I live in Bruges but I love to visit Gent or Antwerpen when it comes to shopping or dining. Bruges is very classic and mostly aimed at pleasing tourists when it comes to shopping and even eating or going out for that matter. So it always feels like a breath of fresh air to spend a day in one of the other cities of our small country.
When shopping in Gent I usually avoid the main shopping streets; Veldstraat and Langemunt. There you will find all the main brand stores, which I am sure you also have in your hometown. So here is an alternative route full of places waiting to be discovered.
If you have parked your car in the underground parking under the Kouter, then Onderbergen is a good place to start hop&shop. If you need to stack on some extra energy, and skipped breakfast or lunch, first head out to Gust. Perfect stop for a breakfast or brunch. Best make some reservations, because the little place has become quite popular in a very short time.(you can book a table online)
First stops in Onderbergen: “A.Puur.A”, for instance, for shoes, clothes, jewelry, ceramics, and interior design. Huiszwaluw Home, for Scandinavian style furniture and interior design. Or “Art Nivo” (interior design), “Gallery Ilunga” (tribal arts), “Deco 48” (gifts and decorations), Ydee Design Shop Ghent ( interior and gifts and the Hay collection), and “Surplus” ( young design) in the Zwartezusterstraat, just around the corner. And do not forget to stock up on materials for your creative DIY days at home at Schleiper.
Feet hurt? Dehydrated? There’s plenty of places for a coffee, try “Moor&Moor” (Breakfast & Brunch, Coffee shop & grocery store; their motto: pure, local organic, vegetarian and ecological), “Het Brood-Huys” or “Alice“. Alice is the perfect coffee with pastry or afternoon tea stop. It has the perfect atmosphere for it, a plush and a bit burlesque interior.
If it is already around lunch or dinner time you have to visit one of my favourite eateries in Gent: Lepelblad. The restaurant has two big connected rooms with high ceilings, and a slightly simple but very light and natural interior design with some colour touches, and a big blackboard with suggestions above the fireplace in each room. The second room is connected to the partly open kitchen. In the first room is a small bar where drinks are prepared. There is a happy bustle in the restaurant that can become a little too noisy in the second room, as we experienced on our second visit. But as I said, the place has a little extra, the owner being one of those extras. She walks around keeping an eye on the place. We ended up choosing dishes from the blackboard. Every dish was first of all filled with loads of fresh vegetables, many of the kind used far too little (but oh so tasty), fresh herbs and tasty meat and fish. All well seasoned but with respect for the natural flavours of the ingredients. We were immediately taken by the restaurant, and I placed it on my all time favourites list.
If you are looking for a quick, simple, not so expensive but yummy bite, step into “De Kastart“, a long time favourite for spaghetti without frills. They mainly serve spaghetti, with spaghetti ‘Kastart’ and spaghetti Bolognese being the two most ordered dishes. They also have a take away service, which is hugely popular with students during exams and young professionals after a long day’s work. It is always busy but you never have to wait long for a table.
Then, refreshed, turn into de Hoornstraat and discover the world of “Au Bon Marché” (all kinds of accessories), “Javana” (more coffee and tea) and fashion designer “Jo De Visscher”. Cross the Veldstraat (watch out for the passing trams) and continue via de Volderstraat (“G-Star”, “Sacha”, “Marc O’Polo”…) and follow the Sint-Niklaasstraat to the Korenmarkt and the Groentenmarkt.
If you like nostalgic places, drink a coffee at Mokabon in the small street Donkersteeg which connects the central square Korenmarkt to the newly built covered market place in front of the Belfry of Gent. It is a small coffeebar that has been open for almost a century since 1937. You can have a real good coffee or hot chocolate without the frills of Starbucks.
On the square Groentenmarkt, marvel at the goodies in bakery “Himschoot” (the best mattetaarten and very good bread), the mustard varieties of “Tierenteyn”, and buy a sachet of Gentse neuzen (cuberdons) if you’re a sweet tooth, from one of the two little stalls on the pavement. (sworn enemies, competing for the right to call their ‘cuberdons’ the best.)
Take a right into the Hoogpoort, where you will find original gifts at “Huiszwaluw”, original jewelry at “Elisa Lee”, shoes at “Zoot” (where I bought mine) and urban fashion at “Cream”. Tired of looking at all these things you can’t really afford? Then turn to the other side of the road and feast your eyes for free at the most beautiful town hall of Belgium!
Walk into the Belfortstraat on your left and then left again in de Onderstraat and then right into the Serpentstraat where “Zsa Zsa Rouge” and “Petit Zsa Zsa” (great gifts), “Zoot” fashion (great clothes) and “Studio Woot Woot” (retro interior design) are waiting for you. Thirsty? Try “Pink Flamingo’s” (Onderstraat), we didn’t, but it is on our list for next time!
If you are looking for an early cocktail head to “Bar Popular” (bohémien chique) on the St. Jacobs square. A great pub with a very cool looking barman who boasted he could make great cocktails. He didn’t exaggerate and I enjoyed my Strawberry Margherita and he his Gin Fizz. (Great prices too, all cocktails at around 6.5 euro’s a glass.)
We just discovered a fabulous new used book café/coffee bar just next to the Vrijdagmarkt, in de Kammerstraat 6: Le Bal Infernal, a real heaven for book lovers.
