A mixture of historical elements, the existence of multiple breweries and colorful street art scene brought me to Gent for a half day. I arrived in the afternoon directly from Bruges, another beautiful old city perfect for touring on foot.
As an American, I was familiar with the name of the Belgian city and vaguely aware of it’s prominence in the Middle Ages but had no idea it was a colorful busy place. Although initially interested in wandering through the well-preserved historical town, I was put on to the local street art scene by a friend from Paris who recommended I check it out.
Did you know Gent has a Graffiti Street? It connects Hoogpoort and Onderstraat and many mural however many works can be found in the old city area. From the north side enter via tunnel that will be exploding with color. Inside, a little walled street with graffiti covering every inch of surface. This space is for artists to use openly and has existed as a designated street art canvass for twenty years.
There are a lot of paid walking and biking tours of both the current street art scene and the historical architecture but they may not be necessary, especially if you are already a seasoned urban explorer. A good tour guide should be able to recognize the work of local artists and able to point them out and also explain why a certain area is chosen to display a mural or art. A poorly run tour will just take you to street art hot spots and offer no context or show you reoccurring themes or local artists. Be wise should you go this route.
As for a self tour, I would recommend searching online for “street art map Gent” and pulling the most recent dated maps. These stops can easily be layered on top of the “fixed” historical buildings and squares that are just as colorful and whimsical. A building still stands in Gent from each of the last several centuries. Seeing the well preserved and beautiful layers of different architectural styles was really amazing for my American eyes. Not since I visited Barcelona had I come across so much color and careful detail densely packed into a European city.
From Gent-Sint-Pieters station walk north along Elisabethlaan to the intersection with Kortrijksesteenweg. Take a left and follow the winding road which will move to the Leie canal and into the old city. The name of the road will change several times but a tram goes up and down the street making it easy to find a way back to the station.
I moved in a counter-clockwise direction around the compact old town past Sint-Michielsbrug bridge to Korenmarkt and then through Graffiti street and into Friday Market. From there I visited the Gruut Brewery and then crossed over the canal at Krommewal and roamed around the smaller streets near the canal until finally passing by Gravensteen Castle.
Multiple trains run daily between Ghent and Brussels and buying a ticket is as easy as just showing up at the beautiful central train station. All the medium sized cities in Belgium are connected with a web of rail lines, making car free exploration simple for a foreigner.
Thanks for reading,