Gravensteen Castle is a medieval fortress in Ghent, Belgium, built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace. It was the main home for the Counts of Flanders for over 200 years. The castle's architecture was inspired by crusader castles. After the Counts moved out in the 14th century, the castle served various roles, including courthouse, prison, and textile factory. It underwent restoration in the late 19th century and opened as a museum in 1953.
The castle is centrally located in Ghent's historic Patershol neighborhood. It's near landmarks like Saint Bavo's Cathedral and the Belfort bell tower. It is accessible and surrounded by shops and restaurants.
Gravensteen has a dark history of torture. During its time as a prison, the lower levels housed torture chambers filled with various devices. This dark aspect remains a key part of the castle's narrative.
Visiting hours are from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, except on major Belgian holidays. The best time to visit is during the summer, but it can get crowded. A typical visit lasts 1-2 hours. Gravensteen has house rules including no food or drinks, no photography in some areas, and bags must be checked.
Visitors praise the castle's imposing architecture and well-preserved interior. The audio tour, in particular, receives excellent reviews for its entertaining yet informative style. The tour, narrated by a Flemish comedian, is a highlight for many and brings the castle's history to life. Gravensteen Castle is considered a must-visit attraction in Ghent.
- What is Gravensteen Castle?
- Where is Gravensteen Castle?
- What is the history of Gravensteen Castle?
- What is the history of torture in Gravensteen Castle
- What are the visiting hours of Gravensteen Castle?
- When is the best time to visit Gravensteen Castle?
- How much is the cost for entering for Gravensteen Castle?
- How long is the typical visit time in Gravensteen Castle?
- How to get to Gravensteen Castle?
- What visitors say about Gravensteen Castle?
- Does it worth it to visit Gravensteen Castle?
- What are the best things to in Ghent aside Gravensteen Castle?
- How far is Ghent from Brussels?
What is Gravensteen Castle?
Gravensteen Castle is a 12th century medieval castle located in the heart of Ghent, Belgium. With its moat, imposing stone walls and turrets, Gravensteen is one of the most well-preserved and iconic examples of a medieval fortress in Europe. First built in 1180 by Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders at the time, Gravensteen Castle served as the main residence for the Counts of Flanders for over 2 centuries. Its design was inspired by crusader castles that Count Philip encountered during the Second Crusade. Gravensteen's name translates to “Castle of the Count” in Dutch. Over the centuries after the Counts of Flanders moved out in the 14th century, the castle fell into disrepair and was used for a variety of purposes including a courthouse, prison and textile factory. Extensive restorations began in the late 19th century to return it to its former medieval glory. Today, Gravensteen stands as an impressive architectural feat and remarkable vestige of medieval Ghent. It also provides an immersive glimpse into medieval life with its grand halls, artifacts like suits of armor, and eerie torture chambers. Gravensteen Castle has been open as a museum since 1953 and receives over 350,000 visitors annually.
Where is Gravensteen Castle?
Gravensteen Castle is located in the heart of medieval Ghent at Sint-Veerleplein 11, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. This places the castle in the historic Patershol neighborhood along the river Leie in central Ghent. Gravensteen is situated just south of the Korenmarkt and Graslei, well-known squares at the core of the city center. Some key landmarks near Gravensteen Castle include Saint Bavo's Cathedral which is about a 10 minute walk north, the famous medieval bell tower called Belfort which is 15 minutes southeast on foot, and the Grasbrug bridge over the Leie immediately west of the castle. Gravensteen is surrounded by charming cobblestone streets, picturesque canals, shops, cafes and restaurants that make up medieval Ghent. So the castle is truly located in the heart of the historic and vibrant city center, making it very conveniently accessible for visitors.
When was Gravensteen Castle been Opened to Public?
