Ghent Instead Of Bruges

A quote from the movie In Bruges, about Belgium’s sixth biggest city of Bruges


“It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s f#$@ing thing?”


To answer the question posed so eloquently, a fairytale town is not somebody’s f#$@ing thing when it is crawling with too many f#$@ing tourists.

Which is why, when faced with the decision of whether to hop off the train in lovely (and less touristy) Ghent, or continue on to see the fairytale town of Bruges, we got off in Ghent.


“Bruges is the belle, Ghent is the rebel,” our canal boat captain stated as he careened along the narrow waterway in the center, pointing out his bustling city’s small faults on display, as opposed to the pristine Bruges, which has been scrubbed clean of flaws for the many tourists. “But you really should go to Bruges as it is beautiful. It’s like an outdoor museum.”

While Pete and I were disappointed in the bad weather that precluded us spending a good amount of time in both, sometimes tough choices have to be made when traveling. It was hard to stay too disappointed, however, when faced with the scene before us.

Centuries old, colorful buildings lined cobble stone streets. Animated conversations between patrons at the busy streetside cafes. Old fashioned bicycles whipped by with overflowing baskets. Young adults of the university city sat with their feet dangling over the side of raised sidewalks while they chatted and laughed freely. The sun’s rays added some spark to the narrow waterway laid out before us.




Some plaque somewhere told us that this has been rated as the best canal view in all of Europe.


It was clear that our tour guide was in love with his city, even though he told tales of travels to foreign lands, he clearly enjoyed his time back in his hometown. In our tour-for-two, I sat with my head on Pete’s shoulder, listening, but not. I chose to soak in more of the atmosphere then the chatter.

It was a lovely way to end our one-day expedition. Below spotty blue skies and spontaneous shocks of warmth from the sun, we had spent the day wandering through the city with a walking tour map in hand.

The map lead us to the magnificent Saint Bavo Cathedral, home to impressive art pieces from Rubens and the van Eyck brothers.


We wound around narrow streets away from the center, each step narrated by music from a local academy that spilled out onto one otherwise deserted street.Β 


To the Korenmarkt we went, stopping to eat our pre-made lunches in the shadow of a towering statue.



The Gravensteen Castle is now a museum of weaponry and torture which made for an interesting (and spooky) visit.


We even got pulled into a sort-of flash mob put together by a group of students working on a school project.


We sampled hot chocolate made from real melted chocolate mixed with steamed milk. We stopped for beer and sangria and enjoyed a good dose of people watching. We followed two foreign, well-dressed tots who hilariously tried to pull their own wheeled suitcases behind them on bumpy streets as their parents sauntered ahead.

It wasn’t a tourist-free destination, but it is one of those places that held a wee surprise for us around every corner, without any pushing and shoving to see it.

And for us, that is a f#$@ing fairytale.

40 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • September 26 2011

    It looks like a beautiful place to visit. The canal shot looks exactly like a scene from It’s a Small World brought to life (sorry, my points of reference tend to be Disney based).
    You’ve got me really curious about Bruges now though. Not stopping there at all?
    Steve recently posted..Disney Cruise Line – Port Adventures

    • September 26 2011

      It is a REALLY beautiful city, the area around the canal was so picturesque – could have been Disney! πŸ™‚

      We never made it to Bruges. We had to make the decision between one or the other given our limited time frame. We could have tried to do them both in one day, but hate being rushed like that.

  • September 26 2011

    I’ve never been to Ghent but I’m with you that Bruges was way too touristy for me. The most fun we had there was when we rode bikes outside the actual town out to some windmills and got a f*$@&ng break from the crowds. So I’d say you chose wisely! =)
    Andrea recently posted..Four Great Hungarian Restaurants In Budapest

    • September 27 2011

      I hated to write a post slaggin’ Bruges when I hadn’t even been there, but everything I’ve read said exactly the same thing. I’m glad our day turned out so well!

  • Taryn
    September 27 2011

    I swear that your canal shot looks exactly like a jigsaw puzzle my sister and I had as kids. So it really must be the best canal shot evah, because it has its own PUZZLE. Take that, Bruges.

    It looks lovely in Ghent. Here’s hoping that your journey holds more lovely surprises like it!

    • September 27 2011

      Take that, Bruges! Haha! That’s awesome. I want that puzzle! πŸ™‚

  • September 27 2011

    Great lowland charm – so many gablefront houses.
    Italian Notes recently posted..Insalata di farro con melanzane e zucchini

    • September 27 2011

      There is no lacking for charm in Ghent…that is for sure!

  • September 27 2011

    I like both Ghent and Bruges, just not in summer πŸ™‚
    Sophie recently posted..St Moritz in September

  • September 27 2011

    I think you guys made the right choice and I’m glad you had a lovely day in Ghent. It’s one of my favourite places here πŸ™‚
    Alison recently posted..Travel from Belgium to India – It’s Easier than you Think

    • September 27 2011

      It was our visit with you guys that finally convinced us for sure! And I’m glad we did it too. πŸ™‚

  • September 27 2011

    WONDERFUL to hear!! I am always telling people Ghent instead of Bruge!! We use to go every Sunday and there was always something wonderful going on.

    • September 27 2011

      We *almost* went back the following Saturday as they were having a big festival that weekend. I’d looovvveee to spend more time there!

  • September 27 2011

    I’d love to visit both… but if I was limited to just one, I can see Ghent winning out. πŸ™‚
    Technosyncratic recently posted..The Mediterranean Beauty of Malta

    • September 27 2011

      I think we read 3-4 other travel bloggers who had done both and recommended Ghent. I still wish we could have made it to Bruges (they are really close together), but I’m still happy with our choice!

