As a French speaker, my first thought when considering a trip to Belgium was how simple it would be. When I got off the train in Ghent, Belgium, after taking it from Brussels, I thought, “Hey, I guess I was wrong.”

This sign is written in Dutch. Those fluent in Dutch as a language. Many people are riding bicycles. Strangely, the letter “h” that had been present in the English spelling of Ghent (now spelled “Gent”) suddenly vanished. Why the hell am I here?


The city of Ghent, also spelled Gent, is located in Flemish Belgium. Many people mistakenly believe that it has more of a connection to the Dutch language and the northern neighbors of Belgium, The Netherlands, than it does to the French Capital of Brussels.To the astonishment of many, Belgium is actually divided into three regions: the Flemish (Dutch-speaking) province in the north, the French-speaking region in the center, and a small German-speaking province in the east.


Belgians take great pride in their ability to work together across linguistic and cultural barriers. This cooperative spirit permeates all levels of Belgian society, from the national level (try doing government business in three languages!) to the individual level.

Obviously, this means that I met some of the nicest people in my travels there.

For 7 euros, I took the train from Brussels Zuid to Ghent’s St. Peters Station and then walked to a great hostel in the Turkish neighborhood of Rabot.

I took a tour of the city after dark and was completely taken aback by what I saw. A sense of calmness pervaded every location I visited. Indeed, I don’t think I was alone, as I noticed a sparse crowd of fellow vacationers basking in the lamplight along one of the many canals.


Ghent locals are exceptionally warm and welcoming, and they use English in an absurdly widespread manner. It’s not as strange to walk up to a counter and ask timidly “do you speak English?” as it might be in other countries.

A friendly “hello!” from a Ghentian was generally welcomed, and it was a common greeting they extended to others.

Despite the fact that its often ostentatious canals and gothic style architecture combine to make it an incredibly attractive tourist destination, I got the distinct impression that it is a place that has not yet been overrun by tourists.

The majority of my time was spent taking leisurely strolls up and down the harbor, taking photos of the historic architecture, exploring the renovated meat and fish markets, and ascending the 390 steps of the Belfry to take in the breathtaking views of the ancient St. Niklaas Cathedral.

I dined on delicious vegetarian fare (Ghent is home to the highest concentration of vegetarians per capita in Europe!) and local raspberry candies called Cuberdons (Dutch: “noses”).

I had artisan hipster pizza for lunch at Ottomat and gawked at Wasbar, a brunch spot where you can actually do your laundry in the same room as the restaurant, several times.

My last night was spent at the Hot Club, a bar frequented by people of all ages and well-known for its weekend live music. I sat back with a hot cider and took in the vibrant atmosphere, which featured a diverse array of people, languages, and smiley faces peeking out from behind drinks of every hue.

And as for Western Europe, nothing has surprised me more than the understated beauty of Ghent (whichever way you spell it).


Since it can get quite cold in the winter and rainy in the spring, the best times to visit Ghent (Gent) are in the early summer and early fall.

Train tickets can be purchased the same day from Brussels at Brussels South station for only 7 euros if you are coming from Brussels.

The ride takes about 1.5 hours total.

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