If you thought that the festival season in Ghent finishes with the close of summer, you have obviously not been living here for long. Gentenaars do not let the seasons define their festival plans. Bridging the gap between the summer festive feeling and Christmas time, several festivals brighten up the rainy Belgian autumn.
This international musical festival, which has been going on since 1958, focuses on classical music, but welcomes world music and offbeat performances, combining different styles of artistic expression. The festival itself is actually composed of several separate events, see below, but also features a large number of concerts across town and further out in Flanders.
Flanders Festival Ghent is very inclusive – this means bringing music to people who for different reasons cannot leave their home, do not have enough means to afford the tickets, or find it physically challenging to attend concerts.
The different initiatives, under the umbrella project of We share music, take music to hospitals and residential centres (Festival@Home), offer special assistance for the blind and visually impaired (Blind Dates), as well as provide an introduction to music for children through Studio Story.
If you have a special Uitpas card that gives you access to reduced prices, use it to get a ticket discount. Standard Uitpas cards can be used to collect points at the events.
The most famous part of the Flanders Festival is its kick-off weekend, also known as OdeGand. You might have heard rave reviews from your friends about it and it’s definitely an event not to be missed. The programme features a large number of concerts that are on 3 times per day, at different locations across the town. You can move between locations on foot, as well as by free taxi bikes and boats. Besides the paid part of the programme, many venues also feature free concerts. The kick-off closes with a free concert on the Korenlei and fireworks.
Another festival that joined the Flanders Festival umbrella is the family-friendly music festival Parklife, which has become one of the September highlights since the opening of the Parkbos a few years ago. Situated a bit out of the centre, in Sint-Denijs-Westrem, Parkbos is one of the large green areas that are slowly forming the green belt around Ghent.
The programme consists of the free-entrance Park Village, where you will find the main stage and the food stalls. Children will love Kidsvillage where they can try to get in touch with their inner musician at different instrument-playing workshops – all in the ear-friendly outdoor environment.
The paid part is a parcours through the park where you can listen to several concerts in natural surroundings of this lovely green corner of the city.
The Parklife festival is taking place at the Grand Noble entrance to the Parkbos, on the Kortrijksesteenweg 1177 in Sint-Denijs-Westrem. You can reach it by bicycle, or buses nr 76, 78 (bus stop Drie Sleutels) and bus 77 (bus stop Grand Noble). If you are coming by car, it might be easiest to leave it in the large car park in front of the Carrefour/Brico (park in front of Brico to be closest to the Parkbos) and walk the last 500m to the festival.
In mid-October, after the students’ opening parties calm down and before gloomy November sets in, Ghent hosts its very own international film festival. Expect 10 days of quality films and a chance to see some of the biggest names in international cinema. The festival is also a cosy escape from rainy days outside.
The (usually) more than 140 films of the festival are slightly confusingly sorted in several different ways. There’s the themes, then the sections, and finally parcours (“trails”). Or perhaps you would rather focus on seeing films where guests are present (actors/directors/producers …).
Film music has always been on the menu at the Film Festival Gent and several dedicated events will be a treat for film music fans. The World Soundtrack Awards, the most important film music prizes in the world, is a major music event and attracts established and upcoming names in the film music industry.
If you have time on your hands and a solid knowledge of Dutch, you can work as a volunteer at the Film Fest Gent. Work at least 6 shifts and you will be rewarded with a free pass for all the screenings (subject to available seats).
Volunteers usually check the tickets and collect voting ballots after screenings of films in the competition. Despite a sometimes difficult work schedule (expect late nights and working in blocks) this is definitely a fun experience, as well as the cheapest way to see the festival.
The largest comic con event of Flanders, FACTS currently has two annual events, one in April and one in the second half of October. Although originally the autumn one was the bigger one, it is now hard to say which one attracts more crowds. In any case, expect big international names from movies and TV shows, cosplayers (a lot of them!) and comic book artists. As well as unusually dressed people making their way from the train station to Flanders Expo.
Read more about FACTS in our article about cosplay and FACTS.
There is no special general fest for Halloween in Ghent, but you can be sure that there is at least one small event happening in your neighbourhood. Gentenaars love this creepy holiday! If you are looking for a dance party, check out the Día de los muertos annual festival at De Centrale. More tips can also be found on Uit in Gent.
While this is not exactly a festival, we cannot omit mentioning the biggest event of November. The Six-Days refers to six days of cycling races at the velodrome Kuipke in the Citadelpark. This sporting event attracts big crowds from all over Europe, so don’t be surprised to see the city park overrun with people! The website of the event has a short explanation of the rules and events in English.
Early December, just before the Christmas lights get switched on around the town, the Ghent museums open their doors to the public for the annual Museum Night. The museums are open from 6pm to midnight and you can visit them all for free. Besides their own collections, many museums also organise special events for this evening. There is usually also an afterparty at one of the museums, for those who don’t have to get up early the next day.
And then the Christmas season begins …