One Way to do Zeebrugge – Ghent Edition

Gravensteen the Castle of the Count  ©SR

Zeebrugge  is becoming a more and more popular port of call with the increase in the number of shorter cruises from the United Kingdom.  Zeebrugge itself offers very little in the way of visitor attractions and its prime purpose is to provide a berth for passengers to visit the city of Bruges.
View any cruise brochure and Zeebrugge  appears alongside Bruges and that is the marketing spiel. Bruges of course is also a very popular destination but for those who may have already visited Bruges, or those who wish to be a little more adventurous, there is an equally attractive destination that is easily accessible and well worth the additional 35 minutes on the train. –  Ghent.
Cruise ships calling into Zeebrugge provide a shuttle bus from the port to the town of  Blankenburg and drop passengers off  adjacent to  Blankenburg railway station….
There is an excellent hourly train service and the cost for two  Senior  return tickets,  Blankenburg to Ghent,  came to  €10.60. The journey through the Belgium countryside and the train actually passes through Bruges.
Arrival at Ghent is at the main railway station, Sint-Pieters…
We elected to walk into the centre of Ghent, a scenic route that follows the River Lys. However, for those who either cannot manage such an exercise, or for whom time may be limited, Ghent has an excellent tram system and a more than convenient tram stop just to the left as you exit  Sint-Pieters station…
My advice to those who would prefer to take the tram would be to take it as far as Sint-Veerleplein …
and initially take in the Square…
The Old Fish Market, in the corner…
and The Castle of the Counts…
Not many places around the world can boast such a massive castle right in the heart of the city.
There are many gorgeous cafes and one or two restaurants around the Sint-Veerleplein  Square and I’m sure on a day with better weather than we enjoyed the atmosphere here would be vibrant.
We moved on and kept the castle to our right and crossed the bridge over the river Lys, first taking in the view of the last old wooden backed building in Ghent….
Continuing and keeping the River Lys to our left for approximately one hundred metres we came to Graslei and Korenlei, which together formed the first trade port in Ghent: way back in the eleventh century.
This is the place everyone meets, either in one of the many café patios or simply by the water. This is the thriving heart of the inner city. The house of the Grain Weighers, the Guildhall of the Free Boatmen, the Spijker…  every house on the Graslei has its own history. They once formed the story of the incredible blossoming of Ghent’s economy during the Middle Ages: they now form the centre of the tourism industry.
Our walk continued along Korenlei to a spot where we could see the Three Towers of Ghent…
before again crossing the river in the direction of those towers…
first passing the Korenmarkt, with its imposing Post plaza Building and Christmas Tree…
…and continuing on to St Nicholas’ Church…
One of the oldest and most prominent landmarks in Ghent, it dates back to the 13th century.  St. Nicholas’ Church was popular with the Guilds whose members carried out their business nearby.  The guilds had their own chapels which were added to the sides of the church in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The influence of the Guilds can be seen across the road from St Nicholas’ Church, where they once occupied an ornate building which now serves as one of  the Tourist Information Centres…
The central tower of St Nicholas’ Church, which was funded in part by the city, served as an observation post and carried the town bells until the neighbouring Belfry…
..was built.
Built in the 14th century, this building bears witness to the power and wealth of mediaeval Ghent, at a time when it was the capital of the most prosperous part of Europe. It is attached to the Halle aux draps (hall of drapes) (15th century) which reminds us that textiles made Ghent its fortune. 91 metres high, the Belfry was decorated with a weather vane in the form of a dragon which came to symbolise the city. Bearing a bell-peal of 53 bells which still ring out to announce festivals in the city, the Belfry of Ghent is classed amongst Unesco’s world heritage items.
These two towers, along with the Saint Bavo Cahedral ,  still define the famous medieval skyline of the city centre. One of the treasures of St. Nicholas’ Church is its organ, produced by the famous French organ builder Aristide Cavaille-Coll.
Between The Belfry and the next great landmark, Saint Bavo Cathedral, is the Royal Dutch Theatre in Sint-Baafsplein, Square… a seasonal venue for Christmas Markets…
And so we come to Saint Bavo Cathedral.The Cathédrale Saint-Bavon is worth a long visit in its own right. Dating essentially from the 15th and 16th centuries, the building is a summary of different Gothic styles. A Romanesque-style crypt, a baroque altar and a rococo pulpit, a magnificent work by Rubens, the triptych of Calvary attributed to Joos van Wassenhove but above all: l’Agneau Mystique (the Mystic Lamb), altar-piece by the Van Eyck brothers, masters of the Flemish primitive style.
And on the subject of the  Van Eyck brothers, a short walk around the Cathedral exterior will not just take the visitor to their magnificent statue, but also open up further waterfront vistas in this amazing city.
Navigation of Ghent is easy and there are plentiful tourist maps and the Tourist Information Office organise walking tours. Trams back to Sint-Pieters Railway Station can be found on The Veldstraat, a main shopping street opposite St Nicholas’ Church.
As with the railway station at Blnkenburg, the Ghent Sint-Pieters is easily accessed and train information easy to understand.
Despite the poor weather and regular showers – what did we expect in January- we found Ghent a far more interesting and  eclectic place than its neighbour Bruges. It dares to mix up the genres and blur a few of the boundaries. Roman, medieval 19th century,  industrial and uber high-tech contemporary design blend in a unique and harmonious way.
Furthermore Ghent certainly gave the impression of being less ‘tourist’ expensive than its neighbour Bruges. The locals were exceptionally friendly and refreshments and food all considered very reasonably priced for such an attractive tourist centre.
One thing my wife and I did agree on, this is a must for a re-visit, possibly for a few balmy summer days when we could experience the vibrant evening atmosphere.

7 responses to “One Way to do Zeebrugge – Ghent Edition

  1. Looking forward to publication of your experience. We LOVED Ghent ! We were able to do it with an organized shore excursion during our short-cruise with the QV in 2009 ( Would really like to do it again some day… Bruges must be beautiful as well, as we saw from pictures of fellow-cruisers, but it was definitely worth visiting Ghent (even though the Church St. Bavo was crowded as well)!

  2. totally agree, Ghent supercedes Bruges, The latter is very nice but Ghent as a more rustic charm.
    Another place to visit in this neck of the woods is Ieper / Ypres but you need a very long day in port if you are to capture the last post at 8pm.

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