Ghent or Bruges? Do you need to decide which Belgium cities to visit on your day trip from Brussels? I visited Ghent and Bruges and I’ll show you what to do in Bruges in one day and things to see in Ghent in one day. Which of the most beautiful cities in Belgium is worth your time and effort? Let’s decide: Ghent or Bruges?
Ghent or Bruges? Why choose between these Belgium cities to visit?
When you visit Europe, I recommend to visit the most beautiful cities in Belgium. Most popular cities are Brussels and Antwerp. They are conveniently located on the train between the Netherlands and France. But if you would like to visit another Belgium city that is charming and cute and has a lot of old world charm, Bruges and Ghent are your top choices. But maybe you have limited time to go on day trips. Or you want to decide which of the most beautiful cities in Belgium to visit and not miss out on something. As the cities of Ghent and Bruges are quite similar in size, history and charm, it can be hard to decide which of these Belgium cities to visit on a day trip.
In the next chapters, I’ll walk you through why you should visit Bruges, what’s to do in Bruges in one day and how to plan your day trip to Bruges. I’ll do the same for Ghent as I walk you through my Ghent day trip and highlight the top things to do in Ghent in one day. In the end, I’ll sum up the similarities and point out the differences, to help you decide if you should visit Ghent or Bruges! Ready? Let’s go!
To give you the best information, this is a long post. Click below to jump ahead, or pin for later:
Why you should visit Bruges
Bruges is the capital of the province of West-Flanders and consists of the historic city of Bruges and the seaside sister: Bruges by the sea (Zeebrugge). The center of the city of Bruges is declared Unesco World Heritage Monument and you’ll find Bruges’ rich history in every street.
Surrounded by many channels, Bruges is dubbed “the Venice of the North” and has a resemblance with Amsterdam. The city grew in medieval times as an important harbor of trade. You’ll find many historic rich houses, lining the streets and waterways of Bruges.
Reasons why you should visit Bruges are its cute, red brick medieval houses and monuments. When you visit Bruges, you’ll feel like going back into time. Bruges is named one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium because of its charming characteristic lay-out and small town vibe.
What to do in Bruges in one day
Because Bruges is relatively small, you can easily visit Bruges in one day. Here is an itinerary of what to do in Bruges in one day:
Start at the Powder Tower on the Begijnvest. One of Bruges ancient city towers and enjoy the view of the Minnewater surrounding Bruges.
Admire the cute red brick Sashuis (Begijnhof, an ancient lock keepers house)
Walk into the Beguinage (Begijnhof) and look at the old commune style houses and take the best Instagram pictures in Bruges here.
Marvel at the second tallest brickwork tower of the Church of our Lady and find Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child in the transept.
Put your nose to the glass at the little candy workshop near the Church
Take a picture on the famous little St. Bonifacius Bridge
If you’re into Churches you can check out the St. Salvator’s Cathedral and the Basilica of the Holy Blood.
Continue to the Belfry, the 13-century bell tower of Bruges. Enjoy the carillon play or allocate some time to climb the tower for stunning views of Bruges.
Facing the Belfry is the heart of Bruges, the market place. This stunning plaza has the most amazing medieval houses and palaces surrounding it. Find the Provincial court and Bruges Beer museum
Turn into the Breidelstreet and admire Bruges city hall from the Burg square.
By now, it is time to give your feet some rest. Head to the canals and find a boat tour in Bruges. Let the boat tour take you around the water ways of Bruges, showing you the several gates and the cute quay of the rosary. Bruges is one of the loveliest canal cities in Europe!
If there is still time, go back to the places in Bruges you’ve seen by boat and want to explore more.
Bruges Day Trip from Brussels
Bruges is an easy day trip from Brussels. You can take the direct train from Brussels to Bruges. This will take 1 hour (and 5 minutes usually) and will costs a little under €15 one way. Find more information on the route and timetables at Belgianrail.be. The train station is a 5 minute (easy) walk to the start of the above mentioned Bruges day trip itinerary.
If you want more guidance, you can book a tour which includes transport by coach and a guide for your Bruges day trip. Find more details and prices here.
More Belgium: Hallerbos near Brussels.
Bruges in One Day
As I started to outline what to do in Bruges in one day above, the list grew rapidly. But don’t be alarmed. The city is very small and can easily be managed on foot. Although there are some world class things to see in Bruges, they don’t take up much time to see and explore. As you walk through the city, you can see why it is called one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium.
