Ghent is one of Belgium’s top cultural locations and a busy university city well used to catering for its many demanding students; there’s always something worthwhile going on.
Named after the meeting place of two rivers, Ghent became central to Flemish trade throughout the medieval period and made many merchants incredibly rich. Their mansions still line the riversides today. The hovels of those that didn’t make it have long since returned to the thick mud that once covered medieval Ghent’s streets. When Ghent’s waterway to the sea silted up its importance in the world of national and international trade slowly fizzled away. Only in the 18th century, when a new canal to the Dutch port of Terneuzen was constructed, did the city thrive once more. Ghent University – which provides a hefty portion of local beer aficionados – was also built during this period of renaissance.
So what can the beer appreciator expect from a city trip to Ghent?
Ghent hosts multiple breweries which use medieval and/or modern methods and ingredients. Even better, the results of their labour are expected to be sold at student-friendly prices. And with an incredible backdrop featuring a city fortress, step-gabled 16th and 17th century houses, renowned Renaissance art and a thriving café society, Ghent should attract a lot more international tourists than it actually does; the Belgians themselves visit this small cathedral city time and time again.
Most of picturesque Ghent’s world-renowned breweries offer English-language tours. As their beers regularly pop up at the World Beer Awards you are guaranteed a long list of quality products based on extensive, traditional knowledge. The latest generation of brewers bring loud labels to surprisingly subtle ‘experiments’, with one-off, pop-up products only available until the keg runs dry.
Locals pride themselves on a sophisticated palate and expect all bars to offer a broad spectrum of popular and lesser-known brews. With a backdrop that takes you back to your chosen brew’s origins and the added attraction of multiple planned or spontaneous cultural experiences, easy transport links and lively student life, Ghent is a beer-oriented bucket-list must-see.
The largest city in East Flanders, Dutch-speaking Ghent sits almost slap-bang in the middle of this pretty province. It lies on a major rail route between the coast and the rest of Europe and is just a short drive from the Netherlands border, Bruges, and the battlefields of Ypres. Ghent is also the starting point for many European bus links.
This university city lies between Ostend and Brussels and is less than 40 miles from both. The Eurotunnel is on average a 90 minute drive, depending on traffic. If you are crossing the border into Belgium it would be a shame to miss out on Ghent. And its local breweries and beers, of course.