Both Bruges and Ghent count as the historic gem cities of Belgium. Both offer visitors a similar medieval backdrop, enchanting cobbled streets, captivating canal tours, 360° Belfry views, and Belgian waffles galore. Yet both Belgian cities are very different in character and atmosphere. So, which one should you should visit if you’re short on time during your trip to Belgium: Ghent or Bruges? The answer strongly depends on what you’re looking for in a city break or day trip.
Our in-depth comparison zooms in on Ghent and Bruges. We list the best things to do in Bruges and Ghent, describe what to expect from a Bruges or Ghent day trip itinerary, and list the best hotels. But it doesn’t end there: We also make a side-by-side comparison and answer some frequently asked questions. This is the only guide you need to make an informed decision on which Belgian city to visit.
You’re in expert hands, by the way. We were born and raised in Ghent and, to this day, live in the suburbs. Plus, we visit Bruges several times a year. So, you can rest assured that you’ll know everything there is to know about Bruges and Ghent after reading this article.
Oh, and if you want to see even more of Belgium, then make sure to check our one-day Brussels itinerary as well.
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Why choose between Ghent and Bruges? Can’t you visit both Bruges and Ghent in one day?
While it’s not advisable to visit both Ghent and Bruges in one day, technically, it’s an option. So, if your Europe travel itinerary only allows for a day trip and you really insist on seeing both cities, then you’ll be pleased to learn that yes, you’re able to visit Bruges and Ghent in one day. But in that case, we’d strongly recommend booking a guided Bruges and Ghent tour from Brussels.
Here are two organized day trips from Brussels that combine both Ghent and Bruges:
But a combined Ghent and Bruges day trip from Brussels is not something we’d recommend. This kind of whirlwind visit wouldn’t do the best cities in Belgium any justice. Part of the fun of visiting these cities is watching the locals from a comfy terrace chair while sipping on a local beer, climbing the belfries to enjoy the magnificent city views, getting lost in the maze of cobbled streets, and watching the city fall asleep.
Therefore, we’d strongly recommend staying in either Bruges or Ghent and setting aside at least a full day to visit each, preferably even two. Both are beautifully picturesque in their own right and well worthy of a visit. It would allow you to experience the best Belgian cities instead of just scratching the surface and getting some Instragrammable shots.
Visiting Bruges, Belgium
Arriving in Bruges or Brugge as it’s known in Flemish, feels like stepping into a fairytale. The medieval houses with their step-gable, the canals that crisscross the city, the rhythm of clip-clopping horse hooves, and the many sumptuous treats on display in the chocolate shops aligning the cobbled streets. Let’s have a look at some of the best attractions in Bruges.
Best things to do in Bruges
- Take a canal tour to learn all about Bruges’ glorious past and see the city from a different angle. Or go for this combined canal and walking tour.
- Soak in the atmosphere at the Markt or Market Square, the heart of Bruges aligned with pastel-colored stepped gable houses. The historic city center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.
- Go on a horse carriage ride for a unique guided tour in an enchanting setting.
- Climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfry of Bruges to enjoy the view over this picture-perfect city.
- Admire the incredible detailing and the colorful stained-glass windows inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood Chapel.
- Take a brewery tour at Brewery Halve Maan (Half Moon) and look for the pipeline that pumps beer from the brewery to the bottling facility several miles away.
- Try the best waffles in Bruges at the waffle stand on Burg Square or go for the picture-perfect guilt-free version at the Otto Waffle Atelier.
- Visit the Church of Our Lady where you’ll find Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child.
- Admire the art at the Saint John’s Hospital or the Groeningemuseum.
- Meet the swans at Minnewater, the Lake of Love.
- Have a break near Bruges’ most photographed bridge, the Bonifaciusbridge.
- Escape the crowds and head to the windmills and entrance gates to the city.
- Explore the gardens of the Princely Beguinage Ten Wijngaarde. In spring, you’ll be greeted by a sea of flowers.
- Get your photo taken at the iconic Rozenhoedkaai.
- Discover some of the city’s well-hidden beer cafés such as De Garre or ‘t Poatersgat.
- Check out even more amazing things to do in Bruges.
One day in Bruges
Bruges is located furthest away from the capital, take that into account should you decide to take a day trip to Bruges from Brussels. From the railway station, it’ll take you 20 minutes to walk to the city center where you can start your Bruges visit.
There are plenty of options to explore the city’s many attractions, the Bruges canal tour and carriage ride being the classic choices. Unlike Ghent, Bruges can get very touristy, which is not ideal when your plan is to visit Bruges in one day. Expect lines to enter the Bruges must-see sights such as the Belfry Tower and the Basilica of the Holy Blood. If you plan on joining tours such as the brewery and chocolate tour and/or visiting one of the city’s museums, then you’ll need to spend more than one day in Bruges.