After centuries of varied use and neglect, Gravensteen Castle underwent major restorations to return it to its original medieval state and opened to the public in 1953 as a museum. Prior to this, the castle served many purposes over its long history. The Counts of Flanders used Gravensteen as their main residence from the 12th to 14th centuries when they moved out. It was subsequently used as a courthouse, prison and site for executions for over 400 years from the late 15th century to 1820s. During the 19th century, Gravensteen became a cotton factory until the city of Ghent acquired it in 1887. Restorations done in the late 19th and early 20th centuries removed later additions, repaired crumbling walls and recreated the medieval aesthetic. Despite the years of alternate uses, the basic structure and many original elements survived. The opening as a public museum in 1953 marked the first time the entirety of Gravensteen Castle could be explored after centuries of limited access. This allowed the public to fully experience the imposing medieval architecture along with exhibits about daily medieval life. Since 1953, Gravensteen has welcomed over 25 million visitors from around the world.
What is the history of Gravensteen Castle?
The history of Gravensteen Castle spans over 800 years since it was first constructed in 1180 for Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders after he returned from the Second Crusade. Its design mimicked the crusader castles Philip encountered in the Holy Land. The castle served as the main residence for the Counts of Flanders and seat of their power for over 2 centuries until 1353. After the Counts relocated, Gravensteen was used as a courthouse from the 15th to 18th centuries. During this time, it also housed a prison and torture chambers and earned the grim nickname “Castle of the Counts.” In the 1820s, the city took control of Gravensteen from the national government and used it for various civic purposes. From the 1840s to 1880s, it became a cotton factory run by the Liebaert family who installed machinery in the castle. After the city reacquired it in 1887, restoration work began to return Gravensteen to its original medieval glory. From 1953, the fully restored Gravensteen opened as a museum focused on daily medieval life. Today, it provides an authentic look at medieval architecture, history and culture. The 800-year story of Gravensteen reflects Ghent's growth from medieval city to industrial hub and now a tourist destination.
What is the history of torture in Gravensteen Castle
Gravensteen Castle has a sinister history of torture within its walls during the centuries it was used as a prison from the late 15th to early 19th centuries. During this time, the lower levels of Gravensteen Castle contained dank dungeons where prisoners were tortured and executed. The torture chambers and devices were intended to extract confessions or punish prisoners. Some of the torturous contraptions on display include an iron maiden, rack and hanged cages. Prisoners were also mutilated, blinded or even buried alive. The most senior dungeon officer was called the duke of the cellar. Executions occurred in the castle courtyard on a platform called the Wheat Market. Corpses were then displayed at the nearby tower called Geeraard de Duivelsteen. This gruesome legacy of suffering partially led to Gravensteen's moniker the “Castle of the Counts.” While certainly grim, the torture chambers and dungeons provide insight into medieval justice systems and punishment. Today, Gravensteen's torture collection is considered unique as one of the most well-preserved in Europe. However, the dark history understandably disturbs some visitors. The torture relics remain a fundamental part of the castle's centuries-old narrative.
What are the visiting hours of Gravensteen Castle?
Gravensteen Castle is open year-round except for major Belgian holidays. The standard visiting hours are from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily. Last admission is at 5:00 PM since it takes about an hour for visitors to fully experience the castle interior. Gravensteen Castle is only closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The castle opens at 2:00 PM on 24 and 31 December. Additional closures or shortened hours are posted on the official website in case of private events or renovations. The ticket desk at the entrance stops selling tickets 30 minutes before closing time. The opening hours allow visitors ample time to explore the various rooms, exhibitions, dungeons, ramparts and courtyard at their leisure. With the extensive hours all year-round, tourists can easily fit a visit to iconic Gravensteen Castle into their Ghent itinerary when feasible. Visitors should plan sufficient time since there is much to see inside the castle that spans centuries of history.
When is the best time to visit Gravensteen Castle?
