Ghent has much in common with Bruges. It is a city with a rich legacy of medieval buildings and art treasures inherited from its days as a semi-autonomous and prosperous trading center. The tranquil waters of its canals mirror the step -gables of its old guild-houses and the tall spires of its centuries old skyline. Unlike Bruges, however, historically prosperous Ghent took on a new lease of life as Belgium's first industrial city in the early 19th century. It is also home to a large and famous university. These factors have endowed the city with a scale, bustle and youthful verve that have shaped its character. Ghent has an elegant grandeur, symbolized by its cathedral, theaters and opera house, but it also has an intimacy, and the web of its medieval street plan - including Europe's largest pedestrianized zone makes this a perfect city for wandering. It is no surprise, perhaps, that Ghent is prefered city of many regular visitors to Flanders.

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1. Sint-Baafskathedraal - St. Bavo, or Bavon, was a local 7th century saint. The cathedral named after his dates back to the 1th century, but most of it is Gothic, built over three centuries after 1290. Outstanding are the grandiose Baroque-Rococo pulpit of oak and marble and the church's greatest treasure the multi-panelled, 15th century altarpiece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck.

2. Belfort - Ghent's belfry is a prominent landmark, rising 91m (299ft) to the gilded dragon on the tip of its spire. It was built in 1380-91 and served for centuries as look-out tower, clock and alarm. It houses a 54 bell carillon, which is used for regular concerts. There is a lift to the top.

3. Stadhuis - The impressive town hall was the scene of some of the great landmarks in the city's history. Inside is a series of council chambers, still in use today - some dating back to the 15th century, others refurbished during restoration after 1870.

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4. Sint-Niklaaskerk - St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, was patron saint of merchants, and this was the merchant's church. Built in the 13th to 15th centuries, it is Belgium's best example of the austere style called Scheldt Gothic. 

5. Graslei and Korenlei - The Graslei and Korenlei are departure points for canal trips. The two quays are lined with the step-gabled guild-houses of merchants and tradesmen that date back to the 12th century. Sint Michelsburg, the bridge at the southern end, offers the best views of the city.

6. Design Museum Gent - This museum is a must for anyone with the slightest interest in furniture, furnishings and interior decoration. Housed in a grand 18th century mansion, plus an uncompromisingly modern extension, it provides a tour through changing European styles from the 17th century to the present. The Art Nouveau collection is particularly rewarding, with work by Horta, Galle and Lalique.

7. Bijlokemuseum - The Abdij van de Bijloke, an old rambling Cistercian convent and hospital, provides the quirky setting for a miscellaneous collection of historical artifacts. Among the cloisters and dormitories you'll find Chinese ceramics, medieval tombs, kitchenware, free masons, regalia, models of warships, a Louis XIV drawing room, and historical costumes. The convent dates from medieval times, but most of the buildings are 17th century.

8. Klein Begijnhof - There are three beguinages in Ghent, but this is by far the prettiest. With step-gabled, whitewashed houses set around a little park and Baroque church, it is a classic of its kind - a fact recognized by its statue as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded as a community of single women in about 1235, and has been continuously occupied, although the residents are no longer beguines. Most of the present houses date from the 17th century.

9. Het Huis van Alijn - Just north of the center of Ghent is a quaint and folksy quarter called the Petershol, a warren of little medieval streets and alleys. This is the backdrop for one of the best folk museums in Belgium (it was formerly called the Museum voor Volkskunde). A huge and fascinating collection of artifacts - toys, games, shoes and crockery, as well as  complete shops  and craftsmen's workshops - are laid out within almshouses set around a grassy courtyard.

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*** Ghent River Hotel - This functional modern hotel has 77 rooms occupying a converted 16th century house and 19th century factory. It is located on the bank of the River Leie close to the lively Vrijdagmarkt. A small brick pier means that this is the city's only hotel that can be accessed by boat.

*** Hotel Harmony - a stylish, family-run hotel located in Patershof, the oldest quarter of Ghent. The hotel features a courtyard swimming pool and a series of upscale rooms facing the canal; all have roof terraces with views over the city.

*****NH Gent Belfort This chain certainly knows how to deliver style and comfort. The Belfort has all the facilities of a hotel of this rank, including a fitness room sauna, and is very centrally located, opposite the Stadhuis.

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