Ghent and the Leie

As in most Belgian towns, nightlife in Ghent centers around grazing, drinking, and talking with friends into the wee hours. However, the city's massive student population ensures a much busier, more varied nightlife than you'll find in the likes of Bruges or other towns in Flanders. Consequently, locals have come up with a very Belgian compromise to ensure tensions don't arise between residents and students. In an idea akin to horror film The Purge, the worst of the student revelry is contained within one hedonistic street containing 35 bars known as Overpoort. Such is its reputation that the police have been known to tape off the area and let the kids work out their frustrations. The consequence is that, despite the huge student population, the center isn't dominated by beer-fueled teens and is left mostly to the delectation of tourists and locals. But should you still desire to shake your booty away from the mayhem of Overpoort, the area around Oude Beestenmarkt and Vlasmarkt, near Portus Ganda, is a good spot for clubs, albeit of the cheesier variety.

There are special dance nights, several gay bars, and lots of gay and lesbian organizations providing help and advice. The tourist office even provides a gay and lesbian city map.

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  • 1. Gruut

    Brewer Annick de Splenter's prolific brewpub has lost none of its ability to surprise. Based in an old galley, relics of the building's former life...

    Brewer Annick de Splenter's prolific brewpub has lost none of its ability to surprise. Based in an old galley, relics of the building's former life remain, with various cow statues proliferating the bar. Gruut's beers are made to a medieval recipe, using herbs, not hops; the result is a more subtle, lighter-tasting brew than the usual Belgian offering. Tours of the brewery (€20) can be arranged; you can even add a boat trip to your visit. If you have the time, spare some for its "beeralchemy" sessions (€22) and the chance to brew your own herb beer to take home; it's easily done in an afternoon and the session includes a brief tour and tastings.

    Rembert Dodoensdreef 1, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-269–0269
  • 2. Jiggers

    This superb cocktail bar re-creates a 1920s speakeasy vibe. The drinks are uniformly excellent, with homemade bitters and infusions decorating an ever-changing menu that has...

    This superb cocktail bar re-creates a 1920s speakeasy vibe. The drinks are uniformly excellent, with homemade bitters and infusions decorating an ever-changing menu that has something of a gastronomy vibe, while the outdoor, waterside terrace is cozily hidden. While so many of Ghent's cocktail bars err on the tacky side, Jiggers is an oasis of cool, though at around €15 a drink, it doesn't come cheap.

    Oudberg 16, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-335–7025
  • 3. 't Dreupelkot

    To taste a potent Flemish and Dutch specialty, head to 't Dreupelkot (sister bar to Het Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant), which produces its own jenever—a...

    To taste a potent Flemish and Dutch specialty, head to 't Dreupelkot (sister bar to Het Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant), which produces its own jenever—a liquor similar in flavor to, and said to be the precursor of, gin. Here, it's all homemade and comes in a multitude of flavors, including vanilla, chocolate, and even cactus. The owner is also a character of the eccentric variety. A "barometer" behind the bar indicates his mood at any given time—it rarely points to "happy."

    Groentenmarkt 12, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-224–2120
  • 4. 'T Fonteintje

    One of the oldest bars in Kortrijk sits on the banks of the Leie. The city has changed around it, and what was once a...

    One of the oldest bars in Kortrijk sits on the banks of the Leie. The city has changed around it, and what was once a typical Belgian "brown bar" (its pale walls stained by years of tobacco smoke) in a run-down area is now one of the hipper locations on the riverfront for a beer. It has a nice terrace in summer. 

    Handboogstraat 12, Kortrijk, Flanders, 8500, Belgium
    056-449--160
  • 5. Brouwbar

    A microbrewery that leans more to the U.S. craft ale style than its native Belgian, though the odd saison does appear. This plucky bar typically...

    A microbrewery that leans more to the U.S. craft ale style than its native Belgian, though the odd saison does appear. This plucky bar typically has eight beers on tap at any one point. A home-brewers mentality means it's constantly changing beers but you'll always find an IPA or New England--style brew to slake your thirst. 

