We have visited Belgium several times over the years, we have been to charming Brugge and exlplored the beautfiful Ardennes. One city that we have passed through but never took the time to explore until we were looking for a quick weekend getaway last month was Ghent. I had heard friends talk fondly of their time in Ghent ,especially college friends who back in the day went to the Ghentse Feesten, which is a music and theatre festival dating back to 1843 (!) taking over the entire city. Our verdic after a weekend in Ghent with a toddler -We were very positively surprised by this charming mid-sized city and all it had to offer. Ghent’s old town centre has charm, is easy to explore by foot and is a very toddler friendly destination.
Ghent is a great choice – a toDDler friendly city destination
During our weekend in Ghent we did a lot of walking around the city centre and enjoyed exploring the small allyways, the quays and checked out Ghent’s major sights.
We went to see the Belfry ( you can climb up to the top, but the queues were really long, so we decided against it) and the city square. Unfortunately the weekend we were in Ghent the entire city square area was under construction, as preparations were made to set up the annual Christmas market stalls and in the late afternoon there was a demonstration, with a strong police presence, so needless to say we did not spent a lot of time there.
Our 6 Ghent Highlights (AND ONE LOWLIGHT)
# 1 THE WORLD OF Kina Museum
We absolutely loved the Kina kids museum. It has a diverse and engaging permanent exhibition, which kept our little one entertained for nearly 2,5 hours. They have a great gemstone exhibition, which our little one was fascinated with. Their interactive displays are mainly in Dutch, but are intuitive enough to be understood even without any Dutch skills. The Kina Museum is housed in an old former monastry and is split up into 2 locations. The Kina world: house (museum) and the Kina world: garden. When you buy a ticket to visit either, you automatically are also allowed to visit the other one within a 3 months period using the same ticket. The Kina garden is in the North of the city and to walk from one to the other it would take about 30 -40 minutes. Strollers area not allowed and can be parked in the cloakroom.
# 2 Gravensteen Castle
The castle (castle of the Counts) is in the city centre opposite of the local tourist information. It is an easy to navigate medieval fortress, which houses a small historical weapon exhibition and torture museum. Our little one was eager to explore the castle and tried to climb some of the many stairs (strollers are not allowed, can be parked next to the ticket office). Part of the self-guided tour (took us about 40 minutes) through the castle leads you along the castle walls on one side these are open and there is no railing, which was a bit nerve wrecking with a toddler eager to explore the castle by himself. From the top of the castle you have a beautiful view overlooking Ghent.
# 3 Holy Food Market
The Holy Food Market is housed in the 16th century Baudelo Chapel a former church and cloister, which now houses a food market offering diverse cuisine – Asian dim sum, Lebanese food, Russian delicacies, as well as Belgian street food. We like food markets (see our post about the Markethal in Rotterdam) and this one in Ghent did not disappoint. It was a unique location , offered plenty of high chairs and delicious food. Make sure you eat there when visiting Ghent with a toddler.
# 4 Street Art GHENT
Ghent is a mix of old and new and the streetart all over the city certainly adds to that unique city vibe. The tourist office has a free street art city map available,which helps you to find the best ‘official’ street art and the famous graffiti street. It was a nice way to explore Ghent with a toddler, walking through non-touristy neighbourhoods to track down the colourful street art, wich sometimes was not easy to find even with the map. The offical walk is known as the Sorry, not Sorry Art Walk, and there is also an App you can download.
# 5 Design Museum
This museum was a great find. We really enjoyed our afternoon at the Design museum. The current exhibition is great if you visit Ghent with a toddler, as it is all about robots. We were introduced to the world of robots and how these are used nowadays, influence our daily life and will shape our future. The museum itself is not too big and can be explored within an hour. It is all-white, clean-cut and modern, yet the entrance is housed in an old mansion and the contrast worked very well for a design museum. Strollers are not allowed and there are a lot of stairs to navigate. The museum cafe is in the courtyard in a glass tent, they had a good selection of snack type food.
# 6 The Cafe Culture
Belgium is known for it is chocolate, fries and beer, so expect to find plenty of cafes and restaurants all over town. While our little one enjoyed his afternoon nap in his stroller, we enjoyed some quiet time at the used book cafe. Which is just as the name says a cafe full of books. It is an inviting cafe , perfect for sittting down to read a book, while enjoying a good cup of coffee, overlooking one of the cities market squares.
We also tried the famous Ghent nose ( Gentse neus) candy, a cone-shaped candy that resembles a human nose, hence the name. We were both not too impressed with it, and stuck to munching on waffles and Belgian chocolate ( how could we not when visiting Belgium).
And now let me tell you what you do not need to go and see when you visit Ghent.
Our Ghent Lowlight – The Glass Passage
I had briefly studied the local Ghent guide we got from the hotel and read about a protected historic passageway (built in 1844), called the Glass Passage. It was on the way to one of the museums we wanted to visit that afternoon. On the way to the museum I guided my 2 boys to the Glass Passage, to have a look. Well, turns out this Mom had not read the entire description…The Glass Passage turned out to be the local red light district. Since the girls are sitting behind windows ( like in the Amsterdam’s red light district) it has the name Glass Passage. NOT because it is a beautiful historic passage with a lot of glass. When we showed up with our little one, one of the half-naked girls started pulling funny faces and waved at my little one (he waved back and giggled) .My big one turned bright red and was visibly embarrassed, while another girl walked up to me to say that this is ‘the place for the girls, Madame’ and gestured for us to go back out into the street. Mom fail!
I can assure I will NEVER live this incident down, but we had a good laugh about it. The area around the red light district passage was NOT shady or seedy at all, loads of cafes full of hipsters and students, local families enjoying brunch….so it was not obvious to us where we were headed.
WHERE TO STAY In GHENT WITH A TODDLER
We stayed at the NH Ghent Belfort, which is in a prime location and offers underground parking. It allowed us to walk to all of Ghents main attractions and offered easy access to restaurants and shopping. They had a great breakfast bufffet with a special kids corner and a waffle maker.
Have you ever visited Ghent ? What were your highlights ?
Want to read more of our travel stories, visit our ‘where we have been’ page to see all of the travel adventures we blogged about.
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