Ghent and the Leie

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  • 1. Begijnhof van Kortrijk

    Kortrijk's 13th-century beguinage ("begijnhof" in Dutch) was home to a religious group of women known as "beguines" who weren't bound by the Orders of nuns. ...

    Kortrijk's 13th-century beguinage ("begijnhof" in Dutch) was home to a religious group of women known as "beguines" who weren't bound by the Orders of nuns.  Although they were cloistered away, many had to earn their stay in the community through teaching and handicrafts, and the story of the beguinage runs alongside that of the city. It was plundered by the French, along with the rest of Kortrijk, in the aftermath of the 1382 Battle of Westrozebeke, and later repurposed as a field hospital when Europe descended into acrimony at the end of the 18th century. It was even taken out of the hands of the beguines for a period, when inns and brothels moved in, much to the distaste of the Grand Mistress. By 2013, the final beguine in Belgium had died and an era ended. Only recently has the 35-year-long project to restore the cluster of whitewashed town houses and chapel that makes up the beguinage been completed, and it remains perhaps the finest example of its kind in Belgium. Visits are free; there is a new museum in the St. Anna room but this is largely in Dutch, so audio guides (€2) are well worth the small outlay.  

    Begijnhofstraat 2, Kortrijk, Flanders, 8500, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free (€2 for audio guide)
  • 2. Belfort van Gent

    This 300-foot belfry tower symbolizes the power of the city guilds and was constructed in 1314 to serve as Ghent's watchtower. (The current stone spire...

    This 300-foot belfry tower symbolizes the power of the city guilds and was constructed in 1314 to serve as Ghent's watchtower. (The current stone spire was added in 1913.) Inside the Belfort, documents listing the privileges of the city (known as its secreets) were once kept behind triple-locked doors and guarded by lookouts, who toured the battlements hourly to prove they weren't sleeping. When danger approached, bells were rung—until Charles V had them removed. The view from the tower is one of the city's highlights. 

    Sint-Baafsplein, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-233--3954

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €8; guided tour €3 (daily 3:30 pm; entrance not included)
  • 3. Graslei

    This magnificent row of guild houses in the original port area is best seen from across the River Leie on the Korenlei (Corn Quay). The...

    This magnificent row of guild houses in the original port area is best seen from across the River Leie on the Korenlei (Corn Quay). The guild house of the Metselaars (Masons) is a copy of a house from 1527. The Eerste Korenmetershuis (the first Grain Measurers' House), representing the grain weigher's guild, is next. The oldest house of the group, the brooding, Romanesque Koornstapelhuis (Granary), was built in the 12th century and served its original purpose for 600 years. It stands side by side with the narrow Renaissance Tolhuis (Toll House), where taxes were levied on grain shipments. No. 11 is the Tweede Korenmetershuis (Grain Measurers' House), a late-Baroque building from 1698. The Vrije Schippers (Free Bargemen), at No. 14, is a late-Gothic building from 1531, when the guild dominated inland shipping.

    Graslei, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
  • 4. Gravensteen (Castle of the Counts)

    Surrounded by a moat, the Castle of the Counts of Flanders resembles an enormous battleship steaming down the sedate Lieve Canal. From its windswept battlements...

    Surrounded by a moat, the Castle of the Counts of Flanders resembles an enormous battleship steaming down the sedate Lieve Canal. From its windswept battlements there's a splendid view over the rooftops of old Ghent. Today's brooding castle has little in common with the original fortress, which was built to discourage marauding Norsemen. Its purpose, too, changed from protection to oppression as the conflict deepened between feudal lords and unruly townspeople. At various times the castle has also been used as a mint, a prison, and a cotton mill.

    Sint-Veerleplein, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-243–9730

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12
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  • 5. Huis van Alijn

    The museum itself comprises several settings, with its interior largely devoted to everyday 20th-century household items lovingly preserved. The courtyard features 18 medieval almshouses surrounding...

    The museum itself comprises several settings, with its interior largely devoted to everyday 20th-century household items lovingly preserved. The courtyard features 18 medieval almshouses surrounding a garden, reconstructed to offer an idea of life here 100 years ago. The visitors' route takes you from the houses to the chapel and out through the crypt. Children are often drawn to the giant pageant figures, board games, and frequent shows in the beamed-and-brick puppet theater, where the star is "Pierke," the traditional Gent puppet. Tickets to shows can be bought at Uitbureau.

    Kraanlei 65, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-235–3800

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Museum €8, Closed Wed.
  • 6. Kasteel Ooidonk

    Of the 3,000 or so castles found in Belgium, Ooidonk still numbers among the most eye-catching. It stands on the site of a 13th-century fortress...