  • Jarmo @ArcticNomad
    September 27 2011

    Oh so picturesque, it does look like a f#$@ing fairytale πŸ˜‰ But I still want to go to Bruges, just because of that f#$@ing movie πŸ˜‰

    • September 27 2011

      Yeah, I would still like to go to f%$&ing Bruges, just to relive some of the scenes…one of the funniest movies ever!

  • Amy (Gloriously Dismal)
    September 27 2011

    Haha I second Arctic Nomad. πŸ˜‰

  • September 27 2011

    I’ve never been to either and all my imagery of Bruges comes from the movie πŸ˜‰ But from the photos Ghent looks just as beautiful.
    Phil recently posted..I Have a Plane Ticket

  • September 27 2011

    I had no clue about Ghent. It is now on the list along with Bruges. I just don’t know which one is first!

    Ghent looks like an exceptional place to visit. Full of beauty, history, canals and good food.
    Debbie – European Travelista recently posted..Salzburg and My First Opera

  • September 28 2011

    Hi there – really enjoyed this post, and your pics are awesome! Sounds like your living and loving a life of adventure. Good for you! Now Ghent is also on my list, though I still want to go to %^&$##!&@*(!)*~ Bruges just so I can see where the little guy caught the bullet. That was a great movie, have to say!


  • September 28 2011

    I actually do really like Bruges although I also love that movie and the things Colin Farrell’s character says about it. But it doesn’t look to me like you made a bad choice one bit!

    (All the more reason to return eh?)
    Mara recently posted..Outer Banks BBQ (with a side of Moon Pie) at High Cotton

    • Pete
      September 29 2011

      We certainly want to return and will when we have the chance (despite what Colin Farrell’s character had to say about it πŸ™‚

  • September 29 2011

    These are gorgeous photographs! I considered going to Ghent from Bruges, but decided to stay there instead. Bruges was quite charming and much nicer than depicted in “In Bruges.”

    – Lily
    Lily Leung recently posted..Interview with Jeff Jung of Career Break Secrets

    • Pete
      September 30 2011

      Thanks Lily. I hope that we will be back in Belgium at some point to explore the towns we missed.

  • September 30 2011

    I’m sold! We have never been to Ghent and your photos look gorgeous. We found the crowds to be a huge problem all over Europe this summer. The popular destinations are just over run with people, it is much better to get off the beaten path and explore the equally beautiful cities that nobody goes to.

    • Pete
      October 1 2011

      Europe is becoming quite difficult to avoid the hordes of tourists. We agree that getting off the beaten path is certainly the way to go πŸ™‚

  • September 30 2011

    You definitely made the right choice. To quote the film “in Bruges” again: “It’s a S*%t hole”

    • Pete
      October 1 2011

      As well to quote the movie “I grew up in Dublin. I love Dublin. If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.”

  • September 30 2011

    Lovely photos. It’s a stunning city. Absolutely agree with your expression on the number of tourists in Bruges – enough to drive you to distraction!

  • PF
    October 1 2011

    I don’t think you could have gone wrong either way.
    Gent is like stepping into real city that combines all the good things of all the typical Flemish cities in a nice compact and enjoyable package.
    Bruges is like stepping into a dream and not having to worry about your suspension of disbelief being popped when you turn the corner. And while Gent remains my favorite Belgian city, Bruges is objectively the most beautiful of the two. So if you get the chance, do go and visit it as well.

    • Pete
      October 1 2011

      We will for sure. We want to see a lot of other small Belgian towns as well. Now we just need to get somebody to adopt these 2 Canadians so we don’t have to leave due to the Schengen laws….

  • Laura
    October 4 2011

    We took a day trip to Bruges from Brussels and yes, it was full of tourists and cruise ship passengers. But, it was still a really cool place to visit, especially since we hadn’t been to the region before. From your pictures Ghent looks just as beautiful!

    • October 5 2011

      Yes, I wish we had made it to Bruges as well. Perhaps another time! πŸ™‚

  • Meagan
    October 23 2011

    How is that city not packed with tourists! Absolutely beautiful.

    • October 25 2011

      It still does get it’s fair share of tourists, but not quite as badly as Bruges.

  • November 14 2011

    Well, I am not a this versus that kinda guy, so as you can imagine, I fall in with folks who say, great that you enjoyed Ghent (and I am looking forward to Ghent myself when we travel to Belgium next fall), but don’t write off Bruges just because some people found it too crowded.

    I spent a week in Bruges in September of 2007 and found it wonderful and not at all crowded. Just a place of magic, and anywhere I went to eat dinner, I never had trouble getting a seat. Highly, highly, highly recommend Bruges, especially to those who like well-preserved Medieval cities like Oxford, Utrecht and Toledo.
    Karl Peterson recently posted..Upstate New York at the Renaissance Faire and environs

    • November 15 2011

      I don’t like to pit one place against another either, but in this case, we had to make a choice, and so I just wanted to share why we chose what we did. I still REALLY want to see Bruges – next time we are there…

      • November 15 2011

        Ah yes, truly one of the challenges of traveling is that it always seems that there is limited time, with too many options, and one amazing experience has to be chosen at the expense of missing out on another. But thankfully places like Bruges will be there when we are ready to see them.
        Karl Peterson recently posted..Upstate New York at the Renaissance Faire and environs

  • November 12 2013

    I love “In Bruges” and this first line (the answer to the film’s question) had me laughing out loud, hahaha! πŸ˜‰ Thanks for this great post!

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