In their determination to see Brussels and Bruges, many travelers to Belgium pass by delightful Ghent. My European trips have been increasingly focused on these quieter places, which haven't been disrupted or overwhelmed by tourism.
From 1000 to around 1550, Ghent was one of the largest cities in Europe — with a population of 60,000, it was bigger than London or Paris. It was also one of the richest, with wealth derived from the wool trade. Even today, the heart of this thriving and youthful university town is still spectacularly medieval. The city cherishes its history and the buildings that date to its golden age, including a castle surrounded by a moat, a majestic cathedral and three beguinages (residences for religious women who lived in community without taking vows or retiring from the world).