A Local Guide to Ghent, Belgium: Craft Beer, Cheap Vintage & Dockside Clubbing | Holidays in Ghent

Food

Ghent has an exciting restaurant scene, with unpretentious creative young chefs who favor local, seasonal ingredients with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. I recommend Aroy Aroy, the latest venture from chef Jason Blanckaert, who has given up his Michelin stars and only cooks what he loves. Right now it serves Thai food which I would say is as authentic as many Thai restaurants, although the chefs at Aroy Aroy are Flemish.

I also really like Elders, a new place just outside the center that serves simple but delicious dishes like a cold broth of cucumber and elderflower, or grilled oysters with rhubarb. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday brunch.

Oysters at the Elders

And Raaf, which is about to open, is a first adventure for young chefs who will bake their own bread, grill and broil meat, fish and lots of vegetables in a beautifully processed butcher’s meat reserve. And head to the Lousberg organic market, where het Hinkelspel dairy cooperative sells a fabulous selection of local cheeses.

Inspiration

Kouter flower market.
Kouter flower market. Photograph: Helen Nicholson/Alamy

Running a brewery takes up most of my life, but Sundays are sacred, and I have a ritual that starts with a stroll through the center of Ghent, to the StJacob flea market, where I can enjoy the simple pleasure of buy cheap vintage jackets for as little as just €5. Next, head to the second-hand book market in Ajuinlei and the flower market in Kouter Square. By then my wife and family will have joined me for oysters and bubbles at the De Blauwe kiosk in the market.

I recommend visitors to see the painting Adoration of the Mystical Lamb (the Ghent Altarpiece) by brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck in the cathedral. Yes, there will be long queues, but it’s unforgettable – and there’s now a 3D experience as well as the masterpiece itself.

Piece

We opened our brewery four years ago in the Dok Noord district, and it has become a neighborhood with an atmosphere similar to the old docks of London or New York. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the medieval center of Ghent, but it feels like another world. The 19th-century industrial warehouses that line the canal have been transformed into a mix of creative hubs, eating places and sustainable housing that attract young locals.

Directly on the canal, Eat This is an experimental exhibition and performance space, while nearby Bar Bricolage is an open-air bar that hosts live music. Children can play in the new Captain Zeppos maritime theme park. Don’t imagine that this district looks like Bruges or Antwerp – as we always say here: “if it’s too beautiful, then it’s not Ghent”.

Ghent and the Lys.
Ghent and the Lys. Photography: Jurgen Schulzki/Alamy

Green area

I have two favorite green spaces. Appelbrugparkje is a tiny park in the historic heart of Ghent that even many locals have never heard of. It is hidden behind the Chateau des Comtes, you sit quietly in an oasis of greenery, with picturesque views of the Lys and the medieval Halle des Bouchers.

Keizerpark, on the Scheldt, is very different; a large open-air park very popular with Ghent residents where you can sit down for a picnic and rent a boat.

Night life

For anyone who loves techno and house, Kompass is a world-class club, a typically Ghent family affair, but attracting top DJs. Housed in a former factory with low ceilings, the atmosphere is electric. And Charlatan is a local legend that never disappoints, the best club in town for over 30 years. There’s even a movie about it, Belgica. At least once a month the whole team goes to Charlatan after the brewery is closed.

For live music, Bar Lume is the place to catch young Belgian bands, while Funke is a new venue that spans three floors, a cultural center hosting concerts, DJ sets and art spaces for exhibitions and installations.

Stay

De Draecke (dorm beds from €19, doubles €70) is a simple but trendy hostel right in the city center offering dorms or private rooms.

Dimitri Messiaen is the founder of the Dok Brewing Company

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