Ghent has a huge selection of choices when it comes to cosy places to enjoy a great coffee. But what if you’re looking for a place to work for the day? What if you’re an independent, but are tired of staring at the same four walls of your home office? Or, maybe you’ve challenged yourself to get out and practise your Flemish with some locals?
In Canada, I always had an office at my place of work but since coming to Ghent seven years ago, I’ve learned the advantages of being “office-less.” I really like the chance to get out and discover new places. However, there is only a select list of cafés and coffee shops in the city that offer the magical combination of: 1) a cosy atmosphere, 2) delicious drinks, and 3) enough room to park your laptop for a few hours and still feel welcome.
Here are my top 6 places for an “Out-of-Office office”.
Huset, Hoogstraat 9
Officially, Huset calls itself a ‘tea room’. Appropriately, they have a huge selection of teas, including lots of British classics. Complete with high ceilings, plush furniture and candelabras, the building gives the impression that you just walked into a Victorian storybook. In good weather, there is also seating in the picturesque courtyard.
The cheery face at the bar makes you feel like you’re being welcomed home. In addition to the standard drinks, they also experiment with seasonal specialities such as pumpkin spice lattés and homemade iced teas. Plus, the tempting selection of baked goods includes vegan and gluten-free options.
The rooms are spacious with ample seating so you never feel like you’re eavesdropping on the conversation of others. However, if you’re looking for a quiet place to concentrate, don’t visit during lunch when it is packed with students chatting over bowls of homemade soup.
Atmosphere: 5 Cosy & spacious
Outdoor space: Yes, sheltered garden
Drinks: 5 Lots of choices
Food: 3 Small selection with lots of homemade dishes
Room to work: 5 There’s even a piano for musicians!
Electrical sockets: 4 Near to most tables
Noise level: 4 It is noisy 12-2p.m. most weekdays
Child-friendly: 3 Not much room for kids to play
Huize Colette, Belfortstraat 6
Order the hot chocolate made from a 17th century recipe. You can thank me later.
The friendly staff at Huize Colette strive to create a cosy oasis in the heart of the city. The Art Nouveau exterior will transport you to the Belle Epoque and the interior is equally elegant.
Let’s say you’re meeting up with someone for a creative meeting. Start with a table on the ground floor, so you can spot each other. Place your order (don’t forget the hot chocolate), then move upstairs. The shelves are filled with books that give the impression that you can stay as long as you like. From the upper-storey, you can look over the crowds on the street as you and your team dream about new possibilities. Warning: people have been known to fall asleep in the cushy chairs.
Atmosphere: 5 Book lovers beware! You may never leave.
Outdoor space: Yes, on street
Drinks: 4 It’s not a long list, but they make everything well.
Food: 2 A short menu of sweet temptations.
Room to work: 5 The ground floor is cramped, but upstairs is more comfortable.
Electrical sockets: 2,5 Mostly upstairs
Noise level: 2.5 Again, the ground level is noisy; upstairs is quieter.
Child-friendly: 2 Not much room for kids and the stairs could be a safety concern
Café Labath, Oude Houtlei 1
Café Labath is THE place to see and be seen. This place buzzes all day long. If you’re searching for a location for an energetic conversation, this is a good choice. It attracts professors, professionals, students, and tourists. Even in the winter, the tables on the terrace are filled with people engaged in animated conversation. It must be the caffeine?
The concept is open, modern and fast-paced. It might not be the place to sit for an entire afternoon, but it is perfect for a mid-morning meet up in between appointments. The massive windows of the façade ensure that everyone outside the café can see how much fun the people on the inside are having.
Unfortunately, the coffee doesn’t come in large enough cups for my preferences, but the selection of flavours makes up for it.
Atmosphere: 3 Hip and popular
Outdoor space: Yes, but on a very busy intersection
Drinks: 4 A nice selection of coffee beans and roasts from different sources
Food: 2 Some food, if you’re absolutely starving
Room to work: 1 It is always packed full of people. Good for meet-ups, but not for working at your computer.
Electrical sockets: 0 Nope.
