Ghent v Bruges – Which one to visit?
Having spent a few days in Ghent, and visiting Bruges a couple of years back with friends, what is the difference between these historical destinations, both with canals and step-gabled rooftops. Which one would you prefer?
Our first impressions of Ghent was that it seemed more spacious than Bruges. The roads were wider, even when wandering around the quaint Patershol cobbled backstreets, compared to the narrow alleyways of Bruges.
I remember us meandering around Bruges; it seemed like a city that would be in a Brothers Grimm book; an appealing gingerbread town with old-fashioned shop fronts selling over-priced gifts. It is one of the best-preserved medieval settlements in the world and rightly is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ghent, on the surface, feels like the poor man’s version of Bruges. It doesn’t seem to take itself so seriously, and I am not surprised to read that it is known for its rebelliousness. However, it still retains some of its deep history such as the magnificent Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, home to the Van Eyck brothers’ The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, which we had the pleasure to visit.
With over 70,000 students in Ghent, it is a thriving young city. I cannot image Bruges having a Graffiti Alley with every centimetre covered with swirls of spray-paint adorning its pavements. There is even a StreetArt Map that you can download called “Sorry, Not Sorry”. Yes, Ghent is a “hip and free-thinking cultural city” as www.visitgent.com describes. No wonder SMAK, the Contemporary Art Museum has so many pieces of artwork from local people.
Being a non-meat eater for over 37 years, the plethora of veggie cafes and restaurants in Ghent with veggie burgers and the best falafels I have ever tasted was very welcoming. According to the Guardian, it “has the reputation of being Europe’s vegetarian capital” – too right and back in 2009, the city declared Thursday as being meat-free!
We found a great store, Ohne, where you can take your containers to save waste, and it sold “ugly” organic vegetables for our stir-fry one evening. Bruges’s cuisine was more about Belgium chocolate and beer, what a choice it had! Nothing wrong with that!
Both of these wonderful cities have incredible ancient buildings, bridges and belfry worth seeing, the Stadhuis, Basilica of the Holy Blood and many cute, picturesque bridges in Bruges; and St Nicholas Church, St. Bavo Cathedral and Belfry tower all within spitting distance in the centre of Ghent, with its fair share of attractive bridges as well. However, Ghent pips the post when it comes to modern architecture. There is a new trendy city library De Krook, opened in 2017, like giant wooden pallets balancing precariously on top of one another house not just books, but coffee bars where people congregate, sharing fiction and philosophies.
So, which one tempts you to visit? The chocolate box of Bruges or trendsetting Ghent? Mmm… perhaps make a week of it and explore both.