Planning a trip to Belgium and debating whether you should visit Bruges or Ghent? Or possibly you just want to know where you should allocate more time. I had the same dilemma when researching my trip. Luckily, I was able to visit both Bruges and Ghent. I'll take you through what each city has to offer and which might be best for you!
The more time I spend in Belgium, the more delightful I find this country. It packs a lot of character into its small size. You'll taste some of the best chocolate, waffles, mussels, and beer here.
The Flemish architecture is a photographers dream. The busy squares, cobblestoned streets, cozy cafes, and friendly locals are sure to make your trip to Belgium memorable.
Bruges and Ghent are two of the most popular cities to visit beyond Brussels (which isn't my favorite). When discussing Bruges vs. Ghent, everyone seems to have a strong opinion.
I really wasn't sure which way I was going to lean until I visited both cities back to back. One was a clear winner for my travel style and taste, which I'll share below. I can also see, and will take you through, why the other city might be best for you.
Continue reading to discover if you should visit (or spend more time in) Bruges or Ghent!
Why decide between Bruges or Ghent if you can do both?
Before we get into Bruges vs. Ghent, let me first say that I really enjoyed visiting both cities. They are similar in some ways and vastly different in others.
If you have at least three full days to allocate to Bruges or Ghent, I would suggest doing both.
Bruges deserves a minimum of 2 nights. You could break it out 2 nights and 2 full days in Bruges and 1 night and at least a half day in Ghent.
Or you could do a day trip to Ghent spending three nights in Bruges. Ghent Is a 30 minute train ride from Bruges, so it makes for an easy day trip.
The short and sweet answer to Bruges vs. Ghent
Since you’re reading this post on Bruges or Ghent, I'll assume you are either short on time or would like to explore one city to the fullest and not feel rushed, and therefore fitting both cities in your itinerary is not an option.
The quick answer to Bruges or Ghent is Bruges. Now, this is my personal opinion and I'll go into my reasoning below. Overall, Bruges is more memorable, the tourist zone is bigger with more to do, and the food is better.
Ghent has one small area that is breathtaking...but it's small and can be seen in about two to three hours. Beyond that, it's not nearly as picturesque as Bruges. Save Ghent for your second trip to Belgium.
Bruges vs. Ghent - Who should pick Bruges
Bruges is more picturesque with major fairytale vibes
Bruges, nicknamed Venice of the north because of its water canals, is a charmer. One of the things I love most about Bruges, is that it's not just one small area or zone that is a joy to wander. The entire city center is beautiful, clean, and safe.
Bruges is easily one of my favorite towns to aimlessly wander and take in the views, architecture, and fairytale vibes. Rarely will you find yourself on a street that isn't beautiful. That can't be said of many cities.
Ghent has a picturesque area, but it's very small
Ghent on the other hand has one area that is stunning, but small. The photo above is of Saint Michael's Bridge. The area around this is right out of a painting. Leave this area and you'll find a more urban, gritty, living (as opposed to tourist), city. While it may be less touristy than Bruges, it's not nearly as enjoyable to wander.
When I first arrived in Ghent and walked by Saint Michael's Bridge I couldn't wait to explore. I checked into the hotel and hit the town.
Within about two to three hours I had explored the top sights (very few) and every square inch of the picturesque areas including Saint Michael's Bridge, the canal waterfront under the bridge, St. Bravo's Square and Cathedral, Castle of the Counts, and a few more spots.
I realized pretty quickly the areas beyond this were not nearly as picturesque nor were they a joy to wander. If you want to get a quick take on a real Belgium city; one where people live, study, and work, it's great. But it's not something you want to spend hours exploring.
I had planned on spending a day and a half in Ghent and quickly realized I had seen everything in half a day and had an entire second day with nothing to do! If this happened in Bruges I wouldn't care. I could wander the same streets and areas again and again (in fact, I did do that) and not tire of it. In Ghent, you can only wander that small area so many times.
Bruges wins the Bruges vs. Ghent debate when it comes to restaurants
Bruges also beats Ghent when it comes to restaurants and cafes. While tourist focused cities may come with downsides, it also means there are plenty of top notch chefs and restaurants to cater to those tourists looking for an authentic Belgium meal.
And this isn't like Venice, Italy where there are more low quality tourist traps than authentic restaurants. Bruges seems to have kept a high standard for it's restaurant scene even though it's become a widely tourist destination. Yes, there are tourist traps, but for the most part, the restaurants here are quality.
