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What do you love about the Gentse Feesten?

The Gentse Feesten is without doubt the biggest and best-known festival in Ghent, attracting around 2 million visitors each year. We asked TheSquare’s authors and friends a few questions that we all want to know the answer to:

What do you love about the Gentse Feesten? What do you recommend for first-timers? And what do you think might surprise even the most experienced festival goers?

Miry Cafe's Gentse Feesten terrace © Heather Sills
Miry Cafe’s Gentse Feesten terrace © Heather Sills

“The thing I like about the Gentse Feesten is that you end up discovering places that you’ve probably walked past every day but never really made the most of. One of my favourite discoveries has been the Miry Concert Hall and Cafe. This fairytale-like building (complete with turret) flings open its iron gates and sets up an outdoor cafe just for the 10 days of the festival. It’s a nice, quiet spot around the back of St Baaf’s Cathedral, which is essential with all the other things going on along the main streets and squares! And at night it’s all beautifully lit up.” – Heather, originally from England

“My favourite part of the Gentse Feesten is the daytime festival vibe in the city. I’m terrible at staying up late and big crowds are not my thing, so I really appreciate it that so many things happen during the day and at different small places around the town. What I enjoy the most is that you get access to places that are usually not open to public. For example you can visit the tower of St Baaf’s Cathedral with magnificent views over Ghent or take a guided tour behind the scenes at Vooruit. If you are not familiar with the impressive history of this iconic building, you should book your tickets now!

And keep your eyes open for off-programme happenings – many organisations, pubs or venues plan their own special events for this period. You might stumble upon an English-language stand-up comedy night or an offbeat burlesque show. If you are an early bird like me, check out the Ivago morning guided tour with the rubbish men, followed by the medieval breakfast at MIAT! It is truly special to experience how Ghent cleans up at 6.45am while the party at Vlasmarkt is just wrapping up. In the evenings, you can find me at Baudelopark. The atmosphere there is really laid back, almost like a 1960’s hippie festival.” – Nina, originally from Slovenia

A tasty 'spitburger' is a classic Gentse Feesten snack to keep you dancing all night! © Jenny Bjorklof
A tasty ‘spitburger’ is a classic Gentse Feesten snack to keep you dancing all night! © Jenny Bjorklof

“My Gentse Feesten musts are mostly culinary. Every year I eat at least one of the delicious burgers with roasted ham and tartar sauce called ‘spitburger’ served at Gentse Feesten. And I attempt to once stay up all night and have an Irish coffee at 7AM after partying at Vlasmarkt. A mojito by Pole Pole and some latin rhythms in sunny weather is also a favourite.” – Jenny, originally from Finland

“My favourite thing is the fact that the entire town celebrates together. I also love how Baudelopark is becoming a hotspot, full of nice, little performances.” – Diána, originally from Hungary

“I never attend Gentse Feesten each day in a row, like some do. I prefer to take a walk through the city center and spontaneously stop wherever I see something that catches my eye. Because there are really things happening on every corner (street theater, handmade stands, singers, meditation classes, dancing classes,…). The city seems to get a different vibe at that time. It kind of brings the ‘Gentenaars’ together. What I like about Gentse Feesten the most is the variety of the programme: music for all tastes, concerts, and free dancing classes. I think this last one is still on my bucket list for this year. Hopefully we get a nice summer-ish weather this year :)” – Nataša, originally from Slovenia

Daytime Gentse Feesten festival vibe © Jenny Bjorklof
Daytime Gentse Feesten festival vibe © Jenny Bjorklof

“I love the bold vision of Gentse Feesten. The idea that the entire city can essentially press pause on everyday life and spend ten days focusing on one large festival is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any other city I’ve lived in. Even better is that its focus is on celebrating culture and the arts. I found Gentse Feesten overwhelming at first. I recommend that first-timers spend some time reviewing the program before visiting. That way, they can find specific shows, performances, or workshops that interest them and can go at those times. I think newcomers and experienced festival goers alike can be surprised by just how many events are produced during the festivities, and how varied they are in content and intended audience.” – Rebecca, originally from the USA

Try and win an extra special Gentse Feesten Duvel glass at the Duvel Tent outside the NH Hotel Belfort © Duncan Gardiner
Try and win an extra special Gentse Feesten Duvel glass at the Duvel Tent outside the NH Hotel Belfort © Duncan Gardiner

“One of the many enjoyable activities of the Gentse Feesten is the Duvel Tent. Located at NH Hotel Belfort, opposite the city hall on Hoogpoort, here you can enjoy a Duvel and try and secure one of the highly sought after Duvel glasses. A special glass is produced each year for the Gentse Feesten, with a unique twist on the normal Duvel glass and wording in Gent dialect. Last year, two tokens with letters were given away with every Duvel purchase; to receive one of these glasses you had to provide tokens that spelt Duvel, resulting in many people interacting and swapping letters to get a glass.

There is often a music performance in the afternoon, and a group from Aalst called Die Verdammte Spielerei is always a hilarious spectacle; you can often see them at the Duvel Tent and elsewhere during the festival. After a few strong Duvels, you’ll be in a great mood to enjoy the rest of the festival! – Duncan, originally from Australia

What are you looking forward to at this year’s Gentse Feesten? Let us know in the comments section below.

Last updated: July 2018

Heather
Heather is a language and travel geek at heart, having gotten the bug for it while studying German and Italian in her home country, England. After managing hotel content for a start-up in Berlin, being an Erasmus student in Bologna and writing for Frommer's travel guides while in London, she moved to Gent in 2015 for a year. Still here, Gent must have been doing something right! She's now determined to help other newbie expats settle in and build a great life here in this beautiful city. If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to heather@thesquare.gent

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