The best time to visit Gravensteen Castle is generally during the summer months between June and August. The weather in Ghent is mildest and sunniest during midsummer, providing pleasant conditions to walk to and explore the outdoor ramparts of the castle. Summer also offers the most hours of daylight to view the castle exterior. Since Gravensteen Castle is indoors, it can be visited year-round but summer offers the most agreeable experience. The major downside is that summertime is also peak tourist season so Gravensteen can get crowded, especially midday. Visiting in May, September or October are good alternatives with fewer tourist crowds, lower rates and comfortable weather before Belgium's rainy season begins. No matter when you visit, going early in the morning is best for thinner crowds. Given its immense popularity, Gravensteen Castle draws steady visitors year-round regardless of season or weather.
Is it safe to visit in Gravensteen Castle?
Yes, Gravensteen Castle is generally regarded as very safe to visit. No major incidents have occurred and the castle has security personnel present during opening hours. Bags may need to be checked which helps maintain safety. The castle itself is structurally sound after renovations. The neighborhood surrounding Gravensteen in central Ghent is also considered extremely safe for tourists. Belgium has low crime rates that make sites like Gravensteen safe for travelers. Visitors should exercise basic precautions as in any crowded environment. Overall, Gravensteen Castle has a excellent safety record and lacks significant hazards beyond dark, narrow stairways that require caution. Visitors of all ages can feel at ease spending a few hours exploring this fascinating Belgian landmark.
How much is the cost for entering for Gravensteen Castle?
The entrance fee to visit Gravensteen Castle is 13 euros per adult. Special discounted rates apply to seniors, students and children and toddlers. Children under 12 enter for free when accompanied by an adult. Family tickets are available for families of 2 adults and children. Other discounted combination tickets can be purchased that include other Ghent museums like the Design Museum and S.M.A.K. Tickets can be bought at the castle entrance, online in advance, or at Ghent's tourist information centers. Tickets can also be bought online. The entrance fees are very reasonable given the castle's prestige as a top attraction. Visitors should allow at least 1-2 hours to fully experience Gravensteen Castle so the fee provides an excellent value.
How long can you stay in Gravensteen Castle?
There is no time limit for how long you can stay inside Gravensteen Castle during regular opening hours. Visitors are welcome to explore Gravensteen at their own pace for as long as they wish until the museum closes each day at 6:00 PM (5:00 PM last admission). The average length of visit is 1-2 hours which allows enough time to leisurely view the various rooms with exhibitions, the interior courtyard, dungeons and torture chambers, and the ramparts. Some visitors stay closer to the minimum time while history buffs linger longer reading details. Guided tours are 75 minutes so set a good timeframe. Those wanting to maximize time inside Gravensteen should arrive early in the day when it opens. Regardless of length, visitors are immersed in over 800 years of history inside one of Belgium's most majestic medieval castles.
How long is the typical visit time in Gravensteen Castle?
The typical time visitors spend exploring Gravensteen Castle is 1 to 2 hours. This allows enough time to walk through the interior exhibits at a relaxed pace, climb the ramparts for views of Ghent, and descend into the dungeons and torture chamber. For context, the standard audio tour lasts about 50 minutes. Those wishing for an in-depth experience can book a 75 minute guided tour. But most visitors are satisfied with 1-2 hours to marvel at the grand architecture and artifacts. Those short on time can see the highlights in a hurried 1 hour visit but will miss nuances. Visitors wanting a comprehensive experience should devote the full 2 hours to appreciate everything Gravensteen has to offer. Time can pass quickly when immersed in the imposing medieval atmosphere.
How to get to Gravensteen Castle?
Gravensteen Castle is centrally located in downtown Ghent that makes it easy to access in multiple ways:
- Public Transportation: The closest tram stop is Gravensteen right in front of the castle entrance. This is on tram routes 1, 2 and 4. Other nearby stops like Sint-Michielsbrug, Korenmarkt and Belfort on various tram routes are a quick 5-10 minute walk.
- Walking: Gravensteen is very walkable since it's situated right in the historic core of central Ghent. It's just over a kilometer from Sint-Niklaas Train Station which takes 15 minutes on foot.
- Cycling: Ghent is very bike-friendly so cycling to Gravensteen Castle is popular. Bike rental stations are available across the city.
- Car: Driving and parking is difficult since Gravensteen is in the old city center. Parking garages like Vrijdagmarkt are a 10-15 minute walk away.
- Boat: A river boat tour on the Leie Canal stops right by Gravensteen Castle.
Gravensteen's premier location enables simple access through Ghent's many transportation modes. Visitors should consider the tram or walking as the easiest options to reach this iconic medieval landmark.
What are the house rules of Gravensteen Castle?
Gravensteen Castle has house rules in place to preserve the integrity of the museum and ensure an enjoyable experience for all visitors:
- No food or drinks. No food or drinks allowed inside the castle. A cafe is onsite for refreshments.
- Photography is prohibited. Photography prohibited in certain designated areas to protect artifacts.
- Do not touch. Do not touch any exhibits, interiors or artifacts within the castle.
- Bags must be checked. Large/heavy bags must be checked into lockers and cloakroom onsite.
- Children Policy. Children must be supervised by parents/guardians at all times.
- Audio Device Policy. Audio devices must be used with headphones only.
- No pets. No pets allowed except certified service animals.
- Conduct Policy. Follow all signs and instructions from museum staff.
- Dress Code Policy. Proper attire and footwear required – no bare feet allowed.
These policies help Gravensteen Castle maintain the integrity of its precious medieval architecture and artifacts for future generations to appreciate. Visitors who follow the simple house rules can deeply enjoy their time exploring this one-of-a-kind Belgian castle museum.
What visitors say about Gravensteen Castle?
Gravensteen Castle in Ghent, Belgium emerges as a highlight for many visitors, who describe it as a beautiful, imposing medieval fortress that transports you back in time. Reviewers frequently mention the robust defensive architecture including the tall walls, turrets, moat, and drawbridge as impressive and picturesque. The castle interior receives consistent praise, with travelers describing the rooms, armory, dungeons, and torture chambers as fascinating glimpses into medieval life. Many recommend taking advantage of the panoramic views of Ghent from the castle towers and rooftops, calling them stunning and breathtaking.
However, the standout aspect that elevates Gravensteen seems to be the audio tour included with admission. Numerous reviewers call it one of the best and most unique audio tours they’ve experienced, entertaining and funny yet still informative. The humorous delivery by a Flemish comedian surprises people and makes the history engaging for both kids and adults. People say it brings the castle to life through stories of its inhabitants, avoiding dry facts. Reviewers recommend not missing the audio tour. With it, the castle becomes an absolute must-see attraction. Without it, the experience feels empty.
Beyond the audio tour, travelers describe Gravensteen as an architectural gem and highlight of any visit to Ghent. It provides beautiful scenery for photos and an unforgettable glimpse into medieval history and culture. Though challenging for those less mobile due to the narrow stairs, most agree Gravensteen Castle is well worth visiting.
Does it worth it to visit Gravensteen Castle?
Absolutely, Gravensteen Castle is extremely worthwhile to visit for several reasons. As one of the best maintained medieval castles in Belgium and Europe, Gravensteen offers the rare chance to view 12th century architecture and artifacts in situ. Walking through the Gothic halls, dungeons and ramparts transports you back in time and brings history to life. Beyond its magnificent physical presence, Gravensteen houses insightful exhibits that illuminate daily medieval life. All this historical significance comes at an affordable price making it a must-see attraction. Gravensteen also occupies a central location in picturesque Ghent that is easy to access. Considering its combination of immense heritage value, interactive experience and prime location in the city, Gravensteen Castle is absolutely worth a visit for anyone traveling to Ghent or Flanders.
Are there any guided tours to Gravensteen Castle?
Yes, Gravensteen Castle offers guided tours that provide further historical context and insight into the castle. Guided tours must be reserved in advance online and have an additional cost of 60 euros for a group of up to 25 people. The standard guided tour is available in Dutch, French, English or German and lasts approximately 75 minutes. Private guided tours are also available at a higher cost. Guided tours explore both the interior castle rooms and exterior courtyards. Another option is renting an audio guide at the entrance which provides narration in various languages for a more self-guided experience. This option is usually enough for almost all travellers. Guided tours are ideal for visitors wanting a deeper understanding of Gravensteen's history and architecture than reading placards. Through expert storytelling, the castle's rich past comes even more dramatically to life.
