In medieval times, the town of Ghent was the home of the counts of Flanders, where cloth was produced in such abundance that it grew to be Europe’s third largest city after Paris and Constantinople. However, those selfsame townsfolk weren’t keen to pay the heavy taxes imposed on them by the Emperor Charles V, despite the fact that he was born in Ghent. They objected to funding his military battles against the French, and were punished and humiliated for their disloyalty.
The cotton and flax mills were the first in the region to embrace the Industrial Revolution and Ghent rivaled Manchester in textile production. The civil disobedience and armed battles by the workers drove business to Antwerp, and the lowlands fell into a long slow decline. Nowadays, Ghent is known as the most popular university town in Flanders, and the students provide a lively balance to offset the focus on major business.
There in an ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the few tourists who venture here; which town, Ghent of Bruges, has the most endearing medieval centers and picturesque canals?
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
After a wonderful visit to Bruges, we weren’t at all sure what we were in for with three nights in Ghent so soon afterwards. We had fallen in love with Bruges and couldn’t imagine that there was another city that could complete with its medieval charms. Ghent is much larger than Bruges, gets fewer tourists and presents a far more industrial face to the world.
There’s not much to report other than the fact that we took the advice of the Lonely Planet and purchased Museum Passes for € 20 each and made excellent use of them. All of the major sights in Ghent are covered by the pass as well as transportation on the trams and buses. They are valid for three days, and we had three days to visit.
We had to do a little planning because the museums are closed on Mondays, so we made sure to see the ones we wanted and kept other sights for our last day, Monday. We really appreciated the transit portion of the pass, because when we got tired in the afternoons, we would slip back to our hotel for a cup of tea and a rest, and then head back to the center at dusk.
There certainly is a different kind of energy in Ghent and much of it stems from the business focus; this is a working city after all. One gets a strong sense of the importance of the arts and the student vibe cannot be denied. Which city has the lovelier canals? In our opinion, Bruges wins hands down.
We discussed the matter a lot over the course of our three days here, and we came to the conclusion that young people would probably like the vitality of Ghent, while older folk would love the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of Bruges. Keep in mind though; we visited in late September and not in the height of the summer tourist season.