Holidays to East Flanders
The Belgian province of East Flanders has more to offer than just its capital Ghent. There are many small towns, each with its own story. Explore Geraardsbergen or come to Aalst to celebrate carnival.
The name East Flanders refers to the old County of Flanders, which was the trade centre of the Netherlands in the 11th century. The secession of Zeeuws-Vlaanderen, which was annexed by Zeeland, virtually created the current province, which, with some 1.5 million inhabitants, is the second largest province in Belgium.
Visit the province's capital Ghent and take in the mediaeval buildings that give the city the look and feel of an open-air museum. Sint-Baafskathedraal, home to the painting 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb', and castle Gravensteen are must-sees. Catch one of the canal boats and enjoy a relaxing tour of the city from the water.
Geraardsbergen, to the south of Ghent, is where the Tour of Flanders was once decided. Feel like a real cyclist and cycle up the Wall of Geraardsbergen or the Bosberg. Two centuries-old festivals that are on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity take place on the same day in February: the end of winter bread-and-fire feast Krakelingen and Tonnekensbrand, which go on into the wee hours of the morning.
Another city with a festive past is Aalst, where the biggest carnival in Belgium takes to the streets every year in the run-up to Ash Wednesday, with on Shrove Tuesday the Stoet van de Voil Jeanetten (Aalst dialect for ‘Parade of the Dirty Sissies’), a cheerful procession of men dressed as women. The city centre is also full of beautiful landmarks such as the Belfry. Affligem Abbey is just outside of Alst and well worth visiting.
With the exception of the steep hills of the Flemish Ardennes in the south, East Flanders is a flat province that is perfect for relaxing walks and bicycle tours. For information about the walking trails and cycling routes in Meetjesland, Scheldeland and Leiestreek, see the website of the tourist information centre (VVV).
Gent Sint-Pieters train station is at the heart of the East Flemish rail network, making it a good base to travel around the region. The regional bus network will get you to smaller towns. You will find the train schedules on the website of the NMBS and the bus and tram schedules on the website of De Lijn.
Ghent is a 40-minute train ride from Brussels, a 50-minute train ride from Antwerp and 3:20 from London St Pancras. If you're travelling by car, the drive to Ghent will take 3 hours from Dover or approx 2.5 hours if you go through the Eurotunnel. If you’re already in the Netherlands, schedule your drive during off-peak hours.
East Flanders is a historic and festive region where you can fully recharge your batteries.