One of our favourite travelling experiences is heading over to Europe and exploring the different cultures and countries right on our doorstep. There is something incredibly exciting about arriving in Calais, watching the ferry doors open and then driving out of the port with a whole continent in front of you. We’re always looking for new places to visit and the latest has been the beautiful Belgian city of Ghent, only ninety minutes drive from Calais.
As usual, we caught the excellent DFDS service from Dover and had our customary breakfast and soft-play time on the ferry; it passes so quickly doing it this way and provides an extra activity for the kids at the start of the holiday. The drive over to Ghent is straightforward as well; just head east along the A16, then join the E40 and stay on it until you reach Ghent (Gent in Dutch).
Where we stayed
We were staying in the fantastic Marriott hotel which is located on a street called Korenlei, right in the heart of the historic part of the city. At one time all the country’s produce (including corn, hence the street name) had to pass through this area and the result today is a Facebook-profile worthy, picturesque location, right on the river and only a short walk to all of the city’s attractions.
Ghent has a small-town feel and we found it very easy to navigate, meaning that we didn’t need to jump onto the frequent trams which glide (sometimes a little too close for comfort) around the city. Alongside the trams, there are also buses and water-taxis to choose from if you don’t fancy walking. We had the buggy with us and were lucky with the weather so didn’t use them much.
What to do
We were in Ghent for a couple of days just after New Year and wanted to see as much of the city as we could in the short time we had. To help with this, we were very grateful to Visit Gent who provided us with complimentary city cards. These provide free access to a large number of museums, galleries, monuments and other attractions, plus all public transport (and bike-hire) so they are a great deal if you plan to visit several attractions and perhaps travel further afield using public transport. It also provides a free boat trip around the central district which we enjoyed but it could perhaps have covered a greater distance at a less sedate pace for it to be truly something we’d recommend – the boys were becoming a bit restless by the end. But, it’s free with the card and certainly a relaxing way to spend forty minutes and see the city from a different perspective.
We then spent a fantastic couple of hours in Gravensteen, the castle overlooking the city. The boys really enjoyed it here with it being a great combination of ancient ruins and interesting displays for the children. There are a few tricky staircases so you’ll need to leave the buggy at reception but the rest of it is fairly child-friendly, the highlight being a medieval dungeon transformed into a Christmas room, complete with soft cushions, classical music and a Christmas tree.
Luckily for us the Christmas markets were still open so we wandered around there on several occasions looking at the stalls, eating lots of chocolate waffles and riding on the Ferris wheel. We also found time to visit the Design Museum which we initially found slightly too formal for our group but it got better as we went around and our eldest had a great time trying to find the tiny Playmobil figurines dotted around the museum, happily ticking them off on his checklist. Both boys finished the visit by rolling around for fifteen minutes on a huge structure made of wool, which was certainly a first.
We found lots of food options around the city and we mainly ate at the Christmas markets from the various stalls (bratwursts and waffles were our staple diet). There were also numerous fast food chains if you fancied something more familiar plus several incredibly beautiful and inviting bistros tucked into the backstreets which we’d have loved to visit but decided to save for when we visit without children and will appreciate candles and tablecloths again.
Before we knew it, our time in Ghent was over and we were heading back along the E40 towards Calais and our early morning ferry. We’d really recommend Ghent as a family-friendly weekend break. It’s so close to the UK and easily accessible by either car or train so you’ll be spending minimal time travelling. Which leaves plenty of time to look around this beautiful historic city at your leisure, safe in the knowledge that the kids will be entertained just as much as you.
We stayed at the Marriott Hotel on Korenlei and travelled with DFDS ferries. During our stay we used the Ghent city cards which can be bought from the tourist office, hotels and other places around the city. They cost EUR30 for 48 hours and EUR35 for 72 hours.
We’re very grateful to the Marriott Hotel and Visit Gent for supporting this blog entry.