There could have been no better day trip imaginable out of Brussels than the one we took up to the city of Ghent! It was wonderful to just hop in Kate’s car and drive out of Brussels to explore this historic city during a gorgeous Saturday without a cloud in the sky.
St. Jacobskerk Catholic Church
About an hour after leaving Brussels, we arrived in Ghent and found a place to park just down the street from the St. Jacobskerk Catholic Church and near the Baudelopark. As we were walking towards St. Jacobskerk we noticed a strange church on the right that wasn’t a church anymore but had been converted into a food market with stalls of all kinds of food and a bar in the center with tables for the patrons to take their selected snacks and drinks to join the rest of their party. It was a novel way to repurpose the old church so we went in for some croquettes and coffees before moving on towards the other landmarks in the center of town.
We made our way through the city and first came across a traditional big market square called the Groentenmarkt where small vendors were selling various fruits and vegetables along with a couple purveyors of Belgian waffles. The square was lined by old buildings but didn’t quite have the charm of Mechelen’s Grote Markt. There wasn’t much of interest, other than a monument to van Jacob van Artevelde, here so we moved along towards our next destination.
Kate and Lauren didn’t have quite as much interest in the Castle as I did so Charlie and bought a ticket to do a quick exploration of this final surviving “castle of the count”. I loved that this castle had a proper moat, which I’d never seen before, and lots of defensive positions around the castle walls that you could walk around and imagine what one might have seen from that vantage point hundreds of years ago.
I had Charlie in the Ergo Baby carrier and he still wasn’t too heavy yet so I was able to navigate the narrow spiral staircases up the towers to the top of the castle pretty easily. The views were spectacular and the various passageways inside the castle kept us a bit longer than planned but I don’t think the girls noticed as they were deep in conversation about something I’m sure they were waiting to talk about in my absence.
Ghent City Center
Since our luck with the good weather continued, we spent most of the morning exploring the area around the City Center. Since most of the area is pedestrian friendly, we could enjoy the rows of homes, the Belfry and take in the beauty of the city without the worry of cars or traffic. It also made for some great window-shopping and we admired all the tourist trinkets and a few great children’s boutiques but we restrained ourselves and just focused on enjoying Ghent and spending time with Kate.
After walking through the square we made our way to the Post Plaza; a former beautiful post office that has been repurposed for commercial use. It includes lots of different shops and restaurants and is just off of the main city center. After a morning of carrying Charlie we escaped the cold and rested our feet by settling in to a very popular outpost of Le Pain Quotdien. We had no idea that this popular chain had actually been started in Belgium, and it made for an easy, healthy lunch that everyone could enjoy. While waiting for our meals to arrive, we took turns exploring the shops which included apparel, cosmetics, and lots of home items. It is a beautiful building and well worth a stop.
St. Nicholas Church
After lunch we headed off to St. Nicholas’s Church which is a huge Gothic church between the Post Plaza, the Belfry of Ghent and St. Bavo’s Cathedral. I took a fun selfie with Charlie where you could kind of see the latter three of these that make up the Ghent medieval skyline in the background.
St. Bavo’s Cathedral
St. Bavo’s Cathedral is most famous for the Ghent Altarpiece aka the most stolen art of all time which is also featured in the book The Monuments Men and made into a really great WWII movie. However, while we did enter the cathedral, we chose not to see the altar which was a separate exhibit and Charlie was getting tired and fussy – so we decided not to push it and instead knew we could check out some of the Getty’s work to get an appreciation of this artistic wonder in lieu of a baby meltdown.
We started to head back to the car to return to Brussels but couldn’t help asking Kate to help take a family picture of us here to the left in front of this neat old building with all kinds of colorful flags.
Luckily the place Kate found to park was out of the way so even though we were a few minutes past the metered time she didn’t get a ticket. Before heading back though we stopped briefly at the park at the end of the street to see if they had a swing set for Charlie but alas the only swings they had were for big kids or were huge tire swings. So we loaded up and hit the road after an awesome day exploring the medieval city of Ghent.