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Ghent Altarpiece viewing options

My husband and I will be traveling to Belgium in the fall. We are planning on staying in Bruges and doing a daytrip to Ghent, primarily to see the Ghent Altarpiece. I'm interested in hearing what people who have done this recently have to say. When I go on the website for St. Bavo's, I see tickets for "virtual reality visits" and for a regular visit (which is much shorter in duration). What does the virtual reality offer you? Is it a gimmick or is it helpful? Worth purchasing simply for the extra time with the Altarpiece? Also, how far in advance should one purchase tickets?

Thanks for your help!

Posted by
2221 posts

I went in September last year and did the regular visit. You can spend as much time as you like looking at the Altarpiece. They even had some chairs set up. It wasn't crowded or rushed.

Posted by
13649 posts

In May 2022, I did the Augmented Reality tour twice I felt it was so good. It is set up in the crypt and it explained a good bit about the history of the altarpiece and the cathedral using digital images. I did not feel it was gimmicky. I would definitely go for it! Plus I love crypts, lol!! I will also add that I find the Virtual Reality programs a little disorienting. The Augmented Reality glasses allow you to see thru them so you can see the floor, walls, other people and more importantly for me, where I'm going, lol.

You can spend as much time with the altarpiece as you want. They do not chase you out after a certain number of minutes.

I also recommend if you have compact binoculars to take them with you. The Altarpiece is in a glass cube and is in such detail that I wanted the binoculars to look at the hundreds of different flowers, the attributes of the saints, etc.

This is one of my favorite art pieces....it is spectacular. I saw it in 2019 when it was under restoration and watched the restorers work with what looked like dental picks and Q-tips to go centimeter by centimeter. I see from the website they have taken some of the panels to the museum to continue restoration. If you just do a day trip you might not have time to go out to the MSK museum to see them at work. If you do have time, I found it vastly entertaining, lol.

BTW, it is quite chilly in there so even if it's a warm day, take a long sleeve layer with you as you might need it!

Posted by
521 posts

I was there in September of 2022 and did the regular tour. It was self paced and I felt like with the RS self guided tour, I was fine. The alterpiece was very impressive and I really loved it. It was not crowded and I was able to stay as long as I wanted.

Posted by
176 posts

We had the earliest time slot and went in a few minutes early. It was a real treat to see the panels unfolding for the day.

Posted by
378 posts

Like roubrat, we too were there last September, and really enjoyed visiting St Bavo's. We opted for the regular (non-VR) viewing, purchasing a [morning]timed-entry ticket ahead of time from their official website. The Altarpiece is contained within a dedicated space which provides ample room to view from different vantage points and/or move around as more people arrive. There are some seats against a back wall, however those views tend to get blocked with admirers standing between them and the object. At that time of morning, the outward panels open up in a sequenced, somewhat dramatic fashion; slowly revealing the complete work in its entirety. The cathedral has many other works worth seeing, including an impressive-in-its-own-rite painting by Peter Paul Rubens. Have a wonderful trip and visit!

Posted by
13649 posts

Will just add that because the egress from the ticket counter to the altarpiece is new they have nice bathrooms there as well, hahaha!!

Posted by
33 posts

We were just in Ghent this past April. We thoroughly enjoyed the augmented reality tour (not at all gimmicky from our standpoint). It covers the fascinating history of the cathedral and the altarpiece and it's long, perilous journey over the centuries to where it rests today. Even already knowing much about the work's background, I found the tour very interesting and detailed.

As has been said, there were no time restrictions. We were able to stay as long as we liked both in the crypt and viewing the altarpiece itself. It is a remarkable piece of art, astounding in it's detail. I really couldn't get enough of it and would go back in a heartbeat.

We bought our tickets on the same day as our visit. There was a line but the wait was brief. Of course, it was mid-April. I'm not sure what the crowd level is at other times of the year that might be considered more high season.

Just a heads-up - they weren't allowing any bags into the church (we just had small day bags with us). You must put them in the lockers provided in the room where you queue to enter.

Posted by
75 posts

Thank you all for your replies. It seems that either visit option is a good option!

Posted by
5445 posts

We would like to do just the regular tour. We will be there mid September. How far in advance, it at all, should we purchase tickets?

Posted by
13649 posts

Jules, I would watch the calendar on the Sint-Baafs website and see if things are selling out. In spring 2022 I wound up booking several weeks ahead (may have been a month even) and could not get the time I wanted. It worked out fine but the morning was sold out by the time I looked - for both kinds of entries.