What are the best things to in Ghent aside Gravensteen Castle?
Listed below are the best things to do in Ghent aside Gravensteen Castle.
- Belfry of Ghent. The Belfry of Ghent is a 13th century bell tower in Ghent's historic center. At 91 meters tall, it offers panoramic city views. Its spire has a golden dragon weathervane from 1377. The tower contains a carillon with 54 bells and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can take the lift or climb 366 steps to the top. Located off Sint-Baafsplein, the belfry appeals to sightseers and photographers. Admission is 11€ ($12, £10). Open daily 10am-6pm. Visiting the Belfry of Ghent is one of the most popular things to do in Ghent.
- Ghent's local delicacies. Ghent has signature local delicacies like the purple conical raspberry-flavored candy called cuberdon and the vegetable stew Gentse waterzooi. The Great Butchers' Hall displays over 175 regional products. Ghent is a haven for vegetarians with “veggie days” on Thursdays in restaurants. Foodies flock here for the diverse cuisine.
- Patershol. Patershol is a historic neighborhood with cobblestone streets and medieval architecture dating to the 12th century. Once home to leather traders, it is now a trendy district with restaurants, bars, galleries and cafés. Located by the Castle of the Counts, it offers charming ambience. Patershol appeals to photographers and foodies.
- House of Alijn. The House of Alijn in a former children's hospital illuminates daily life in 20th century Ghent through recreated shops, exhibits and artifacts. Located at Kraanlei 65, it appeals to all ages. Hands-on exhibits bring history to life. Admission is 9€ ($9.50, £7.70). Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm, closed Mondays.
Is Ghent expensive to visit for tourist?
Ghent is moderately expensive compared to other European destinations. It's not the cheapest, but also not excessively expensive. Accommodation can be pricey, with decent 3-star hotels averaging around 120 EUR ($134, £96) per night. However, cheaper options like hostels and Airbnbs are available. Public transportation is fairly priced, with a standard ticket costing 3 EUR ($3.35, £2.40) and day passes available for 6 EUR ($6.70, £4.80). Attractions and activities have competitive rates. Museums and boat tours start at around 10 EUR ($11, £8). Free walking tours are also available. Dining out at restaurants can get costly, with a three course meal for two averaging 60 EUR ($67, £48). But groceries from markets and supermarkets are reasonably priced. Drinks like beer and wine are more expensive than other parts of Europe, at 4-6 EUR ($4.50-6.70, £3.20-4.80) each.
Visiting Ghent on a tight budget is certainly possible if you choose more affordable options for accommodation, food, and activities. But it's not an ultra-cheap city. Careful budgeting is recommended to avoid unexpectedly high costs.
How far is Ghent from Brussels?
Ghent to Brussels travel can be completed in a variety of ways, with the most common options being by train, bus, or car. The distance between Ghent and Brussels is approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles). By car, the drive takes around 1 hour in normal traffic conditions. Taking the bus or train from Ghent to Brussels is a bit longer, but more convenient as you don't have to focus on driving. The bus takes around 1 hour and 50 minutes for the direct trip. The train is the fastest public transport option at just 28-40 minutes depending on the train type and number of stops. Most travelers choose the train for its speed and frequency, with departures available every 10-15 minutes during the day. Train tickets cost around €10 ($11, £9) each way.
Travel between Ghent and Brussels is relatively affordable. Train tickets average €10-15 ($11-17, £9-14) each way. You can find bus tickets for as low as €5 ($6, £5). Hotels and restaurants are moderately priced in both cities. Travelers on a budget can find accommodation for around €50 ($56, £46) per night. Those looking for a bit more luxury can expect to spend €100-150 ($112-168, £92-139) or more per night. With cheap transportation and reasonably priced lodging and food, Ghent to Brussels makes for an inexpensive city break.
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