Explore My City: Ghent
Hi! We are Maarten, Annick & Febe, a Belgian family with a passion for traveling. Whenever possible, we set out to discover a part of our world, often taking Túrin, our fluffy fourth family member along with us. When traveling, we try to keep a focus on UNESCO World Heritage sites, nature and wildlife, local people, food and traditions. Ghent is the city we were born and raised in.
Ghent, or Belgium for that matter, might not be on your bucket list, but I’m about to explain why it should be. And you’ve got plenty of reasons to bring along your kids!
Ghent is a city rich in stunning architecture, mostly from the (late) Middle Ages. It’s a cosy town, where everything is walking distance. It feels like a village, but it’s a vibrant city. Walking alongside its canals, visiting one or more museums or sampling Belgium’s finest beers – you’ve got plenty of fun things to do as an adult. Here’s what we think you should do with your kids!
1. Activities with Kids in Ghent
Concrete Canvas Tour
One of the nicest ways to explore the city centre without boring your children, is taking the “Concrete Canvas Tour”. You can pick up a free map at the Tourist office (St. Veerleplein, Oude Vismijn) and choose to walk or bike around the city, looking for street art along the way. Ghent is famous for Roa, who was also born and raised here, and Bué. They are both very different in style, but kids love them both. Numerous other artists have left their mark in our city as well.
Medieval history and a bit of torture
The Castle of Counts lies smack in the middle of our city, making it a very unique location. You can visit the castle, which has an interesting tour, a fascinating torture room and an exhibit of armour. The castle walls provide you with lovely sights of the city and the canals.
For the best view: go UNESCO
Part of the Unesco World Heritage, our Belfry offers the best views in the city. You can climb all the way up to the platform beneath the clocks – just below the gold dragon that watches over us.
Row, row, row your boat
You don’t have to actually row yourself, but the boat tours that leave from Graslei, Korenlei or Kraanlei give you a guided tour from the waterfront. Children love exploring this way, and you get a good deal of history while you’re at it.
For the more sporty types, there’s also the opportunity to row the boat yourself. You can find all the info here.
Ghent has plenty of musea to keep you busy for a while, but we find the two best to visit with children are STAM (a very modern and interactive museum about the history of the city) and Designmuseum (with a fun ‘find the playmobil’ tour for children and often great activities for them in the temporary exhibits).
2. Food for Kids in Ghent
While the adults will obviously want to try some Belgian beers (our recommendations are Gruut, Gulden Draak, Liefmans Kriek and Augustijn – though best not all at once!), there’s plenty of lovely food to try while you’re around.
The candy of our city. Neuzekes, meaning noses, can be found at Groentenmarkt, where you’ll always find two stalls selling them. The cone shaped candy has a bit of a violet taste, with a liquid cream inside. Buy a bag to snack on while you’re strolling around.
At Kraanlei 79 you’ll find Temmerman, a tiny candy shop in a lovely old house. They make traditional Ghentian & Belgian candy.
Ice – cream @ Graslei
When the weather is good, do as the locals do: buy some food and drinks, and eat them at Graslei (or Korenlei, which has the better views and is less crowded). For the children nothing beats an ice cream to lick on while taking in the sights. You can find a large selection at Damass, Korenmarkt.
And if that all wasn’t sweet enough…
… then you don’t want to miss out on the delicious cupcakes and pies of Julies Houses (Kraanlei). They almost look to good to be eaten!
Fancy something savoury?
I’m pretty certain there’s a lot of food in town that children will love. Numerous eateries have ‘stoverij’ on the menu, a traditional beef stew with a beer sauce. The alcohol is evaporated in the cooking process, so it’s safe to serve it to your minors 😉 If they dig spaghetti, head over to Kastart in Onderbergen – but there might be a queue at lunchtime. Closeby, at Jacobijnenstraat, you’ll find Balls ‘n Glory: traditional Belgian meatballs, filled with a liquid filling that changes daily. They can be eaten with ‘stoemp’ (mashed potatoes with veggies) or a salad. Their homemade lemonade is a treat!
But the one thing you must try when in Belgian are fries from a “frietkot”, or fries shop. The best ones in the centre are the tiny one in one of the shops tucked alongside the meathouse (Groentenmarkt) or the old stall on Vrijdagmarkt. Try to have a pack of fries with mayonaise, with a frikandel (for the adults make that a frikandel speciaal).
3. Need some air?
If all that city exploring has left your children with a cultural hangover, you might want to head a little outside the city centre for some extra fun.
Blaarmeersen is a large recreational area. It has a big lake, a campsite, a beach, a playground and numerous possibilities to sport. It’s the place to be when the weather is hot!
Have a rainy day? Head to the other side of town and go swimming at Rozebroeken. This swimming pool has a regular 50m pool, but also has a tropical lagoon, with a lot of slides and a huge toddler area. In summertime their outdoor water playground is also open.
4. Fancy a party (or two)?
Every year in July, the city of Ghent transforms into one big festival. Most of it is free. You can see concerts, street theater, fireworks and parades during the 10 day festival “Gentse Feesten”. It starts the Friday before the 21st of July.
There are ups and downs to this festival. First of all, the city is packed with visitors. Last year 1.38 million people attended the festival. This means accommodation has to be booked well in advance, and it also means the city is very crowded. The city is also packed with stages, so you don’t get the best view of all the sights.
The ups are the tons of free stuff to do, and sometimes you can see very good (Belgian) bands for free or for a couple of €. Boomtown and Polé Polé are probably the two best spots to look out for!
With young children I wouldn’t recommend it – certainly not when you’re staying in the city (you will lack some sleep). Teenagers will love it though!
Bear in mind that in the period just after Gentse Feesten a lot of restaurants and local shops close down for their annual holiday. They need their rest after those 10 days!
Wow, I don’t know about you but I am salivating at all these great food ideas visiting Ghent! Thanks so much to Annick and her family for sharing with tips and ideas for visiting Ghent with kids. Watch out for our next Explore My City, coming out every Sunday over Summer 2016 – subscribe here so you don’t miss a post!