Bruges or Ghent: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on May 2, 2023 by Wandering our World

Belgium has a beautiful selection of historic cities to explore and enjoy, with Bruges and Ghent ranking among the prettiest and most picturesque places to visit. But, if you only have enough time to see one of these cities, which should you choose?

Well, a lot of travelers will typically opt for Bruges, as it’s by far the better-known of the two cities.

Movies like ‘In Bruges’ helped to shine the spotlight on the unique, fairy-tale charms of this medieval city, with its stunning belfry and wonderful, winding canals.

However, despite being less well-known, Ghent is still a fabulous touristic destination. This university city has that ‘off-the-beaten-path’ vibe that many backpackers and adventurers enjoy, while also offering awe-inspiring medieval architecture, amazing religious buildings, and more.

Both Ghent and Bruges are highly walkable places too, with lots of history and some super landmarks to visit.

But they also have key differences, with Ghent enjoying livelier nightlife and Bruges arguably being the more quaint and picturesque of the two. 

There are plenty of other ways in which Ghent and Bruges differ, and in this guide, we’ll be highlighting all the key differences in areas like accessibility, affordability, attractions, nightlife, food, and more.

By the end, you’ll have all the info you need to choose between Ghent and Bruges!


  1. A Quick Overview
  2. Which Is Easier To Get To?
  3. Which Is Easier To Get Around?
  4. Which Is Best For Activities?
  5. Which Is Better For Day Trips? 
  6. Which Is Better For Nightlife? 
  7. Which Is Best For Shopping? 
  8. Which Has The Best Food? 
  9. Which Has The Best Hotels? 
  10. Where To Stay According To Your Budget
  11. Which Is Better For A Family Trip?
  12. Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?  
  13. Which Is Better For Backpackers? 
  14. Which Is Cheaper? 
  15. Which Is The Better Choice? 
An infographic pitting Bruges vs Ghent and showing some of the key differences that will be discovered later in the article.

A Quick Overview: Ghent vs Bruges

Ghent: A Quick Overview

Ghent is a city in the East Flanders province in the northwest part of Belgium.

It’s the capital of the province, and the third-biggest city in all of Belgium, with a population in excess of 265,000 people. Ghent is a little over 30 miles southeast of Bruges, and it’s a similar distance away from the Belgian capital of Brussels.

This city has a fascinating past and was particularly significant during the Late Middle Ages, when it was one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in all of Northern Europe – it was even larger than Moscow at the time.

Ghent’s influence declined in the centuries that followed, but it still has one of Belgium’s biggest ports and one of the country’s largest universities, too.

Ghent has also recently begun to emerge as a touristic location, with travelers from around the world enchanted by this city’s pleasant, Old World charm and authentic appeal.

It’s not as touristy as Bruges, which means that it tends to be less crowded, but it’s still quite a lively place, with a particularly exciting nightlife scene.

Canals, castles, merchant houses, and churches are some of the top landmarks to see in Ghent, and this city also boasts a terrific transport system, with bus and rail links to many other parts of Belgium.

Thanks to this, it’s a great place to visit on day trips, or a super place to base yourself for exploring the country and hopping from city to city.

Medieval cathedral and bridge over a canal in Ghent - Gent, Belgium, Sint - Michielskerk

Bruges: A Quick Overview

Bruges is the capital of the West Flanders province, far in the northwest corner of Belgium. It ranks as the country’s sixth-largest city, boasting a population of around 120,000 people.

Bruges is also one of Belgium’s key touristic hubs, nicknamed ‘Venice of the North’ because of its many waterways and distinctive beauty.

Like Ghent, Bruges is a city with a long and storied history. It was the capital of the County of Flanders in the 11th century and became a key trading center, developing into a commercial and cultural capital for Belgium and Western Europe as a whole.

It was also a city of artists and creators, playing home to some famous painters, like Jan van Eyck.

While other cities around Belgium became more industrial from the 19th century onward, Bruges retained much of its medieval charm, right into the modern day.

This helped the city emerge as a prime tourist spot, with people from all walks of life drawn to Bruges for its remarkably well-preserved architecture.

To visit Bruges is to step into the past. The city’s cobblestone streets, centuries-old buildings, and key landmarks provide a romantic, relaxing atmosphere, perfect for couples’ getaways and calm family vacations.

It may not be the biggest or liveliest city in Belgium, but it has a ton of character.

