A charming seaside town located in West Flanders, Oostende’s coastline is Belgium’s finest, but the city has so much more to offer. Here is a list of the grandest museums, the most delicious food, hippest festivals and most exciting attractions to explore on your next visit.
When you’re going to Oostende, the beach is your destination. Just ignore the high, not very romantic apartment blocks looking out over the sea because Oostende has one of the most pleasant beaches on the Belgian coastline, perfect for sunbathing, making sandcastles or flying kites. Swimming in the North Sea on sunny days is bliss, and Oostende’s seaside has enough ice cream stalls and go-cart rental shops to keep the children happy even if the weather isn’t all that.
Watch out for: the best ice creams when looking out over the sand and the sea
Oostende is known for its mussels and its shrimps. It is divine to taste the freshly made shrimp croquettes of Bij Moustache, the smallest fish shop in Belgium and the best one, too. They are crispy on the outside while the filling is deliciously smooth, creamy and tender. What’s even better is the taste of real, fresh, authentic shrimp. Their sandwiches with homemade fish salads are so appetizing as well, especially when you take out and savor it on the beach while hearing the waves break on the pier and smelling the salty sea breeze.
Every year in August the TAZ Festival takes place in Oostende. Translating to “Theatre by the Sea”, this event is unmissable for art lovers and culture adept. Theatre made by Belgium’s finest, modern dance and ballet performances, music by obscure bands and alternative singer-songwriters, plays for children and literary debates, this is Culture with a capital C. Located in schools, cafés, in abandoned warehouses and hangars, across the parks of Oostende and on the beach, this festival is entwined with the city and makes it extra vibrant during ten beautiful days.
There are many options to discover the area surrounding Oostende, but one of the best routes is the newly available Groen Lint trajectory. 32 kilometers alongside sand and sea, through dunes and forest, passing by the harbor and meadowland. It’s amazing and totally free. You can download the map here, remember to prepare a picnic and off you go.
Watch out for: the idyllic scenery
Address: Start at any point on the map, Oostende, Belgium
This museum celebrating Oostende’s most famous painter, James Ensor, is located in his former house and atelier and provides a unique insight into the slightly macabre brain of the artist. The first floor holds a regularly changing collection of Ensor’s paintings and drawings, while the salon and living room on the second floor are beautifully decorated as if the painter were still living there and could enter the room any minute. A small but stunning museum.
Opening hours: 10am – 5pm
Watch out for: the house’s architecture and interior
What’s the story, morning glory? A trip with a fishing boat is not for the faint-hearted and only for early birds. Embark the ship at 6 in the morning and return to the port of Oostende by 5pm, with a net full of mackerel, codfish, and plaice. What you catch is yours, so you will have fish for dinner for many days after. This trip is possible both in summer and winter, children (over 6 years old) will love it as well, and you will discover the North Sea on an entirely different level.
Opening hours: Weekends and holidays
Watch out for: the winter’s sunrise over the ocean
A unique tavern-restaurant where with a menu limited solely to roasted chicken, accompanied by bread, apple compote, and mayo, Koekoek is a must-go when in Oostende. Eating half a chicken with your hands (they don’t do cutlery) is just so much better, and the interior of the restaurant reminds you of long lost times, old taverns and giant pints of ale, both delicious and fun.
The truly serious art connoisseurs should head out to Mu.ZEE, where contemporary artists are represented alongside big names from Belgian art history. A unique collection of artworks from 1830 to the present day, Constant Permeke and Léon Spilliaert hang side by side with work by Luc Tuymans, Panamarenko and Roger Raveel. A must-see.
The city of Oostende has plenty of venues and streets where you can shop until you drop, but the coziest events to spend money are the markets. Spend the weekend strolling around the flower market or the fish market, and the Christmas market in winter. What else could be more fun than returning home with bags full of cheese, shrimps and a flower tucked away behind your ear? Forego the typical chain boutiques and head to these unique spots instead.
To commemorate what happened 100 years ago, Oostende offers a city walk based on the life of a tram conductor during the Great War. His story is entwined with the city’s war history. Being a city under occupation, the coast as a part of the German defense system and the harbor with its deadly submarines, there are many stories to tell and places to discover. Just remember the audio guide should be reserved beforehand at the tourism office.
Watch out for: all the information that will blow your mind