Sunday, 22 November 2015

Gent Old Town Running Route

Click here for route map
Length 7.2 km (4.5 miles), terrain: flat

Gent Running Routes:
Old Town Route
Waterside Route
Watersportbaan Lake Route
For more running routes, see Route List. 

Having traveled to several Belgian towns in the last few months, the beauty of the old neighborhoods, the many canals and rivers, the elegant squares all combine to form a harmonic whole that infuses Flemish towns. So when you're there, make sure you run at least once through the old town.

So that's just what I did in Gent (Ghent in Dutch). I found a route that connected a lot of the most interesting spots in the old town. And, similar to Leuven, Gent also features two Begijnhof neighborhoods (medieval womens' religious communities), which lie at each end of the run.
Sint-Elisabeth church in the great Begijnhof
We'll start at the west side of the old town, at the Sint-Elisabeth Begijnhof, also called the Groot (great) Begijnhof. The small neighborhood of little homes surrounds a church and churchyard. The walls that once surrounded the community have been torn down, so it's hard to tell where it really begins nowadays.

Get yourself to the front door of the church on Begijnhofdries, and we'll start this very scenic run. First, we'll loop around the block to get a feel for the Begijnhof neighborhood, and we'll see a bit more when we get back later.
In the Great Begijnhof
So, facing the church entrance, turn left to run north past the homey little houses of Sophie van Akenstraat. At the end of the block, turn right, then right again on Gravin Johannastraat to run back to the churchyard.

Cross the churchyard park, behind the church, and now turn left to exit the Begijnhof towards the east. You'll see tram tracks at the next corner. Now, just follow the tracks as they curve eastwards down Burgstraat (Castle Street).

This isn't the most scenic street of the run, but there is the Carmelite monastery along the left side (behind the parking lot).
Gravensteen castle
When you get to the east end of Burgstraat, the houses get older and more beautiful, then you'll cross the Lieve River, with the impressive Gravensteen castle on the left side, and the fish market on the right. This is the one-kilometer mark.

Now the tram tracks turn right to head into the heart of the old town, crossing the Leie River at the old riverfront meat warehouse, and turning right again at the vegetable market.
The Korenmarkt
You are now running south, right into the Korenmarkt (grain market) square. The square is now lined by restaurants, and the trams drive through every few minutes.

The gothic Sint-Niklaas church marks the south end of the square, at the liveliest tram transfer spot in town, so there is always traffic here.

At the end of the church, turn left to follow the tram tracks eastwards past the Three Towers: Sint Niklaas, the town bell tower and Sint Baafs.
The three towers in morning light
This area is one of the most amazing medieval ensembles in Europe. The gothic cloth-hall sits next to the bell tower, giving the false impression that it is a church, and the huge, renaissance-era town hall occupies a block behind the tower.

When you get to the front door of Sint Baafs cathedral, turn right to leave the tram tracks and run south along Lang Kruisstraat.

This takes you into Gent's shopping precinct. You'll run through a little square with a fountain. At the far end of the square, follow the pedestrians along Koesstraat (there's a way-sign pointing to the Opera there, follow that).
The shopping streets
Keep running south as the street name changes to Kortedagsteeg and then crosses another river (really, a canal called Ketelvaart). This is the 2-kilometer mark.

You're now heading uphill, in the university neighborhood. There are a lot of fun-looking student hangouts.

Up the hill, you'll see the massive, palace-like Vooruit building. This was once the cultural center of the Vooruit (Forwards) labor organization and its co-op movement. Now it's a cultural center for the whole city, with a ballroom, cinema, caf├ęs, etc.

Just before reaching Vooruit, though, turn left on Lammerstraat, passing some very interesting Latin-American-style restaurants, crossing the canal again, and coming to busy Woodrow Wilson square, with the public library.