    Oudburg 70a–72a, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    0485-406–319
  • 6. Casa Rosa / A-Pluss

    This LGBT center has information on gay and lesbian bars, events, and organizations, and also offers help and advice (website in Dutch). On the ground...

    This LGBT center has information on gay and lesbian bars, events, and organizations, and also offers help and advice (website in Dutch). On the ground floor, the A-Pluss bar and café has a fine selection of gins, a new street terrace, and live music on weekends. 

    Kammerstraat 22, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-269--2812
  • 7. Damberd

    Gravensteen/Patershol

    Jazz, soul, and funk musicians from all over the world have found their way to Damberd's late-night sessions, held in one of the oldest bars...

    Jazz, soul, and funk musicians from all over the world have found their way to Damberd's late-night sessions, held in one of the oldest bars in Gent.

    Korenmarkt 19, Ghent, Flanders, B9000, Belgium
    09-329–5337
  • 8. De Carillon

    Look for the "Special Oudenaardes" sign out front. This is one of the oldest bars in the city and also among the more unusual. The...

    Look for the "Special Oudenaardes" sign out front. This is one of the oldest bars in the city and also among the more unusual. The building's gabled exterior comprises two 17th-century brick houses that were once part of a much larger terrace. That they survived at all, having weathered various wars, is miraculous. Inside, it's a typical Belgian brown bar, with an excellent beer selection and a lively atmosphere. In summer, the terrace fills up fast. 

    Markt 49, Oudenaarde, Flanders, 9700, Belgium
    055-311--409
  • 9. De Dulle Griet

    In this quintessential Ghent pub, there are more than 500 kinds of beer, but the specialty is the 1.2-liter Kwak (a blond 8.5% beer), complete...

    In this quintessential Ghent pub, there are more than 500 kinds of beer, but the specialty is the 1.2-liter Kwak (a blond 8.5% beer), complete with traditional hourglass-shape glass and stand—ask for a "Max." If you brave this beer, though, you must leave one of your shoes as a deposit when you order. The pub is open most days noon--1 am, apart from Sunday evening when it closes early, and Monday when it doesn't open until 4:30 pm.

    Vrijdagmarkt 50, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-224–2455
  • 10. Den Ouden Tinnen Pot

    An old local favorite. Its small terrace overlooks the Stadhuis, and inside it's just a nice, cozy pub, with a TV pumping out soccer in...

    An old local favorite. Its small terrace overlooks the Stadhuis, and inside it's just a nice, cozy pub, with a TV pumping out soccer in the evenings. It also has a choice of hundreds of different gins and jenevers. 

    Kerkstraat 9, Dendermonde, Flanders, 9200, Belgium
  • 11. Dok Brewing Co.

    Dok Noord

    It's a bit of a distance from the center of town, but well worth the excursion. This microbrewery and taproom is the largest and most...

    It's a bit of a distance from the center of town, but well worth the excursion. This microbrewery and taproom is the largest and most experimental in Ghent, with 30 beers on tap. Set in the old Dok Noord complex, around 10 to 15 are brewed on-site, and are only ever made once. The choice is almost overwhelming. Hour-long brewery tours and tastings (€18) can be booked in advance, and the building also has independent street-food stalls inside, with BBQ joint RØK particularly recommended. 

    Dok-Noord 4B, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
  • 12. Ernest

    A cozy, candlelit wine bar in the center of the city, right on the Grote Markt. Inside, it's rather dinky but the terrace cheerfully spills...

    A cozy, candlelit wine bar in the center of the city, right on the Grote Markt. Inside, it's rather dinky but the terrace cheerfully spills onto the pavement outside. A good selection of French wines.  

    Grote Markt 47, Kortrijk, Flanders, 8500, Belgium
    0491-235--600
  • 13. Ghentish Medieval Beer Walk

    This 3½-hour walk (stumble?) guides people through the backstreets of Ghent, taking in 25 "moments" from the city's medieval brewing past. It's not your typical...

