06 May 2013

Traversing the Ardennes: Gravensteen

I have visited several different castles before. Due to the fact that the word castle can mean anything between a chateau to a palace to a fortress, I have experienced several different architectural designs. Among the ones I have visited, Prague Castle and Buda Castle are ones that are more like a separate little quarter in the center of town. I have also visited Kronborg in Denmark, which is most famous for being the setting of Hamlet. I have also visited Egeskov, in Denmark as well, which is a very pretty water castle. And I haven't even started enumerating the various Schloss I have visited, which mostly translates to "palace" but has the same word as castle in the local language. Anyway, this post is about Gravensteen, a castle originating from the Middle Ages, which I visited when I was in Ghent, Belgium.

The most interesting aspect of this castle perhaps is the fact that it is right in the middle of the city. Yes, tram lines actually are present right outside its doorstep. You can take a tram and then head all the way to the train station! Anyway, as we visited during March, it was still winter, and there was snow.

Given the right music, this can be a creepy place. We arrived at around 9:30, after having breakfast at our hotel, and taking the short walk. The nice thing about Ghent is that almost everything that is worth seeing or of interest to the passing tourist is right in the middle of town. In fact, we were advised by our hotel not to buy the day ticket for the public transportation, and she was right. We just walked all over the place.

The entrance to the castle is 8 EUR, if I remember correctly. There is a self-guided path that one follows all over the place. Basically, all you do is follow the arrows and numbers. Each station comes with adequate labels in French, Dutch, and English. There are interior and exterior parts of the tour, so if you're visiting during winter (like what we did), be sure to be bundled up.

The exhibits inside present a very interesting slice of the history of the area. I also like the fact that the castle is well-preserved. Some of the interior areas are not heated, but for the rest, well, they did a good job of closing some of the open windows so that the heat doesn't escape outside to the cold. There were exhibits on weapons, as well as torture.

Part of the tour goes to the very top of the castle. There is an observation deck, and during better weather, I think the view is gorgeous. Well, what can I do? I ended up here in March thinking it would be spring, not like this. Regardless, I still snapped photos. You can see Ghent's Old Town, including the famous Graslei area.

The final four pictures I have above just show some other photos from the rest of the tour. There is a section of the self-guided tour that takes you to walk above the perimeter wall. There is a ledge that is not guarded. I liked that. I couldn't imagine finding that in the United States, otherwise, someone might fall and then sue the place. Here, it's all preserved like how it used to be back in the days, when the Counts of Flanders inhabited this structure.

Overall, I liked my visit, and highly recommend it. It should be on the top of any traveler's list who is visiting Ghent. If you visit it during better weather, take pictures, as I'd like to see how the place looks without the snow.


  1. Nantes, where I grew up, has a castle right in the middle of the city as well, and a big one too! It is quite unique come to think of it.

    1. Hence the reason why I like Europe; there's this history that is quite old, not like the things they call historical in the New World. :-P

  2. Castles can indeed be creepy especially when I think of the old days when it was poorly-lit inside. Then you have these exhibits about torture chambers that can truly kick it up a notch on the spookiness level! Of course, from the standpoint of architecture and history, they're all worth visiting, just like Gravensteen - this will be on my wish list for sure!

    1. TNP,

      Oh definitely! Hopefully in better weather than the one we had. It would be great to see the contrast!