Beautiful canal and traditional houses in the old town of Bruges (Brugge), Belgium

Which Is Easier To Get To?

Despite Ghent being a big city and Bruges being one of Belgium’s top touristic towns, neither of these locations have major international airports nearby – Bruges has a small airport, but it doesn’t have many connections and isn’t the easiest place to get to for most travelers.

So, how do you get to Bruges or Ghent? Well, in both cases, the easiest approach is to fly into Brussels, which has the biggest airport in Belgium and direct flights to many European countries, as well as parts of the US, Canada, Africa, and Asia.

Once you arrive in Brussels, you can hop on a train heading northwest to Ghent or Bruges. Ghent is closer, and can be reached in just 35 minutes, while the train to Bruges can take about an hour, in total.

So, overall, there’s not a huge difference, but Ghent is slightly more accessible.

Bruges or Brugge, Belgium. View of Spiegelrei canal at dusk (HDR image)

Which Is Easier To Get Around? 

When it comes to getting around, walking is the simplest and best way to explore both Ghent and Bruges.

Both cities have pedestrianized centers, and you can walk around between the various landmarks and museums without any trouble at all.

Bicycles are pretty popular in Ghent, and you can rent them from various shops. This city also has buses and trams, but most travelers won’t even need to use them, as all the main sights and attractions are in the compact, walkable center.

It’s the same story in Bruges, where the center is really easy to simply walk around, and it’s perfectly possible to see all the main sights on foot, although there are some buses to help you get around if you want to explore a little further.

Overall, both cities are super simple to navigate, although Ghent has the benefit of stronger transport links with surrounding towns and other parts of Belgium.

Ghent, Belgium. View of historic city center skyline in the morning

Which Is Best For Activities?

When it comes to landmarks and attractions, Ghent and Bruges have quite a few things in common.

They both boast fascinating religious buildings, famous belfries, and pretty canals you can walk beside.

However, there are also some key differences between them. Here’s how the activities compare in Ghent and Bruges.

Ghent: The Activities

Upon arrival in Ghent, most people will want to head to the city’s historic center.

It’s a pretty small place that you can walk around in just a few hours, but there are quite a few sights to stop at and admire along the way, including the city’s iconic three towers – the Belfry, Saint Bavo Cathedral Tower, and Saint Nicholas’ Church Tower are all located close together.

You can take a walk up to the top of the Belfry and explore inside the churches and cathedrals, too – head into Saint Bavo to see the extraordinary Ghent Altarpiece, a large and complex artwork by the Van Eyck brothers.

Ghent also has a medieval castle, called Gravensteen, which has been used as a court, prison, and even a cotton factory, and is now a touristic museum.

Speaking of museums, Ghent has several of them. There’s the Museum of Fine Arts with a great collection of works from the Flemish masters, like Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch, as well as the SMAK, with works from more contemporary creators, like Andy Warhol.

The STAM, or Ghent City Museum, is also worth checking out to learn about Ghent’s quite extraordinary past.

Speaking of museums, Ghent has several of them. There’s the Museum of Fine Arts with a great collection of works from the Flemish masters, like Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch, as well as the SMAK, with works from more contemporary creators, like Andy Warhol.

The STAM, or Ghent City Museum, is also worth checking out to learn about Ghent’s quite extraordinary past. 

For outdoor enthusiasts, Ghent also has its own 230 hectare nature reserve and other large parks with pleasant walking trails to enjoy whenever you’re feeling a little tired of the big city streets.

It’s also worth noting that Ghent is a very festive city, hosting its own annual music and theater festival (Ghent Festival), as well as some other big events.

Sunrise view on the water channel with beautiful old buildings with woman standing near the bicycles in Gent city

Bruges: The Activities

In Bruges, most, if not all, of your time will be spent in the main historic center.

Very easy to walk around and striking beautiful, this place has some of the best-preserved medieval architecture in all of Belgium, with a super selection of interesting religious buildings and cultural landmarks to check out.

Many travelers will want to walk the many steps of Bruges’ Belfry to enjoy amazing views over the city, and if you time your visit just right, you’ll even get to hear the Belfry’s bells ring out.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is another must-see site – this church is believed to house a piece of cloth that is stained with the blood of Jesus himself.

