I've been taking some time to try to put my opinion of Gent into words. When I first arrived, it didn't take more than a few days though to really begin to understand some of the truth to all the amazing things I had heard about it before I arrived.
Although fairly small at 250,000, the city has a much bigger feel to it. Around each corner in the city seems to open up a new plaza, a new canal, or a new impressive row of buildings or houses with fascades hundreds of years old and each unique in their own way.
And although the city has unique history, impressive architecture, and an incredibly beautiful setting with many canals, boats, alleys, and cobbled streets (making me wonder why movies are not shot here), it is the addition of the life of the city to the already amazing setting that makes it a really great place to live.
Recently I met a couple of Belgians from Brugge. Brugge is a famous tourist city in Belgium that is known for it's impeccably amazing historical center. Tourists flock here. But this couple said it pretty well in that Gent has most all that Brugge does, but it is more of a living city. Around every corner in different neighborhoods are bakeries, frituurs, coffee shops, flea markets, restaurants, pubs, and shops. There are 50,000 or so students, but the rest of the population is working. It feels young, and students live in all parts of the city, but it does not feel like necessarily a student city. There is much more too it which is why many Belgians choose to live here.
The city is proud for being the first city in Europe to declare Thursdays as 'vegetarian' day. So no meat served in schools that day. They prohibited cars in the city center, so walking or bicycling is easy(the best forms of transport since it is a fairly small city). On top of that they have a fantastic tram and bus system. They have free wi-fi outdoors in 20 places in the city, so you can sit on a dock by a canal or in a park and surf the web. They regularly have unique festivals taking place in the city center. The best of course, so far, was a big symphonic orchestra playing on a floating stage in the central canal, accompanied by a light show! There is a big music scene, and you can find lots of venues to watch live music, which is one reason that they say Gent has the best rock scene in Belgium.
And although the weather is often drizzly or overcast, I'll sure take that over the snow and long winters of Sweden and the crazy weather in Edinburgh.
Oh, and the beer is unbelievably great...the reputation has certainly stood its ground. Plus, from Gent, you can get to about 4 countries each within 2 hours or less :)
Take your pick, they're all going to be delicious (just watch out for the high alcohol content!):
Not a bad place for free wi-fi:
My favorite bakery:
Just one of the many regular flea markets:
Going through antiques at another flea market: