One nice thing about living in Europe is that you can be in another country in less than two hours, airplane not even necessary. For the weekend, I train-traveled around Belgium.
Ghent and Bruges are as different as day and night, to start off with a cliché. Gent is an university city, while Bruges is a tourist amusement park, so cutesy and clattered that it puts Amsterdam to shame.
Ghent is a city with a population of 250,000, with — because of the universities and international companies — a surprising part being young, well-educated, and multi-national. It has pretty old buildings, cool museums (S.M.A.K., Huis van Alijn), nice parks, and plenty of shopping options. I was very pleased with all the nice food options. But it might be the atmosphere that is most pleasing. Gentenaren (people from Ghent) are always there to help without becoming a (long-winded) bother, and are welcoming and cheeky in that soft, dry Flemish manner.
Bruges is a city with 120.000 people populating it and tourists probably doubling that number throughout the seasons. It looks like a Pieter Bruegel painting, and I can only imagine how many medieval films/series were shot here. Outside the not-medieval in Bruges, of course, you can stay in the hotel where Colin Farrell’s character falls out of the window into the channel (everything is tourist pleasing). Bruges won’t surprise you with other cuisine than “really local” and chocolate in every shape and size possible. Luckily, when night falls, Bruges sheds its loudness and you can enjoy the lovely lit buildings, the entire city looking softer and more at place.
With just a thirty minute train ride between the two cities, there’s no need to decide between the two of them. Start out with a city filled to the brim and relax afterwards in the Citadel Park in Ghent. Or take it slow before diving into an amusement park of channel tours and chocolate in every shape possible. You only need to be there and enjoy.