Once known as the “Queen of Belgium’s seaside resorts,” Ostend has grown from an exclusive hangout for royalty and aristocrats into an every-person kind of destination. Come summer in Belgium, scores of Belgian citizens take Ostend vacations to enjoy the beach and overall atmosphere, and international visitors like to spend some time here too in the warmer months. With a population of around 70,000 people, Ostend Belgium is the largest city on the country’s North Sea coast, and it is well linked by train to inland cities like Brussels and Brugge. The train trip from Brussels only takes 70 minutes, and since Brugge is just 12 miles away, you can get here in no time by rail. There’s plenty to do when it comes to Ostend travel, so you might just choose to spend more than just a day here walking on its wide beach.
Ostend Belgium rose from a small fishing village into a port city of growing importance. In the 1700s, attempts were made by Charles VI to turn it into a major player on the international trade front. By the 1800s, the city’s expanding harbor dock brought Ostend into prominence, and by 1838, a railway connection was forged between Ostend and Brussels. Soon thereafter, Ostend travel started to become quite vogue. The “First King of Belgium,” Leopold I, and his son, Leopold II, both enjoyed taking Ostend vacations in the 1800s, and the seaside port became something of a destination for the rich and important. In the twentieth century, however, wars brought significant destruction to Ostend. Opulent villas not ravaged in wars were subsequently razed to build a newer city, which today invites visitors of all income levels. Knokke, which is just up the coast, offers a more exclusive feel that some travelers prefer, and you can always hop on the coastal Kustrram (tram) in Ostend and visit the Knokke Heist area, not to mention other Belgian seaside resorts along the country’s 42-mile coastal stretch.
As for things to do on Ostend vacations, there is something for everyone. Ostend tours that involve some of the city’s best sights are recommended. Ostend attractions like St Peter and St Paul’s Church and Fort Napoleon deserve some attention, and for art enthusiasts, the city’s Fine Arts Museum is a must. St Peter and St Paul’s Church is a dazzling neo-Gothic structure that was consecrated in 1908. It was modeled after both the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, and the Votivkirche in Vienna. Though the church’s original stained-glass windows were destroyed in WWII, new ones that depict past Belgian kings have been added. Found next to St Peter and St Paul’s Church is a piece of the old church that once stood on the same site. The Peperbusse, as this tower is known, dates back to the 1400s, and today it houses a small museum. Fort Napoleon, which was built in 1810, is one of the most complete Napoleonic forts that is still standing today. Bricklayers from Ostend and hundreds of Spanish prisoners had the unenviable task of building Fort Napoleon, which was used by German officers for barracks during WWII. Fort Napoleon can be found on the north side of the city.
Belgium is an ideal destination for art lovers, and among the Ostend attractions is a fine museum that highlights works by Belgian impressionists, some of which hail from the Ostend area. The Fine Arts Museum in Ostend Belgium requires a small admission fee. Among the more notable works at this museum is Bathing at Ostend, which was painted by Ostend native James Ensor. A racy painting, especially by 1899 standards, this work caused quite a bit of commotion among Belgium’s elite at the time. For those who like art and history, the James Ensor house makes for a recommended stop on Ostend tours. Though only reproductions of Ensor’s works are housed here, it is interesting to note the views and characteristics of the house that have made it into some of his works. For more insight into Ostend’s history, the De Plate Ostend Historical Museum, which is housed in King Leopold I’s nineteenth-century abode, should also figure on your Ostend travel itinerary. Some of the artifacts here go back to Neolithic and Roman times, and the recreations of an old fisherman’s pub and an old tobacco store are quite interesting.
When you’re not sightseeing on Ostend vacations, it is understandable that you might head directly to the beach to relax, swim, or even windsurf, and the beachfront promenade is fun for strolls or bicycle rides. Enjoying fresh seafood is part of what makes Ostend travel so attractive, and there is quite a lively nightlife scene here, especially in the peak summer season. Ostend Belgium also has one of Europe’s largest casinos, where visitors can enjoy more than 26,000 square feet of gaming space. Both slot machines and table games can be enjoyed at the casino. Sure, you can visit Ostend Belgium on a day trip from Brugge, Brussels, or Knokke, but you might also consider booking a room at one of the Ostend hotels to spend at least a bit more time here.