The Performing Arts--Although Ghent is up for a good night out on the town any time of year, its cultural calendar really hits the heights from October to mid-June, when international opera is performed in the 19th-century De Vlaamse Opera, Schouwburgstraat 9 (www.operaballet.be; tel. 09/268-1011), run in conjunction with the opera house in Antwerp. This is regarded as one of the most spectacular and plushest concert halls in Europe, built in the 1840s.

Bars & Taverns--In typical Flemish fashion, Ghent's favorite after-dark entertainment is frequenting atmospheric cafes and taverns. You should have a memorable evening in any one you choose. De Witte Leeuw, Graslei 6 (tel. 09/233-37-33), has a 17th-century setting and more than 300 varieties of beer. At the Old Flemish tavern Dulle Griet, Vrijdagmarkt 50 (tel. 09/224-24-55), also known as Bieracademie, you'll be asked to deposit one of your shoes before being given a potent Kwak beer in the too-collectible glass with a wood frame that allows the glass to stand up -- you too might need artificial support if you drink too much of this or any of the other 250 different beers in stock. The smallest building on Graslei, the Renaissance-style former Customs House from 1682, is now a nice little tavern called Het Tolhuisje, Graslei 11 (tel. 09/224-30-90).

Groentenmarkt, near the Gravensteen, makes for a pretty good pub-crawl in an easily navigable area. In an old canal house, Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, Groentenmarkt 9 (tel. 09/225-06-80), has more than 100 different Belgian beers, including locally made Stopken. Of all the gin joints in town, 't Dreupelkot, Groentenmarkt 12 (tel. 09/224-21-20), has to be the best. Ask owner Paul to recommend one of his 100 or so varieties of jenever (a stiff spirit similar to gin), served in tiny (but deadly) little glassfuls, or walk straight in and boldly go for a 64-proof Jonge Hertekamp or a 72-proof Pek├Ęt de Houyeu; if they don't knock you down, you may be up for an 8-year-old 100-proof Filliers Oude Graanjenever or a 104-proof Hoogspanning. Across the tramlines, Het Galgenhuisje, Groentenmarkt 5 (tel. 09/233-42-51), the oldest drinking spot in town (1783) -- the name means "Little Gallows House" -- is a tiny and, perforce, intimate place popular with students, and has a fine restaurant, 't Galgenkelder, downstairs in the cellar.

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