My day trip to Bruges
I visited Bruges for my birthday in December. After a night at a hotel in Zeebrugge, we headed to Bruges city for our day trip. It was a bit of gray winter day, but very busy. The streets and houses of Bruges all looked super cute and the soft red bricks made the city very warm and welcoming.
We strolled along the channels and enjoyed a Belgium breakfast first. I must say, this day trip was a bit spontaneous and not well-researched. I had no idea what to do in Bruges in one day. We slowly took the whole city in and enjoyed the smells of the chocolate shops with their warm coco and delicious treats.
We wanted to climb the Belfort tower but the lines was immense and therefore decided on a very elaborate Belgium lunch instead. But we did wait in line to go on one of the boat tours in Bruges. It was cold and slowly getting dark, but I really loved the view from the water. The commentary was really insightful and I’d say the Bruges boat tour is a must do on your day trip to Bruges.
After some shopping, we ended up at Chez Vincent and had some amazing Belgium fries overlooking the St. Salvator’s Cathedral. By now, it was pitch dark and even colder. We did a lot in Bruges in one day and called it a night.
Why you should visit Ghent
Ghent is the capital of the province of East Flanders and is much bigger than Bruges. The city has a important university and grows rapidly. Ghent grew as an important city of trade in the Middle Ages and holds this historic character even in modern times.
With many famous churches, the university and the second largest municipality in Belgium, the city is busy and vibrant. Ghent houses many festivals, like the lights festival, music & dance and film festivals, so the city is always buzzing.
The historic character of the city of Ghent is almost completely preserved, making it a history lover’s dream and one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium.
What to do in Ghent in one day
Besides the many festivals in Ghent, I’ll give you a list of things to do in Ghent in one day:
Start at the St. Bavo’s Cathedral. If opened to the public, you’ll find one of the most precious ,altarpieces in the world, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or Ghent Altarpiece, in the Cathedral. Unfortunately, during my visit, it was not open for the public.
At the St. Bavo square, you’ll find many remarkable and historic buildings, like the Ghent’s Cloth’s hall and behind the Belfry of Ghent, the Mammelokker, an old jailer’s building.
Continue to the Belfry of Ghent. This is the tallest belfry in Belgium (at 91 meters) and you can climb it for amazing views over Ghent. (at €8 pp).
Pass the St. Nicolas Church (visit it if you’re into churches) and explore the nearby Wheat Market with the old little shops and guilds symbols.
Make your way across the Leie river towards Gravensteen Castle (or Castle of the Counts). If you don’t have time or you’re on a strict budget, walk around it to take in the size and defense towers. But I highly recommend to pay the castle a visit. Entrance is €10 (more details about prices and times here.) We toured the castle grounds, walked the defense walls, took in the view from the towers and had a great time imagining medieval times in Ghent.
Another must do thing in Ghent is go back to the Wheat Market (Korenmarkt) and have some Belgium waffles, a bag of Belgium chips or a delicious dark beer.
You can also take a boat tour in Ghent and cruise along the river Leie and see the amazing river front of the Grass Quay, but you can also get this view from strolling along the river.
Pass the St. Michel’s Bridge and look back on the city, showing the 2 famous churches and the Ghent belfry in one shot.
- Walk around town, take in the sights, the shop, life in the city. Or join a walking tour of Ghent.
Find more information in this complete guide to the city of Ghent.
Ghent Day Trip from Brussels
A Ghent day trip is easily arranged from Brussels for example. There many trains from Brussels, that will take you in less than 40 minutes direct to Ghent Sint Pieters train station. A one way ticket will cost €9,20. Find more information on the route and timetables at Belgianrail.be. The train station is a 30 minute walk to St. Bavo’s square, but you can also take numerous trams to the city (for example the Duivelsteen or Volgelmarkt.)
Ghent in one day
We visited Ghent in one day. We spend a lot of time in the Gravesteen castle and in the several churches. And we also climbed the belfry and we did a boat tour in Ghent. It was a lot to do in one day but we still had time to take in the medieval city, the houses, the lovely Korenmarkt and we took plenty of rest, drinking beer, having waffles and some fresh chips.
My day trip to Ghent was a blast. It was a bright and sunny day, there was a music and dance festival in the city, the shops were open and it was alive an lovely.
If you want to see more of Ghent’s churches of one of the three béguinages, you need more than one day in Ghent. However, to get a feel of medieval Belgium times and the charming character of one of the most beautiful cities in Belgium, Ghent in one day will be a good choice.
