Ghent (or Gent in Flemish or Gand in French – confusing, much?) was once medieval Europe’s second largest city, and is a mere half hour’s train ride from Brussels. It’s now known as a city of culture, full of students and pretty architecture, with more listed buildings that any other Belgian city.
Year round, visitors come to Ghent for the belfry, fortress, museums and galleries, but for ten days of the year the numbers surge to about 2 million. And why?
Well, for Gentse Feesten, of course!
Gentse Feesten is a music and theatre festival which takes over the city for a week and a half every summer. Circus performers, acrobats, dancers, singers, bands, jazz groups, theatre, gymnasts... The city is bursting with performance. And it's awesome.
On Saturday, despite spending all morning thinking “I’ve got so much to do at home today, I can’t go out”, I ended up jumping on a train to Ghent to check out the festival for myself. Totes yolo, eh?
And I'm so glad I did.
I don’t think Gentse Feesten is overly well-known outside Belgium, despite apparently being the third-biggest city festival in Europe. Apparently 1,315,000 people attended this year!
Venturing out of Brussels to the Flemish part of Belgium (Flanders), it was strange for me not being able to speak the language. But just from listening to everyone around me it seemed like there weren’t many foreigners (aside from the odd American), but rather mainly Belgians.
And really, you’re getting a few mini festivals in one – there are big stages set-up around the old city centre as well as street performers every where you look.
The amazing thing is that it’s 100% free too! FREEEEEEEE! Obviously you have to pay for food, and that’s encouraged, but you’re really getting some class acts for absolutely nothing. I particularly enjoyed these guys:
|Nakedness as part of the show...|
They were flipping, somersaulting and jumping all over the shop! Flipping awesome, ya might say. They'd definitely go down well on Britain's Got Talent.
Performers aside, I was impressed with all the free loos dotted round the city too, but could’ve done with water fountains – it was HOT!
There were lots of different food stalls everywhere though, all very enticing-looking.
There were also loads of pop-up bars - the beers and cocktails were flowing freely, and I imagine the awesome atmosphere of the afternoon only gets better as day turns to night. Alas, I couldn't stay to experience it myself.
I ended up having lunch in an awesome place called Soup Lounge. It was too hot for soup, so I got a chicken-curry baguette, generously filled with salad too, for a bargainous 3 Euros. Were it cooler I would’ve totally jumped on their soup deal – a large bowl of soup, two mini bread rolls and an apple for just 4 Euros! Awesome.
Nommed it up while listening to a French singer belting out La Vie En Rose and admiring these buildings (me, not her. Maybe her too actually...)
Because that's the thing about Gentse Feesten - it'd be easy to visit and not even pay attention to the city itself. The gorgeous architecture sort of fades into the background given everything going on, but I made sure to appreciate it.
The old houses in Ghent have a really distinct style, which I love. Turrets and step-by-step roofs give them all a castle-ish vibe. Speaking of which...
It's also lovely that the river winds its way through the city centre.
Down by the river the atmosphere was particularly buzzy, lively and fun - fairy lights, jazz and happy groups of people. I was spontaneously visiting by myself but it'd be so much fun to go with friends, I'm sure.
Festival activities aside, I really liked Ghent. There are big, open squares as well as narrow, cobbled streets. It seems like a really cool city, full of trendy shops and cute cafés. Me likey.
Case in point, this delightful cake shop/café, Julie's House:
It was so cute from the outside that I was just drawn in. Packed with people, the cakes look amaaaaazing, and they even had free tasters. FREE CAKE, YOU SAY!? Well, it'd be rude not to, am I right? (Were I not full from lunch I would've totally treated myself to a slice and a half.)
I kinda wish I lived in Ghent just so I could go to Julie's House and Soup Lounge all the time.
I'm not entirely sure if it was part of Gentse Feesten or not, but there was a fabulous flea market going on too.
Now I do love a good flea market.
Should a funfair be more your cup of tea (a spinning teacup, maybe? Pah ha ha), you're totally catered for at Gentse Feesten...
And then again, if you're more in the mood for beer, all you have to do is make your way over to one of the big Oktoberfest-style tents, take a seat and enjoy the live music while sipping a beverage.
I didn't know the Belgian songs being sung, but it seemed like everyone else did!
To be honest, I just enjoyed wandering round, stopping to listen to a singer here and watch some acrobats there, all while marvelling at the pretty architecture and people-watching.
It was a wonderful afternoon, and not only would I definitely go back to Gentse Feesten, but I really recommend you go too! Has anyone been before?
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