This petite Belgian beauty combines the willow-drapped canals and historical cute of Bruges with Antwerp’s moody Flemish style and grittier sensibility. Minus most of the tourists and add in one of Europe’s largest pedestrianised centres, a charming multilingual, and overwhelmingly young, population, and you’ve got what feels like the perfect European city.
Barista Coffee and Cake - Gent

Eat & Drink

De Vitrine  
Brabantdam 134

This revamped old butcher’s shop is a perfect showcase for Ghent’s revitalised culinary scene, where farm-to-table dining has become the norm. Come here for cooking that highlights the beauty of local ingredients, from North Sea herring to foraged wood sorrel to bio-grown pork; the inventive, earthy and sensual dishes are also surprisingly affordable.

Yuzu
Walpoortstraat 11a; 47 396 5733; Tues-Sat 10am-6pm
Looking more the diamond merchant than chocolatier, this little shop boxes up creations that are lyrical and startling in turns, with luscious ganache flavoured by tobacco or black sesame or the eponymous yuzu. There are many esteemed chocolate makers in this cocoa-obsessed town, but Yuzu is a standout.

Barista Coffee and Cake
Hippoliet Lippensplein 25
Unusually good coffee for northern Europe, ie they do espresso and resist the urge to torture milk for café lattes; the space is sweetly bobo, with gorgeous canal views and hip local artwork on show beneath ancient beams.

See

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a 15th-century alter piece by Jan Van Eyck , is a sublime, and strange, a work of art as the name suggests. It’s housed beneath the Gothic spires of the city’s central St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Go early to avoid the tour groups, and do give yourself time for the close reading and quiet contemplation this masterpiece deserves.  Head to the Design Museum Gent for some excellent 20th-century objects and don’t miss S.M.A.K. (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst) where visionary director Jan Hoet has put together possibly the best collection of contemporary art in Belgium (including lords of the dark arts such as Joseph Beuys, Luc Tuymans and Michaël Borremans).

Shop

Art & Antiques Galerie St-John
Bij Sint-Jacobs, 15A
A wonderful horde of intriguing 20th-century vintage pieces, including faience from Vallauris, Belgian silver and exquisite 19th-century prints  (all easy to find space for in a suitcase). The owners are as friendly as they are knowledgeable.

TWIGGY
Notarisstraat 3
A jaw-droppingly great selection of witty, beautiful and accessible fashion dots a series of striking, intimate rooms spread over three floors. There are a number of local labels to be discovered as well as interesting picks from the Netherlands, France, Italy and Scandinavia.

Stay

Designer and gallery owner Sofie Lachaert has collaborated with Dutch design stars Droog on a couple of fabulously located apartments, DROOG FOR RENT (Zwartezustersstraat 20). Think clean lines, comfort and design puns a plenty, as well as privacy and independence. (Lachaert’s design gallery in nearby Tielrode is worth a rural foray, and offers stunning B&B rooms furnished from her stock rooms.)

 

 

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About Donna Wheeler

Donna Wheeler is the author of several Lonely Planet guidebooks, is a reporter for My Art Guides and the author of the upcoming Paris Precincts title for Hardie Grant. She has published on contemporary art, architecture and design, food, wine and history in a variety of publications. Travel writing follows various careers, including commissioning editor, art director, digital producer and content strategist.