Where to stay in Bruges
Bruges has so many fabulous boutique-style accommodation options that you’ll probably have a hard time choosing. But we’re here to help:
- The Notary: Our personal favorite is this upscale and romantic boutique hotel with its enchanting garden and swimming pond. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind accommodation with above-and-beyond service and even a six-course breakfast, then this is it.
- Hotel Duke’s Palace: This former residence of the Burgundian aristocracy is one of the few official 5*-hotels in Belgium.
- The Secret Garden Luxury Suites: This bed and breakfast is our absolute favorite hideaway, featuring a beautiful garden with a heated pool and hot tub located in the heart of the city.
- Hotel de Castillon: An elegant accommodation where breakfast is served in a unique medieval cellar.
- Hotel Sablon: A sophisticated hotel featuring one of the most gorgeous hotel interiors we’ve ever come across.
Visiting Ghent, Belgium
Ghent or Gent as written in Flemish, doesn’t have the fairytale vibe that Bruges does. Although it certainly has a similar medieval backdrop, it feels much more authentic. Instead of that open-air museum feeling that you might get in Bruges, Ghent has a more artistic and quirky atmosphere. And that impression is totally consistent with Ghent’s historic rebellious and no-nonsense attitude. Ghent is also one of the largest student cities in Belgium, a true university town, making the center look even more alive and kicking. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t feel touristy and where visitors can easily blend in.
Best things to do in Ghent
- Tour the Castle of the Counts in the heart of the city with its tilts, watchtowers, and moat. This medieval fortress was initially built to protect Ghent from the Vikings, then transformed into a castle and later housed the Supreme Court and a textile factory. The collection of torture equipment is pretty impressive.
- Enjoy the (sunset) views from atop the Belfry of Ghent.
- See the city from the water on a canal tour.
- Stroll through the medieval streets of the Patershol and Prinsenhof district.
- Say hi to Jacob van Artevelde at the Vrijdagmarkt. This merchant played an important role in saving Ghent’s textile industry during the Hundred Years’ War, safeguarding the city’s wealth. He still points towards England.
- Enjoy the postcard views at the Graslei and Korenlei, once the epicenter for the corn import in Ghent.
- Try and buy local delicacies at the Great Butcher’s Hall.
- See the three towers of Ghent from the St Michael’s Bridge.
- Admire the detailing in the Ghent Altarpiece a.k.a. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb in the St Bavo Cathedral.
- Visit one of the fascinating museums in Ghent, such as the Design Museum Ghent in a stately 18th-century mansion, the MSK – Museum of Fine Arts, or the SMAK – Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art. Or learn more about the history of Ghent in the STAM – Ghent City Museum.
- Explore Ghent’s vibrant street art scene.
- Visit the Sunday flower market at the Kouter.
- Admire the grand Opera House or attend a performance.
- Visit the Gruut brewery to try the local Gruut beer.
- Go beer-tasting in ‘t Galgenhuisje café, the smallest bar in the city dating back to 1776, or the Dulle Griet, where you trade your shoe for a beer (and get it back after you’ve paid the bill).
- Enjoy Ghent by night, a magnificent experience thanks to the city’s well-thought-out light plan.
- Check out even more amazing things to do in Ghent.
We’ve dedicated an entire post to the best things to do Ghent. It includes a detailed map as well. Feel free to check it out if you want to know even more about Ghent, our lovely hometown.
One day in Ghent
Since Ghent is located closer to the capital than Bruges, it’s very convenient to make a day trip from Brussels to this lively city. Reaching Ghent from Brussels by train only takes half an hour. From the Ghent railway station, it’s a 25-minute walk to the city center. Alternatively, you could catch Tram 1 at the train station to reach the Korenmarkt in 10 minutes. (You’ll need to buy your ticket before boarding the tram, at the ‘Lijnwinkel’ ticket shop at the railway station or from the vending machine.)
Many of the Ghent attractions can be seen by strolling the quaint cobbled streets or taking a boat tour and hearing all about the city’s intriguing past. Since this rebellious city in Belgium is still a bit of a hidden gem, you’ll never have to wait in line to enter some of its landmarks. A visit to the Castle of the Counts is a must, as is climbing the steps to the Belfry for a spectacular view over the city. Should you plan on visiting some of the museums in Ghent too, then one day in Ghent might be too tight.