One wall is completely filled with second hand books, which you can read while drinking a coffee or a cocktail. If you bring a used book, you can trade it for another book from the bar to take home. On many evenings there are live music performances, for the agenda visit their facebook page.
A great place for dinner is Marc O’ Polo Trattoria (Serpentstraat, 11, 09 225 04 20) near the Vrijdagmarkt. Italian dishes with fresh and mostly organic ingredients. We went for the tagliatelli with Ossobucco shank and sauce, but not before we enjoyed a Spritz Aperol. They served it just right, with a lot of prosecco and not too much water. The Ossobucco was tender and tasty, the marrow in the bone succulent and yummy. What a pity that the tagliattelli was overcooked. But we didn’t let it spoil the fun. The Tiramisu was ‘Oh my god so good!’ and the ice-cooled limoncello tasted as if it was home made, which it probably was.
On the other side of the Vrijdagmarkt we found “Antiek-Depot” in the Beaudelostraat, a great place to browse for antiques, vintage and design stuff. Another store where you will surely find that exceptional present you did not find anywhere else: Pur Sens in the Meersenierstraat, a small cosy shop full of original clothes, jewelry and more.
From there you can cross the canal by the pedestrian bridge and take a left in the direction of the Gravesteen. You pass one of the smaller museums of Gent: The house of Alijn (Kraanlei 65, 9000 Gent, T 0032 9 235 38 00): museum of things that never pass, this museum offers a striking portrayal of the evolution of 20th century everyday life. A folklore museum adapted to the present.
We used to love “Jardin Bohemien” (Burgstraat) for coffee and cake, but it has closed and is now a restaurant “Mémé Gusta“. They serve grandmothers kitchen, but unfortunately not the prices from grandmothers’ era. We haven’t tried it yet, still mourning over the loss of our favourite coffee stop!
If you fancy a nice piece of cake, “Julie’s House“(Kraanlei), may have great ratings on TripAdvisor, but we’ve tried it twice, the first time it was so packed that we lost patience, the second time the staff was so rude that we lost interest.
Other good addresses:
Cafe Labath, (Oude Houtlei 1 Hoogstraat, Gent, 0476 99 42 81), a great place for breakfast or a coffee. Nice vintage atmosphere and very reasonable prices, and a very tasty breakfast.
De Vooruit, one of my favourite places in Gent, for a coffee, a drink in the evening and for lunch and dinner. And of course for a concert, a theatre performance or a party. De Vooruit is a monument in Gent, place where the former socialist cooperative movement in Gent was born to fight for the rights of the poorest in society. It later also became the place where socialist inspired movements could find a home and where a wide variety of cultural activities were organised. And this is what it still is today, a cultural house where you find a large café, a theatre and a concert hall. (Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 23, 9000 Gent)
The Opera in Gent does not look too spectacular from the outside but I love the inside architecture. It is dearly in need of renovations, but the slightly worn out interiors give it a very authentic look. You can book a tour of the building on their website. (Schouwburgstraat 3, 9000 Gent)
Cooremetershuys (Graslei 12 , 9000 Gent), a shop that is there as long as a can remember on one of the most beautiful spots in Gent, the Graslei, behind a façade dating back to the 13th century. A perfect place to look for that special gift you could not find anywhere else.
A Food Affair, (Hoogstraat 58, 9000 Gent, 09/2241805), a great place for dinner if you like Asian food. The menu is mostly based on Thai dishes. We tried it and the food is true to its origins, using all the right ingredients.
Publiek, (Ham 39, 9000 Gent, 09/3300486), if you are looking for dinner for a special occasion, this is the place, run by one of the young upcoming chefs in Belgium Olly Ceulenaere, who just received his first Michelin star. The dishes are a real discovery of new tastes and ingredients. What is really innovative is that 25% of the seats can be booked on the day itself by phone, a real relief for last minute deciders like ourselves.
Other great news: Bloch, de legendary Jewish bakery who used to run shop in the Veldstraat is back! The have a food truck on the the central station of Gent on Monday and Friday and on the Vrijdagmarkt on Wednesday and Thursday, where you can buy their famous bread and pastries.
And if you want to stay the night in style, without emptying your bank-account: Sandton Grand Hotel Reylof. Hotel with a great location, very well acclaimed restaurant “Lof”, and they even have a small wellness area.
On our last visit to Gent, we tried a new place for lunch. We looked for a vegetarian place, and found one close to the Veldstraat. I find “Le Botaniste” a very attractive name for a place to eat, and it is located in a beautiful old house in the Hoornstraat, perfect when shopping in Gent. The food is vegetarian, gluten free and 99% organic (their own words). They have several choices for lunch, displayed in a large counter. They have several fresh juices and teas. I went for a pasta, the others for a vegetable tajine and a noodle soup. And I had a kind of mint-lemon lemonade with it, refreshing on a warm summers day. They have tables inside in large, heigh ceiling rooms, or tables outside on the pavement. And yes you can pay with plastic.
A street further we took our coffee at “Goesting“, a small coffee bar, with not too much frills. Good for a good coffee, nothing more. They also serve breakfast, cake and lunch, but you will have to wait until 10 AM for breakfast, that is when they open. Their location is their major advantage!