What’s on: Ghent’s summer party that never sleeps


Top of the bill this week is the Gentse Feesten, the indescribable 10-day bash that takes over the entire city

Gentse Feesten

People often struggle to describe Gentse Feesten. Depending on your preference, it’s a music festival or a theatre festival or a folk festival. All of Ghent’s squares are full of music, day and night, for 10 days, all for free. The parks are full of street theatre and circus acts, most of that for free, too.

But there are also ticketed concerts and plays – from cabaret to Shakespeare. And then there are tours, boat trips, openings of monuments normally closed, open-air dance clubs, an abundance of food and drink, a parade of frivolity and a parade of solemnity, as barefoot men shuffle across the cobblestones with nooses around their necks. And there are festivals within festivals. It’s one big mash-up, and everyone well tell you a different story. Go, and create your own. 19-28 July, across Ghent

Belgian National Day


Religious services, parades and a street fair dot the centre of Brussels on 21 July, Belgian National Day. It was on this day in 1831 that Leopold I was sworn in as the new country’s first king. Festivities begin in the capital the evening before, with the free Bal National on Vossenplein. Live music and dance lessons are at the heart of this family-friendly affair. The next day, take to Brussels Park, where you can find an array of free activities, stretching from the palace to the parliament. Civil defence and police also mingle with the public, setting up villages here and in the nearby Poelaertplein. Fireworks bring the holiday to a close at 23.00; take to Paleizenplein for the best view. 21 July, across central Brussels

Karin Hanssen: Returning the Gaze

Flemish artist Karin Hanssen paints images that capture specific moments, much like photographs do. Some of the most intriguing have a vintage aspect – Mad Men moments when boozed-up women stumble against their husbands or deal with a stalled engine. This exhibition hones in on her answer to the male gaze – a confrontation between the women on the canvas and the historical representation of women in the arts, cinema and literature. Until 1 September, De Garage/CC Mechelen, Minderbroedersgang 5, Mechelen

Sfinks Mixed

While there’s no shortage of summer music festival in Flanders, they usually come with daunting price-tag. Not so with Sfinks Mixed in little Boechout, Antwerp province. It isn’t just cheap, it’s free. Musicians come in from all over the world, but also from close by, like Slongs and Baloji. Aside from the stages, areas are set aside for non-stop DJs, robot musicians, the Bankra Bike Soundsystem ("a party on wheels!") and something called CirqueTango. One of Flanders’ most upbeat parties of the summer. Oh, and Boechout has a train station a 10-minute walk from the festival terrain. 25-28 July, Molenveld, entries on Welvaartstraat and Oude Steenweg, Boechout

Photos: Gentse Feesten ©Stad Gent, National Day ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA, Karin Hanssen’s “ABC” (detail) 2008, Sfinks ©Robin Dua Photography/Sfinks Mixed