Bruges and Ghent tend to be among the most popular cities to visit in Belgium. They are both easily accessible by train from Brussels, but there are very different cities at their core. If you’re limited on time, you can quickly take a Ghent or Bruges day trip from Brussels, but we recommend staying a little longer. When trying to decide whether you should visit Bruges or Ghent, take several factors into consideration.
The two cities vary in size, history, landmarks, and places to stay. Bruges is probably the more well-known of the two, and because of this it tends to see more tourists. Ghent is a larger city that still boasts its original architecture.
Bruges is a great city to visit for those who want a charming, small-town feel and don’t mind navigating through large tourist crowds. Ghent, on the other hand, can be a great choice for those who want a bigger city atmosphere and for foodies wanting to try all kinds of local specialities.
However, there is still a lot to unpack when trying to decide between visiting Ghent and Bruges and there are some big differences that should play a role when you’re deciding which to visit.
Bruges is famous for its appearances in movies and for being the “storybook” town of Belgium. The pastel-colored buildings with original gothic architecture makes it feel like stepping into a fairytale as you walk through. Here’s everything to know about visiting Bruges.
The simplest way to reach Bruges is by train. You could be coming from Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, or another nearby city, but the train is still the easiest way to reach Bruges. You can check train schedules here.
Most of the photos you see of Bruges are in the city center, which is a relatively small area. This makes getting around Bruges on foot the best way to experience the city.
When arriving at the train station, you’ll walk about 20 minutes to reach the city center. Taxis and buses are available, but you’ll see a crowd of people walking the path to central Bruges as soon as you disembark the train, so just follow them.
The bus from the train station to the city center takes about five minutes and departs the train station regularly throughout the day.
Due to its popularity among tourists, Bruges is the more expensive city to visit when comparing Ghent vs. Bruges.
That said, the difference in price for accommodations, food, and transportation between Bruges and Ghent is negligible. As with most cities in Europe, a visit during the peak-season summer months is going to cost you more than a visit during the shoulder or off-season.
You can expect to pay roughly the average price for Western European cities in Bruges.
Things To Do In Bruges
The moment you step foot in Bruges you’ll immediately be captivated by its charm. Colored buildings, cobblestone streets, and narrow alleys are part of what makes this picturesque Belgian city so famous.
The entire historical center of Bruges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a lot of incredible things to see and do. Whether you find yourself wandering through the lovely streets (take a walking tour to learn more about the history of the city) or taking in the sites from the canals, here are some of the highlights for your visit to Bruges.
Burg Square is the first place you’ll arrive after walking the path into Bruges. Narrow streets open into a large square filled with restaurants, shops, museums, and even horse-drawn carriages. Here is a good jumping-off point for your exploration of Bruges, especially if you’re taking a Bruges day trip.
Sit on a park bench to enjoy the scenery and relax or pop into the many cathedrals and museums that can easily be accessed from the square. Keep an eye out for the 14th-century Gothic Town Hall–you won’t be able to miss it.
Visit local lace shops
In your research for deciding whether to visit Ghent or Bruges, you might have come across Bruges being famous for lace.
Throughout much of its history, Bruges and lacemaking have worked hand-in-hand. As you walk through the city, there will be no shortage of lace shops where you can purchase handmade lace pieces or watch the lacemakers work.
There is also a new Lace Museum where you can visit to learn more about the history of lace making in Bruges and even try doing it yourself, just remember to reserve your place in advance.
Basilica of the Holy Blood
This 12th-century chapel is famous for housing a vial containing a cloth stained with the blood of Christ. At least, this is how the story goes. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is a small and impressive chapel located in the heart of Bruges. It’s a must-see landmark during your visit to Bruges.
The biggest factor to keep in mind is the crowds. While an excellent attraction, this chapel is one of the most popular sites in Bruges for tourists to explore.
If you want to see the chapel and the stained cloth, try to visit when the chapel opens in the morning. Otherwise, you might end up waiting in a line outside from the front door.
