Ghent Light Festival 2018 Details

Ghent Light Festival

The Ghent Light Festival is back in 2018. The three-yearly festival of light will run between Wednesday the 31st January 2018 and end on the following Sunday – the 4th February 2018.

This year sees the 4th edition of the festival and an extra day has been added to help with demand.

What time do the lights shine?

The lights will start shining from 7pm until Midnight on all days apart from Sunday which will start a little earlier at 6pm making the event more accessible for families.

Over a half a million visitors were attracted to see the light spectacular in 2015 which saw an extension of the lights show outside of the centre.

New Route

There’s a new route highlighting the historical city centre, the arts quarter and the city’s past. We’ve put together a Google Map detailing the route. Feel free to share and save to your devices.

On a Personal Note

We’ve been meaning to visit the light festival since 2015 when we thought we’d go and see it the year after… nope! we didn’t realise at the time that the festival is once every three years. We’ll have in tow our (at the time) 20 month old daughter who loves lights at the moment – we’ll have to see if she still does in 8 months time!

Visiting Belgium with a baby

We got our little one’s passport sorted and booked her first trip to Belgium to properly welcome her into the family! She was just under 3 months old and we headed off to Ghent, a city we are fairly familiar with. Like my article on travelling while pregnant, I found very little info on the internet about travelling with a very young baby (other than information specific to flying). Maybe most parents don’t have the same Belgium withdrawal symptoms that we do!

Our trip was actually really successful, despite me being really nervous beforehand. We had a great time, as did the little one (we assume… I mean she didn’t cry the entire time so that’s a start!)

Before I get into the swing of things, I just want to say we found it really simple to get our baby’s passport sorted, although we do find it funny that her baby photo will stay with her until she’s five! There’s a link to the government website for passport applications at the bottom of this article.


Babies are pretty simple in terms of luggage- they need to poo, eat and sleep. Pack accordingly!


Nappies and wipes are important, but just as easy to find in Belgium as they are in England! You should have an idea of how many you get through a day, so just pack what you need and don’t go overboard. Don’t forget any medication your baby needs and suncream if it’s going to be hot.

I breastfeed. Having mooched the internet a little I found that breastfeeding rates are pretty low in Belgium. Legally, women do have the right to breastfeed in public anytime, anywhere like we do in the UK. At the same time I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about breastfeeding in public in a foreign country where it wasn’t so common (and is it even that common in the UK?) so we packed all of the formula stuff, and I even ordered a special bottle warmer. As it turned out, I felt completely fine feeding her in public. It was an excuse to have a sit down in a bar every couple of hours! I got no odd looks or comments and even spotted another lady breastfeeding. So we didn’t even unpack the formula equipment from the car when it came to it. But I was glad we took our formula so we had the option.

Make sure you pack a lightweight pushchair- if you’re walking around on cobbled streets for a whole day you really don’t want to be lugging your big Silver Cross travel system around. We invested in a lie-flat stroller with a pull-down sunshade. It was great- not a hassle at all, easy to manoeuvre around and because it was lie-flat our newborn was comfortable and able to nap in it. She actually napped really well during the day as the cobbled streets jiggled her to sleep! If it’s going to be dry but not too hot a baby carrier or sling would also be good.

An extra tip- if you need a kettle for sterilising or making up formula, make sure your hotel room will have one! We stayed in the Ibis in Ghent, where we had stayed before. We had a feeling there hadn’t been a kettle and tripadvisor reviews confirmed that. So we did bring our own as we use it to sterilize her dummy. It’s one of those things you might not think of but could be really important and if you’re travelling in a car it doesn’t take up much of your space.


With a baby, it’s easy to get through a few outfits a day with sickiness and poo and all sorts of other possibilities. Baby clothes are also unsurprisingly small so pack a couple of spare outfits, but remember that if you’re travelling to a city like we did there are lots of shops with baby clothes at reasonable prices, so there’s no need to overpack! (Also, what a cute momento for your baby’s first trip abroad). Keep in mind the weather… if you’re travelling from the UK it’s usually a similar temperature so pack accordingly. We travelled in late May and the predictions were warm but wet so we just packed lots of sleepsuits and vests, and then a couple of extra blankets. Easy, small and versatile. Suitable for daytime or nighttime. Lots of layering possibilities if needed.

