The second largest city in Flanders, Ghent does not benefit from the same popularity as its rivals, Brussels and Bruges. However, this is much to the delight of the visitors who do choose to come here, since the monuments and museums are free from hordes of tourists on every street corner.
As it is, the city is not lacking in things to see, which you will discover during strolls along the wide streets and open squares. A magnificent historical centre, a plethora of museums, an abundance of events and entertainment, canals lined with traditional Flemish façades? One of Europe's best-kept secrets might not stay that way.
Go to the top of the belfry (higher than that of Bruges!), stroll through the Gravensteen (Dutch for 'castle of the count') and visit the cathedral, without forgetting to admire the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan Van Eyck, one of the most famous Flemish art paintings.
Fans of art and culture won't know which museum to hit first. Beyond the MIAT (based on the theme of textiles), and the Museums of Design, Contemporary Art and Fine Arts, Ghent has had a new addition since 2011: the STAM. Located in an old hospital complex, it puts a spotlight on the history of the city in an interactive and original way.
Treat yourself to a boat ride on the canals or in a carriage over the cobblestones. A touristy but romantic way to discover the city.
Attend one of the festivals held in the city. In addition to the Festival of Flanders (mid-September to mid-November), Ghent is scheduled to hold another Light Festival in 2014.
The tourist office proposes a splendid one and a half hour stroll during which you will come across most of the most interesting monuments and buildings to be seen in the historical city centre: the three tower blocks, the town hall, the cathedral, etc. Some of these, unfortunately, cannot be visited (or only on request), as is the case with the opera house.
Most of the historic houses you will come cross are privately-owned and thus, unfortunately, not open to the public. However, a walking visit has been created to admire the façades of these very beautiful buildings dating from the 18th century.
Go out and really enjoy the city by discovering it on foot. Ghent is not a very spread out city so you won't need to use any public transport. Avoid heels, opting instead for a good pair of flat shoes!
Venture away from the (many) large avenues and "get lost" in the maze of small streets in the centre.
Mentioning touchy subjects and politics in particular. In addition, keep in mind that Ghent is Flemish and not all of its inhabitants speak French.
Visiting the city without bringing along an extra layer of clothing. The temperature can be icy in winter. In the warmer seasons, the weather can vary and you might be taken by surprise by some rain.
Coming by car, since it is hard to find a parking spot and there is a charge to use the car parks. Keep in mind that pushing on the yellow button of the parking metres will allow you to benefit from a special 24h reduced rate.
As everywhere in Belgium, chips are a mainstay and defend their reputation as the best chips in the world with verve!
Pay justice to Dutch Gin (a strong fruit and vanilla-flavoured alcohol) and Belgian beer as well. With moderation, of course.
Sweets are also some of the specialities: waffles, chocolate, gingerbread and 'cramics' (also known as Belgian buns). You won't know what to try next.
In addition to the many treats you will have sampled during your stay, why not also buy some "made in Ghent" mustard. Although it may not exactly be Dijon mustard, it is quite similar thanks to the relationship Flanders and Burgundy have shared over the centuries.
There are many shops selling lace but be aware that the majority of it is made in Korea...
If your stay is coming to an end, think of bringing back a bouquet of azaleas (the flower of Ghent) for your other half from the Flower Market, held every Sunday morning on one of the city's squares.