Bruges also has a super selection of museums to check out. The Groeningemuseum is one of the best, housing a fantastic collection of centuries-old art, including works by Dutch, Belgian, and Flemish masters, while the Gruuthusemuseum shows off what a rich family’s home would have looked like, back in the late Middle Ages, with old tapestries, instruments, and decorations.

Another popular tourist attraction in Bruges is the De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) Brewery.

Beer is a big part of Belgian culture, and De Halve Maan has been around since the mid-1800s, although beer has been brewed at this exact location for around 500 years! The brewery offers tours, tastings, and even has its own on-site restaurant, too.

Just like Ghent, Bruges is a host city for a range of festivals throughout the year. Various music festivals are held here, along with cultural and food festivals.

The famous MA Festival is one of the best – dedicated to early music and historic performances, it involves a mixture of live performances, master classes, and demonstrations of various period instruments.

As we can see, there are quite a few similarities in terms of the attractions in Bruges and Ghent. Both have great belfries and churches to check out, along with a selection of interesting museums.

The main difference is that Bruges has a larger medieval center to walk around, while Ghent’s center is quite small, surrounded by a more modern city with shops and street art.

Tasting of Belgian beer on open cafe or bistro terrace with view on medieval houses and canals in Bruges, Belgium in sunny day

Which Is Better For Day Trips? 

If you’d like to leave Bruges or Ghent behind for a day or two in order to see a little more of Belgium or neighboring countries, you might like to know which city is best-placed for fun and interesting day trips.

Well, in reality, Bruges and Ghent really aren’t too far apart, so there’s not a huge difference here.

However, Ghent’s good transport links and proximity to Brussels make it ideal for exploring the capital. It’s also nice-placed for visits to Antwerp, with its Flemish Renaissance architecture and huge diamond district.

From Ghent, it’s also possible to head southwest towards the charming city of Kortrijk, which has some terrific medieval architecture and is often talked about as one of Belgium’s best-kept secrets.

Or, you can head even further and cross the border into France to visit the beautiful university city of Lille.

With its northern location, quite close to the sea, Bruges is nicely-placed for visits to some of Belgium’s pretty beaches.

While this country isn’t exactly known for its seaside resorts, there are some surprisingly beautiful stretches of sand to uncover, along with some charming coastal towns to explore. Places like Ostend and Knokke-Heist, for instance, are easy to reach.

If you choose to rent a car, you can also drive west from Bruges and pass over the border into France, visiting some very famous historic sites around Dunkirk.

Or, you could head in the opposite direction and visit The Netherlands, with cities like Rotterdam less than three hours from Bruges.

Overall, both cities have decent day trip opportunities, although Ghent probably wins in this category – with its slightly better location and stronger transport links, it’s easier to plan day trips here.

Young woman walking with waffle a traditional belgian pastry food in the center of Brussels city during the morning

Which Is Better For Nightlife? 

Next, let’s talk about nightlife. Bruges and Ghent can both keep you busy during the daytime, but if you love to stay out late and visit bars and clubs to mingle with the locals, you may find quite a big difference in the nightlife scenes of these two cities.

As a student city, Ghent definitely has superior nightlife. There are plenty of bars with live music shows and thumping dance clubs that stay open until the early hours.

Those looking for the most raucous and rowdy experiences should head to the club hub of Overpoort Street, while Vlasmarkt is another good area for bars and live entertainment, from comedy to concerts.

In contrast, Bruges simply isn’t much of a nightlife destination, and people don’t really go to this city to party.

Instead the evenings are relatively calm and quiet, and it can be very romantic to simply wander the city streets after dark and see buildings like the Belfry in a different light.

Or, you can head to one of the local pubs for a drink, but don’t expect them to stay open too late.

friends enjoying beers at a bar

Which Is Best For Shopping? 

Before heading home from your stay in either Ghent or Bruges, you might like to grab a few souvenirs or buy some typical Belgian goodies to take back home, such as locally-brewed beers or a box of yummy Belgian chocolates. But which city is better for buying souvenirs and shopping in general?

Well, with the biggest pedestrian shopping area in all of Belgium, Ghent is definitely a super spot to shop.

There’s a great range of stores here, including everything from big brand fashion houses to indie boutiques, especially in the popular East District or trendy Dok Noord.

Vintage and arty shops can be found in the Rond Sint-Jacobs, while the Quartier Sint-Pieters is a great spot to hunt down bargains.

