See and Do
The Gothic spires of St. Bavo Cathedral are one of the town’s most recognized landmarks, but inside the church is the true treasure—the 15th-century altarpiece Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a towering, multi-panel painting by Jan van Eyck. Farther west, the Design Museum Gent is a building in two parts: the old wing, an 18th-century mansion that showcases re-creations of domestic life in that era; and next door, a modern extension with rotating exhibitions and a permanent collection that ranges from early-20th-century Art Nouveau cabinets by Henry van de Velde to whimsical 1970’s Flemish furniture. A two-story, white-walled space in the southern part of the city, Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.) is one of the best contemporary art museums in Belgium, with a permanent collection that includes works by late-20th-century artists such as Joseph Beuys and Luc Tuymans.
Brussels-based designer Antoine Pinto was one of the first to put Ghent on the traveler’s map in 2003 with the stylish Belga Queen (lunch for two $42), a cavernous restaurant with a wood-beamed ceiling and stainless-steel accents. The menu includes updated Belgian classics such as eel stewed in cream and herbs. Pinto’s magic continues at his newly opened Brasserie Pakhuis (dinner for two $91), the place to go in town for oysters, with an Art Nouveau glass roof and cast-iron interior that could have been built by Gustave Eiffel. Opposite the towering St. Nicholas church, you’ll find the Michelin-starred C-Jean (dinner for two $200), where the nine-course seasonal menu of local specialties such as grilled herring and beef carpaccio with clams is lighter than it sounds. To sample the best in Belgian ale, head to the cozy Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant (drinks for two $9), overlooking the Leie River. What to try: one (or more) of the 22 beers brewed by Trappist monks. Rochefort and Orval are our favorites.
Sean Rocha is a writer based in New York City.