Ghent, Belgium. 9000. “Negen duust”, like we call it. 257.000 awesome people, which makes it the second biggest city in Belgium (after Antwerp) in terms of inhabitants. As you might have guessed, I am of course one of them! I was born in Ghent and always came back to it growing up. Since the start of my psychology studies, I’ve lived alone (four years with my awesome, old cat though) in one of the most central parts of the city. Be aware, central doesn’t mean nice or very safe. Did you know Ghent has a red light district? You’ve guessed it right, welcome to my neighborhood! Still, I’ve loved all five years here. After I graduate, I have to figure out what I want to do and where I want to go. I might be ready for a new city, maybe even a new country. This doesn’t mean I don’t love Ghent anymore and in this series of blog posts I am going to give a few of the many, many reasons why this city should be on top of your wishlist!

I could give you a history lesson and tell you all about the origins and how there are archaeological remains that indicate the presence of a city going back to the Stone Age. Or I could just tell you it’s an amazing, pretty city with a long and rich past, a vibrant present and an exciting future. You can read all about the typical tips and tricks in other blogpost. In this post, I’ll try to give you some insight into the (sometimes small) reasons that make Ghent so great for me.

DE GENTSE FEESTEN

I have to get this out of the way. De Gentse Feesten (literally the Festival or Parties of Ghent) are my favorite time of the year. Everybody in our province (East-Flanders) knows this festival and has been at least once. Somehow the popularity of this events hasn’t crossed borders which still surprises me, given that it is the third biggest city festival in Europe. During nine or ten days (yes! NINE OR TEN DAYS) in the middle of July hundreds of artists perform on different stages and around 1 to 1.5 million people in total wander through the crowded streets and party the night away. Believe me, that’s a lot of people. During the day you can watch street performers giving their best. People are playing instruments, singing, dancing, showing off their acrobatic skills, doing comedy and so much more everywhere. You can learn how to dance salsa or other kinds of dance in and near the Baudelopark. At night, the biggest parties can be found near the Vlasmarkt and the Graslei or Korenlei (Polé Polé). When the outdoor music stops around 2 o’clock at night, you can stumble to one of the many bars at the Vlasmarkt which will keep you dancing until the sun’s come up and it’s probably already time for lunch. Be sure to check out the Spiegeltent if you’d like to discover upcoming musical talent, head down to Kouter to see the already more established bands and end the night swinging to the hippest beats at Polé Polé, overlooking the beautiful Leie.

In 2017, de Gentse Feesten will be held from the 14th until the 23rd of July. You should be there!

THE VEGAN CAPITAL OF BELGIUM

First, some information about me. I’m a vegetarian and I have been in a relationship with a vegan for over two years now. This means that I got to discover all the vegan food Ghent has got to offer. And you’d be surprised about all the places you can find plant-based pies and cakes, all you can eat vegan buffets and vegan fast food. I can’t possibly cover all the spots here but I can give you some idea of my favorite places. If you’re feeling really hungry, head down to Komkommertijd and indulge on soups, a warm and cold buffet and the cake or pie of the day. If you’re looking for a quick and cheap bite to eat, the new fast food concept V-box or le Botaniste are the way to go! Donuts, sushi, spaghetti? They’ve got everything! Feeling fancy and having some extra money to spend at the end of your trip? Order a multiple course vegan menu in restaurant Lof. You pay a little (or a lot) extra but your taste buds will be grateful. For a vegan breakfast or lunch, try to find Mie Vie, hidden away in the little streets of Ghent.

Is it a pie kind of day? (isn’t it always?) These are some of the places you can find pies that are plant-based and sometimes even healthy: Madam Bakster, Full Circle Coffee, Take Five, Moor&Moor, Or Café and many more. Unfortunately I don’t have enough impulse control to take pictures before I dive into my pies. So you’re stuck with the only one I could find, this bad quality one. 

Two extra tips: Bakery Frimout offers a wide variety of vegan pastries like croissants, donuts… Be aware, they’re unfortunately closed on weekends. Longing for some ice cream? Bar Italiano got you covered with a variety of flavors and even milkshakes!

LIVE MUSIC, EVERYWHERE

I’m pretty sure you can find a live music gig every night in Ghent if you know where to look. The many clubs and bars offer a wide variety of styles of music, going from pop to jazz to blues to metal. If you want to get a dance in to some jazz and blues bands, head down to the Hot Club de Gand, the Hotsy Totsy or Missy Sippy. These are all very charming bars with their own unique character. More a fan of the heavy works, feeling some psychedelic rock or metal? The Kinky Star is the place for you! Don’t be surprised if you’re surrounded by old, hairy punk fans and no, there’s not a real guy sticking out of the ceiling (just go and check it out if you want to know what I’m talking about). More a fan of pop rock or other genres, Café Video and the famous Charlatan have a lot of different styles to offer. Some other personal favorites are Café De Loge and Afsnis! The biggest benefit? Most of these gigs are completely free!

If these reasons aren’t enough to make you buy a flight to Belgium and head to Ghent straight away, I’ll cover some other strengths of the city in my next post of this series. I’ll tell you all about my favorite bars and places to party, take you on tour in the little, wobbly streets of Ghent and show you the great green places and canals this city has to offer.

Let me know if you’ve been to Ghent or have any plans to travel to Belgium in the nearby future! Are there other things about the city you’d like to know? I’m always open to suggestions and feedback!

See you all soon!