The medieval city of Ghent in the northern part of Belgium is a quaint, but rather large city that should be a tourist stop on everyone’s agenda.
Here’s a little more information about Ghent and Belgium for those that don’t know much about it:
During the Middle Ages, Ghent was a prominent city-state, but today it is a university town and cultural hub. With a population of almost 600,000 inhabitants, it ranks as Belgium’s second largest city behind Brussels. Located about 35 miles west of Brussels and southwest from Antwerp at the confluence of the Schledt and Leie Rivers, it became one of the largest and richest cities in northern Europe with some 50,000 people in the 1300’s. Belgium’s currency is the euro and they are known best for creating the French fry and their superb beer. Although there is not much of a nature scene in the city of Ghent, you can find a better nature scene filled with forests found not too far in the south of Belgium.
First Impressions of Ghent
One of the first things I noticed about Ghent is the cleanliness of the city. Unlike other European cities I’ve visited, Ghent was very well taken care of and kept up to its standard of excellence. There was virtually no garbage on the streets and no graffiti to be seen.
Ghent is reasonably affordable. It’s not the cheapest city in Europe, and matter of fact, it’s probably in the more expensive half of cities in terms of affordability. However, with that being said, it’s not outrageously expensive for what it provides as a city. Expect to pay around $25-30 for a hostel near the city center. For those looking to live in Ghent for an extended period, check out Workaway because there are always plenty of opportunities in Ghent. If not, expect to pay anywhere from $300-450 a month on rent for a basic apartment room.
An average “fast food” meal can cost anywhere from $6-8. For example, a meal at Subway consisting of a 6-inch sub with a drink and chips will run you $6.45. You can get a cheap burger with Belgian fries for as little as $3.50, but more quality fast food burgers and fries can be found for around $5.50.
Groceries in Ghent depend heavily on where you shop. There are cheaper stores originating out of Holland scattered throughout Ghent. But other than those, expect to pay close to the same price everywhere.
A meal out may cost anywhere between $10-$17 for a nice, traditional Belgian meal. Public transportation is fairly expensive. The bus fare is $3.30 for a one hour long ticket period. A train to neighboring cities of Brussels, Antwerp, or Brugge will cost about $15-$20 for a round trip, second class seat (however, the good part is that it is only about a 30-minute ride to either of those cities).
As for the world-famous Belgian beers, expect to pay quite a bit. For an average Belgian beer at a bar, it can cost you between $3.70 and $4.70 for a third of a pint. You can buy a quality fourth pint of Belgian beer at the store for around $1.30. And then there’s the infamous Cara Pils which you can buy for $0.55 for a fourth of a pint, but careful; you get what you pay for.
The city of Ghent is a Dutch-speaking city. The majority of the people in Belgium speak English fluently and very well. At the beginning of my stay in Ghent, I began every conversation or question with, “Do you speak any English?”. By the end of my stay, I became comfortable with just starting the conversation in English. I’d say 95% of the people I’ve run into in the city have been very good at communicating in English. Most even prefer to speak English with me as a way to practice.
My favorite thing about the city of Ghent, besides the medieval city center, which is beautiful and easy to navigate by foot, is the cycling culture in the city. Being a student city and the fact that having a Driver’s License is so expensive in Europe, Ghent has adopted a culture of riding bikes. The city seemingly has a perfect layout for public transport, pedestrian, cars, and of course, cyclists. If you’re going to be in Ghent for more than a week rent a bike. It’s fun and saves you a ton of money since everything is just about in biking distance.
Free Wi-Fi can generally be found fairly easy, especially around city center with a little bit of searching. I never had a problem finding Wi-Fi while in Ghent.
I would describe Ghent as a city that is ahead of its time in philosophy and culture. But Ghent likes to remain at its roots for the look and style of the city. It is a unique place to visit and an even more unique place to live. If you ever get the chance, Ghent is highly recommended.