The very first Gravensteen Castle was built in wood in the 10th century, long before Belgium was a country. In the 11th century, the wood was replaced by stone and in the following centuries, the building was changed and enlarged several times. It also housed several of the cities services, until it lost its administrative function in the 18th century.
Part of the castle was sold to companies who set up shop there, but the buildings were old and by the mid-19th century didn’t comply with safety regulations anymore.
At the end of the 19th century, the city of Ghent and the Belgian government bought the buildings of the Gravensteen Castle back from private owners and started a process of restoration of the medieval castle. Now, the castle is a touristic attraction, but also the scene of various cultural activities throughout the year and a place where a lot of couples get wed.
Visiting the Gravensteen Castle
Both my mom and I had been to Ghent several times already, but we’d never visited the Gravensteen Castle before and I must say it was my top thing to do for the day! Well, besides getting a cupcake at Julie’s House.
When you arrive at the castle you first have to walk through the entry gate to get to the ticket office. Once you’ve bought your ticket, you just have to follow the route through the castle.
If you want, you can get a video guide that’s not really a guide. It’s actually a sort of play in different stages, divided over the different rooms you’ll be visiting, that tells the history of the inhabitants of the castle in a “storified” way. It’s nicely done, on a device that looks like an iPod, but keep in mind that it will take you much longer to go through the castle if you watch every clip.
Below you can see the first room you’ll visit. This is where the museum shop is located and where you can pick up the video guide. It’s also where you need to drop it back off after your tour. I started watching the video guide here, but I have to be honest and say that I didn’t have the patience for it, so I just put it away again and followed the route through the castle to simply explore what was there.
First up was the Arms Museum, where we saw pistols, crossbows, daggers and more. According to the Gravensteen website, “each type of weapon used in medieval warfare is featured in the collection”. I especially liked how the blue lighting in this room contrasted the orange of the “closets” that held the pieces.
After we’d checked out the Arms Museum, we took the stairs up to the rooftop terrace – that’s at least what I’d make of it. From there you get a great 360° view over the city of Ghent.
This might be obvious, but it can get quite chilly up here when it’s windy.
We went back down by using a different staircase that led us into the Museum of Judicial Objects, which might as well have been called the Museum of Torture.
From the 14th until the 18th century the Gravensteen Castle had an important administrative function as the seat of the Council of Flanders and the Board of the Oudburg. That means it was the place were suspects were imprisoned, accused were tortured, judgments were declared and executions were carried out.
In those days someone could not be punished if he hadn’t confessed his crime, so the cruelest methods were used to get a confession out of an accused. The museum displays some of the tools used throughout the centuries to torture accused and punish convicts. Thumbs screws, a mask of shame and neck restraints are just some of the items you’ll see here.
Most of the torture tools are displayed in a “sober” way, although there are some puppets that demonstrate how certain tools were being used as well. Something you might want to know when bringing little kids. Although I’m pretty sure they’ve seen worse if they’ve ever watched the evening news.
Lastly, we visited the “cellar”, where you can see remains of the original walls of the castle. Nice, but there’s not much more to seen in this room and so after about an hour we concluded our tour of the Gravensteen Castle, both happy that we’d finally visited it.
Sint-Veerleplein 11, Gent
Where to stay in Ghent
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day trip to Ghent. My mom paid her own way. We both loved the Gravensteen Castle just as much, so you can be sure that getting the card has nothing to do with that and that partnerships like this will never affect how I write about a place.The links to Booking.com and TripAdvisor are affiliate links. If you book a stay through them, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting the site!