Length 7.2 km (4.5 miles), terrain: flat
Gent Running Routes:
Old Town 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|
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|
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).
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 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|
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|
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, cafés, 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
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|
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|
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|
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|
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.
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|
Now we just have to turn right and follow Burgstraat back to the Begijnhof.
|Provenierstersstraat, back in the Great Begijnhof|