Gentse Feesten: A Great 50-Year-Old Belgian Festival You Haven’t Heard of

The best time to visit the Belgian city of Ghent, home of the world’s most targeted work of art and many heated debates about its merits as a destination over Bruges may well be the annual Gentse Feesten, where for ten days the city becomes one of the most fun places to be in Europe.

Gentse Feesten: Highlights

With dance performances, rock, jazz and world music gigs, flea markets, carnivals, street food stands, pop-up galleries, buskers, comedies and parties around the clock, there is no shortage of entertainment wherever you look. If you have a list of things to do in one day in Ghent, well, you’re going to have to extend it to at least two days.

gentse feesten
Korenmarkt during Gentse Feesten 2013

There is a flip side, of course. Accommodation in the city is hard to come by, in which case commuting from Brussels becomes an option (it takes just 30 to 45 minutes). A man with a thick Flemish accent takes over the tram announcements, which is cool once you get over the change. The streets are filled with revellers from Belgium and abroad; they, the tents and the stages get in the way of the perfect photographs of sights like Korenmarkt and Graslei. There is a performance of some sort or another everywhere you look.

The food of Ghent

On both weekends of Gentse Feesten, the crowds easily rival those in Bruges, but there is a difference. It’s a living, fully functioning city with tram tracks, power lines, incongruous contemporary features in mediaeval buildings, and people enjoying the festivities rather than gawking and taking photographs of things. The students keep it lively, the locals are quite rightly proud of their city and culture, and their joie de vivre is infectious.

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Elsewhere in Europe in the summer: St John’s Day, St Dominic’s Fair and Helsinki Day