Where to stay in Ghent
As a former Front Office Manager in one of the Ghent hotels, I’m definitely in the know about the best accommodation options in the city. Here are my favorites:
- 1898 The Post: This gorgeous hotel with a unique and eclectic personality, is located in the former 19th-century Post building.
- Pillows Grand Hotel Reylof: Luxurious Louis XIV-style townhouse with a beautiful courtyard.
- Yalo Urban Boutique Hotel: Newcomer in the Ghent hotel scene offering breezy designer rooms (including a gorgeous family suite) and the coolest rooftop bar in town. The restaurant is one of my personal favorites for its truly delicious sharing menu.
- NH Gent Belfort: Stylish hotel in the heart of Ghent, across the City Hall.
- B&B Hotel Verhaegen: 18th-century townhouse with a wonderful garden oasis.
- B&B De Waterzooi and De Waterzooi Lodge: 18th-century house across from the Castle of the Counts. The owners can take you on a private boat tour.
Side-by-side comparison of Bruges and Ghent
Now that you know what Bruges and Ghent are all about, it’s time for a side-by-side comparison based on your expectations from the trip.
Ghent or Bruges for sightseeing?
That’s a tricky one since both Bruges and Ghent have a lot to offer in terms of sightseeing. Bruges offers many attractions, all of which are located in the compact historic center. For Ghent, we listed some of the landmarks to see in the heart of the city too. But in fact, there’s more to see and visit just outside of the historic center. Just a short tram ride will take you to the museum site, the Art Deco mansions at Miljoenenkwartier, and more. So, a Ghent city break is much more diverse in terms of sightseeing.
Bruges or Ghent for canal cruises?
Although we like taking an occasional boat tour in Ghent, we do prefer the Bruges canal tours. The waterways in Bruges are simply more picturesque and romantic than the ones in Ghent. Bruges is called the “Venice of the North” for a reason. It’s a must-do attraction, you just can’t leave Bruges without taking one of these iconic tours.
Ghent or Bruges for art?
Bruges only has one art museum: the Groeningemuseum which displays Flemish primitives. It does have some other interesting museums such as the St John’s Hospital, a mini-harp museum, and also some thematic houses that cater more to tourists such as the Choco-Story Chocolate Museum, the Diamond Museum, the Lace Museum, and the Belgian Fry Museum. (You should never call a fry French in Belgium.) Bruges does a great job describing the history of Bruges but none of the museums focus on international art.
That’s no match for Ghent. Whether you’re looking to admire Fine Arts, Modern Art, or Design, you’ll find it in this creative hub. You’ll even find art around every corner in Ghent because this Belgian city is renowned for its street art. Just follow the Sorry, Not Sorry itinerary by Visit Ghent and you’ll know what we mean. In our opinion, it touches a bit deeper than some of the crowd-pleasing museums that you find in Bruges.
Bruges or Ghent for chocolate lovers?
While Ghent does have some excellent chocolatiers, Bruges is home to many more world-famous chocolate brands and local chocolate artisans. So, when you’re on a mission to go chocolate tasting, then Bruges is where you want to go. The legendary chocolate tour will take you to Cloud 9 in no time.
Ghent or Bruges for foodies?
Apart from the tourist restaurants, Bruges is known to have a more classic restaurant scene. But we do have a feeling that more creative concepts are starting to find their way to Bruges. Sanseveria Bagelsalon, That’s Toast, and Nomad to name a few. Our new favorite is Quatre Vins with its delicious sharing menu.
Ghent is home to the most creative food scene. From surprising chocolate pralines to oatmeal heaven, and from vegan and vegetarian street food to trendy international dining. If you’re into exciting food concepts, then Ghent should be on top of your list. Some of our favorite hotspots in Ghent include Luv L’oeuf, Bicho Malo, Madame Baksters, O’yo, Norma, Oats Day Long, Max, Epiphany’s Kitchen and Oak. You’ll need more than a Ghent day trip to taste the best the city has to offer.
One side note: We do feel that Bruges is home to the best waffles. While Oyya waffles can be found in both Ghent and Bruges, the delicious guilt-free waffles of the Otto Waffle Atelier are exclusive to Bruges.
Bruges or Ghent for nightlife?
The fact that Ghent is one of the most important student cities in Belgium kind of gives it away. It’s indeed the kind of city where you can have fun 24/7. Bruges doesn’t really have that nightlife scene, apart from some underground cafés that might keep their doors open till late.
Ghent or Bruges for the Christmas markets?
Nothing beats Christmas in Bruges. The fairytale backdrop and the many stalls create magical moments. Read all about the Bruges Christmas Market in our dedicated article. A few years ago, Bruges would have been the absolute winner in this category but ever since, Ghent has really stepped up its game. The Ghent Christmas market may be more compact but nowadays it’s just as mesmerizing as the one in Bruges.