Noise level: 1 Not recommended for work that requires quiet concentration.
Child-friendly: 0 Really, not a good idea to bring kids here.
Het Moment, Burgstraat 20
This gem is a recent addition to the scene in Gent. Het Moment was opened by a former top barista from the uber-popular Superette. The café is nestled between an architecture firm and a home design store, which gives the false impression that it is geared towards upper-end clientele. Totally, not true.
The interior has 4 distinctive spaces, depending on which mood you’re in 1) the entrance & bar have a ‘classical’ feel with shiny, gold accents, 2) the back room looks like a fancy living room with comfy tables and chairs, 3) a library is tucked behind the corner that is perfect for private conversations, 4) an airy courtyard with comfortable benches is an ideal shady spot on a hot summer day.
The croissants are delicious, if somewhat addictive. There is lots of room to make yourself at home and there are so many delicious drinks to sample, why would you ever leave?
Atmosphere: 5 Surprisingly spacious
Outdoor space: Yes, on street and a garden terrace
Drinks: 5 Excellent coffees, plus a few other choices
Food: 3 A small selection. The croissants are delicious
Room to work: 5 Yes, with some variety.
Electrical sockets: 3 By some tables
Noise level: 5 Quiet and peaceful most days
Child-friendly: 2 Not much room for kids to move
Bidon Coffee & Bicycle, Bisdomkaai 25
Coffee + work + bicycles = hip. The huge windows overlook the recently opened waterway that joins the rivers Leie and Schelde. Regardless, Bidon takes as much pride in their coffees as they do in the bicycles. There is a laid-back, easy-going, character about the place, which fits nicely with the location. Only a short walk from St. Baaf’s Cathedral, it’s close to everything, yet at the same time it isn’t a ‘tourist trap’. The décor and drink selection is kept to a bare minimum, which keeps things refreshingly simple. Belgium is famous for rainy weather, but somehow this café manages to feel airy, light and warm throughout the year. Although, this can also cause glare on your laptop screen if it is too sunny.
Atmosphere: 4 Great for bicycle lovers!
Outdoor space: Yes, along the canal
Drinks: 4 Not much selection, but well made
Food: 2 Again, not much selection, but it’s tasty.
Room to work: 3 The comfortable chairs are almost always taken. Some patience is required.
Electrical sockets: 1 Very few, especially limited by the windows
Noise level: 3 It can get noisy and the buses passing by can get irritating.
Child-friendly: 4 Space to for little bodies to move
OR Coffeebar Gent-Backstay, Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 126A
OR Coffeebar is in the midst of a bustling street across from Vooruit and next to the Backstay Hostel. They’ve done a really nice job restorying the front facade and the stained-glass windows over the entrance makes me jealous of such luxury. The interior has a raw and honest feel to it, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. But if you sit along the front counter you will get blasted with cold air every time the door opens and your computer will jiggle. It’s a popular spot for students and travellers, where you can hear lots of English being spoken. That is, if you can hear anything over the music which is too loud for this old man’s taste (which is why Vooruit isn’t on my list).
The drinks menu has a great selection for coffee nerds. OR is really a micro-roastery and they even offer classes. As you would expect, you can get your coffee prepared in whatever way you like best. They also have a second location at the trendy Dok Noord, which is smaller and quieter.
Atmosphere: 2,5 A bit small
Outdoor space: Yes, around back
Drinks: 5 High quality and lots of selection
Food: 4 Sweet, sweet temptations.
Room to work: 1,5 Get there early or forget it.
Electrical sockets: 3 A place that understands that ‘power for the people’ is good for business.
Noise level: 1 Noisy inside, noisy outside.
Did I miss your favourite place? Is there somewhere you’d like to mention? What do you look for in a café/work-space? Have you got a good story to share? Please let me know in the comments section below so we can share with our readers.
Stephen fell in love with Gent in 2009 and moved here from Canada in 2011 for work and to be closer to the ‘in-laws’. The love affair with the city continues to grow. He likes learning languages and new experiences. He usually tweets about his favourite baseball team that he follows from afar @stephemurray.
All photos by Pleuntje Jellema-Murray