Known as the ‘City by the Sea’, Ostend has much to offer, especially for any lovers of seafood. From quirky museums, colourful events, beautiful parks and a 7km stretch of golden sands there’s plenty for all the family to enjoy.
To get the best value for money when visiting invest in a City Pass which will give you free access to a great range of museums, tours and attractions. It costs from 12€ for a 24 hour pass up to 25€ for a one year pass.
1. The fish
If you are a fan of seafood this is probably the best reason to visit Ostend. The city was once a fishing settlement and many residents still make their living from the fish industry today. Stroll along the Visserskaai to see the fishing boats moored up, and sample some tasty snacks from the little row of stalls here. If you visit early in the morning you can see the boats coming in and watch the auction where fish from the North Sea are sold to supply restaurants across Belgium.
Unsurprisingly there are numerous great restaurants in Ostend specialising in fish. ‘T Landhuys is a small, unassuming restaurant, seating just 26 people, that’s tucked away in a side street and could easily go unnoticed but step inside and you’ll receive the warmest of welcomes. Service is great and the atmosphere is friendly. The menu is based on fresh local produce, all expertly cooked (although the choice is limited). Try their Brochette de St.Jacques, risotto au champignons for a scallops cooked to perfection with prawns on a bed of mushroom risotto. Booking is a must as this restaurant is popular with local gourmets and those in the know.
Cost from 33€ for a selection of amuse-bouche, main course and dessert. For more information visit ‘t Landhuys website. Other recommended restaurants include Lobster and Othello and you’ll find some more great suggestions here, 3 Must Eat Restaurants in Oostende, Belgium.
2. The seafront
Ostend is also known as the ‘Queen of Belgium’s Seaside Resorts’ and has a stunning, wide stretch of golden sand. Stroll along the esplanade and the pier and you’ll find a brasserie at the end, perfect for enjoying a drink alfresco, when the sun shines. It can be a little windy and the water a little chilly but the beach can still get very busy here in July and August.
3. The local beer
Sadly there are no longer any breweries in Ostend itself but the Strubbe brewery in Ichtegem is about 20 minutes from Ostend and brews Dikke Mathile and Keyte beers.
Dikke Mathile (Fat Matilida, the local nickname for the Ostend sculpture, The Sea – a famously voluptuous lady) is described as a ‘typical Ostend beer’. It is a pale ale with an ABV of 6% and has a deep colour and good flavour.
First brewed on the 400th anniversary of the end of the horrendous 3 year siege of Ostend, Keyte is a Tripel beer with 7.7% ABV. The dark ale variation, Keyte Dobbel – Tripel, boasts a weighty ABV of 9.2 %.
There are of course many more great Belgium beers to discover!
4. The museums
There are a number of excellent museums to explore in Ostend, all included in the City Pass. Here we highlight just a few!
Atlantic Wall Museum
Set aside at least 2 hours to walk around this fascinating WW1 and WW2 museum. See bunkers, canons and walk through the trenches in this well-preserved site. The museum is outside so visit when the weather is nice and you’ll have a fascinating experience. The cost is 6.60€ per person and includes a very interesting audio guide. Please note this is not suitable for wheelchair users or people with walking difficulties, as there are over 400 steps around the 1.4 mile route. Please note that the museum closes in winter. Further information can be found here.
James Ensor Museum
The painter and printmaker, James Ensor, spent nearly all off his life in Ostend, living in the house he inherited with a bizarre souvenir shop downstairs. This major figure in the Belgian avant-garde of the late nineteenth century, also had an important influence on the development of Expressionism in the early twentieth century and was a large influence on future artists. The house has been lovingly restored to how it was in Ensor’s day and is now a fascinating and quirky museum. The Blue Drawing Room shown below, was where he created many of his most famous works. For further information can be found here.
The Mu.ZEE, which houses a unique collection of Belgian art dating from 1830 to the present day is also a ‘must see’ for any art lover and for anyone with an interest in maritime history will enjoy visiting the Amandine and the Mercator.
5. The parks
The largest park in Ostend is the Maria Hendrika Park, with man-made lakes, wooded areas and a network of foot and cycle paths while smaller Leopold Park has an interesting floral clock which is made up of thousands of plants and beneath it in the summer, more plants are re-arranged every day to show the date. The real gem, however, is found in the Koningspark by the seafront – a lovely Japanese garden called Shin Kai Tei which translates as Deep Sea Garden. It’s a tranquil spot where you can wander over little bridges and by waterfalls and stop and watch the colourful koi carp in the glistening ponds.
6. The tram
Belgium’s coastal tram connects the towns and villages from De Panne near the French border to Knokke near the border with the Netherlands. It’s a shame the view of the sea is often obscured by the sand dunes and much along the route is built-up but the trams are frequent and it is an inexpensive way to visit some lovely villages. It is the longest tram route in the world and a day ticket will allow you to hop on and off, wherever the fancy takes you. It can get very busy in peak season.
7. The church
Sint Petrus En Pauluskerk (St Peter and St Paul) neo-Gothic church looks very much older than its 100 years and is well worth looking around. It was commissioned by King Leopold II and completed in 1905, replacing an older church that burnt down in 1896. In fact, the king made such enthusiastic plans for the new church that people started to suspect that he started the fire himself!
The stained glass windows were destroyed in the World Wars and were replaced by windows depicting Belgian kings and queens and the Saints Peter and Paul, designed by Michiel Martens.
8. Marvin Gaye
The Marvin Gaye, Midnight Love Tour, will take you on a fascinating 2 hour journey exploring the relationship between the American singer and his adopted home of Ostend where his hit “Sexual Healing” was born. The tour is included in the City Pass or costs 5 € per person. For this you will be loaned an iPod which serves as your guide! These should be reserved in advance and collected from the Ostend Tourism Office.
Throughout the year, but especially in summer, there is a wonderful range of events including the annual kite festival in May and Disneyland® Paris Sand Magic throughout July and August – sand artists from around the globe have come together to create a fantasy world inspired by the magic of Disney! You can find out more about these and other events here.
10. The hotels
There are a number of very good three and four star hotels available through Great Escapes but my personal favourite is the art deco Mondo Hotel, conveniently located in the centre of town, in a quiet location.