Ostend beach

24 Hours in Ostend: Belgium’s Beautiful City by the Sea

Marvin Gaye was drawn to the largest town on the Belgian coast before Lonely Planet had even written the guidebook. With majestic buildings steeped in history, golden beaches just off the beaten track, and the best pancakes this side of the Atlantic, it’s easy to see why. The town just seems to inspire everyone who visits. Buildings boast giant murals, sand sculptures line the water’s edge, and markets and festivals pop up throughout the year. Got 24 hours to spare? Here’s our handy guide to what to do in Ostend.

Ostend: The pulse of creativity

art in Ostend

After arriving in Zeebrugge, drive west along the stunning coastline and you’ll find yourself at the heart of Ostend in just 40 minutes. In 1981, Marvin Gaye took refuge from his tumultuous lifestyle on the town’s ancient streets, and his renewed verve prompted him to write ‘Sexual Healing’. Walls across the city are home to artworks by world-renowned street artists, and performers take over the town during the festivals. Ostend’s creative vibe is what makes it one of the best places to visit in Belgium.

Morning: Living like a local

Ostend beach

The morning is best spent taking a walk along the promenade. Explore the narrow streets of Vissersplein on foot, home to a vibrant Christmas market in December, before heading to one of the Flemish Pannenkoekenhuis (pancake houses) for a morning treat. In fine weather, drive a short distance down the coast to escape the tourist hotspots. Get yourself a quiet spot on the beach with the locals and take a refreshing dip in the sea.

Afternoon: Back to nature

Leopoldpark lies just a couple of blocks inland. Grab some Belgian frites and a bottle of Dikke Mathile beer on your way in, and enjoy a picnic in the stunning grounds. Hikers flock to this park to explore the sculpture trail, and especially to see George Grard’s The Sea – though the locals call this large stone woman lying at the centre of the park’s pond ‘Dikke Mathile’ – which bluntly translates as Fat Matilde’. Other highlights include a beautiful flower clock, and a massive lioness and cub seated on the sole remaining piece of the inner city’s old fortifications.

Evening: Seafood in the historic centre

Fishing in Ostend

To finish the afternoon, be sure to visit the Atlantic Wall museum towards the south of the city. This open air attraction lets you explore the history of the World Wars from the original trenches, which are some of the very best preserved in Europe. Afterwards, treat yourself to some of the continent’s freshest seafood as you watch the sun set over the North Sea. Whether you’re staying for one day or the whole week, you’ll never be at a loss for what to do in Ostend.

Start planning your Belgium break with our handy travel guide.