Ghent or Bruges: how do you choose between two delightful things?
Truthfully, we had never thought much about visiting Belgium until this fall–but when a detour to Belgium came up as a possibility when researching inexpensive routes from Italy to the USA for the holidays, we were intrigued.
It didn’t take long to convince us to give the Flemish part of Belgium a quick visit, and we were thrilled with what we found.
We ended up spending a week in Belgium, splitting our time fairly evenly between Ghent and Bruges.
We’re very glad that we visited both, but if you have to pick one, here are some differences between Ghent and Bruges to help you decide.
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Table of Contents
Visit Bruges if…
… You’re looking for fairytale beauty.
Bruges sometimes gets a reputation for being a bit like Disneyland for tourists, but the truth is, Walt Disney only wishes he could have built something as magical as the city of Bruges.
The medieval old town is one of the best-preserved cities in Europe, and is not tiny–it covers about 430 hectares.
Bruges was one of those cities that left our mouths gaping open and our heads constantly swiveling back and forth in an attempt not to miss anything.
… You want to learn the fascinating history of the “Venice of the North”.
Romance, war, underdog stories: Bruges has it all.
We spontaneously took a “free” walking tour (remember, those guides work only for tips–always tip your guides!), and had enough fun that we found it totally worth freezing in mid-November light rain to stick around.
… This is your first trip to Flanders.
Bruges is a classic destination, and its touristy reputation shouldn’t deter visitors–especially on your first trip to Flanders.
If you’ve never been to Flanders, Bruges is definitely worth checking out–you’ll be glad you did, even if you only have enough time to spend a day in Bruges.
Ideally, though, you’ll want to spend at least a couple of days in the city–and you can never go wrong with a weekend in Bruges!
… You want to check out the Flemish primitives at the Groeningemuseum.
We didn’t make it to this museum on our first trip to Bruges, but if you’re an art lover and interested in the Flemish primitives, this is the place to see them.
Visit Ghent if…
… You’re looking to save a little cash when visiting Bruges or Ghent.
Let’s be clear: emphasis on a little.
Ghent has a reputation for being Bruges’ more affordable next-door neighbor, but we found the price difference small–maybe 10% on lodging and food.
We did visit in November, so it is possible that the prices are a little more uneven during the summer season, but definitely don’t go to Ghent expecting Central European or Eastern European prices–this is still Belgium.
… You’d prefer a destination that’s a little less refined.
Ghent is a university town and has all the trappings of such: plenty of nightlife and plenty of town events catering to the student crowd.
Bruges also has nightlife, of course, and sees its share of young travelers and backpackers, but Ghent definitely has more of a college town feel.
… You’re a vegetarian or vegan.
Probably thanks to the large student population, Ghent is positively booming with vegetarian and vegan restaurants–it seemed like we saw one on every corner!
… You want to check out the street art.
Ghent has a creative solution to melding street art and the desire to protect historical buildings and culture: everything in its place.
Werregarenstraat (or simply Graffiti Street) is an alley in Ghent completely covered in street art, that artists are free to decorate at will.
For visitors to Ghent, it makes for a colorful and fun walk and a great photo op!
Visit Bruges or Ghent For…
… Classic Flemish architecture.
Traditional Flemish architecture, with its characteristic rooflines and beautiful facades, can be found in both Bruges and Ghent, so you won’t be missing out in either place.
… Beautiful canal rides through the cities.
What better way to admire a gorgeous city than from its beautiful canals?
We took a canal ride in Bruges and not in Ghent, so we’re automatically partial to Bruges’ canals, though we have no doubt Ghent is incredibly beautiful from the water as well.
Whichever city you pick (or even if you pick both!), make sure your trip to Flanders includes at least one canal ride–at 7 Euros/ride, it’s even a great deal!
… Indulging in the necessary Belgian staples: chocolate, waffles & beer.
You can’t visit Belgium without sampling its famous goods: we personally fell in love with fresh-baked street waffles topped with a bit of chocolate–yum!
Can you visit Bruges and Ghent in one day?
Technically, yes–you could visit Bruges and Ghent in one day on a long day trip from Brussels and see both on the same day, but we wouldn’t recommend it–you would be incredibly rushed.
Instead, pick one city and enjoy it. You’ll be able to spend more time sightseeing and less time in transit that way!
If you’re in a hurry and really, really want to see both cities in one day, we would definitely recommend taking a well-reviewed tour so that other people can handle the logistics and make sure you squeeze in as much as humanly possible into one day of travel.
Getting from Ghent to Bruges (or Bruges to Ghent)
Transportation between Bruges and Ghent is incredibly easy and only takes about 25 minutes each way via train.
From the Brussels airport, you can reach Bruges in about one hour and Ghent in about half an hour.
Check the train schedule for your times specifically, but all of these routes are incredibly popular and run several times a day.
Final Choice: Ghent or Bruges?
If we absolutely had to choose between Ghent and Bruges when visiting Belgium, we’d pick Bruges.
The absolute beauty of the historic town center, our lovely canal ride, and our many walks through the city charmed us completely.
