Top ten Ghent

Date Posted: 16/02/2012

Flanders Travel Forum 2012, hosted by Tourism Flanders-Brussels, provided the chance for Melissa Cadby to explore the Flemish city of Ghent. Read on to discover ten top highlights to fill the itinerary on your next group holiday…

1. Gent-Watertoerist: A river cruise offers a great introduction to the historic city for those enjoying a group break, providing that the river isn’t frozen over as it was during my visit in early February.Gent-Watertoerist offers both covered and open boats on a choice of tours, taking in the beautiful house fronts of the Graslei, the old meat market, and the rugged, steep walls of the Castle of the Counts. Concessions are available for groups of 20 or more.

2. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb at Saint Bavo Cathedral: Otherwise known as the Ghent Altarpiece, this colourful 15th century van Eyckartwork can currently be found within a guarded chapel at the Saint Bavo Cathedral. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb has been described as the most frequently stolen artwork in history, as the object of 13 crimes over six centuries, including six separate thefts, one of which was ordered by Hitler himself. Group travel organisers should note that parties of 15 plus receive discounted entry to view the large and complex treasure. Saint Bavo Cathedral forms part of the iconic Three Towers of Ghent, along with the Belfry and Saint Nicholas’ Church.

3. Gruut Brewery: Those organising group travel arrangements should know that a visit to Belgium is not complete with sampling its world-renowned beers. City brewery Gruut is located in the very heart of Ghent, and is distinctive for two reasons – it is run by a female brewer, and the beer is made using special herbs and spices instead of the traditional hop. Though I don’t know about the science behind its claims to be healthy, a bottle makes for a thirst-quenching drink and nice memento to take home. Groups with a minimum of eight can experience a talk on the brewing process, plus tasters paired with local speciality produce.

4. STAM – Ghent City Museum: This new museum on the Bijloke, opened in the autumn of 2010, markets itself as the gateway to the city. Its permanent displays, housed in a 14th century abbey, tell the story of Ghent’s past, present, and future through 300 objects, whilst temporary exhibitions shed light on various aspects of urbanity, and can be found in the adjoining 17th century monastery. Tours from English-speaking guides can be arranged for between 15 and 20 people, and entry can be covered by the Ghent Museum Pass.

5. Castle of the Counts: The imposing Castle of the Counts, translated from the Dutch name Gravensteen, was built by Philip of Alsace in 1180, and overlooks the city from its battlements high up on the keep. Once inside, groups can discover medieval prison life, weaponry, armoury, and torture chambers. A digital tour is available to bring the history to life, and parties of 15 or more are entitled to discounted entry.

6. Ghent University Botanical Garden: Green-fingered group travel organisers should ensure that a visit to Ghent University Botanical Garden is on the schedule. Student botanists look after more than 10,000 plant species across a 2.75 hectare site, and the scenic greenery, with its tropical and sub-tropical greenhouses, provides a tranquil respite from city sightseeing. Entry is free, and additional tours with an English-speaking trained guide are available to introduce your party to the most captivating of the garden’s flora and fauna.

7. The Belfry: This 91-metre medieval bell tower forms part of the aforementioned Three Towers of Ghent, and is also known as the proudest symbol of the city’s independence, being home to the civil privileges that the city received in 1180. In a nod to its industry, the gothic Cloth Hall is attached to the Belfry, and guided visits of the historic attraction run every day at 3.30pm for a maximum of 25 people. Of interest to those in search of cheap group travel, discounts for groups of 15 or more visitors are applicable on standard entry.

8. S.M.A.K: The Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its bold and original exhibitions of both Belgian and international artists, including Hockney, Bacon, and Beuys. Several walking and talking tours of the museum are available, including the XL tour with its workshop; Word and Image with a city excursion; and the Active Museum Tour. Discounted admission is available for groups of 15 plus, and S.M.A.K is another attraction covered by the Ghent Museum Pass.

9. Saint Nicholas’ Church: The Tournai bluestone and turreted exterior architecture of Saint Nicholas’ Church, the last of Ghent’s tower trio, is a prominent landmark in Ghent. Inside, groups can explore free-of-charge, taking in the on-going restoration project, and one of the church’s gems - its organ, created by the high-regarded French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll.

10. Shopping: The region’s main shops are situated in the Veldstraat area, but all over the city you'll find stores selling designer clothing, gifts, and local delicacies. Don't miss the 19th century Confiserie Temmerman, selling its famous nose-shaped candy, or Tierenteyn, a speciality mustard shop. Ghent’s town crier leads group trips on a free walk along six typical markets on a Sunday morning, from May till September, departing from the Kouter at 11am.

Photo credit: Tourist Office Ghent

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