The City of Ghent has a rich history and vibrant character. It one of Europe's most powerful and wealthy cities during the Middle Ages. That past is clearly reflected in the Port of Ghent's churches and merchants' homes. The entire city is faithfully restored and maintained to convey a medieval atmosphere, and the city center is pedestrian-friendly and free of automobiles, making it a virtual paradise for visitors, particularly for history buffs. The Port of Ghent is also a university town, with over 50 thousand students. With a large younger population, the city is also home to foreign residents and an international cultural mix that makes it more open-minded than most large cities. For more information on the many things to see and do in the Port of Ghent, please visit the city's tourism website.
With a climate much like that of southern England, summers are mild in the Port of Ghent. Winters, however, are cold due to icy Baltic winds. In all seasons, the weather is unpredictable with showers as likely as sunshine. Temperatures in the Port of Ghent range from a high of 23 °C (73 °F) in August to a low of 1 °C (34 °F) in January.
Visitors to the Port of Ghent will not want to miss a walking trip through the city center where medieval builders created a showcase of Gothic architecture. One of the most interesting of the buildings is the Gravensteen, the Castle of the Counts. The Counts of Flanders constructed castles in most of the cities they visited for more than a few weeks. The Gravensteen is the only one that has survived in reasonable form. Archaeologists have found evidence of three fortified castles on the site, the first one dating from around 1000 AD, parts of which still stand. Today's Gravensteen was built by Fillips of Alsasse, who died in the Holy Lands during the Crusades, in the middle 12th Century. The castle is beautifully restored, even still partially surrounded by its moat. Open through the year, one of the rooms houses a museum about prison life at the time and includes an interesting collection of medieval instruments of torture. The castle's tower offers wonderful panoramic views of the city. The Veerle Square next door was the site of public executions. Since the Counts of Flanders moved to "nicer" quarters, the castle served as a mint and as Ghent's prison. During the 1800s, it contained a cotton plant and houses for the textile workers in the inner court.
The 10th Century Saint Bavo's Cathedral (Sint-Baafskathedraal) is another must-see attraction in the Port of Ghent. While the exterior of the building is not particularly outstanding, its interior is amazing. Filled with paintings and sculptures, the cathedral contains a 24-panel altarpiece by Jan van Eyck, Ruben's "The Conversion of St. Bavo," and many other outstanding works of art. Continuously expanded through the 16th Century, Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain) was baptized in the chapel.
Visitors will enjoy the special treat of the Rederij Dewaele Canal Cruise from April through October (long hours) and from November through March (short hours). Northern Belgium is a land of canals and waterborne travel. Cruising the canals offers an easy way to see the city's major highlights. Each tour is about 40 minutes long, although longer tours are available. The cruises offer several different themes that include the Port of Ghent's medieval center, the larger City of Ghent, taxi-boat cruises, and the canals outside the Port of Ghent.
Travelers who want to visit the Port of Ghent and northern Belgium by sea can find a list of scheduled cruises on the Cruise Compete website.