It would be a very, very close call though–we loved Ghent as well, and heartily recommend visiting both cities if possible.
Luckily, Ghent and Bruges are so close together that if you’re staying in one, it’s incredibly easy to take a day trip to the other!
Update: several years after writing the initial version of this guide, we returned to Belgium for another trip… and when deciding when to visit Bruges or Ghent, we did indeed pick Bruges.
26 thoughts on “Ghent or Bruges, Belgium: Which Flemish City Is Best?”
Well I love all things Disney, but if Bruges claims to be better than that then I’ll count myself in. Bruges does look very pretty and colourful, but I also wouldn’t mind the unrefined look of Ghent… although all the vegetarian-only food may throw me off, I’m a carnivore at heart lol. This was a helpful comparison.
Ha, we’re both carnivores at heart, too! We definitely didn’t try out any of the vegetarian or vegan restaurants while in Ghent.
I’ve been to Bruges but never Ghent, next time I head to Belgium I’ll check it out, your comments about street art intrigue me
Oh, if you liked Bruges I bet you’ll like Ghent as well! They are definitely very similar in many ways.
Just by looking at your photos I think I would choose Bruges to even though it is a bit more expensive. But Ghent looks cozy too so ideally it would awesome to visit them both! To be honest, Belgium has never intrigued me but after reading your post, I think I just might add Bruges and Ghent to my list!
I hear you–Belgium never intrigued me either, but I’m so glad to have gone!
This is an interesting comparison of the 2 cities. I visited both earlier this year and would choose Ghent over Bruges. The reason being that Ghent has far fewer tourists – which means far fewer selfie sticks. I love your photo of the Belgian waffle covered in Nutella, this is my favorite food there! I must admit that those colorful Medieval houses in the central square are some of the most Instagrammable in Europe which means both cities must be visited!
I do wonder if our perspective might have been a bit different if we went in July–when we visited in mid-November, there were still tourists around, but I don’t think we saw a single selfie stick in either city!
I’ve been to both, and can’t really choose between the two! However, just because of the great waffles in Ghent, I’d go for this as my favourite. Your photos are stunning of the old buildings, and your list breaks it down well.
The waffles were amazing! We may not have found the right places in Bruges, to be fair, but we definitely had better luck in Ghent!
There’s no way I would be able to pick one city over the other after this post- they both seem so charming. I’m glad you were able to visit both destinations during this leg of the trip. Will definitely have to check them out on my own someday!
Charming is a great word for it!
I will go for both Brugges and Ghent, as they both look equally stunning from your pictures. The canal cruise and waffles is definitely something I will thoroughly enjoy in both the cities. Brugges and Ghent are unique in their own way and that is what makes them a must visit according to me. Thanks for your interesting insight on these cities.
Both is definitely the best choice of all if you’re able to swing it–we loved each of them!
I’m slowly, steadily exploring Belgium, one town at a time! Been to Ghent, yet to visit Bruges. Planning to go after Jan when it wouldn’t be very cold. Loved the mix of heritage & quirkiness in Ghent. Can’t wait to see the ‘fairytale beauty’ of Bruges!
Oh, I hope you love Bruges! If you liked Ghent, I can’t imagine that you won’t, though!
Thank you for this article! I will be making this decision before our late September trip to Europe. I have a leaning after your article, BUT, perhaps making a day for each may be in order.
If you get the chance, definitely do a day in each! But if not… go with your gut. 😉
Thank you So much for the information. I couldn’t decide but your pictures and descriptions were super helpful and it sounds like Bruges will be perfect for us. We only have a few hours from Antwerp.
So glad we could help, Shauna! Bruges is incredible, it’ll make a wonderful day trip. 🙂
Loved your post and pictures! Haven’t been to Belgium in 40 years but after reading your post I’m definitely going to go back. The waffles and chocolates can’t be beat.
The people were very warm and friendly, I hope that has not changed.
It definitely has not! Belgium is a lovely place, we’ve enjoyed our trips there (and especially the food). Hope you get to go back soon!
If you do choose Ghent and tour Gravensteen take a few minutes to check out The fallen Angels store only about a block away. The owners are very pleasant and they make everyone feel welcome.
I’ve been to both and I liked Ghent better. I think Ghent is lively, hip an has such a beautiful architecture and award winning light plan that makes it mesmerizing night and day. Its the perfect combination between historical and modern.
Bruges is amazing to, but it felt like a movie set or a park, cause the old town seems to live around tourism. Its like it was frozen in time. Can’t miss it, though.
This was very helpful Kate. How did you find Brussels?
if i may ask what languages do you speak (Languages is my thing)
Michael Helman (Melbourne , Australia)
Brussels wasn’t our favorite city ever, to be honest–but then again, most people feel that way. I’d go back to any other Belgian city first, though I have a couple of museums mentally bookmarked to check out the next time we’re in Brussels.
Languages are not a natural gift of mine, but I speak English, quite a bit of Spanish, some Italian, and a smattering of French and Portuguese.
Jeremy is a language guy, he speaks English, Spanish, Turkish, and some Italian and Portuguese.