Oh, and if you happen to be staying in Belgium a bit longer, then make sure to also visit the Brussels Christmas market.
Overall: Bruges vs Ghent
So, let us round up this comparison of these two beautiful Belgian cities. Which is better, Bruges or Ghent?
- Why visit Bruges? If you’re looking for an open-air museum type of city, where every stone is polished and every house is cute, where the atmosphere is romantic and the setting evokes a fairytale and you don’t mind the crowds of tourists, then you should go to cute Bruges.
- Why visit Ghent? If you’re more into a bold city with a soft shell, where history meets art, where authenticity meets creativity, where you can truly eat your heart out and be right at home without feeling like a tourist, then edgy Ghent is where you want to go.
Visit Bruges or Ghent FAQ
It sure is! The picturesque historic center, the fortress in the heart of the city, the views from the Belfry, the canal tours, the art museums, and the street art make Ghent worth visiting.
It sure is! The fairytale setting, the views from the Belfry, the canal tours, the historic sites, and the boutique hotels make Bruges worth visiting.
Both Bruges and Ghent are medieval Belgian cities that make for wonderful day trips from Brussels. And on the surface, the canals and the facades of the houses do look a bit similar. But when you look closer, both cities are very different. Each comes with its own unique background, landmarks, and atmosphere. Bruges is more compact and the entire historic center looks like a fairytale, but the city can be overrun with tourists. Ghent’s historic center looks a bit less polished. It’s edgier, more artistic, and livelier thanks to its important student population.
While it’s not advisable to visit Bruges and Ghent in one day, it’s possible. But in that case, we’d strongly recommend booking a guided Bruges and Ghent tour from Brussels.
Here are two organized day trips from Brussels that combine both Ghent and Bruges:
From Brussels: Ghent and Bruges Day Tour
From Brussels: Bruges and Ghent in a Day Guided Tour
Bruges and Ghent are 50 km (or a good 30 mi) apart. The direct train ride between Bruges and Ghent takes only 28 minutes.
Bruges is located furthest from Brussels. The distance between Bruges and Brussels is 100 km (or a good 60 mi). Ghent is located right in between Bruges and Brussels. The distance between Ghent and Brussels is 55 km (or just under 35 mi).
Although Ghent is home to some fine hotels, we prefer the many boutique hotels in Bruges. So, if your travel itinerary doesn’t allow for an extra night in Ghent, then we’d recommend staying in Bruges and taking a day trip from Ghent.
Yes, both in terms of accommodation and food, Bruges is more expensive than Ghent. Boutique hotels offer a more personal service, which tends to be a bit pricier. And since Bruges has more boutique-style hotels, the accommodation cost tends to be higher in Bruges. The Bruges restaurant scene is more limited and classic, often geared towards tourists. In part thanks to its student population, Ghent has a more diverse restaurant offer that caters to all budgets.
Practical info on these medieval cities in Belgium
Now that you have picked your favorite between Bruges and Ghent, it’s time to prepare for your visit. Here are some important travel tips to make your day trip from Brussels to Bruges or Ghent a success.
Getting from Ghent to Bruges and from Bruges to Ghent by train
You’ll need to rely on the trains to take you from one Belgian city to the other. The connection between Bruges and Ghent is a direct line. The train ride only takes about 25 minutes and runs multiple times a day. Click here to check the train schedule.
Both Bruges and Ghent are located in the Flanders region of Belgium: Bruges in West Flanders and Ghent in East Flanders. Locals speak Flemish, which resembles Dutch. Most inhabitants, however, speak English very well and also know French.
The Flemish names for these Belgian cities are Brugge for Bruges and Gent for Ghent. The letter g is pronounced as the phonetic letter /x/, a soft g.
Fun fact: Because of the dialect in West Flanders, the g in Brugge is locally pronounced as /h/.
Weather in Belgium
Belgian weather is quite unpredictable, especially in terms of rain. Always bring a raincoat or purchase an umbrella, especially when you’re not visiting Belgium in the summer. During the winter months, we get temperatures around freezing point but it rarely happens that it’s freezing during the day (maybe a couple of days every year, not more).
Well, that’s it for the comparison of Bruges and Ghent from a local’s point of view. We certainly hope it’ll make your choice a lot easier or better yet, spend an entire day in both of these wonderful cities in Belgium. Do you have a question about either Ghent or Bruges that hasn’t been answered in this post? Then go ahead and comment, we’d be delighted to help you out.