Ghent Belgium offers castle tours, cathedrals, and a Time Lord

Ghent, Belgium: Attractions, tours, and even a Time Lord

It is past dusk on a warm summer's evening and the Belfry's haunting carillon bells ring out across the city of medieval architecture and shimmering canals. Visitors and residents stroll beneath Ghent's Belfort, occasionally glancing up at the Tower's clock face, but are unaware of the Time Guardian, who winds the clock, also alters time.

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Ghent, Belgium, lies 30 miles northwest of Brussels and is a remarkable Flemish city of medieval architecture, interconnecting canals, bridges and historical sites, such as the Belfort Tower. In fact, the city is often compared to Venice with its myriad of canals and outdoor seating cafes that interlace throughout the town. In the Middle Ages, Ghent was an important European city and second only to Paris in size.

Today the metropolis is a lively and bustling center with numerous fascinating sites, restaurants and activities to explore.

The old centre of the city is where visitors will find most of Ghent's attractions, walking tours and activities. The River Leie runs through the far Westside of the centre with the old trading harbor of the Korenlei on one side and the Graslei on the other. It is an excellent place to begin exploring and one of the finest views of the city with the former guild houses, outdoor cafes and Sint Michielsbrug (Church of Saint Michael).

Ghent Belfry Tower

After taking dozens of photos of this scenic location, walk east towards the Belfry from the Graslei side of the canal. The Belfry, located on Sint Baafsplein, was built in the 14th century to chime for assemblies, fights against the enemy, fires, denoting time and house the city's charters.

The tower, with its secret room and archeological excavations, has seen numerous structural and mechanical changes throughout the centuries, with a renovation completed in 1982 and the last bell added in 1993. Moreover, there is a magical air and look to the Belfry with its many levels, interesting history and harmonious bells. However, one of the most captivating aspects of the tower is Joris Rasemont, the Time Lord of Ghent. Rasemont daily winds the Carillion clock by hand; an arduous task that takes place in the highest reaches of the dragon-topped tower where doves fly through shafts of light against an almost gothic setting. Rasemont is truly a fascinating individual with strange timepiece rings he wears from around the globe (some from other centuries) and stories of his enthralling travels and experiences in the tower. He even changes time, on occasion...

The must-see Belfry is a UNESCO world heritage site and public tours are available; the city's tourist office is located in the basement.

Ghent Churches

Ghent Belgium offers castle tours, cathedrals, and a Time Lord
There are many lovely and remarkable churches in Ghent and Saint Bavo's Cathedral ((also known as Sint-Baafs Cathedral) is one of the finest, located directly across the square from the Belfry. The oldest parts of the cathedral date back to the 12th century with strong Gothic architecture and an exquisite marble and oak rococo pulpit from 1775. With 22 alters, fantastic sculptures, carving, wrought iron work and masterpiece paintings by the Van Eyck brothers and Rubens, it is a work-of-art museum, as well as a beautiful and magnificent cathedral.

Additional Churches to visit in the old centre that are a must visit, are Saint Nicolas located close to the Koren Markt; Saint Michael, located on the Korenlei by the Leie and Saint Jacob's a few blocks west of the Vrijdag Markt, or Friday Market.

Ghent's Friday Market

It is always fun to peruse and shop a city's outside market and Ghent's Vrijdag Markt, or Friday Market (open through Sunday) is no exception. The Friday Market is located off Kammerstraat and is filled with local hand-made jewelry, art, Belgium cheeses and meats, tasty local dishes, apparel and more.

Make sure to see if you can find a cart that sells the famous Cuberdons, or Nose of Ghent sweet gum. These treats are cone-shaped with a lovely dark purple/crimson shade and taste like candied berries. There are also little outdoor cafes close by the market, to sit outside and enjoy a coffee after finding a treasure to take home and watch the world go by.

Ghent's Tours and Attractions

A fun and relaxing way to see the city from spring to fall is to buy a boat trip ticket for a guided tour of the canals and sites. Multiple boat companies leave from the Korenlei, Graslei and several additional areas. They cruise through the waterways and provide interesting facts and stories on Ghent's sites and attractions, such as the Castle of the Counts. The tour last about 40 to 50 minutes and are a real price bargain, as well as excellent for taking photos.

One of Ghent's main attractions is its Gravensteen Castle, or Castle of the Counts, located on Sint Veerleplein. The unusual aspect of this castle is that it was built within the city centre, as opposed to the outskirts of town for defense. Built in 1180, the castle is in exceptional shape for its age, since it was constructed as more of a demonstration of wealth than for fortification against enemies. Visitors are able to walk through the incredible castle all the way up its narrow winding stairs to the crenellated top. Don't forget to tour the torture room that features all sorts of morose ways to correct behavior or obtain information (last used in 1861), such as the stretching wrack and the guillotine.

Off the beaten path but definitely worth a visit is the Museum of Industrial Archaeology and Textiles or Miat for short, located on Minnemeers, north of the Vrijdag Markt. The museum is housed in an old cotton mill and focuses mainly on technological changes in society over the last 250 years. On display is textile machinery, weaving machines, print demonstrations, an old mustard mill and a film theater that shows technological advances through the 20th century and how it affected everyday life.

Shopping in Ghent: Chocolate and more

To shop in Ghent is to indulge in Belgium chocolates, coffees and teas, chic fashions, specialty Belgium lace and multitudes of boutiques with unique products, such as Weyn's Honig Miel, or honey. This family-owned business, located on Gentsweg, focuses on holistic approaches to health using honey and honey products. With over 35 kinds of honey and divine honey candles and soap, this shop is a must-visit. If chocolate is your approach to health and happiness, visit Daskalides, located on Skaldenstraat. These rich, Belgium chocolates are the finest in Ghent and are available in scrumptious combinations, such as Flamme, a creamy concoction of dark coffee and rum-flavored ganache. The shop is beautiful and artistically adorned with Daskalides' signature chocolates throughout. Maybe coffee or tea is something that will fit nicely in your luggage and make a great gift, try Sao Paulo Koffie, located on Koestraat. Sao Paulo's coffee is superior and their bergamot tea is full-flavored and fragrant.

Perhaps you wish to purchase fine Belgium lace and fragrant Flemish lavender soaps. Stop by Kloskanthuis Home Linen, located on Korenlei by the canal. Handmade on the premises, this family-owned business is in its 32nd year with gorgeous lingerie, tablecloths, antique jewelry and a mixture of appropriate accessories.

Ghent, Belgium, has so much to offer visitors with enthralling cultural heritage, shopping, history, cuisine, walking and boat tours, historical sites, activities and most importantly, the indefatigable and wonderfully independent yet friendly Flemish people.
For additional information on Ghent, go to VisitFlanders or

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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular guest on Travel radio talk shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 23, 2016

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