Probably as a result of my woeful lack of research, I was under the impression that Ghent was a small, quaint town. When we walked out of the train station, I immediately realized my error. I was actually a little disappointed as one is wont to be when they create inaccurate expectations that are not met. But that’s what I love about travel; it teaches you to love being wrong.
So is it livable? Here is what I found on my visit.
As I realized, Ghent is a pretty big city and I spent most of my time in the city’s center. Though there are a lot of people and sometimes where crowds gather, the pickpockets and gypsies come out to play, Ghent didn’t really have any of that. Everyone is minding their own business and even walking home late at night when the streets are empty, I didn’t feel particularly concerned with my surroundings. On the other hand, there is such a mess of cars, trams, and bikes on the road that you run a pretty decent risk of getting struck by something. Many streets have no traditional crosswalk areas; it’s just a free for all.
The old town of Ghent is absolutely stunning. If I had to be homeless in Europe, I would definitely take up residence under the St. Michael’s bridge so I could enjoy that fantastic view of the towers every day. The beautiful port and gothic buildings are expertly lit to make them look even more beautiful at night. When you start to branch out from the center, you can see how lively the city is in the absolutely best way. It has a strong hipster vibe and there are large groups of young people relaxing on the banks of the river and in the variety of bars and restaurants. There is also a lot of graffiti which gives a city a nice character.
The people of Ghent are young and beautiful. It’s like they ship all the youths of Bruges there immediately, where they can play with bubbles in the park until they graduate to visiting breweries in warehouses while they walk their dogs. Everyone is friendly and helpful, which I imagine is a byproduct of living somewhere awesome and gorgeous. It’s also a very progressive city so people are open-minded.
City center is fully walkable, and affords the opportunity of taking long walks along the river to get to everything. In addition to that, there are trams that are pretty easy to figure out that meander all over the city. My only complaint about the tram is that the ticket machines do not take credit cards. But if I lived there, I could just get a monthly pass and skip the ticket machines altogether.
Like everywhere in Belgium, it’s cheaper to drink beer than it is to drink water. But the place is fairly priced in just about every way. From food to nightlife, you can get by, get fed, and get drunk without killing your bank account. I even came across a sign for a studio for rent for 350 Euro. Though the sign suggests it is student housing, which I’m not, but for 350 a month, I can be whatever you want me to be.
Food and Nightlife
My favorite thing about Ghent is that it has a lot of food variety. As much as I love fries and chocolate, I can’t live in a place that offers just two of the same things. I like sushi, pasta, burgers, and I want access to all of that all the time. Ghent has a little bit of everything. Ghent also has a vibrant nightlife. It’s my favorite kind of nightlife where people just hang out at a jazz bar or pub with good music and cheap drinks. No one cares what you’re wearing and there’s no line to get in anywhere. And you’re surrounded by beautiful people everywhere you go.
Total Livability Score: 8/10
I love Ghent and I could totally live there in my cheap studio or a nice newspaper bed under St. Michael’s bridge.