A local’s guide to Ghent, Belgium: artisanal beer, bargain vintage and docklands clubbing

This Flemish city sparkles with creative cuisine, markets, cutting-edge clubs – and beer, says brewery founder Dimitri Messiaen


Ghent is blessed with an exciting eating-out scene, with unpretentious, creative young chefs favouring local, seasonal ingredients with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. I recommend Aroy Aroy, the latest venture of chef Jason Blanckaert, who has abandoned his Michelin stars and just cooks what he likes. Right now he’s serving Thai cuisine that I’d say is as authentic as many Thai restaurants, despite Aroy Aroy’s chefs being Flemish.

I also really like Elders, a new place just outside the centre that serves simple but delicious dishes such as a chilled bouillon of cucumber and elder blossom, or barbecued oysters with rhubarb. It’s perfect for a lazy Sunday brunch.

oyster gent spot on page
Oysters at Elders Illustration: Hennie Haworth/The Guardian

And Raaf, which is about to open, is a first venture for young chefs who will be baking their own bread, grilling and barbecuing meat, fish and lots of veggies in a beautifully converted butcher’s meat storeroom. And head to the organic Lousberg market, where dairy cooperative het Hinkelspel sells a fabulous selection of local cheeses.


Kouter flower market.
Kouter flower market. Photograph: Helen Nicholson/Alamy

Running a brewery takes up most of my life, but Sundays are sacred, and I have a ritual that begins with a walk in the centre of Ghent, at StJacob’s flea market, where I can enjoy the simple pleasure of buying bargain vintage jackets for as little as €5. Then it is on to the secondhand books market at Ajuinlei, and the flower market on Kouter square. By then, my wife and family will have joined me for oysters and bubbly at the market’s De Blauwe Kiosk.

I recommend visitors see the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (the Ghent Altarpiece) painting by the brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck in the cathedral. Yes there will be long queues, but it is unforgettable – and there is now a 3D experience as well as the masterpiece itself.


We opened our brewery four years ago in the Dok Noord quarter, and it has developed into a neighbourhood with a similar vibe to the former docklands in London or New York. It’s only a 10-minute walk from the medieval centre of Ghent but it feels like a different world. The 19th-century industrial warehouses lining the canal have been transformed into a mix of creative hubs, food and drink venues and sustainable housing that is attracting young locals.

Right on the canal, Eat This is an experimental exhibition and performance space, while nearby Bar Bricolage is an outdoor bar hosting concerts. Kids can play in the newly opened Captain Zeppos maritime-themed park. Don’t imagine this area to be anything like Bruges or Antwerp – as we always say here: “if it is too beautiful then it is not Ghent”.

Ghent and the River Lys.
Ghent and the River Lys. Photograph: Jurgen Schulzki/Alamy

Green space

I have two favourite green spaces. Appelbrugparkje is a minuscule one in the historical heart of Ghent that even many locals have never heard of. It is hidden away behind the Castle of the Counts, you sit quietly in a leafy oasis, with picturesque views over the Lys River and the medieval Butchers’ Hall.

Keizerpark, on the River Scheldt, is very different; a big open park beloved by the Gantois where you can sit down for a picnic and rent a boat.


For anyone who loves techno and house, Kompass is a world-class club, a typical family-run Ghent affair, but one that attracts top DJs. Housed in an old factory with low ceilings, the atmosphere is electric. And Charlatan is a local legend that never disappoints, the best club in town for more than 30 years. There’s even a movie about it, Belgica. At least once a month all the team head to Charlatan after the brewery shuts.

For live music, Bar Lume is the place to catch young Belgian bands, while Funke is a new venue that spreads over three floors, a culture hub hosting concerts, DJ sets and art spaces for exhibitions and installations.


The De Draecke (dorm beds from €19, double rooms €70,) is a basic but hip hostel right in the centre of town offering dormitory accommodation or private rooms.

Dimitri Messiaen is the founder of the Dok Brewing Company


Interview by John Brunton

The GuardianTramp

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