Remember also how a little vomit can ruin not only your baby’s outfit but also your own, so pack an extra outfit for yourself too!

Just in case you do need to buy a baby outfit, be aware that the sizing can be confusing! It’s measured by the baby’s height in centimeters and goes up in 6s. Here’s a quick rough guide:

UK Size                    European Size

Newborn                 50
0-3 months             56
3-6 months             62
6-9 months             68
9-12 months            74
12-18 months          80
18-24 months         86
2 years                     92


We brought our baby’s Moses basket with us. Having the car with us, and it being her first trip away we wanted somewhere familiar for her to sleep in case she struggled. The hotel had put up a travel cot for us anyway but we chose not to use it. I was a bit nervous about a hotel travel cot and had visions of a dirty or unsafe rickety old cot… unlikely when you think about how serious the implications of anything less than perfect could be! In reality, we were really impressed by the cot we were provided with and have since used hotel supplied travel cots with no problems. We do bring her sleeping bag though so she at least has something that smells familiar to her. But for Ghent I needed the security knowing she had a familiar space to sleep in.


Belgian hotels are generally family friendly, and often have really nice family rooms. Having a central hotel is handy so you always have somewhere local to retreat to if baby needs some time out. The best options, we thought, are either a self-contained self catering place or a large anonymous chain hotel. The former is handy if you want to be able to put baby to bed and then sit up in a different room drinking, eating, chatting etc. We went for the latter which meant come baby’s bedtime around 7pm we were confined to the hotel room. We tended to buy a couple of beers from the local Carrefour Express or the hotel bar and drink them in the room while chatting and watching the TV (in our Ibis we had access to about 4 English speaking TV channels including BBC 1).


I’ve already written about how to get to Belgium here, but when travelling with a baby there are a few extra things to consider. Things to consider:

  • Continuous time in the carseat for the baby. Current guidelines are that a baby has a break from the carseat every two hours. We drove from Leicestershire to a Premier Inn half an hour away from the Channel Tunnel, stopped over the night and then took an early train over to France in the morning. That way she had a break and there were no pressures on us to get to the Tunnel by a certain time. I also got to breastfeed under the sea which was something I’d been excited to do! (and change a pooey nappy, which I was less excited about!)
  • The law. A baby in a car must be in a child seat or child restraint. The only vehicle a baby doesn’t need to be in some sort of restraint is a taxi.
  • Eurostar (as a foot passenger) have baby changing facilities on board, as well as family carriages with more tables and luggage space for pushchairs etc.
  • If flying, remember that baby food and formula milk may not make it through security!
  • Parking. Parent and child spaces are available in larger public car parks. Otherwise, car park spaces tend to be a little larger than in the UK. Most hotels are happy for you to pull up outside the front if that’s possible so you can get the baby out before parking up.
  • Make sure you have a window shade, especially if it’s going to be hot.
  • If you like to bring a lot of beer back and find your baby is taking up too much valuable car space, invest in a roof box. I’m partially joking, but we got offered one to borrow over whatsapp JUST AFTER we’d set off so it was too late. Carl was gutted!

Eating and drinking

Most restaurants and bars in Belgium are family friendly, especially in warm weather when you can sit outside. We managed to eat out every evening without any problems. The only thing we did differently was book a table for early evening instead of around 8 or 9pm. It’s important to know that traditionally Belgians don’t eat the evening meal until quite late compared to Brits, but a lot of restaurants in tourist destinations and cities are still open early enough for families with young children. Just check opening times if you want to eat in a particular restaurant and book if you need to.

Baby Facilities

Baby changing facilities in Belgium are much less common than in the UK. It would be worth googling- for example- “Ghent baby changing” if you’re going to Ghent so you can find out the location of some. We found one in our whole stay, although I’ll admit we weren’t looking as we had a central hotel and so just took her back to the room to change her. HEMA is a shop similar to Wilkinsons I suppose in terms of what they stock and they usually will have a disabled toilet with a pull down changing table. You can usually find a HEMA on the main shopping street of a city. They also sell cute baby clothes pretty cheaply as well as general baby supplies like nappies, wipes etc.

