Belgium isn’t the largest country in Europe. It’s a petite country crammed full of beautiful old cities, filled with aging merchant houses, wide canals, and an evident influence from the Dutch in the north, the Germans to the east, and the French to the south.
Given the number of geographical influences, and the unique identity that Belgium has from its own traditions, it’s not entirely too surprising that Belgium is a complex country full of an immeasurable number of interesting things to see and do, regardless of the size of the landmass.
To enjoy any of the numerous things to do in Belgium, there are several cities you can go to. Brussels is an interesting city that exemplifies European culture in the run-of-the-mill ways in which people enjoy life – food, drink, and shopping – whilst remaining a worthwhile destination for partying and enjoying the alternative side of life.
One city in particular that is a prime destination for alternative travellers is Ghent, a city only a short train ride away from the more popular tourist destination of Bruges, yet arguably as historically beautiful.
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Ghent is Just As Beautiful as Bruges
Bruges gets all of the attention from rambling travellers and tourist-filled tour groups because so much of the historical centre appears as it did when first constructed. It’s quite the picture-postcard city, hence the inclusion of the city onto the UNESCO Heritage List in the year 2000.
Ghent, on the other hand, is particularly of interest to alternative travellers, as it’s far quieter than its neighbour, it’s more of an ‘off-the-path’ destination, and is filled with an alternative culture focus that is evident from the food, the street art, the culture, and the high admiration the city has for music (which you can see at the Ghent Festival).
Ghent Festival Is Unlike Almost All Others
Every year there’s a huge festival in Belgium that attracts thousands of music enthusiasts who party the night away, day after day. Right now, you’re probably thinking of the notorious electronic music festival, Tomorrowland, but it’s not what I’m referring to.
In Ghent every year – and held every year since 1843 – is an incredible music festival unlike Tomorrowland and most other festivals. Rather than a hastily put together stage in a muddy field somewhere, Ghent Festival is a collection of dozens of stages and bars/cafes converted into venues that are within the historical centre itself.
Walking into one of the several old market squares in the centre, you’ll more than likely find a stage or two, plus a half dozen smaller stages, and two dozen stalls selling food and drink.
If you’ve ever fantasised about what an open air festival would look like if it were dropped on a historic city like Bruges, then visiting one of my favourite travel tips for Ghent would be my recommendation.
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Street Art Is Huge in Ghent
One aspect that I truly love most about Ghent is the fascinating quantity of street art it has for being such a small city. What’s most surprising is that there’s even room for it, given how old and protected the buildings and their red-brick walls are.
The street art community in Ghent is smart. It uses every inch on every disused modern concrete structure it can find; and when there’s not enough space to fit every new idea, the community gets creative and thinks of ingenious ways in which to display its talents.
Ghent Is Perfect for Veggies
There aren’t many cities in the world where the availability of vegetarian food is written into local law.
Every Thursday is ‘veggie’ day in Ghent, thanks to a local initiative that brought the weekly event into law; and because of it, there’s now an easy availability of vegetarian and vegan food in Ghent, which makes it perfect for people like me who aren’t getting enough vegan mayo on their frites.
You’ll also see plenty of vegan options during the Ghent Festival, should you choose to be there when it takes over the city.
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Alternative Accommodation Is Refreshingly Vintage
One aspect of travel that rarely gets the ‘alternative treatment’ is accommodation. Whilst it’s true that services like Airbnb have given more choice to the types of holiday accommodation available, staying in a standard hotel room or someone’s spare room isn’t necessarily interesting or exciting.
One accommodation option that Franca and I loved whilst in Ghent was Sleepstreet, a completely unique collection of vintage apartments that hark back to a bygone era that was far more fashionable than almost every place you could choose to stay in Ghent, or anywhere else in Belgium for that matter.
If you’re planning to spend an alternative weekend in Ghent listening to live bands, eating veggie food, drinking Belgian beer, or checking out street art whilst in the middle of a medieval city, where else is better to stay than in an vintage apartment?
Are you thinking about visiting Ghent? Ask me your questions in the comments!