Travelling to the coast usually means beach, sun and fun. The Belgium seaside resort Knokke offers all of that, and more. With over 85 art galleries scattered across town, several dozens of artworks in public spaces (some are in the sea!) and interesting local museums, Knokke is a true art lover’s paradise.
Knokke is also where the Belgian rich and famous come to relax and the coastal town is cheekily referred to as the Saint-Tropez or Monaco of the north by the rest of the country. You can expect to see lots of expensive cars, bling-bling and designer clothes as you stroll across Knokke boulevard. On the tourism section of the Knokke municipality website, you can find an overview of almost all the art galleries in Knokke. Some of our favourites include Retsin, where Belgian pop artist Gilbert Retsin displays his own work. Unfortunately, he is only open on weekends, but you can always call ahead and make an appointment.
Another must-visit is Bogert Gallery, which focuses on mostly abstract paintings by both known and up-and-coming artists. Occasionally, there are so-called Kunstbabbels, guided tours through the gallery where artists explain their work. For archeological and ethnographic artefacts and textiles, you should go to Galerie Bart Wille and for beautiful beach photography, you’ll want to stop by Jones Gallery, where Tom D. Jones displays his amazing shots of not only Knokke Beach but of Mother Nature’s finest places all over the world. If you want to have your own picture taken when you’re in Knokke, you can book an appointment with Tom’s wife Sylvia, who specialises in portrait photography.
If you want to check out some works by world-famous artists, Winwood Gallery is the place to be, with artworks by Francis Bacon, Robert Mapplethorpe and David Hockney on display, among many others. You also don’t want to miss Galerie 713, which explores and highlights a different art movement every two months.
Three times a year, Knokke becomes extra arty with the festival, Art Knokke-Heist. Always held over a weekend, Art Knokke-Heist is on during the Easter holidays (end of March, early April) and both the first weekend of summer (the end of June) and the first weekend of autumn (late October). During Art Knokke-Heist, most art galleries have special events and vernissages and draw bigger crowds than usual.
Art in Knokke is not only on display in galleries, there are also many public artworks to be found on street corners, squares, the beach and some, even in the sea! If you’re on the beach, try and find The Sea, That Amazing Sculptor by Jean-Michel Folon, which is a sculpture of a man sitting in the sea. Folon was inspired by the Belgian surreal artist Magritte. It is located roughly across from the Ralph Lauren store on Zeedijk 748.
Hard to miss are the Two Large AVL Men, standing in the middle of the Abraham Hansplein roundabout. Created by Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout, this large duo of bright orange greeting men have become a beacon for the town. Another crowd favourite in Knokke’s public space is Hospitality by Welsh sculptor Barry Flanagan. You can find this ‘flying’ rabbit in the dunes at the end of Zeedijk in the nature reserve, Het Zwin.
All of this art exploring can make you hungry and thirsty. Luckily, with five Michelin star restaurants, Knokke is the most famous gastropole on the Belgian coast. Cuines 33 currently has one Michelin star and is run by two brothers (both chefs) and their sister. The interior was designed by Belgian top interior designer Lieven Musschoot and gives the place an eclectic feel, with a hint of a 1950s atmosphere. Make sure to try the tapas menu. If you’re looking for something a little cheaper, Alexandra is a good option, serving mostly French cuisine and seafood. The homemade North Sea shrimp croquettes are recommended.
For something a little more exotic, Orchidee Thai serves the best Asian food in town. Take away is an option, so if the weather is nice, you can order your food to go and opt for a picnic on the beach. For snacks and lunch, head over to Septime’s Jazz Café, where you can enjoy your coffee while listening to some relaxing tunes and checking out the black and white photography on the wall. For the best coffee and tea in Knokke, you should head over to Brazila, where you can pick your favourite coffee flavour from the menu, which is then freshly ground while you wait. If you’re not well-versed in the variety of coffee flavours on offer, staff are more than happy to help you pick your poison.
If you want to stay in Knokke overnight so you can have another day to explore this lovely town, there are plenty of accommodation options. All the big hotel chains are represented here and those looking for a more traditional experience can spend the night in a typical country-style cottage. If you’re eager to stick with the art theme, Bea B&B is located on a quiet street just outside the city centre and is entirely decorated with design furniture. If you’d rather invest your money in art, rather than spend it on accommodation, the cheapest option to stay overnight is most likely the Sleep Inn Lakeside Paradise, the only hostel in town, located on the beach front.