    Of the 3,000 or so castles found in Belgium, Ooidonk still numbers among the most eye-catching. It stands on the site of a 13th-century fortress that was destroyed when Ghent rose up against the Habsburg ruler Maximilian I. It was, again, razed during the social upheavals of the 1500s, before its transformation into a residential estate by the wealthy Antwerp merchant Martin della Faille. In doing so, its Hispanic-French architecture broke away from the “murder holes” and pragmatism of the early Middle Ages, adding Renaissance flourishes like its “onion” towers. It has been in the family of owners Count and Countess t'Kint de Roodenbeke since 1864, and they still live in residence. For part of the year, the castle interior can be visited on guided tours (April–October), revealing magnificent tapestries, antiques, and artworks; the rest of the time you can only visit the park and gardens, though these are sufficiently grand to make the trek worthwhile. The best way to reach the castle is to walk, or cycle, the 6 km (4-mile) riverside trail from Deinze.  

    Ooidonkdreef 9, Deinze, Flanders, 9800, Belgium
    09-282–2638

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12 castle visit; €3 park and gardens, Castle entry closed Nov.–Mar.
  • 7. MSK – Museum of Fine Arts Ghent

    This is one of Belgium's finer art museums, and its temporary exhibitions are usually exceptional. Built in 1902 at the edge of Citadelpark, the neoclassical...

    This is one of Belgium's finer art museums, and its temporary exhibitions are usually exceptional. Built in 1902 at the edge of Citadelpark, the neoclassical Museum of Fine Arts (or Museum voor Schone Kunsten) has holdings that span the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, including works by Rubens, Géricault, Corot, Ensor, and Magritte. Its collection of Flemish Primitive painters is particularly noteworthy, with two paintings by Hieronymus Bosch: Saint Jerome and Christ Carrying the Cross. It also has a fine collection of sculpture and French painting. When panels from the Ghent Altarpiece go for restoration, they are done here, with visitors able to see the restorers at work. 

    Fernand Scribedreef 1, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-323–6700

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €8, Closed Mon.
  • 8. Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens

    The museum is named after its two founders, Jules and Irma Dhondt-Dhaenens, whose private collection of modern art is exhibited piecemeal throughout the year. Temporary...

    The museum is named after its two founders, Jules and Irma Dhondt-Dhaenens, whose private collection of modern art is exhibited piecemeal throughout the year. Temporary exhibitions fill the rest of the schedule, typically leaning towards more challenging works. It offers a fascinating counterbalance to the fiercely antimodern Latem Schools, for which the region became famous. 

    Museumlaan 14, Deurle, Flanders, 9831, Belgium
    09-330–1730

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €9, Closed Mon. and Tues.
  • 9. Sint-Alexius Begijnhof and Museum

    The begijnhofs (“beguinages” in French) were home to religious-minded women who wanted a life of devotion to God without having to take the Orders (of...

    The begijnhofs (“beguinages” in French) were home to religious-minded women who wanted a life of devotion to God without having to take the Orders (of fidelity and poverty) that nuns were beholden to. This UNESCO-listed begijnhof was originally formed in 1288, and in its 17th-century heyday was home to some 200 beguines. The last beguine here died in 1975, but you’ll find an interesting museum spread across a pair of houses that covers the life of the beguines and local folklore.  

    Begijnhof 11--24--25, Dendermonde, Flanders, 9200, Belgium
    052-213--018-museum

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Museum closed Mon.
  • 10. Sint-Baafs Kathedraal

    Construction on the cathedral of St. Bavo (or Sint-Baaf) began in the 12th century but it wasn't finished for hundreds of years. Consequently, you can...

    Construction on the cathedral of St. Bavo (or Sint-Baaf) began in the 12th century but it wasn't finished for hundreds of years. Consequently, you can spy every flavor of medieval Gothic in its stonework, from the more austere early sculpting to the fine Brabantine style that swept the Low Countries in the 15th and 16th centuries. Inside is breathtaking but, for the past five centuries, most visitors come here for one thing: to see the famous Ghent Altarpiece, one of the most influential paintings of the Middle Ages. The altarpiece, a series of 12 panels, was created by the brothers Jan and Hubert van Eyck and has long lived in infamy. It has been the victim of several thefts, and after one of its lower panels was stolen in 1934, it was never recovered (a replica stands in its place), giving rise to numerous conspiracy theories and inspiring Albert Camus's novel The Fall. Ongoing restoration of the altarpiece since 2012 has seen what remains gradually returned to its original condition, with visitors able to see the restoration work up close at the Museum of Fine Arts. The rest now sits in a newly built visitor center, with augmented-reality tours offering an in-depth look at the history of this iconic artwork. Elsewhere, the cathedral has many works of art. Its ornate pulpit, made of white Italian marble and black Danish oak, was carved in the 18th century by the sculptor Laurent Delvaux. A Rubens masterpiece, Saint Bavo's Entry into the Monastery, also hangs in one of the chapels. Other treasures include a baroque-style organ built in 1623 and a crypt crammed with tapestries, church paraphernalia, and 15th- and 16th-century frescoes.

