There's a real party atmosphere in Ghent – along with glorious streets, wonderful architecture and stunning galleries. The Museum of Fine Arts (www.mskgent.be) recently reopened after major refurbishment; the nearby Museum of Contemporary Art (www.smak.be) is renowned for its provocative exhibitions; in the old centre, Huis van Alijn, the folk museum (www.huisvanalijn.be), encapsulates much of the quirky spirit of this vital, university city. And there's lots more besides.
Stroll through the old harbour area, Graslei, lined with gabled houses from the 12th to the 17th centuries. At night it looks stunning under the city's innovative illuminations. Take in the Cathedral of St Bavo with its altarpiece by Jan van Eyck. Most of all, though, catch the undercurrent of wackiness. A walking tour with guide group ViZit (www.visit.be) will fill you in on the weird and wonderful stories of the city – as well as taking you along historic quaysides and through atmospheric market squares.
Wander down Werregarenstraat, an alleyway in the ancient centre that is (legally) awash with striking graffiti art. Then enjoy the quirkiness of Ghent's array of small shops: Serpentstraat has a particularly colourful variety: Zoot at number 8 makes vintage-style clothes. Zsa Zsa Rouge at number 22 has an off-the-wall range from cuckoo clocks to handbags.
For a change of tone call in at The Fallen Angels at Jan Breydelstraat 29, a nostalgic store, filled with old postcards and toys. Priem at Zuivelbrugstraat 1, specialises in wallpaper, from fabulous contemporary designs to newly hip Seventies reprints.
Cargo at Kromme Wal 1 is a gallery of light art, its showroom adorned with chandeliers of oyster shells and wall installations of mussels. Yuzu at Walpoorstraat 11a is a chic chocolate maker offering exciting flavours such as green tea, coriander and mango.
For lunch, head to Groot Vleeshuis in the refurbished butchers' market at Groentenmarkt 7 (www.grootvlees huis.be). Hung with great legs of ham it offers regional specialities such as Gentse Waterzooi – a creamy chicken stew. For an evening drink until late, join the locals at Pink Flamingo's 51 on Onderstraat, its interior featuring with a chandelier of Barbie dolls.
There's a great choice for fine dining. Café Theatre at Schowbrugstraat 5 (www.cafetheatre.be) is a sleek outfit, celebrated for its steak tartare.
Belga Queen at Graslei 10 (www.belgaqueen.be) serves exquisite dishes playing on Belgian traditions. It is in a stunning building dating back to the 12th century, the interior a post-modern play of urban chic.
For elegant accommodation book into Engelen Aan De Waterkant (Angels on the Waterfront at Ter Platen 30 (0 32 9 223 08 83; www.engelenaandewaterkan.be; doubles from €130/£108). This elegant B&B offers two stunning rooms of pale creams offset by bold chocolate or red. Or make for the considerable comforts of Hotel Harmony, Kraanlei 37 (00 32 9 324 26 80; www.hotel-harmony.be) where doubles cost from €145 (£120).
More information from the Ghent Tourist Office, Botermark 17a (00 32 9 266 56 00; www.visitgent.be)www.visitflanders.co.ukReuse content