You'll have a hard time deciding where to book dinner when you're in Bruges as there are so many fantastic restaurants with a cozy and intimate atmosphere. The same goes for coffee shops and cafes. Bruges has plenty of cafes to sit and relax.
Ghent's restaurant scene is more geared towards students and locals. I laughed at how many "American burger" restaurants I walked by. A sure sign of the student population. Ghent had a lot more quick and casual restaurants and international cuisine.
In general, you're options for a high quality Belgium meal with a nice atmosphere are far fewer in Ghent vs Bruges.
Bruges offers more to do and see
Bruges offers more to do from a tourist perspective. More cathedrals, squares, viewpoints, museums, etc. You'll also find more tours including beer and chocolate focused tours (you are in Belgium after all). Nature enthusiasts will enjoy biking to the small town of Damme. It's along a picturesque water canal and makes for a nice three to four hour trip.
Ghent in general has less sights and attractions. Again, Ghent is more of a living Belgium city with a large student population.
Bruges has better hotels
Because Bruges is more popular than Ghent, it offers more memorable hotels. There are plenty of luxury, romantic, and cozy places to stay.
Ghent has a wonderful Marriott, but all in all, it doesn't hold a handle to the types and number of hotels that Bruges has.
Some of my favorite hotels in Bruges:
A summary for who should choose Bruges over Ghent
To sum it up, if you want charming streets to wander, countless canals and tiny bridges, delicious traditional Belgium restaurants with a cozy atmosphere, enough tourist sights/tours to keep you busy for at least 1.5 to 2 days, adorable chocolate shops, an endless supply of fresh leige waffles, cute cafes, and grand squares, Bruges is the right choice when debating between Bruges or Ghent.
This is also an easy place to slow down and have a relaxing vacation or romantic getaway. I'd be 100% ok with staying a few extra days in Bruges with absolutely nothing to do.
Book your tours in Bruges!
Ghent vs. Bruges - Who should pick Ghent
Moving on to part two of Ghent or Bruges…Ghent. Even though I personally prefer Bruges and heartily believe the average tourist will better appreciate Bruges over Ghent, that doesn't mean Ghent won't be a better fit for some travelers.
Ghent is less touristy, crowded, and gives a more realistic look into a working, living Belgium city
One thing a lot of people complain about when it comes to Bruges (especially if they visit during high tourist season) is how crowded and "touristy" it can be. Bruges is popular, and for good reason. A picture perfect, fairytale city won't go unnoticed for long.
I've made a point to visit Bruges during shoulder season. I have always avoided summer. Because of this, I've had a great experience.
Does it get crowded in the afternoon with all the day trippers? Of course! That's why I always do my main sightseeing in the most popular and crowded places in the morning and evening and explore the lessor known areas in the afternoon.
If you're traveling to Belgium during the summer months and the thought of a jam packed Bruges puts you off, Ghent might be a better choice for you. It's not as popular as Bruges and will have less tourists. It will still be crowded, but not nearly as crowded as Bruges.
Those that prefer a "real" city compared to fairytale towns will prefer Ghent to Bruges.
Ghent has one of the largest universities in Belgium and brings a lively student crowd. Once you leave the core of the "tourist zone" surrounding Saint Michael's Bridge, you'll notice an imperfect, slightly gritty city where people actually live and work.
Some complain that Bruges is too perfect. That it almost feels like a Europe Disney World. Personally, I disagree, but I can see where that opinion comes from if you visit during a busy time and it's absolutely packed.
Bruges is pristinely clean and most restaurants are focused on pleasing tourists versus locals. Ghent is the opposite.
So if you prefer a city that gives a better look at a working Belgium city, Ghent will be a better fit for you.
Ghent is more affordable
Lastly, because Ghent is not nearly as popular as Bruges, it will be easier on the wallet. Hotels and restaurants are slightly cheaper in Ghent than Bruges.
Book your tours in Ghent!
Summary of Bruges or Ghent
To sum up Bruges vs. Ghent…if you’re looking for a fairytale town, picturesque water canals and cobblestoned streets, excellent Belgian cuisine and cozy restaurants, enough sights to keep you busy for one to two full days, and some incredible hotels, Bruges is the best bet for you.
Not only is it a great city to visit for all types of travelers, it can also be a romantic vacation and the perfect place to slow down.
Ghent is better suited for those that like cities with a dose of reality and don't mind a bit of urban grittiness. It's one of the largest university towns in Belgium and therefore caters to the student crowd. Ghent is more affordable than Bruges and will feel less touristy (especially durning high season...most notably the summer months).
If you're still debating Ghent or Bruges, feel free to leave a comment below on what type of trip you want and I'll help you out!