Or, you might like to visit one of Ghent’s many markets – this city has markets specializing in all sorts of products, from the Sunday morning book market along the Ajuinlei to the flea market in Sint-Jacobs.

In Bruges, there’s not quite as much depth or diversity to be found among the city’s stores, but it’s still a nice place to shop.

You’ll find plenty of independent stores and artisan outlets, as well as recognizable brands from around the world lining the main shopping streets, like Steenstraat and Jakobstraat.

Bruges is also famous for its lace. There are a number of lace shops to be found around the historic center, including some where you can actually watch the lace-makers at work.

An authentic Belgian lace tablecloth or set of place mats could be a fabulous gift to take home with you.

The city of Ghent at sunset.

Which Has The Best Food? 

One of the best things about visiting Belgium is the food. This country makes some of the finest fries, chocolate, and waffles in the world, as well as offering many more great dishes and desserts, including rich stews and fun, flavorful candies.

Ghent has a couple of interesting regional specialties, like the waterzooi stew, which can be made with chicken or fish in a thick, creamy broth, and the cuberdon candies with a soft raspberry-flavored center.

The city of Ghent will also have huge appeal to vegetarians and vegans, as it actually has ‘meat-free days’ every Thursday, along with lots of vegetarian and vegan-friendly eateries all over the city.

Other restaurants include typical Belgian pubs, along with a mixture of Asian and European eateries, with some particularly great places in the trendy Patershol neighborhood.

Bruges may not have many of its own regional specialties, nor does it have veggie-friendly days, but it does have a decent selection of restaurants serving up some excellent examples of traditional Belgian cuisine.

If you’re heading to Belgium in search of crispy fries and sweet waffles, you’ll definitely find them here.

Overall, it’s tough to say which city is truly best for food lovers. Bruges arguably has the better quality eateries, with its more touristic nature attracting some top chefs, but Ghent has quite a diverse and unique culinary scene with extra special appeal for those who don’t eat meat.

Belgian frites with mayonnaise in Brussels, Belgium. Tourist holds two portions of fries in hands in the street.

Which Has The Best Hotels? 

Of course, you’ll also need to think about where you’re going to stay during your time in either Ghent or Bruges, and these two cities have some clear differences in terms of their accommodation.

Ghent is slowly emerging as a tourist city, but it’s far less popular with international travelers than Bruges.

Because of this, Ghent is quite lacking when it comes to luxury hotels, romantic guesthouses, or interesting, independent places to stay. Instead, it has mostly big chain hotels that you can find in most big European cities.

In Bruges, meanwhile, there’s much more diversity in terms of places to stay, with a nice mixture of guesthouses and hotels all around the historic center.

The accommodation here has more charm and character, in keeping with the city itself, and it’s easier to find large and luxurious rooms with great views in Bruges.

The Rozenhoedkaai canal, historical brick houses and the Belfry in Bruges medieval Old Town, Belgium, a UNESCO World Culture Heritage site

Where To Stay According To Your Budget


Budget: Hotel Adornes is a fantastic budget accommodation that looks over Bruges’ beautiful canals and is situated right in the heart of the city. For the price, it’s a great choice. See photos and rates!

Luxury: The gorgeous Hotel Van Cleef is one of the best hotels in Belgium, and you’ll see why as soon as you see it! This canal-side, luxurious hotel has world-class service and even spa-style baths. An of course it’s located in the historic city center too. See photos and rates!


Budget: Violet Suites is a great place for a weekend budget stay. Not only is the location fantastic and just a few minutes away from many bars and restaurants, but some suites even come with their own private outsIde space. See photos and rates!

Luxury: Boutique hotel 1898 The Post is set in a stunning historic building right in the heart of Ghent. The facilities are excellent, the service world-class, and the hotel itself one of the most beautiful in the country. See photos and rates!

Picturesque medieval buildings overlooking the Graslei harbor on Leie river in Ghent town, Belgium, Europe at dusk.

Which Is Better For A Family Trip? 

If you’re planning a family vacation to Belgium, you’ll need to think carefully when choosing between Bruges and Ghent, as one of these cities might be much better-suited to you and your kids than the other.

Ghent has the benefit of the huge Gravensteen castle – kids will have a ton of fun exploring the dungeons and admiring the ancient weapons on display here.

The Belfry is good for families, too, and it’s possible to ride along the canals or head out into local parks and the nearby nature reserve for family picnics and long walks in nature.

