Ghent, Belgium

Like a land suspended in time, the city of Ghent is a virtual trip down the memory lane. With elaborate cathedrals, chiming church bells and a castle in the middle of the city center, the city is a cozy European paradise that has surprisingly eluded lists of Europe’s tourist hotspots. Boasting some of Belgium’s best architectural endowments, Ghent is one of Belgium’s most underrated destinations.

The Gravensteen is perhaps Ghent’s defining feature. A medieval castle that looms over the city’s landscape with authority, it is a 12th century marvel that is open to visitors looking to experience a little slice of royalty. The castle’s name literally translates to “Castle of the Count”, referring to Count Philip of Alsace who commissioned its build. To add a gritty angle to your castle adventure, there’s also a museum offering an insight into the methods and devices of torture that were historically used in Ghent. Not for everyone, but it makes for an entertaining dose of reality.

The memorable canal-side pathways are one of Ghent’s most beautiful treasures. Cherished by locals, the paths are decorated by beautifully preserved buildings from the medieval times. During the day the pathways come alive with the colors of local city life. At night, the path gets illuminated by their shining façades, like an immaculately finished oil-painting.

But for many, the main draw to Ghent is St. Bavo’s masterpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Created in the 15th century, this stunning altarpiece is considered a masterpiece of Northern European art’s and a treasure.

Even all the medieval indulgences, Ghent’s modern day realism perfectly punctuate all the historical wealth where all the extravagance is confined to. From humble local shops to street stalls selling pouches of Ghentse neuzen – a local dessert specialty, Ghent isn’t wallowing in the past. The museums dedicated to history are complemented by those dedicated to contemporary design and industry. Some of the trendiest bars in town are housed in buildings that are generations old.

There’s pride in Ghent, but there’s also rebellion. Even historically, Ghent’s track record is that of dissent. The people of Ghent were labelled noose bearers after they were punished for their failed uprising against the Spanish King Charles V in the 16th century.  To humiliate the dissenters, Charles ordered them to walk around town in their underclothes and ropes around their necks – hence the term noose-bearer.

Even with all the makings of a classic European destination, the word on Ghent hasn’t quite hit the newsstands. Enjoy the short queues and the thin crowds before the secret is spilled on one of Belgium’s most beautiful destinations.