• Meghan Bartok

How to spend 48 hours in Belgium – Ghent & Brussels

Updated: Jun 1

Belgium was a country that had never really been on my radar until I went to Copenhagen with my friend Luke, and we made friends with three Belgian students who were in our room. They were nice enough to tell us if we ever made it to Belgium, they would show us around, so as the semester was winding down we planned a short trip to go check out their home country. Unfortunately Luke ended up not being able to join me due to personal reasons, so it seemed that on April 20th, I was off to Ghent by myself! My study abroad savings account was getting low, so, unfortunately, I was only able to spend two days there, but I’ve always thought that two days is better than no days!


Because I had to catch the coach from Victoria Station in London, I went up a bit earlier so I could spend the afternoon seeing some London sites I hadn’t been to yet. London is definitely a city I could spend months in and still not see everything I wanted to see, but that’s a topic for a different time! After grabbing some food to eat for dinner, and some snacks for the trip, I headed to the coach station to hang out until the bus left at 9:30 pm. Now I love the overnight bus for how cheap it is, but it’s definitely an experience, and unless you’re one of those people who can sleep anywhere, don’t count on getting a full night of sleep! Additionally, the coach has to get on the cross-channel ferry, meaning any sleep you can get will be interrupted by getting off the coach onto the ferry, then 90 minutes later having to get back on the coach once you’ve reached France.

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Looking back, there are many things about my arrival in Ghent that make me realize just how young and new to traveling I was. I arrived in Ghent at around 5:30 am, with no idea of where the coach was going to drop me off, or how to get to my hostel. Due to my frugalness, I chose to walk almost three miles into the city, rather than check for a local bus – something I wouldn’t be quick to do now! I also remember feeling shocked as I hit the city center around 6 am, as the bars were closing up and the students were headed home. 6 am!! The reception at my hostel didn’t open until 8, so I ended up walking around the city a little more – at this point, I was tired, cranky, and ready for a nap! By 8:05, I had fallen asleep on the couch in the hostel living room.

I met my Belgian friends Michel, Julie, and Lien for brunch a little later at this very cute cafe that I sadly never wrote down the name of. They had class afterward but were nice enough to leave me with a list of things I should see while in Ghent, and we made plans to meet up in the afternoon. I also made a little list for myself of Belgian foods I wanted to try while I was there: Belgian beer, Belgian fries, Belgian chocolate, and Belgian waffles. Other than that, my time alone in Ghent was a lot of walking around, which was nice, as the city isn’t too big! I went to Ghent’s three major churches – my personal favorite was St. Bavo’s, which I noted for being unique because of its brick interior. I also saw the Gravensteen, which is a castle in the middle of the city. Strangely for me, I didn’t make it to any museums while I was there, but if I had been there longer, I’m sure I would have!


After my afternoon walking around, I met back up with everyone for dinner. We got traditional Belgian fries with sauce, bits of onion, sausage, and cheese on top at De Gouden Sate, which was, according to my friends, one of the most popular places in Ghent. They were so good; kind of like fancier poutine! We ate them outside in the square nearby, enjoying the mild weather. Afterward, we checked out a pub in the city center for a drink and to continue chatting. I wasn’t the biggest fan of beer in general at the time, but I did think the Belgian beer was pretty good! After that, it was time to head back to the hostel for the night – it had been a long but very good day!

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On the second day, I enjoyed breakfast at my hostel (KaBa Hostel) before I headed out to continue walking around Ghent. I was on my way to one of the museums, but I got terribly lost and never ended up finding it – I guess it’s just something to see next time I’m in Belgium! Fortunately, it was at that time that my friend Lien had texted me and asked if I was free to meet up for a little bit. We went and got an Italian takeaway from Basic Italian for lunch, which was so good and only €5 for a big portion! I have to say, the options for street food were great in Ghent, and everything was so good as well. We walked around in one of the city parks to burn off some calories before heading to the chocolate bar to check off the third thing on my Belgian food list – Belgian chocolate! The Chocolate Bar was called Mayana, and it was there that I had the best brownie I think I’ve ever had in my life. Sadly, after the chocolate bar, we had to part ways, as they had a class to go to, and I had to head to the train station to head to Brussels! This ticket only cost €6, and as I was on the train, I was astounded by how small Belgium is. It only took me 29 minutes to get from Ghent to Brussels – only a little longer than my commute to college my last semester!


I only had about three and a half hours in Brussels before I had to be at the coach station to head back home, but again, I figured a little time was better than none, and I set off to see as much of the city as I could! At this point, it was about 4 pm, so most things were closing up, and I had to admire them from the outside. I loved the feel of the city, and immediately was thinking about wanting to come back again to see more of it. I stopped by Grand Place, which is right by the train station, then walked down the street to see Mannekin-Pis, the little boy statue. I can’t say I understood it, but it’s one of those cliché things to see when you’re in Belgium! When I was there, he was dressed in a little military uniform.

Then it was past the Royal Palace, which I decided I would love to live in, and then on to St Michael’s Cathedral. One of the biggest in Brussels, and something that was actually open so I could go inside! All the stairs leading up the front to it made it seem even more impressive than it already was, and it was huge inside. The last thing I wanted to see in Brussels was the Parc du Cinquantenaire, which was created to celebrate the 50th year of Belgian independence. It was definitely worth the walk there – the buildings surrounding it were beautiful, and I loved the park itself I bought a Belgian waffle with chocolate from a street vendor there to check off the last thing on my Belgian food bucket list – it was heavenly! I ended my walking tour of Brussels by heading back down Rue de la Loi, the street lined with all the European Union and European Commission buildings. Definitely cool to see for this International Studies major! Then it was back on the bus to sadly head back home – I was already dreaming of coming back to Belgium!

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Overall, I loved the country and was so glad I got the chance to check it out for two days, especially because it wasn’t a country that I had on my list at all prior to that. My little trip there showed me how great of a country it was, and despite its size, it has so much to offer! Also, a special thanks go to Michiel, Lien, Julie, and Edward for taking time out of their day to show me around Ghent!


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