How to choose between Ghent or Bruges? Let’s compare
Ok, after this introduction to what to do in Bruges in one day and my day trip to Ghent, you have an idea of what to see and what to do in Ghent and Bruges. But how to choose for your day trip? Let me compare Bruges and Ghent.
Ghent or Bruges: which Belgium city is more accessible?
When it comes to accessibility it depends a bit where you’re located. I assume you’re based in Brussels (or Antwerp) and want to take a day trip from the city. As shown above, Bruges takes longer (and therefor is more expensive) than Ghent, but Ghent’s train station is located further away from the city.
Brussels to Bruges by train: 1h and 7 minutes by train, plus 5 minutes walking.
Brussels to Ghent by train: 38 minutes by train, plus 30 minutes walking or 13 minutes by tram and 5 minutes walking.
Ghent or Bruges: which is the most beautiful city in Belgium?
Now this is a tough one. How to decide which is the most beautiful city in Belgium? The jury is still out on that one but I guess it depends on what you find beautiful. Both have amazing churches, an impressive Belfry, canals to tour by boat and some lovely river side houses and amazing old squares.
One big difference between Bruges and Ghent is the color of the city. Bruges is built with an old, red brick, whereas Ghent is mainly built with gray stone. This gives both cities a whole different look and feel. My advice: check the weather forecast. When rain is in the forecast, Ghent will look grayer and might give a sad feel to the city.
Ghent or Bruges: who has the best food?
Belgium waffles, Belgium beers, Belgium fries and Belgium chocolates. Mmmhhh, you won’t go hungry if you go the Ghent or Bruges. I found the number of chocolate shops in Bruges more dominant than the ones in Ghent. Ghent on the other hand, has more regular stores and shops, whereas Bruges is your ideal (foodie) souvenir spot.
Ghent and Bruges; one-day itinerary to visit both Belgium cities (if you can’t decide)
Both Ghent and Bruges are amazing. They have history, famous Unesco recognized landmarks, the cities are small and easy to navigate and have a great food and drink culture. How can you ever decide which city to visit: Ghent or Bruges? How about both!? It will be madness, but if you have major fear of missing out, check the following itinerary to visit Ghent and Bruges in one day:
- Early morning: leave Brussels by train and head to Ghent. Head straight to St. Bavo’s Cathedral by train and visit the Belfry afterwards.
- Late morning: Walk towards the castle and enjoy the buildings as you walk past them. Visit the Gravesteen Castle in Ghent and head back to the train station by tram. Have a small lunch at the Korenmarkt at one of the many shops and stalls.
- Afternoon: Take the train from Ghent to Bruges and walk towards Bruges marketplace and Burg square. Enjoy a late (and 2nd) lunch on the go (maybe a Belgium waffle or some chips).
- Late afternoon: take a boat tour in Bruges and enjoy the city by boat.
- Evening: Shop for some souvenirs at one of Bruges many chocolate shops and stores. Taste some beers and find one of Bruges restaurants for dinner.
- Late Evening: take the train back to Brussels.
As you can see from the above, Ghent and Bruges have a lot in common. There is no need to take a canal tour in both cities or climb both Belfry’s. I found the Belfry of Bruges super busy, whereas the canal tour in Ghent wasn’t as nice as the one in Bruges.
Final decision: Ghent or Bruges?
Maybe you can tell, but I cannot decide. Small, cute and red Bruges felt like a fairy tale, whereas Ghent took me as a big, bold, heroic story. Both equally interesting and exciting, they both deserve the title of most beautiful city in Belgium. I am truly blessed that I live close and can visit both Ghent and Bruges in one day.
If you have less time and need to decide between Bruges and Ghent, I hope my explanation of both cities will help you decide what appeals to you. If you’re into castles: visit Ghent. If you’re into small bridges and red brick houses: go to Bruges. If you’re a fan of religious art and history: pay Ghent a visit. And Bruges. Looking for bold: Ghent, more into cute: Bruges. Can’t decide: visit both Bruges and Ghent in one day.
Read more: 3 countries in one day?
Have you visited Ghent? Or did you go to Bruges for a day trip? Have you tried to visit both in one day? What did you think? Which one is your favorite? Write it in the comment section below.
All my opinions and experiences are my own. This post does contain affiliate links. If you decide to book a service via one of my links, I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.