Flanders from above - the Belgian Coast

Flanders isn’t the largest of regions, but that doesn’t stop the Belgian seashore from being grand. There you’ll find no less than 42 miles (68 km) of sandy coastline. This area is famous for its pristine beaches, fresh seafood and inspirational art. Thankfully, that’s all effortlessly accessible via the longest tram line in the world, the coastal tram, which runs from Knokke to De Panne. Everything in between those ends is worth a visit, but this guide can help point out some of the highlights.

Day 1: Ostend as base camp

Do you like to keep busy? Because Ostend has it all. From shopping – the stores are even open on Sunday – to blissful beaches, dazzling artworks and natural splendour.

Ostend - Rock Strangers, by artist Arne Quinze

To get a taste of artistic Ostend, you don’t even have to go to a museum, just by walking around you’ll bump into a treasure trove of jaw-dropping masterpieces courtesy of The Crystal Ship festival. This unique street art festival has made an indelible impression on the city, literally. With over 50 outdoor works, Ostend had turned into a permanent, walkable art gallery. Pick up a map, join the weekly guided tour or wander and let serendipity choose your path for you.

If you prefer your art in a more classical environment, there’s always Mu.ZEE. This museum presents an ever-changing exhibition of Belgian art from 1850 onwards. The highlights include pieces by Ostend’s own James Ensor, expressionist Constant Permeke and symbolist Léon Spilliaert.

James Ensor, De daken van Oostende (roofs of Ostend) 1901 - collectie Mu.ZEE - (CC)License - photo Frans Vandewalle (resized image)

If your artistic thirst is still not quenched, you might want to check out Beaufort. This triennial art project is spread along the entire coastline. The current edition is open until September, but even after that, it’s still worth a visit. In the last 15 years, plenty of the festival’s masterpieces have become permanent artistic landmarks, all easily accessible via the coastal tram.

Beaufort Middelkerke - The Navigator by Simon Dybbroe Moller - ©Westtoer - Photo Jimmy Kets

These artistic wonders are only a 45-minute tram ride away from culinary heaven: charming Oostduinkerke. Along its long, sandy beaches, you’ll spot fishermen on horseback, wading through the North Sea’s surf. These robust fellas are fishing for shrimp, a unique tradition that dates back 700 years and is recognised as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. The beaches of Oostduinkerke are the only place in the world where this curious method of shrimp fishing is still practiced.

Shrimp Fishermen in Oostduinkerke -©Dirk Van Hove

For a taste of this delicious delicacy, find a table at Estaminet de Peerdevisscher, a restaurant run by a horse-fishing family. Try those fantastic grey shrimps, and you’ll know what the fuss is about. If you’d like to learn more about this fascinating ritual, you’re in luck. De Peerdevisscher is the in-house tavern of Navigo, the National Fisheries Museum. This museum offers an in-depth look at the history of Flemish fishing, complete with aquariums, antique models of fishing boats and even a historic fisherman’s cottage. A feast for the stomach and the mind.

Coast through your evening

How would you like to spend an evening at the seaside, watching the sunset, enjoying a glass of authentic Belgian beer and a steaming pot of fresh mussels? You’ll find no shortage of restaurants along the promenade. And most of them have outdoor terraces, usually with protection from the wind and heaters, for your comfort and delight.

A steaming pot of fresh mussels

Day 2: travel back into time

On this second day of Belgian coast, we’ll discover the wider Ostend area. Raversyde, for instance, is home to very diverse array of exhibits in a beautiful scenic park close to the beach. One of these exhibitions tells the story of the small medieval fishing village of Walraversijde. In the 15th century it was literally buried by heavy sands, blown from the nearby dunes. It was lost for almost 400. Since its rediscovery in 1992, it has become a mecca for archaeologists.

Scenic Parc Raversyde in Ostend - ©Westtoer

Another of Raversyde’s attractions is the Atlantik Wall Open-Air Museum. There you’ll wander across the living quarters, bunkers and trenches that served as the primary defence for the German army during both World Wars. Although they once extended from the French–Spanish border to Norway, very few of these defences still exist, and even fewer in the carefully preserved condition you’ll find here.

Atlantikwall Raversyde - Ostend

Get back to nature

After these two chunks of history, it’s time to pop back into nature, for instance in Zwin Nature Park. This unique area is considered Belgium’s international airport for migratory birds. Many thousands of bird species come here during the winter or to lay eggs. It’s a must for anyone interested in our feathered friends, or for that matter, tree frogs, marsh rabbits and beautiful landscapes.

Nature Park Het Zwin in Knokke-Heist

This stunning nature park offers plenty of walking and cycling trails and a visitor’s centre where you can discover more information the local wildlife. Make sure you leave time to watch the sunset in this picturesque natural backdrop.

Endless possibilities

The selection above is just the tip of the figurative coastal iceberg. Do you want alternatives? There are plenty. Take De Panne, for instance. Not only is it home to one of the most popular beaches on the Flemish coast, it also offers a perfect getaway for the whole family: Plopsaland, a fun amusement park with thrilling rides, gaming arcades and themed areas to enjoy.

Beach in De Panne ©Westtoer

If you like shopping, there’s always Knokke, or the up and coming Nieuwpoort to stroll along fancy boutiques. Koksijde is another artistic gem on the coastal crown. It was the hometown of famous surrealist Paul Delvaux. The museum that carries his name is an homage to his legacy. If you’re still yearning for more heritage, make a stop at the Ostend Fort Napoleon, commissioned by the emperor himself, over 200 years ago. The former military post is now open to the public.

Fort Napoleon in Ostend - ©Westtoer

Whichever way you go, there’s only one way to end your 48-hour trip to the Belgian coast: a grand sunset. We can promise you, once you’ve had a taste of what the Flemish seaside has to offer, you’ll certainly want to come back for more. See you soon!

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