Ghent Citadelpark lays on a hill between the rivers Scheldt and Lys. The citadel stood here until 1870 and 5 years later the park was inaugurated. It looks like a simple city park with nothing interesting to see, but it’s only an impression. Within and around Citadelpark you can find all kinds of attractions: lake, museums, animal shelter, playground, botanic garden, violent geese, summer chiringuito… it misses nothing!
For those that enjoy alternative touristic routes, here is another Belgian option: my bucket list for those that plan to spend a day discovering this city park.
If you’re into cultural tourism, you have a wide choice: two museums, a botanical garden and an even hall!
Open since 1999, SMAK (museum of contemporary art) has a permanent collection and a rich calendar of temporary exhibitions. Some are bizarre, at the very least, but you can always enjoy the view from the huge glass windows of the top floor.
Facing the SMAK, there’s the fine art museum, the MSK. It hosts mostly Belgian artists and it’s often open in the evening. As the other one, this museum has an interesting permanent collection and thematic temporary exhibitions. I found it way more entertaining than what I thought it would be, especially if you know Flemish cities. I played “guess where this was painted”!
Crossing the road on the east side of the Citadelpark, there’s Ghent botanical garden. The town hall is the official owner but it’s mostly used and maintained by the nearby university U-Gent. It was opened in 1979 and hosts 10.000 plants and trees, many of which are considered rare species.
The last exhibition hall is the Gent ICC. It’s in the middle of the park and, if I correctly understood how this huge building is organized internally, partially occupies the ex casino. Every year hosts important events like ComicCon Gent, the bicycle fair, art galleries, private events and so on.
The lake, the ducks and the terrible geese
On the south west side of the Citadelpark there’s a small lake. It’s been drained for a couple of years (not an easy task considering that in Belgium it rains a lot!). Then suddenly one day i’ve found it full of water, with a brand new surface at the bottom, plenty of water plants and flowers and a fantastic panel to give ducks easy access. The cutest thing ever.
The shores of the lake are perfect to relax on the grass on a sunny day. There are no fish but it’s full of ducks and it’s ruled by 6 geese.
The geese deserve few lines. They look cute, walking in a tight group, always looking each other’s back. But they are evil beings! They are the bosses of the lake, the bullies of the ducklings, the owner of the pedestrian crossing Citadelpark – botanical garden. They are not only incredibly aggressive towards whoever gets vaguely close to them, but they also tend to move from the park to the botanical garden, crossing the road and getting into the gates regardless of cars or time of the day. I once walked close by with a dog and they tried to attack us!
I’ve tried to take pictures of them because I enjoy how they place themselves in the middle of the street ignoring the traffic around them. But I had to always keep a certain distance, ready to flee before they could bite me!
The animal shelter and the Cat Cafe
I mentioned walking a dog in the park. But I don’t have a dog. So, where did the dog come from? I’ve borrowed it!!
In the middle of Citadelpark there used to be an animal shelter for dogs and cats, the Dierenasiel Gent (website in Dutch only). Sadly it recently moved to Watersbaan. But I want to briefly talk about them because they had (and still do) an interesting policy of adoption and care. With a yearly subscription that cost a few euros, you could borrow their dogs! You pass by the reception, leave the document, ask for a dog (a specific one or a random one) and you go out to walk it. You had one hour time (or a little less, if the dog had conditions) and you had to stay within the border of the park. The animal shelter only gives dogs used to the leash and not aggressive with humans. But you might end up with Diewke that wants to bite whatever moves. Or Pico that tries to use your leg as his favourite water dropping spot for the entire walk time. All the dogs are ready to be adopted.
The animal shelter also keeps cats. They are often not very friendly and the Dierenasiel Gent has an agreement with the Car cafe DreamCATchers to “land” them cats to keep at cafe’, so to get them slowly used to the human presence and turn them into a more sociable version of themselves. Many of these cats have already been adopted directly from the clients of the DreamCATchers.
The playground and the pink tables
As any other serious park, there’s a playground for children, with slides, swings and other games. You can also find a fixed tennis table (you need to bring rackets and balls yourself) and a super tiny football “field” with one single goal net for the youngest.
Scattered around the Citadepark there are handy picnic tables in wood with two benches each. All painted pink.
The music kiosk and the chiringuito
Between the rose gardens, there’s an octagonal music kiosk. Its base is made of rocks and a metal structure. It was built to host open-air live music, but I think it’s not been used in a long time.
If you need music in the park, though, not far away you can find the latest addition: the chiringuito. It opens during the long summer evenings, when the sun goes down late and guests can enjoy a drink outdoors. It has a dozen tables, Caribbean-Christmas lights and a limited menu. Adorable. Bring the mosquito repellent.
The hill and other peculiarities
Here and there in the Citadelpark there are other peculiar things, such as a little waterfall, a fake ancient Roman gate, an amphitheatre and a small hill. The latter, besides a cute bridge and a viewpoint, has thick vegetation on its higher part. Walking here makes you feel like you are in a real forest.
Every park needs its own weirdos. In the last few years, I’ve collected a long list of bizarre conversations. Apparently, reading a book alone is the best way to get (undesired) attention!
I’m going to tell you here probably the moat bizarre one, word by word, the best I recall it (as if I could forget it…).
Sunday morning. I read a book in the sun, sitting on the grass. Silence. Peace.
Then he arrives.
– Him: can I sit down?
– Me: yes, but I want to keep reading.
– H: fine [he sits. I read]
[not even 1 minute later]
– H: you’re beautiful, I like your hair
– M: thanks [trying hard to keep reading]
– H: I’m looking for a girl
– M: I’m not looking for a guy [trying really hard to pretend I’m still reading]
– H: fine, it’s your right. People should respect girls, many don’t. Not like me! They drink, smoke, do drugs… I like boobs, but you can’t ask a girl to show you her boobs and…
– M: I really want to read now!
[He sit still for 10 sec. He leaves]