So, it's the most wonderful time of the year... again. And what a better way to get into the Christmas spirit if not going to a crowded agglomeration of food and alcoholic beverages stalls with loud Holidays' songs? Yes, as worst as it may sound, we love visiting as many Christmas Markets in December as we can. Since we are now based in the south of the Netherlands, we've looked for some options around and Ghent kept appearing in our researches and, as we have visited it once but very quickly, we decided to go check out if it was worth the visit to its Christmas market.
A CHRISTMAS TALE IN GHENT
Although there are records of December's markets happening in Europe since the XIII century, the first editions of a market happening purposely for Christmas started in the German-speaking region of Europe (part of the once-great Holy Roman Empire). The Striezelmarkt held in Dresden in 1434 is considered the first genuine Christmas market and it started off as a one-day market on Christmas eve to supply the citizens of the city with meat for their Christmas meal after their fasting period during the Advent. Since then this tradition spread around the world and now happens all around the Advent period offering traditional food, drinks and gift options for a no-longer fasting nor religious crowd.
HOW TO GET TO GHENT?
Ghent is a Belgian city located in the north-western part of the country. It is easy to reach, especially from Brussels. The easiest way to reach this charming city is by train. Indeed, there are around 80 trains running daily, which means that on average there is a train running every 20 minutes. The train ride takes approximately 40 minutes and costs around 11 EUR.
THE CHRISTMAS MARKET
So overall Ghent is totally worth to visit in Christmas time. The city is magically decorated with not only beautiful Christmas lights but also true pine trees attached to light poles around the central part. Even the iconic Castle of the Counts got into the Holidays mood and adorned its medieval patio with Christmas tree and fake snow. By the way, a visit to the castle is highly recommended.
With all this jolly atmosphere around us, certainly Ghent's Christmas Market wouldn't disappoint us. They offer more than 150 wooden huts spread around its old town picturesque neighbourhood and this is what makes it unique. All the market is framed by imposing medieval constructions: the Saint Bavo Cathedral, the Belfry of Ghent and the Saint Nicholas' Church (yep the saint who inspired the creators of Santa Clause). All this sensorial experience is completed with the scent of the Glühwein (mulled wine) and wooden fire and the many food options of seasonal food (raclette, tartiflette, smoked salmon, brätwurst...). For those more adventurous, there is also an ice skating rink for you to burn some calories and a ferris wheel to admire it all from above.
THE CASTLE OF THE COUNTS
Of course we could not visit Ghent and do not see one of its most important and polemic monument. The Castle of the Counts (also know as Gravensteen) is the only preserved medieval castle in Flanders and maybe this has to do with its moat and rather developed defensive system.
Although the location had been fortified before due to its strategical location between two branches of the Lys rive, it is only in 1180 that Philip of Alsace built the current version of the castle. While it may be said that he might have been inspired by the crusader castles he witnessed during the Second Crusade, it is clear that the construction was meant to intimidate the merchants of Ghent who would often challenge the Count's authority. It served as the residence of the Counts of Flanders until 1353 after which it served as a court and a prison which explain why there is an extensive collection of torture instruments exhibited in the castle.
The best part for the Middle Age lovers is that all the castle is open to visit from the gatehouse and its ramparts to the count's residence and the stables. There is an audio guide which you can definitely not miss: done by a comedian from Ghent; it takes you through an immersive journey through the history of the castle while offering funny anecdotes and true facts about this iconic fortress. The Castle of the Counts is open everyday from 10 a.m. from 6 p.m.; the tickets cost 10 EUR (audio guide included) and can be bought online here.
So in a nutshell, we were really glad to have chose Ghent as one of our Christmas Market destinations this year. Of course it will be overcrowded during the weekends and you might find things are a bit pricey in the market. Nevertheless, we think Ghent succeeded to put up a pretty decent Christmas market experience really worth visiting while not losing its medieval charm.
And now it's your turn to let us know what you think about the city of Ghent. Have you every experienced it in December? We look forward to reading your comments in the section below.