Traveling to Ghent or Bruges – Deciding Which One to Go To

Disclaimer: This page may contain affiliate links. Please review our full Terms and Conditions for more information and our Privacy Policy. Note that any pricing, operating hours, or other such information provided below may have changed since initial publication.

Words by Dalene Heck / Photos by Pete Heck

Visiting Belgium promises an enchanting journey through a country steeped in history, art, and culinary delights.

With its picturesque towns, delectable chocolates, world-class beers, and impressive architecture – there is a lot going on in this small European country.

With so many options to choose from when deciding where to travel around Belgium, how do you decide which Belgian city is for you? Especially, if you are only making a one day trip.

For us, it came down to: Ghent or Bruges.

Ghent or Bruges

Ghent or Bruges?

Comparing Ghent or Bruges can be challenging, as both Belgian cities have their unique allure.

Big city or small city? Medieval castle or thriving nightlife scene? College town or old town?

Visit Ghent? or visit Bruges?

Both Bruges and Ghent have great food, cozy cafes and art museums. There is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in both and a creative food scene in either. Belgian beer, canal tour, chocolate shops, lively city center, beautiful city – all of the above, to both.

The choice ultimately depends on your preferences: Ghent provides a more modern, eclectic experience, while Bruges immerses you in a timeless, romantic setting. Large crowds included.


Ghent is a city that seamlessly marries its rich medieval heritage with a vibrant, modern atmosphere.

Its historic center is a picturesque labyrinth of cobblestone streets, adorned with splendid Gothic architecture, reminiscant of Disney World, including the iconic Ghent Altarpiece.

Alongside its captivating history, Ghent boasts a lively arts scene (and street art), vibrant street life, and a thriving culinary culture.

The city’s charming canals offer boat tours, and green spaces provide tranquil respites, while its open-air markets and festivals offer lively encounters with local life.

Ghent’s fusion of history, culture, and contemporary energy makes it an enchanting destination for travellers, and fewer tourists.


Bruges, often dubbed the “Venice of the North,” is a fairytale-like Belgian city characterized by its well-preserved medieval charm.

Its picturesque canals wind through cobbled streets lined with historic buildings, creating an enchanting atmosphere.

Visitors are drawn to its iconic Belfry, serene Begijnhof, and the remarkable Church of Our Lady, which houses Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child sculpture.

Bruges also entices with its delectable chocolates, artisanal beers, and lace museum & shops.

This idyllic city offers a timeless journey through its rich history, art, and romantic allure.

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 town from a fairytale is not somebody’s f#$@ing thing when it is crawling with too many f#$@ing tourists.

Our Decision: Ghent or Bruges:

After considering all of the pros on and cons of Ghent or Bruges, it didn’t take us long to decide.

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.

We Chose Ghent

“Bruges is the belle, Ghent is the rebel,” our canal boat tour 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, colourful 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 town 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 than 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. 
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.

Similar Posts


  1. 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?

    1. It is a REALLY beautiful city, the area around the canal was so picturesque – could have been Disney! 🙂

      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.

  2. 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! =)

    1. 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!

  3. 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!

    1. 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!

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

  5. 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!


  6. 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?)

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

  7. 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

  8. 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.

    1. 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 🙂

    1. 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.”

  9. 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.

    1. 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….

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

    1. 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…

      1. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *