My husband and I are looking at spending 3 days and nights in either Bruges or Ghent. We plan to spend two days in one city and day-trip one day to the other. Both look like great options and we don't know which to choose. Pros and/or cons for either option? Many thanks!
I was in both in December, I preferred Bruges, just seemed like there was more to see/do and had a happier vibe, at least for me. Bruges had more sights that I was interested in, both were lovely without any stark contrasts.
I spent four nights in Bruges and three in Ghent, which was plenty for each for my purposes. If I had to make a daytrip to one of these, I'd daytrip to Ghent.
Brugge has a larger historical core, but tourism has mostly taken over the inner ring of the city. Gent hosts a large university and a more vibrant economy, so it feels more like a living city. If you enjoy a little more nightlife, stay in Gent. If you want the center of the city to yourself after dark, stay in Brugge.
They're both stunningly beautiful places, but I prefer to spend more time in Bruges because there is more to see and do. But Ghent is close by, only one train stop away, so it's very easy to do both.
Here's a taste of Bruges:
We stayed in Gent and day-tripped to Brugge and were glad we did. We found Brugge lovely but VERY touristy. We really liked that Gent is a regular city, not loaded with tourists and has a lovely historical center. In one of the old churches we were treated to an "organ concert" - the organist was there practicing - sure was beautiful. It really depends on what you looking for.
Ghent as a base might be really nice. I had a 3-week work assignment there a few years back. Ghent is a nice walking city with a lot of good restaurants and pubs. Tons of university students spice up the nightlife. You could even use it as a base for Brussels as it's about equidistant from there and Bruges.
I live within an hour drive from Bruges as well as Ghent and visit them almost every month. So I see both places more as a local, but I try to give my opinion in the interest of the tourist.
-Bruges is the more picturesque of the two, the hotspots are located in an easy walkable area and is presented as a comprehensive package, located within the circular road. It appeals more to what most people see as a medieval romantic place (I see it more as historical), it’s more tourist orientated and due to the crowds of visitors, the locals are hardly visible/present. Especially when the weather is fine or during an event the streets connecting the main attractions are crowded and there are to my opinion too many shops and restaurants related to tourism. This city is well maintained and with the visitors enjoying themselfs I can imagine that Bruges has a pleasant vibe. As soon as the daytrippers are gone around dinner-time, it becomes surprisingly quiet and sometimes it looks completely abandoned. What always wonders me is that just a small number of visitors take a walk besides the beaten path, while there are enough charming things to see.
The country-side norht-east of Bruges with the canal to Damme and some other places is nice for a bike ride, best to do during weekdays. When the weather is fine some areas have an almost idyllic atmosphere. There is also the coast and beaches nearby, not directly exciting but tiny De Haan with it’s Belle Epoque houses is worth a visit. From Bruges tour-operators organize daytrips to the WOI battlefields around Ypres
-Ghent is more a vibrant larger industrial and university city with an historical core. Visitors have more the feeling to mix with the way of local life, instead of dominating the place like in Bruges, what give to my opinion an other but more realistic feel. Main attractions are the counts castle, the old harbour ,the gothic churches and the cathedral with Van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb and hardly known an in situ large Ruben’s painting. Just outside the historical core there are two art museums, one for contemporary arts and the other for fine arts.
Like Bruges Ghent houses even two beguinages, but the one in Bruges has the more idyllic atmosphere. Ghent presents itself not so as a comprehensive touristic package, but as a visitor one must do some effort to explore it and that can be just the fun. There are a lot of nice buildings, also from other periods, and places that are worth seeing, you just have to look around well.
Ghent offers more the occasion to experience the local vibe. As there are numerous restaurants and cafées for the locals and many students you can find easily one with good value for the money. Food (for the locals) in Belgium is serious business. As Ghent is centrally located it’s a good hub for city trips to Brussels, Antwerp and Bruges. All three places are from centre to centre within an hour and a half leisurely reach. The country-side directly around Ghent is not so attractive, but the Leiestreek has nice spots and the renascence Castle of Ooidonk is one of Belgiums finest, as the Castle of Laarne is also a nice one.
In short: If you look for a romantic place and crowds are not a real problem I think Bruges is the place to go. If crowds is definitaly something to avoid and you look for a more central located place for daytrips to other cities then think about Ghent. When dark, till midnight both cities are stunningly illuminated. Crowds in Bruges can be avoided to walk around early, like before 10 pm, in the evening and to look further then the beaten path.
As someone suggested watching a utube segment on Bruges one could also rent the movie - In Bruges. As it is a dark comedy some very unpleasant graphic scenes but it's a wonderful tour of this special town. My wife and I enjoyed the many Belgium beers, unbelievable Belgium beers.
We'd go back in a heart beat and likely visit Ghent as well.