For peace of mind…

Because new parents are prone to panic, the following bits of info are good to know in case of an emergency:

  • The generic emergency services telephone number in Belgium, as across Europe, is 112. There are always English speakers. There’s a link below to a map of all hospitals in Belgium.
  • Emergency telephones for an S.O.S. line are installed every 2km along motorways.
  • Medicines are generally not available from supermarkets, you have to go to a pharmacy. There are always plenty in cities.

Things to do

There’s plenty to do with a baby in Belgium. We mostly just walked, took in the beauty of the place, ate good food and drank good beer. You probably don’t want to be lugging baby up a Belfry, and might want to avoid a museum around feeding time… but generally babies don’t mind what they do so long as you smile and chatter to them.


Federal Public Health, Safety and Environment Service website on breastfeeding

RAC website on driving in Belgium

Guide and online application form for UK child passport

Interractive map of hospitals in Belgium

Guide to New Year’s Eve in Ghent – 2015/2016

Ghent at Night

  • When to book- no need to book too far in advance, start looking in November.
  • Minimum cost assuming two adults Hostels cost approx €65 (2015), bottle of Cava €3 from CarreFour (probably more in local shops if you don’t have a car), fast food dinner €15, evening entertainment free, breakfast €10. total approx €95 plus travel for one night.
  • Recommended place- Portus Ghanda for big crowds and fireworks (see directions in main article as well as where to stand).
  • Recommended arrival time- 11.30pm.
  • Key info- restaurants need to be booked in advance- no street food. Very busy. Recommended for partygoers.

Ghent is a lovely small city which, although not as busy or touristy as the more frequented Beglian cities such as Bruges or Brussels, still has a lot going on around Christmas and New Year and should by no means be seen as a write off! Often said to have a good nightlife, I’d recommend New Year in Ghent for travellers who want to mix with the locals somewhere where everyone wants to party!

Booking Up

Ghent is overlooked by a lot of travellers around Christmas and New Year, probably distracted by the promises of magical markets and karaoke from Bruges. Therefore the urgency of getting booked in somewhere isn’t so prevalent when planning a trip to Ghent for the same time. Start looking in November or even early December, unless you have a very specific budget or place you want to go.

Travel probably needs to be booked sooner, maybe look around October or November. The Eurotunnel can be booked up to 9 months in advance.

Restaurants and bars are open as usual in between Christmas and New Year, but are often very busy. Most bars and restaurants close completely on New Year’s Eve. Those restaurants that do open will offer a set menu, for which you should expect to pay a lot more than on any other night. Most do need booking in advance and street food outlets such as the chip huts shut down completely, so make sure you book up unless you want to end up in Pizza Hut!

The Run Up

Ghent is taken over by a typical Belgian Christmas market throughout December into the first few days of January. Although much smaller than the market you’ll find in Bruges, it fills the city centre quite nicely. This includes an ice bar and ice skating- a nice idea but extortionate prices and usually packed of tourists. I’d recommend drinking in a bar in one of the surrounding streets. There are also street food stands, a large outdoor bar serving all sorts of drinks from Belgian beers in the right glasses (for a deposit), Gluhwein (mulled wine) and hot chocolate. By the cathedral is a huge Big Wheel which costs around €5 per person (2014 prices).

Museums and other attractions are also generally open usual times between Christmas and New Year, and many seem to have some sort of Christmassy event going on. Most will close from 31st December until 2nd January, or even until the first Monday of the New Year so make sure you check before making an itinerary. The same goes for some bars, cafes and restaurants.

New Year’s Eve

As I said previously, a lot of bars and restaurants close completely for New Year’s Eve. Those that are open will advertise their menu on the evenings before so make sure you find somewhere that takes your fancy and book up. You won’t bump into any locals at all in the evening- they’ll all be at their own private parties right up until 11.30/11.45pm. The main celebration takes place at Portus Ganda, a harbour a short walk from the city centre. We were worried about being able to find it when we visited one New Year, but there’s really no need- you just go outside and follow the crowds.