If you want to visit another famous church in this Belgian city, you could also opt for a visit to the beautiful Church of Our Lady, also in the city center.
Belfry of Bruges
This medieval bell tower dominates the skyline of Bruges. It was built in the 13th century and stands at 83 meters tall, marking it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Should you find yourself interested in a climb, take the 366 steps to the top of the tower for a stunning bird’s-eye view of Bruges.
Inside the ball tower are displays showcasing its history and relevance for the city of Bruges. Entrance to the tower is free with a city museum pass, otherwise expect to pay a small fee to enter.
Take your time walking through the halls to learn about the history and take in the view from the top. A visit at dusk to admire the evening lighting is recommended.
If you find yourself interested in learning more about the history of Belgian art, the Groeninge Museum is your place to go. The museum houses six centuries’ worth of Flemish art to provide its visitors with an overview of the evolution of Belgian art.
Paintings and sculptures from Renaissance and Baroque artists from throughout Europe can also be found here. When planning your visit, remember that the museum is closed on Mondays and you can enter at a reduced price if you have the Musea Brugge Card.
Where to Stay in Bruges
Hotel Fevery – Mid-range travellers will love this 3-star hotel in the heart of Bruges. There are a number of wonderful rooms to choose from and plenty of amenities to ensure your stay is a great one. Click here to see their availability
Boutique Hotel Die Swaene – If you’re looking for a luxury stay in this picturesque Belgian city. They are centrally located for exploring all Bruges has to offer, have lots of plush rooms to choose from and they have amenities such as a swimming pool and on-site bar for guests to enjoy. Click here to see their availability
Snuffel Hostel – This centrally located hostel is perfect for those visiting Bruges solo or on a tight budget. They offer a number of both dorm beds and private rooms, they have a fantastic location for exploring the best of Bruges and great common areas and self-catering facilities to use, as well. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Bruges hotels!
Generally, Ghent is not a city tourists in Belgium flock to, which makes it a great option if you want the same charm as Bruges but without the crowds.
Ghent is not a large city, but it has a more natural feel, rather than a city that feels like it is catered toward tourists like Bruges. Ghent is a bustling university city with plenty of history and unique activities to experience.
Like Bruges, Ghent is a very walkable city. Bikes are a popular way for locals to get around and they provide a great option for tourists as well. Buses and trams are available, but you will most likely find that you hardly need them.
Ghent is a lovely city to see by foot. You can walk along the canal’s wide paths without fighting crowds of tourists. All the city’s main highlights can be found within the city center.
You will most likely arrive in Ghent through the train station, which is well-connected throughout Belgium to cities like Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges. However, you can also visit on an organised day trip from Brussels such as this full-day tour that takes you to both Ghent & Bruges or this tour that takes you to Antwerp & Ghent.
The station is centrally located, so you can easily walk from there to your accommodation. However, if you’re carrying heavy luggage, there are always taxis available.
Ghent is slightly less expensive than Bruges. However, the difference is only slight. Ghent is larger and sees fewer tourists, making it a more affordable city overall. However, the prices in Ghent are not vastly different from what you would see in other parts of Europe.
If you are deciding to visit Bruges or Ghent based on price, keep in mind that the affordability of the two cities is pretty comparable.
Things To Do In Ghent
From alleys filled with street art to castles in the center of town, Ghent has something for everyone. Ghent is often not one of the first places visitors to Belgium think to visit, however, those who choose to visit Ghent are rewarded with a beautiful city. Here is everything to consider doing when visiting Ghent.
You might be surprised to find a medieval castle in the heart of Ghent. Not only is it eye-catching, but it comes with a unique history.
The castle was constructed somewhere around 1180 and served as the residence for the Counts of Flanders through 1353. After that, the Gravensteen served many purposes ranging from a court to a cotton factory.
Today, however, visitors can step inside these walls to get a sense of what life might’ve been like living in the castle and visit the infamous torture museum. You can opt for an audio tour during your visit as well.
Eat a Belgian waffle
Ghent has some of the best Belgian waffles in the world. In fact, you can simply refer to them as Ghent waffles.
