Ghent is also a university city with more than 60,000 students. As such, its streets are filled with young people. But, unlike Leuven, another university town in Flanders, youth is not the only category of people living there. There is an interesting mixture of foreigners who came to live there, or artists, amongst the native people of Ghent. Interestingly, other than the smaller provincial cities or the bigger city of Antwerp, this mixture makes the people more tolerant and open-minded. This atmosphere seeps into every aspect of city life. Many people of Ghent truly see the place like home, and are very proud to live there, seeing it as a place that will always welcome them back home.
Ghent is only a 30-minute train ride away from Brussels and is on the line from Brussels to Bruges and the coast. If you’re planning to visit Bruges and Brussels, definitely stop over in Ghent as well. There are also frequent direct trains to Brussels Airport, Antwerp, Lille and many local destinations.
There are two main train stations in Ghent: Gent-Dampoort and Gent-Sint-Pieters. Gent-Sint-Pieters is served by all trains passing Ghent, while Gent-Dampoort only serves the line towards/from Antwerp. During morning rush hour, expect crowded trains from smaller cities towards Ghent, and from Ghent to Brussels and Antwerp, while the inverse directions get crowded during evening rush hour. Finding a seating is problematic at these times, but standing places get rarely filled up. Also during summer holidays and sunny weekends, trains between Ghent and the coast may also get extremely crowded. The Gent-St-Pieters train station gets extremely crowded on late Friday afternoon during the University-teaching period (roughly mid-September-December and February-May), so allow enough time to buy tickets and/or get to the platforms.
Fastest trains in Belgium are indicated on (electronic) timetables with “IC”, followed by “IR” trains, while “L” trains are slowest and have most intermediate stops. This is especially important for travelers between Ghent and Bruges, as the train with indication “Brugge “ is a “L” train, while at about the same time also a faster train indicated as “Brugge-Oostende” leaves Ghent.
If you’re visiting from Bruges, Brussels or Antwerp during the weekend, it’s much cheaper to get a return ticket (special rate: weekendreturn).
The dense highway network in Belgium allows you to access Ghent easily by car. Two main highways E40 (Liege-Brussels-Ghent-Bruges-Ostend) and E17 (Antwerp-Ghent-Kortrijk-Lille) cross at Ghent. Brussels and Antwerp are 40 min away, Bruges 30 min. During rush hour you can easily double these times.
Eurolines has buses from Ghent to destinations such as Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne and London.
Megabus operate services to/from London, Brussels and Amsterdam. Be aware that the Megabus bus stop for Ghent is at the Campanile Hotel Gent in Akkerhage, which is in the south of the city. Local buses 65 and 67 stop nearby.
The center of Ghent is quite small, so you can walk around on foot. However, the main station (Gent Sint-Pieters) is not in the city center, but takes a walk of about half an hour. The best option is to take the tram, which takes you directly to the center in 10 to 15 minutes.
A bicycle is the recommended way to get around in Ghent. However, there are many roads with cobblestones that make cycling a shaking experience. Also make sure you stay clear of the tram rails. Nevertheless, you will see you are not alone on your bike: many inhabitants use bikes to get around. Even the former mayor uses his bicycle all day! There are many bike stands around to make it easy to lock your bike (important!). Many one-way roads are made two-way for bikes.
The transport system is Ghent is excellent and usually on time. A single ticket costs € 3.00 if bought in the bus/tram or € 1.40 if bought from ticket machines near stops, such ticket is valid for an hour’s travel on all trams and buses. If you are planning to stay for a while, buy a pass for € 14.00, it is valid for 10 trips within the city and can also be used in other Flemish cities (such as Antwerp or Bruges). The trams are the quickest and most comfortable way to travel, especially from the railway station to the city centre.
Note that if the bus/tram stop has a ticket machine, you will have to buy the ticket there, as the bus/tram driver will not sell you one in this case. You can also buy a ticket through SMS if you have a Belgian cell phone, instructions are on the poles at each stop. The transportation company is De Lijn
In the Lijnwinkel kiosk (located near Sint-Pieters train station), you can get free map of city and surroundings, with all bus and tram lines.
If you arrive in Ghent at the Gent-St-Pieters train station, you can take tram 1 (until ‘Korenmarkt’). Journey time is ten minutes. Gent-Dampoort is located closer to the center (about 15 minutes walk), and is connected with the city center by several bus lines.