    This 3½-hour walk (stumble?) guides people through the backstreets of Ghent, taking in 25 "moments" from the city's medieval brewing past. It's not your typical boozy beer crawl, but a chance to unravel the curious story of medieval Ghent and its "hop vs herb" beer divide. Tours start at the Gruut brewpub, and there's no limit on participants.

    Rembert Dodoensdreef 1, B9000, Unknown
    06-2359–5877-for reservations

    Nightlife Details

    Rate Includes: From €35
  • 14. Het Waterhuis Aan De Bierkant

    Back in the plague-ridden early 1500s, this fine estaminet was the city's main source of clean drinking water. As the years went by, it morphed...

    Back in the plague-ridden early 1500s, this fine estaminet was the city's main source of clean drinking water. As the years went by, it morphed from water house to brothel to barbershop, and finally an inn. Today, it remains one of the city's iconic "brown bars." Come here for the selection; with several beers on tap, including a few of their own house brews and hundreds of bottled beers, it's pretty much perfection. Its small waterside terrace fills up quickly in fine weather though.

    Groentenmarkt 9, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-225–0680
  • 15. Honky Tonk Jazz Club

    A local institution, this jazz club has been operating since 1962, with regular concerts in its vaulted basement of blues, roots, and jazz music. Everyone...

    A local institution, this jazz club has been operating since 1962, with regular concerts in its vaulted basement of blues, roots, and jazz music. Everyone from Chuck Berry and Curtis Mayfield to Jerry Lee Lewis has played here, and inside you'll find a small museum about its history. 

    Leopoldlaan 12A, Dendermonde, Flanders, 9200, Belgium
    0475-699--416
  • 16. Missy Sippy

    A little slice of New Orleans on the Leie. Missy Sippy may lie square in the historic center, in the shadow of the Sint-Niklaaskerk, yet...

    A little slice of New Orleans on the Leie. Missy Sippy may lie square in the historic center, in the shadow of the Sint-Niklaaskerk, yet still feels like a back-alley discovery, dishing up thumping blues and roots bands alongside a decent selections of Belgian brews and bourbons.

    Klein Turkije 16, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    0484-925–684
  • 17. Muziekcafé Charlatan

    There are concerts as well as dance nights at Charlatan. Music starts up at 10, and entry to most events is free. The lineup includes...

    There are concerts as well as dance nights at Charlatan. Music starts up at 10, and entry to most events is free. The lineup includes alt-rock, electro, and lots of DJ nights.

    Vlasmarkt 6, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-224–2457
  • 18. Steca

    Another solid bar overlooking the Grotemarkt and with a rather slick interior. It opens early, closes late, and drinks are accompanied by a small sharing...

    Another solid bar overlooking the Grotemarkt and with a rather slick interior. It opens early, closes late, and drinks are accompanied by a small sharing plate of popcorn, olives, and chips. Its selection of whiskies and local beers is also pretty good. 

    Grotemarkt 26, Dendermonde, Flanders, 9200, Belgium
    0495-310--099
  • 19. Trollekelder

    Yet another beer specialist, although one located in a 15th-century cellar and with an atmosphere a tad livelier than its more laid-back rivals. The crowd...

    Yet another beer specialist, although one located in a 15th-century cellar and with an atmosphere a tad livelier than its more laid-back rivals. The crowd is a bit younger, too.

    17 Bij Sint-Jacobs, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    0477-409–237
  • 20. Wijnbar Markt 30

    Perched on the eastern edge of the town square, this decidedly bijou escape has the look and air of a modern gentleman's club, while the...

    Perched on the eastern edge of the town square, this decidedly bijou escape has the look and air of a modern gentleman's club, while the terrace outside gazes over to the stately town hall. A decent wine and tapas menu accompanies some fine people-watching. 

    Markt 30, Oudenaarde, Flanders, 9700, Belgium
    0479-746--381

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