    Sint-Baafsplein, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-397--1500

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Cathedral free; Altarpiece visit €13; AR tours €16, Closed during mass
  • 11. Steamtrain Dendermonde–Puurs

    These charming heritage trains (both steam and diesel) only run in the summer, between July and September. The oldest (Cockerill 2643) dates back to 1907,...

    These charming heritage trains (both steam and diesel) only run in the summer, between July and September. The oldest (Cockerill 2643) dates back to 1907, though the steamers mostly come from the early 20th century. Its journey from Baasrode-Noord, a few miles east of Dendermonde, to the small village of Puurs takes you through countryside wrapped by the Scheldt. There is room for bicycles, so if you only want to travel one-way and cycle the 17 km (10½ miles) back alongside the river to Dendermonde, you can. For €200, you can even be the "stoker" of the train for a day and ride upfront. 

    Baasrode-Noord Station, Dendermonde, Flanders, 9200, Belgium
    052-330--223

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €9 return, Closed Oct.–June
  • 12. Texture Museum

    Flanders's damp conditions were perfect for growing flax, a crop used to make food, oil, and fibers, particularly linen. It might seem an uninspiring subject,...

    Flanders's damp conditions were perfect for growing flax, a crop used to make food, oil, and fibers, particularly linen. It might seem an uninspiring subject, but the crop is so woven into the history of Kortrijk that visits to Texture are surprisingly fascinating. The flax grown in the area had a lighter color, gaining the Leie the nickname the "Golden River." When processed in its waters, flax was even thought to gain unique properties, such was the quality of the linen produced. In reality, it was just generations of local knowledge that made its cloth so fine. By the 15th century, Flanders was the epicenter of the linen industry, and Kortrijk its jewel, especially famed for its damask. The city's fortunes ebbed and flowed with the industry, taking a hit in the 19th century, as industrial cotton and linen flooded the market; post World War II, it would collapse entirely. The museum explores this journey, from the multitude of uses for the crop (even the U.S. dollar bill is made of 25% flax) to its complicated history, with no shortage of style.  

    Noordstraat 28, Kortrijk, Flanders, 8500, Belgium
    056-277--470

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €6, Closed Mon.
  • 13. Tour of Flanders Museum

    Cycling is everything in this part of Flanders. It's here that the famous Tour of Flanders (known as "De Ronde") culminates, and the city even...

    Cycling is everything in this part of Flanders. It's here that the famous Tour of Flanders (known as "De Ronde") culminates, and the city even has its own museum dedicated to the race. Regardless of whether you get shivers at the sight Eddie Mercx's racing glove or care little about the sport, it draws you in nicely. Audio guides explain what you're seeing; there's even a virtual cycling machine to give you a taste of the Tour. It's not just about the race, either, and gives an interesting overview of the Flemish Ardennes, whose hills, history, and isolation made it the perfect playground for the Tour organizers. At the ticket desk, you can also organize bike hire and cycling tours of the area.

    Markt 43, Oudenaarde, Flanders, 9700, Belgium
    055-339--933

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12
  • 14. Bastion VIII

    This small nature reserve on the western edge of town takes its name from the 11 bulwarks that used to reinforce the city defenses. This...

    This small nature reserve on the western edge of town takes its name from the 11 bulwarks that used to reinforce the city defenses. This was where the eighth once stood, though only parts of the wall still survive here, with bats having taken up residence in the old gunpowder bunker. It makes for a pleasant stroll or picnic spot and is filled with beehives. 

    Begijnhoflaan 45, Dendermonde, Flanders, 9200, Belgium
    053-210--874

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 15. Begijnhof

    There are three beguinages ("begijnhof" in Dutch) in Ghent, built centuries ago to house women (beguines) who lived lives of prayer and devoted themselves to...

