Culture, heritage and history are everywhere you look in Flanders. Within the walls of stately museums, but also outside, in our magnificent open-air museums. Because culture also goes hand in hand with some good, fresh air.
During the 20th century, European history was defined by two world wars. Flanders did not escape the effects. Remnants of those dark days remain visible at Atlantikwall Raversyde, a fifty-hectare nature reserve and open-air museum in Ostend. Perched along the picturesque North Sea coast and partly submerged in the dunes are the remains of the Atlantikwall, the Germans’ line of defence. As you wander around, you will encounter over sixty bunkers, exposed and underground tunnels as well as observation posts and shelters. Through this experience, you can combine an impressive walk with a valuable history lesson.
As if the coastline isn't lovely enough in itself, you will also be treated to an abundance of art. Running as regular as clockwork, the BeaufortArts Triennial arrives to enliven the North Sea Coast. Engaging works of art are displayed everywhere along the sea walls, beaches and dunes. The 67 kilometres of coastline are temporarily transformed into a fantastical open-air museum. However, this art event doesn’t just come and go; it has also created a lasting artistic legacy. Visit the Beaufort Sculpture Park to admire 40 works of art from previous editions, a stunning crossover between art and nature.
Flemish Masters in an urban jungle
Flemish Masters come in all shapes, sizes and from varying time periods. These days, you can simply take to the streets to discover our latest masters, for example in Ostend. This pearl of the Belle Époque may be Flanders' largest open-air gallery today. Since 2016, The Crystal Ship has dropped its anchor here at regular intervals and this spectacular street art festival has left its indelible mark on the city. The art comes in all forms with some being of monumental proportions and others tucked away in corners, all of which are worth a look. Stroll through Ostend and be amazed by the dozens of works of street art that transform the city.
A scattering of statues in nature
Antwerp is a city of many treasures and Middelheim Museum is one of the loveliest. Middelheim Park features an impressive sculpture garden with some 200 works of art scattered about, surrounded by nature. Under stately trees and along generous footpaths, you will find works by renowned artists such as Auguste Rodin, Ai Weiwei, Guillaume Bijl and Panamarenko. Strolling through this artistic city park is a parade of pleasing encounters.
Pedalling through a museum
Who says museums can’t be explored by bicycle? Art in public space is a perfect opportunity to do so. This ‘art and architecture’ trail serves as a kind of open-air museum that begs to be visited on a bike. Starting at arts institution Z33, it takes in a variety of magnificent artistic and architectural interventions gracing the Limburg landscape. Reading between the Lines – the famous ‘see-through’ church – is one of the wide-ranging trail highlights. If you’re still in the mood for more, you can also drop by Bokrijk, an iconic open-air museum that shows how people lived and worked in the Flemish countryside in days of yore.
Rough, sloppy and astounding
Anyone who enters Verbeke Foundation’s vast premises is venturing into a tip-tilted universe. The first items to catch your eye are stacked containers, a helicopter, a railway carriage and an unbelievably enormous vase. Further inside, you will encounter art created from a stretch of motorway, a bomb shelter, a spaceship made of washing machines and many other strange objects and works of art. This unique private open-air museum is unlike anything else. The presentation of its mind-boggling collection is – as the proprietors put it – “unfinished, rough, sloppy, contradictory and inharmonious.” There is a brand-new exhibition in honour of the museum’s fifteenth anniversary, making it all the more special to visit.
The Ninth Art
Brussels is not just the European capital, it is also the capital of the comic strip. This so-called “Ninth Art” is firmly at home in Brussels. Famous comic characters such as Tintin, Gomer Goof and the Smurfs all originated in Brussels. The city continues to honour them. Throughout its streets, you will find magnificent murals immortalising over sixty famous comic book heroes. They are an ode to the comic strip, with the monumental avenues of Brussels acting as a spectacular open-air gallery.
Art and science laboratory of wonders
Koen Vanmechelen’s fascinating universe is built on the foundations of Limburg’s occasionally turbulent mining past and what used to be a zoo. This visionary artist has made it his life’s work to explore the intersections between art, identity, fertility and biocultural diversity. His world is made tangible in his own laboratory of wonders: Labiomista. This open-air museum of marvels spans 24 hectares (60 acres) and is also a garden of order and chaos, a cultural and natural stadium. It is an unknown, wonderous world that can be experienced under the open sky.
As you can see there are lots of examples (eight in all!) that prove our point! Flanders simply has too much to show! Which is why you can experience culture everywhere in Flanders, in stately museums but also outside, in the fresh air.