The country of Belgium has been firmly established as a unique destination for travelers from all over the world. And the city of Ostend has played an increasingly larger role in the nation’s popularity, partly due to it being Belgium’s largest city on its North Sea coastline. Behind Ostend’s overwhelming appeal lies a vivid and multi-faceted history spanning back hundreds of years, which includes some highly significant events and individuals. When visiting Ostend, it pays to check out all of what makes this city such a prized part of Belgium and Europe as a whole. Here are ten of the best things to do while visiting to truly appreciate that feeling.
1. Hippodrome Wellington
The Hippodrome Wellington is a key part of Ostend’s history. This racetrack, first built in 1883, was named for Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington who was a major figure in British and continental European affairs until his passing in the mid 1800s. Racing events still take place here, including harness racing – one major race is held every July, the Grand Prix Prince Rose. Renovations to the racetrack in 2004 brought about the Wellington Golf Course, and another upgrade took place in 2011. The Hippodrome also serves as a popular music venue that has hosted stars like the late Michael Jackson and David Bowie among others.
Address: Nieuwpoortsesteenweg 114, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Website: Hippodrome Wellington (in Dutch)
2. Marvin Gaye Walking Tour
In 1981, Ostend became the scene of the rebirth of one of music’s most iconic performers to ever grace the stage. Marvin Gaye, who was on a downward spiral due to lack of interest in his music by fans as well as his personal struggles with drug addiction, came to Ostend as a way to get away from it all. Local club promoter Freddy Cousaert befriended Gaye and helped him stay clean and in the process, helped him make a stunning comeback spurred by his Midnight Love album which he recorded in Belgium. This is all chronicled on a walking tour that’s designed to celebrate the life of the late singer by taking people to the various locations and other points of interest that he was at in conjunction with an audio narrative featuring commentary from Gaye himself as well as Cousaert and other historians.
Marvin Gaye Walking Tour
Website: Marvin Gaye Walking Tour
3. The Royal Galleries of Ostend
This architectural point of interest stands out mightily in Ostend. Built between 1902 and 1906, they were reputedly a highly favored site by King Leopold II and were a way for the royal family to travel from the beach to their villa at the Hippodrome Wellington racetrack without having to deal with inclement weather. The galleries are atop a dike. The galleries were also included as part of the Atlantic Wall military fortifications used by Germany during World War II. Another feature to be found here lies is the Thermae Palace, a luxury hotel that is built within the central region of the galleries.
The Royal Galleries of Ostend
Website: The Royal Galleries of Ostend
4. Museum Amandine
The Museum Amandine is an ode to Belgium’s maritime history, particularly when it comes to ice fishing which was a big part of Ostend’s culture. The vessel docked after its last voyage in 1995 and after two years of hefty revamping has become a shipboard museum for curious visitors who’ll be attracted by its sharp green hull. While aboard, guests can learn how the Amandine operated while catching huge amounts of cod and other fish that populate the North Sea.
Address: Vindictivelaan 35Z, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Website: Museum Amandine
5. The Mercator
A short distance from the Museum Amandine, the Mercator sits docked as a striking piece of maritime culture in Belgium. The ship was built in Scotland sometime in the early 1930s, and was pressed into service first as a scientific expedition vessel that made trips to the South Pacific islands including Tahiti as well as stopping over in the Hawaiian Islands. A couple of years later, the Mercator was conscripted into the British Navy for duty as a submarine spotter during World War II. Afterwards, it became a training ship until it was decommissioned in 1960. Thanks to non-profit groups and historians, the Mercator now sits as a maritime museum fully restored to its sailing glory right down to the pristine cabins.
Address: Mercatordok, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Website: The Mercator
6. Ostend City Museum
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
This museum is a cornucopia containing the history of the city of Ostend and the surrounding area. Located on the Langestraat overlooking the North Sea, the Ostend City Museum is housed in a building that was once home to Napoleon and Queen Louise-Marie. After undergoing renovations in 2012, the old manor officially became the Ostend City Museum. Those who visit will be greeted with numerous artifacts detailing the history of the former royal family as well as other exhibits capturing Ostend’s history throughout the years.
Ostend City Museum
Address: Langestraat 69 8400 Oostende
Website: Ostend City Museum
7. Sint Petrus-en-Paulsuerk
Sint Petrus-en-Paulsuerk is the primary church of Ostend, and is a Neo-Gothic architectural marvel that is built directly on the remains of an older church which succumbed to fire. Supported by King Leopold II, this church was constructed first in 1899, taking six years to complete. It’s a highly attractive must-see for visitors, who will marvel at the spires of the church as well as the stained glass windows which were replacements for the previous ones lost to artillery fire during the German occupation that took place in World War II.
Address: Prins Boudewijnstraat, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Website: Sint Petrus-en-Paulsuerk
8. Crystal Ship Public Art Exhibition
The Crystal Ship is an art group that is dedicated to bringing people together under the umbrella of compelling public art. For the past 2 years, the group has called upon various artists to create murals on public wall spaces throughout Ostend in an annual festival. The art also ranges down to smaller installations as well. To date, The Crystal Ship has been responsible for over 200 pieces of public art in the city. Visitors who are intrigued can go to their website and sign up for public tours to see them all in their glory.
Crystal Ship Public Art Exhibition
Website: Crystal Ship Public Art Exhibition
9. Atlantic Wall Museum
The Atlantic Wall Museum is one of the older components of the Raversyde Park system in Ostend, and is a highly visible reminder that two World Wars were once fought on its shores. Visitors here will see the concrete battlements rising from the grassy dunes that made up part of the Atlantic Wall, a major line of German fortification built in World War II that stretched from France to the Norwegian border. There’s also part of the complex that was built by the Germans in World War I. Preserved by royal decree, the museum also hosts events throughout the year that harken to enlighten those about what took place there.
Atlantic Wall Museum
Address: Duinenweg 280, 8400 Oostende, Belgium
Website: Atlantic Wall Museum
10. Ride The Kusltram
The Kusltram, or Coastal Tram, is quite possibly the best way to experience the vibrant scenes that can be found along the Flemish coastline. It runs from the town of De Panne by the French border all the way to Knokke at the Dutch border. The Kusltram makes multiple stops in Ostend as well as all of the other towns, and there are packages available for you to sightsee in different areas through their website.
Ride The Kusltram
Website: Ride The Kusltram
A final overview of Ostend
The city of Ostend possesses an atmosphere that has been an inspiration to many. Travelers here will find themselves looking at Belgium in a different light once they spend time here, and no matter if it’s through artwork that stretches through the ages or in the simple pleasure of making their way through the seaside landscape, they can be sure that this gem of the Flemish coast will make their trip shine that much brighter.
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