To get to Portus Ganda (just in case you miss the crowds), head left past Saint Bavo’s cathedral, facing away from the Belfry along Kapittelstraat. Follow the road round to the left and take any of the roads on your right: Hoofdkerkstraat, Nederpolder, Barrestraat… any of them, they’re all parallel and lead to the same road. At the end of whichever short road you chose turn left on to Bisdomkaai, which in turn become Nieuwbrugkaai and you’re there. We crossed the bridge and sat on a wall by Veermanplein which was okay, but I wouldn’t recommend (see below)

If you’re not booked in anywhere, Ghent is lovely to just wander during winter evenings. We hadn’t booked (having planned to eat from a Chip Hut but then finding them all closed) so ended up at Pizza Hut, then just took a slow meandering wander to Portus Ganda. We probably arrived around 11pm, at which time it was pretty quiet. There were a few people standing by the railings who wanted a front row view, that was it. We found a high wall to sit on a distance back from the water by some blocks of flats on Veermanplein. The view was alright but as midnight drew closer large groups of teenagers with lots of booze and fireworks turned up on the car park behind us- they were just having fun and pretty friendly and harmless but I did feel on edge knowing there were drunk kids with fireworks behind us. I wouldn’t recommend sitting up there again.

We were completely clueless about the arrangements for the celebration at Portus Gandus, and there seemed to be little information on the internet. There was some music playing from somewhere but no obvious key focal point and we really didn’t know where we were supposed to be looking. We’d brought a bottle of bubbly from the supermarket- there are no laws against drinking in public places- and most people seemed to have something to drink with them. Whereas in Bruges there is entertainment leading up to midnight and beyond, this is not the case in Ghent.

From 11.45pm you could see private fireworks displays going off in the distance, then at 11.59 all of a sudden a countdown starts and the crowd suddenly wakes up. Everyone is counting down in different languages and you suddenly feel like part of something special.

At midnight the main fireworks start- across the other side of the harbour- you really can’t miss them no matter where you’re standing. We were looking right from our spot on Veermanplein. I think the fireworks are probably set off from Coyendanspark, so for the best view you’d want to be at the railings on the further side of Veerkaai, away from the city centre and closer to Julius de Vigneplein. They go on for about 10 minutes and then that’s it- everyone leaves. Most people are cheerful and friendly- strangers coming up to wish you a happy new year, even hugging and kissing you as if you’ve known each other for years, something us Brits are not used to haha! Then everyone heads back home to their own private parties or on to the few open nightclubs which open at 11pm but don’t fill up until after the fireworks.

If clubbing is your scene then you have a few choices but need to plan where you’re going in advance and possibly book tickets. Culture Club is usually open for New Year and plays house and urban music – tickets need to be pre-booked at €22 (2013 price), Decadanceopens and you don’t seem to need to book. Both are a good half hour walk from Portus Ganda. Think you’ll get a taxi? You might be lucky and get one, but it’ll be expensive- and chances are your taxi driver from the night before will be partying with you in Portus Ganda and be looking for someone else to drive him somewhere too. Club 69 is much closer but has limited capacity so probably best to get there early. Hot Club de Gand is more central and often hosts some sort of party which is free and opens from 12.30am until breakfast time, but will no doubt get packed out.

Not really being clubbers, the best we could find for a New Years drink was our hotel bar, which stayed open past 1am and became quite lively once everyone had returned from the fireworks- I guess most people had the same idea as us.

New Year’s Day

EVERYWHERE is closed in Ghent on New Year’s Day- even most restaurants are closed. Some might do a set lunch menu, so you need to plan what you’re going to eat and where in advance if you’re hanging around. We found one small cafe open right next to our hotel and decided seeing as that had been so easy to find then others must be open. We walked all around Ghent about 3 times and ended up going back to the first place very hungry. NO WHERE was open- bars, shops, cafes or restaurants. We’d booked a restaurant for the evening but I think we were very lucky there. Museums and other attractions are also closed, although the Christmas market does open. A lot of places stay closed through the 2nd January or even until the next Monday, so plan ahead.