Ghent has evolved over the years and is now synonymous with conviviality and liveliness. Although these qualities can be easily noticed all over the city, we think that there are some suburbs that have just that little bit more to offer. Allow us to introduce you:
Patershol has become the ultimate in Ghent traditional: the winding cobblestone lanes are a constant and detailed reminder of Ghent’s long history. Generously supplied with restaurants and surrounded by major monuments such as Gravensteen, Huis van Alijn and Caermersklooster, this is a microcosm of Ghent. During the day, this attracts tourists who stroll from monument to museum, while in the evenings it is a magnet for those in search of a gastronomic outing or an excellent cocktail. Thus, among other highlights, you will find the exclusive cocktail bar Jiggers here, which was recently voted one of the best bars in Europe! But don’t be misled by the splendour of it all: in its heart, Patershol has retained its cosy, almost village atmosphere.
This area on the other side of Gravensteen is at first glance quite similar to Patershol, but lies a little off the well-trodden paths. Prinsenhof was built on the ruins of the Habsburg palace in which Emperor Charles, one of the most important rulers in world history, was born. Imperial grandeur and Habsburg pageantry are now a thing of the past and today this suburb is a model of peace and modesty. Like in Patershol, the streets are narrow, winding and paved with cobblestones. The Lieve winds its way through the suburb from the historical Rabot to the Graslei. Despite the presence of 2 theatres and its location in the shadow of Gravensteen, this area is strangely forgotten by tourists and has thus retained its unique, intimate atmosphere.
Once you have passed through Prinsenhof and have crossed Rabot Street, you will enter Oud Begijnhof. This neighbourhood has a 750-year history. It was originally a walled enclave occupied by lay sisters who wanted a peaceful haven among the hustle and bustle of medieval Ghent. The Beguines moved to St Amandsberg some one hundred and fifty years ago and the walls and moat around their precinct have disappeared since this time, but the area still has the feel of an island in the city. Small houses with lush front gardens, located along narrow, straight streets arranged around the central Begijnhof Square, where an art work by George Minne in memory of Georges Rodenbach decorates the grassy square, all give this neighbourhood a chocolate-box appearance. Nevertheless it is real – and that just half a stone’s throw from the Korenmarkt.
The Kouter and its adjoining streets are quite a different side of Ghent. For some centuries, this square has been an established destination for those who like to spend a lazy Sunday, strolling through the flower market, enjoying an aperitif and an oyster or two, or listening to a little music. The almost rectangular square is framed by an architectural collection that reads like a fascinating history book. From the Falligan Rococo palace and its contemporary, the stock exchange building across the street, to the stately, 19th-century opera house and bank buildings and the brutalist office building designed by Polak-Stapels on the corner of the Korte Meer, Kouter is a symbol of the prosperity and diversity of Ghent over the past three centuries.
Located in the south-east of the city centre, past Portus Ganda, where the Leie and the Schelde converge and split again on their way to Keizerspoort, this suburb is little known and not part of any regular routes. This may not be one of Ghent’s hot spots, but Visserij has much to offer. It is unexpectedly peaceful along the water front, which is just around the corner from several main roads that offer easy access to this area. A stroll along the green, almost overgrown towpath along Achtervisserij provides a surprising perspective of Klein Begijnhof and Willem-Jan Neutelings’s Hollainhof, while the shady Visserij, one of the first bicycle-only streets in Flanders, makes its way along rows of terraced housing that adjoin grand manor houses and industrial lofts.