Ghent may not get the international recognition of more popular cities like Brussels or Bruges, but this town of a quarter-million people is an under-the-radar alternative in Belgium, known for its quaint charm, historical architecture, and delicious beers. It's also a university town, and the student population keeps Ghent lively late into the night. It's only a little over 200 miles from Amsterdam, so it's easy to reach from the Dutch capital by train, bus, and car.
The train is usually the first choice of travel for most travelers, but in this case, the bus is direct, cheaper, and sometimes faster. Most travelers consider the train to be more comfortable, and it's still a perfectly viable option, especially if you want to explore Antwerp where you have to connect trains. If you want the freedom to explore the surrounding area, you can also rent a car and get to Ghent in around three hours.
How to Get from Amsterdam to Ghent
|Train||2 hours, 10 minutes||from $40 (with transfer)||Arriving on a time crunch|
|Bus||3 hours||from $12||Traveling on a budget|
|Car||3 hours||137 miles (220 kilometers)||Exploring the local area|
Even though the two cities are relatively close, there are no direct trains connecting Amsterdam and Ghent, so you'll need to make a transfer in Antwerp. Tickets can be bought directly from Belgium's national rail service, and you can choose between a faster option or a cheaper option. You'll also see trains with more than one stop, but avoid those unless you want to visit the intermediate cities.
When entering the station names on the reservation page, you want to use "Amsterdam Central" and "Gent-Sint-Pieters."
- Faster Option: The faster option starts with a high-speed Thalys train to Antwerp where you'll change to the slower IC train onto Ghent. The total time on the train is about two hours and 10 minutes, plus whatever time you need to transfer. The high-speed Thalys train gets more expensive as your travel date gets closer, and tickets start around $40 when booked well in advance. However, last-minute reservations can be significantly more expensive.
- Cheaper Option: You can skip the high-speed train altogether and just take the standard IC train for both legs of the journey. You'll still need to switch trains in Antwerp, and the total journey takes about an hour longer. Prices for this route start at about $34, but you can often find tickets for that price even when buying them on the same day as travel.
The bus is not only the most affordable way to travel from Amsterdam to Ghent, but it can be the fastest as well. The popular European coach company FlixBus operates several daily buses between these two cities for as little as $12, even when purchased for the same day (as long as you're flexible with your departure time). The total trip takes around three hours, so a little longer than the faster train option but less time than the cheaper option. However, it costs about a third of the price, even when buying train tickets at their best value. Plus, the bus is direct, so you can sleep or settle in without worrying about any annoying transfers.
The one downside of the bus, however, is that the Amsterdam stop isn't as conveniently located as the Amsterdam Central train station. In Amsterdam, buses depart in front of the Sloterdijk train station to the north of the main center. Thankfully, Amsterdam isn't a particularly expansive city and is equipped with great public transit, so getting to the bus is still relatively simple. In Ghent, buses arrive near the city's other train station, Gent-Dampoort, which is actually closer to the city center than the bigger Gent-Sint-Pieters, just 15 minutes on foot.
If you've rented a car, driving gives you the freedom to explore not only Amsterdam and Ghent, but also the many cities that are along the route or nearby, such as Rotterdam, The Hague, or Utrecht in the Netherlands and then Antwerp, Bruges, and Brussels in Belgium. The drive takes roughly three hours, although it can take more or less time depending on traffic, especially during weekday rush hour around major cities like Amsterdam and Antwerp.
Depending on which route you take, it's possible to complete the cross-border trip without paying any tolls, and you can plan your drive using ViaMichelin to avoid any surprise toll roads. If you aren't returning to Amsterdam at the end of your trip, don't forget that rental companies often charge hefty fees for picking up a vehicle in one country and leaving it in another.
Even though you are technically crossing an international line, both the Netherlands and Belgium are part of the Schengen Zone, which allows for borderless travel between countries. So when you cross from one country to the other, you don't have to worry about long lines, passport control, or border checks. The only indication you'll see that you've changed countries is a blue sign saying, "België."
What to See in Ghent
During medieval times, Ghent was the second-largest city in Europe north of the Alps, second only to Paris. Many parts of its historic town center remain from those early days, such as the Gravensteen Castle, Saint Bavo Cathedral, and the Ghent belfry—the tallest bell tower in Belgium. The city center is a car-free area, so it's easy for pedestrians to walk around and enjoy the scenery and architecture without worrying about oncoming traffic. The Graslei is one of the nicest places in the city for a stroll, a quay along the Leie River with a panoramic backdrop of gorgeously preserved medieval homes. If you're one of the 2 million people visiting in July, you're likely in town to enjoy Gentse Feesten, or the Ghent Festival, one of the largest cultural and music festivals in all of Europe.