Over in Bruges, children of all ages can enjoy climbing the Belfry steps and visiting the various historic landmarks.

There’s also a really great history center with interactive exhibits to keep kids entertained, as well as a Chocolate Museum and the option of fun boat rides along the canals.

Overall, Ghent and Bruges are quite similar for families. Neither of them have lots and lots of family attractions, and they’re both best-suited for families with older kids or teens who can appreciate the historic sites.

For a short trip in scenic surroundings, pick Bruges, but if you want more things to do and green spaces to explore, opt for Ghent.

Riverside view with beautiful old buildings and bicycles during the morning light in Gent city, Belgium

Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons? 

How about if you’re planning a quick city break with someone special?

Well, couples in search of romantic fun can find lots to love about both Ghent and Bruges, but the right city for you will depend on your tastes and desires.

If you’re looking for pure romance and beauty, Bruges is the place to be.

It’s often cited as one of the prettiest places in all of Europe, and some of the cobblestone streets and medieval buildings look like they simply fell from the pages of a fairy tale storybook. There are some lovely, luxurious guesthouses to stay at in Bruges, too.

Ghent may not be quite as picturesque, but it does have its advantages.

The livelier nightlife scene will appeal to couples who like to party, and the many trendy neighborhoods are great for shopping, bars, and cafes.

Plus, active couples may appreciate the parks in and around Ghent, while explorers can use the city’s great train links to visit other parts of the country with ease.

Overall, if you’re looking for a traditional couples’ vacation, choose Bruges, but if you want more things to see and do, Ghent is the better choice.

Bruges, Belgium. Medieval ancient houses made of old bricks at water channel with boats in old town. Summer sunset with sunshine and green trees. Picturesque landscape.

Which Is Better For Backpackers? 

Next, let’s talk about backpacking. Backpackers tend to be budget-conscious travelers who enjoy exploration and seeing as much as they can see in a short amount of time. So, which city works best for that kind of trip?

Well, Bruges is very popular with backpackers. It has a number of cheap hostels around the historic center where you can rest your head and mingle with other travelers.

And even though it’s not the biggest place, there’s still more than enough to see here to fill a few days and nights before you head home or move on to a new destination.

Ghent doesn’t have as many hostels, but there are still some cheap places to stay.

It’s less touristic, with more of an off-the-beaten-path feel, which may appeal to adventurers, and it’s got great transport connections to other cities. Plus, it’s a bigger place, with more diverse neighborhoods to explore beyond the historic center.

Thanks to its cheaper prices and more diverse districts, Ghent may be the best choice for most backpackers and budget travelers.

Backpacker using her phone in a hostel

Which Is Cheaper? 

In terms of prices, Ghent is less touristy than Bruges and therefore costs less to visit.

If you plan in advance and choose your hotel and activities with care, it’s possible to have a very affordable city break in Ghent.

The cost of hotels and food is higher in Bruges, and accommodation rates really rise up during the peak touristic season.

However, there isn’t a huge difference in average costs between the two cities, and prices in Bruges are pretty similar to other cities around Belgium and neighboring nations.

view Bruges' bridges from a tree-lined road, busy cafes on the right, cobbled street in front

Ghent vs Bruges: Which Is The Better Choice?

Overall, Ghent and Bruges are two cities that share a lot of similar features. They’re both havens of history, with many well-preserved relics of the past in the form of their belfries and churches, while also being fine places to sample Belgian food and lifestyles.

But which is best? Well, as we look through the various categories listed throughout this comparison, it’s Ghent that often emerges as the winner.

It may not have the same touristic status as Bruges, nor has it been featured in big-money movies, but Ghent is actually a very charming and exciting place to spend a few days.

There are some amazing landmarks in Ghent’s small historic center, and much more to discover in the surrounding areas, including trendy shopping districts, vibrant markets, fun clubs, powerful street art, and more.

It’s a fantastic city to explore, and one that is sure to gain even more touristic appeal in the years to come as people discover what a great place this is.

With that said, Bruges is still a magical place and definitely worth considering if you’re visiting Belgium.

It’s clearly one of the finest examples of a well-preserved medieval city, and it’s easy to see why Bruges has been called one of the prettiest and most enchanting cities in all of Europe, perfect for romantic getaways and relaxing short stays.


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    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.