A summer break in Oostende: not your average beach town

Let's go to the beach-each 🌊

Looking for the perfect spot for a summer getaway from the Netherlands? Look no further than Oostende, a Belgian gem sitting on the coast of the Flemish North Sea.

For those craving more than sun-soaked beaches and traditional tourist attractions, Oostende offers a world of edgy art, cultural entertainment, and plenty of fun activities to do with the whole fam. 

How do I know this? Because I visited Oostende! So stroll along with me on this written tour of Oostende as I tell you about all the things you absolutely cannot miss.

Discover unique street art with the Crystal Ship tour

Crystal Ship turns the streets of Oostende into a giant open-air museum with some of the most impressive street art I’ve ever come across. 

What used to be mundane city walls are now canvases for graffiti art by artists from around the globe. Every corner has a story to tell, and each piece of art is bigger and bolder than the previous one. 👇

Street art big and small — anywhere you look! Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

The town offers a handy dandy app or booklet for visitors, which allows you to guide yourself past the impressive art. It boasts quite a few different routes, so you can make your tour as crazy as you want it to be. ⚡️

And speaking of art: one piece you can’t miss (partly because it’s red, giant, and right on the beach promenade) is ‘Rock Strangers’ by Arne Quinze!

You can’t miss this one! Image: Depositphotos

Wanna see even more art? Oostende has got your back!

Right now, Oostende is part of the Beaufort art festival, a three-yearly art event for which international artists create exciting installations in 10 Flemish coastal cities, always in close relationship with the sea and the coast. 🌊

In each of the participating coastal cities, one large work and one smaller project are on display until November 3. Dutch artist Femmy Otten is shining with her installation in Oostende. 👇

What a sight! Image: Beeldbank West-Vlaanderen

Live out your sailing dreams on the Mercator ship

For those seeking a more immersive experience, I recommend a visit to the Mercator ship. This huge ship stands tall as a symbol of Oostende’s maritime past. ⚓️

Once a training ship for the Belgian merchant navy, the Mercator is now a floating museum, welcoming visitors to relive its legacy. It’s permanently docked in the Oostende yacht port, an area you’ll want to check out when visiting anyways.

What a sight to see! Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

Climb up the gangway and you’ll find yourself transported back in time, tracing the steps of sailors who once ventured into the vast unknown. Mercator offers a unique experience and truly gives a feel of what life was like on such a vessel. 

Tip: Before you let yourself get carried away, make sure to check if the ship is open for visits!

Get a glimpse into Oostende’s past at Fort Napoleon

A short journey from the city centre, Fort Napoleon stands on top of a dune, guarding the secrets of Oostende’s history. As the name suggests, this fortified structure was commissioned by Napoleon himself — but it’s more than just an imposing facade. 

Fort Napoleon offers a glimpse into a time of war and strategic defence, letting you venture through underground passageways and peer through narrow slits used by soldiers in the past. 

A blast from the past. Image: DutchReview

Believe it or not: this is also a surprisingly good place to visit with kids. At the time of our visit, they had a nice interactive children’s exhibit set up. 

It’s also a great idea to enjoy lunch here, as the attached restaurant was heel lekker (as so often is the case in Flanders)!

On a less romantic but more practical note: there’s a free parking lot next to Fort Napoleon with ample space, making it perfect for your first or last stop when visiting Oostende. 😉 

Be inspired by the art of the Belgian master James Ensor

Back in the heart of the city, the Ensor House celebrates the works of the renowned Belgian artist, James Ensor, who is famous for his unconventional (and sometimes bizarre) paintings. 🎨

The museum houses an extensive collection of his masterpieces, each revealing a new layer of eccentricity and complexity. A must-see for art enthusiasts!

Even the architecture is artsy! Image: DutchReview

Tip: Time for food? Just five minutes away from the James Ensor House, you’ll find the rooftop terrace at the ‘Grote Post’ building. I recommend this place for excellent food and some of the best views Oostende has to offer! 

Oostende’s Ensor year

James Ensor’s artistic brilliance is not only on display at the James Ensor House. In fact, the entire city is currently celebrating the “Ensor Year”, as 2024 marks 75 years since the artist’s passing.

The year-long event hosts an array of exhibitions, performances, and festivities that pay homage to the Ensor’s avant-garde spirit. More info about all of this can be found here.

Take a stroll along the beach and promenade 

Of course, a visit to Oostende isn’t complete without a stroll along the shores of its pristine beach and promenade. 🌊

Sink your toes into the sand, breathe in the salty air, and enjoy your well-deserved break. The Oostende beach is long and wide, so it’s easy to secure yourself a stay with a stunning beach view.

We stayed at the Andromeda Hotel and were treated to this glorious view. Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

There are the Venetian galleries (nicely dubbed ‘gaanderijen’ in Flemish) and the grand Thermea Palace Hotel to stroll past.

And if you want to treat your kids and yourself to more than walking, then you can rent a 4-person skelter and cruise the promenade in style!

They see me rollin’… 😎 Image: Abuzer van Leeuwen

How to get to Oostende from the Netherlands?

Now that you’ve been enticed let’s tell you how to get here, shall we? If you’re travelling to Oostende from Amsterdam, there are two easy options: by car or by train.

Travelling to Oostende by car

The drive from Amsterdam to Oostende takes approximately three hours, offering you the freedom to explore the picturesque landscapes of Belgium along the way (or honestly, if timed wrong, get stuck in the Antwerp rush hour, don’t do that). 

Travelling to Oostende by train

On the other hand, the train journey is also convenient. High-speed trains connect Amsterdam Central Station to Oostende in around three hours, providing a comfortable and somewhat stress-free experience.

A trip to Oostende is not just another standard Flemish city trip. It’s good in the summer for the beach-lovers, but it’s just as great in the winter, as it’s much more than just a beach town. 

This place truly has something to offer for everyone: from urban art to maritime history and the good ol’ beach (oh, and tons of delicious food and drinks).

For more info and the Oostende activity calendar, check out Visit Ostend. Veel plezier!

Have you ever visited Oostende? What’s your favourite Belgian town to trip to? Let us know in the comments!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱
Abuzer van Leeuwen 🇳🇱http://www.abuzervanleeuwen.nl
Abuzer founded DutchReview a decade ago because he thought expats needed it and wanted to make amends for the Dutch cuisine. He has a Masters in Political Science and IT but somewhere always wanted to study history or good old football. He also a mortgage in the Netherlands and will happily tell you too how to get one. Born and raised in Rotterdam, Abuzer now lives in Leiden but is always longing back to his own international year in Italy.

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