They are one of the most popular and iconic foods in Ghent, which makes them one you must try during your visit. There are countless places throughout the city where you can find delicious waffles.
Visit the SMAK and STAM
Fans of art and history museums will be excited to know there are many reputable museums in Ghent, but two stand out if you are pressed for time. First up is the SMAK–-a dynamic contemporary art museum whose installations are known worldwide.
Purchasing a ticket grants visitors access to the permanent exhibit as well as the temporary exhibit currently on display.
The second art museum is the STAM, a museum that showcases the history of Ghent. The permanent exhibit takes visitors through the history with multimedia storytelling techniques that help bring the city to life.
Walk the Patershol
If you’re looking to break away from the crowds, consider disappearing into the alleys of the Patershol. This section of Ghent is particularly beautiful with classic gothic architecture and impressive street art.
Many years ago, the Patershol was a less desirable part of Ghent to live and work, but much has changed since then. Today, this is a vibrant old neighborhood that is known for its culinary scene. Here, you can find unique restaurants and cafes tucked away from the central part of Ghent.
Food from all over the world is represented here. Foodies will love exploring this neighborhood.
Where to Stay in Ghent
B&B HOTEL Gent Centrum – This mid-range hotel is the perfect place to base yourself when visiting this beautiful Belgian city. Located in the centre of Ghent and perfect for exploring the city, they have a number of different rooms to choose from and breakfast is on offer in the mornings. Click here to see their availability
Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel Gent – Luxury travelers will love this plush hotel in the center of Ghent. Well-located to explore the highlights of this city, they have a number of plush rooms on offer and plenty of other amenities to ensure your stay is a great one. Click here to see their availability
Getaway Studios Gent – For those who would like their own space in Ghent, these studios are an excellent option. Fully furnished with everything you may need to feel at home in this city, they have a range of different flats to choose from and an unbeatable location. Click here to see their availability
Hostel Uppelink – If you’re traveling to Ghent on a budget or are simply after a great social atmosphere, then this highly-rated hostel is an excellent choice. They have a great, central location and offer both dorm beds and private rooms along with good common areas and self-catering facilities. Click here to see their availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Ghent hotels!
Bruges vs Ghent: The Verdict
In a perfect world, you’d be able to visit Ghent, Bruges, and more to experience all that Belgium has to offer. However, should you be limited on time, here is what you should take into consideration when deciding to visit Bruges vs. Ghent.
Bruges is known for being a charming town. It’s playfully known as the fairytale town of Belgium and it’s not hard to see why. That said, if you’re looking for a quaint city that is on the smaller side, visit Bruges.
Both Ghent and Bruges boast beautiful cobblestone streets, gothic architecture, and unique local histories, but visiting Ghent feels like you are visiting a larger city.
Bruges is smaller, tighter, and quieter. This also means that Bruges is more popular for tourists. Expect to encounter more crowds in Bruges than Ghent.
Getting to and around both cities is simple–walking in both places is the best option. Bicycles are also a popular mode of transportation in Ghent.
If you are a food-oriented traveler, you’ll want to visit Ghent. The city is a melting pot of both local Belgian cuisine and foods from all other the world. The Patershol neighborhood is a great starting point for exploring the food that Ghent has to offer.
Those who love visiting museums, cathedrals, castles, and other historic landmarks will find plenty to see and do in Ghent. Bruges has a handful of stunning chapels and cathedrals, but Ghent offers its visitors more to do. However, lacemaking in Bruges makes the city unique as it can’t be found anywhere else.
Overall, Bruges is a small, charming Belgian town where you will find beautiful buildings and a lot of tourists. Ghent is a more lively city with food, history, and culture to last you several days of exploration.
When deciding to visit Ghent or Bruges, you really can’t go wrong. Both cities are unique in their own right and have so much to offer their visitors. No matter which Belgian city you visit, your trip will be one to remember.
Are you trying to choose between visiting Ghent or Bruges? Have any questions about these cities? Let us know in the comments!