with barge-type houseboats. Once in the city center, everything is within easy strolling distance. The tourist bureau is located in the vaulted basement of the 14th century belfort (belfry) on Botermarkt. You will find maps and booklet of restaurants. Free toilet facilities are located adjacent.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Belgium uses the euro, and ATM machines are available in several locations throughout Ghent. Money exchange facilities are found in the train station, and an ATM is located next door at the post office. Kiosks, small stores and some transportation providers may not accept credit cards, so you should keep a stash of euros with you. Check www.xe.com for current exchange rates.
The official languages are Flemish and French, but many people speak some English. You should have no problems in locations that are geared toward tourists. In general, if you speak both English and French, use English when talking to Flemish speakers. Belgium experiences considerable tension between the Flemish (similar to Dutch) and Walloons (French), so you don't want to unknowingly offend someone.
Food and Drink
Best for Local Eats: Tete-a-Tete (Jan Breydelstraat 32) has a terrace room overlooking the canal. The restaurant serves Belgian cuisine with main dishes, ranging from 17 to 26 euros.
Best for a Light Meal: For something light, Brooderie (Jan Breydelstraat 8), opposite the Design Museum, offers two tiny tea rooms, serving freshly made soup with bread and vegetable pies for about 8 euros. Or, try Souplounge, located at Zuivelbrugstraat 6 (by the bridge), which is part of a chain of eateries that serve light meals and snacks at moderate prices.
Best for International Cuisine: La Malcontenta (Haringsteeg 7), in the Patersol area, serves cuisine from Spain and the Canary Islands, featuring main courses that range from 14 to 21 euros. Paellas are a specialty. If Spanish food isn't your thing, Patersol is filled with restaurants, so choices abound.
Belgian chocolates are great buys, but it's better to eat them on the spot than to pack them in your suitcase. For take-home souvenirs, handmade Belgian linens are your best bet.