    There are three beguinages ("begijnhof" in Dutch) in Ghent, built centuries ago to house women (beguines) who lived lives of prayer and devoted themselves to charitable works but did not take religious vows. It sounds like something from another age, but the last beguine to live in Ghent only died in 2013. The best surviving example is Our Lady ter Hoyen, founded in 1235 by Countess Joanna of Constantinople. This is the smallest of the three and is protected by a wall and portal. The surrounding homes were built in the 17th and 18th centuries and are still organized in a medieval style, each holding a statue of a saint. Today, you can walk quietly through the main building and peek into the stone chapel—the houses are off-limits, with the larger ones leased for residential use. The smaller houses have become artists' workshops. Although entry is free, a gate closes to keep out nonresidents 10 pm--6:30 am. The city's second beguinage, the UNESCO-listed Groot Begijnhof, is found on Van Arenbergstraat, west of the city center. At its peak, some 600 beguines lived there. The city's third and final beguinage is on Begijnhofdries, but its walls have long since come down.

    Lange Violettestraat 77--273, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 16. Brusselse Forten

    Up until the end of the 1800s, like most towns in Brussels, Dendermonde was still wrapped by ramparts and wide canals, a hangover from its...

    Up until the end of the 1800s, like most towns in Brussels, Dendermonde was still wrapped by ramparts and wide canals, a hangover from its days as an important position on the banks of the Scheldt and Dender. Their remains still scatter this pretty park alongside the water's edge, southwest of the center, where you'll find plenty of locals peacefully fishing.  

    Brusselse Forten, Dendermonde, Flanders, 9200, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 17. Buda Island

    Central to the recent revival of the city has been its renovation of the riverfront and Buda Island. This small scoop of land, between two...

    Central to the recent revival of the city has been its renovation of the riverfront and Buda Island. This small scoop of land, between two branching arms of the Leie, is typically reached by Broel Bridge, guarded at either end by 14th-century twin towers built to control traffic on the Leie. They were part of the original city fortifications, but can only be entered with a guide these days. On the banks on either side of the river runs a stepped pedestrian and terrace area. Just a few years ago this was a miserable car park; now, it is the most popular part of the city in summer, when a beach (May–September) is created and the bars open long into the evening. The island itself has been colonized by arts studios, and while there is little here for tourists, the vibe is rather hipper than it used to be. Wander its bridge and you will find the beautiful courtyard of the Hospital of Our Lady. Its monumental gate was erected in 1658, but it dates back to the early 13th century when it was built to provide a night's stay for vagrants outside the city gates. 

    Buda Island, Kortrijk, Flanders, 8500, Belgium

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free
  • 18. De Wereld van Kina (The World of Kina)

    This kid-friendly natural-history museum exhibits cover geology, the evolution of life, human biology and reproduction, and a diorama room of indigenous birds. There is also...

    This kid-friendly natural-history museum exhibits cover geology, the evolution of life, human biology and reproduction, and a diorama room of indigenous birds. There is also a garden site a short bus ride from Sint-Pietersplein (No. 5; get off at Tolhuislaan) with more than 1,000 plant species, a bee colony, and live tarantulas.

    Sint-Pietersplein 14, Ghent, Flanders, 9000, Belgium
    09-323--6250

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €6, Closed Sat.
  • 19. Gevert-Minne Museum

    The painter, poet, writer, and composer Edgar Gevart married the daughter of George Minne, one of the central figures of the first Latem School of...

    The painter, poet, writer, and composer Edgar Gevart married the daughter of George Minne, one of the central figures of the first Latem School of artists, in 1916. They built their home soon after, a charming mix of Gothic and traditional cottage styles. When he died, his wife, Marie, opened his studio to the public, showing not just her husband's work but that of her father. Today, its collection on display is much broader, ranging from Xavier de Cock’s early paintings to the arrival of the prewar Expressionists. Its "sheep stable" also holds temporary exhibitions. Note: visiting hours can be a little eccentric here, with doors only opening between 2 and 5 pm.

    Edgard Gevaertdreef, Sint-Martins-Latem, Flanders, 9830, Belgium
    09-220–7183

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Mon. and Tues.
  • 20. Grote Markt

    The centerpiece of the city is the market square, in the middle of which stands its UNESCO-listed belfry. First mentioned in 1248, it was originally...

    The centerpiece of the city is the market square, in the middle of which stands its UNESCO-listed belfry. First mentioned in 1248, it was originally part of the old cloth hall that stood here but the surrounding buildings have long since been demolished. Statues of the folk figures of Manten and Kalle, a couple said to symbolize fidelity, strike the bell on the hour. But in 1382, the original Manten was stolen by the Burgundian armies of Philip the Bold and given to Dijon. Replacements were added over the years. Across from the belfry lies the magnificent Stadhuis (City Hall), built in the Gothic-Renaissance transition style in 1520. Visitors can enter for free in the summer between 2 and 5; at any other time, you can only see its richly decorated alderman's hall, council hall, and art collection with a guide. 

    Grotemarkt, Kortrijk, Flanders, 8500, Belgium
    (056)-277--840-tourism office

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, City hall opens July and Aug.

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