Turn right just before the modern, rounded library facade, and head south along Franklin Rooseveltlaan. You'll see a long, thin park coming into view behind the library, Koning Albertpark. Try to run on one of the paths in the middle of the park
In Albertpark
After just 100 meters, you'll come to a mounted statue of King Albert, where you turn left and cross busy Orbanlaan to run into the side-street, Sint-Annastraat.

We're now getting close to the turn-around spot of the run. So now just turn right onto Lange Violettestraat and head south for a block. You'll see the brick wall of the Klein Begijnhof along the left. When you see the arched entryway through the wall, turn left to enter the grounds of this quiet little oasis.

Like all the Begijnhofs, this one also surrounds a churchyard, with the baroque Onze-Lieve-Vrouw church visible from every direction. Red-brick houses behind white walls line the perimeter of the Begijnhof.
In the Klein Begijnhof
It's nice here to just run a loop along the periphery of the grounds, past the many little gateways in the white walls.

When you get back to the main (and only) entrance of the grounds, run out to Lange Violettestraat again and turn right to head back home. But we'll run back a different way, and see some more Gent landmarks.

Lange Violettestraat runs into a busy spot around the green square of Sint-Annaplein, at the 4-km mark. At Sint Anna church, cross the square, using the zebra stripes on both sides, then turn right to head north on Filips van Arteveldestraat. The street turns into a riverside road along the Leie River up ahead.
Autumn colors along the Leie River
The road now takes you northwards along the river. Stay on the riverside trail, passing the public swimming pool, and a small-boat marina in the water.

There's a little park behind the pool, and you cross a little stainless-steel pedestrian bridge to continue along the river for another block.

You'll see Volmolenstraat heading through a quiet, working-class neighborhood to the left, so let's take that. After a few blocks, we're back in the old-town again, facing the back end of the gigantic Sint-Jacobs church. This is one of my favorite churches in Gent: it is so long, it seems to go on for miles.

Follow the zebra-stripes and run past the church along the right side (north). At the front door, turn right onto Wijzemanstraat and head into my favorite square, the Vrijdagmarkt (Friday Market).
Vrijdagmarkt and the Wise Man
This beautiful square is lined with a great collection of old houses, many with restaurants and pubs. The gothic building with the round tower is the oldest on the square, and there is a statue of Jacob van Artevelde, known as the Wise Man of Gent.

The square is the place where the city's pageantry took place: foreign rulers were greeted here and public feasts were held.

The northern corner of the square is dominated by two more huge labor-union/co-op buildings, looking like palaces.
The great cannon
Leave the square at the northwest end and run the short block to the huge orange cannon parked at the Leie River. The cannon is a medieval "supergun" built to blast apart town walls during a siege. This one broke while firing and has been living a decorative existence ever since.

Turn right to run to the little drawbridge near the cannon, where you turn left to cross the river and head into my favorite neighborhood in Gent: Patershol.

This small neighborhood is full of little lanes and old houses, and is a favorite place for locals to go out in the evenings. You'll first come to the main shopping street, Oudburg, and its great old houses.
In Patershol
But keep running straight into the neighborhood, along Rodekoningstraat, to the 'tklokhuys restaurant, where you turn left to do a loop through part of the neighborhood.

At the end of the block, turn right on Hertogstraat, and follow it until you exit the neighborhood at Geldmunt street, with its tram tracks. Turn right here to run a block, where you turn left again, onto Lievestraat.
Crossing the Lieve, looking along Abrahamstraat
This street takes you, as you can imagine, across the Lieve river, where you keep running straight (under the name Abrahamstraat) until it ends at Bonifantenstraat. The Carmelite monastery that we passed at the beginning of the run is behind the walls straight ahead, but we have to go around it by following Bonifantenstraat south to Burgstraat.

Now we just have to turn right and follow Burgstraat back to the Begijnhof.
Provenierstersstraat, back in the Great Begijnhof
To see a bit more of the Begijnhof, turn left onto the lane of Provenierstersstraat to see a block of the little walled homes before getting back to our starting spot at Sint-Elisabeth church.

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