The proximity to the sea has always been a double-edged sword for Oostende (or Ostend). On the one hand, being situated on the North Sea coast has meant advantages for the city in the form of trade and fishing. On the other hand, enemy men-o’-war and armies have sometimes found the city on the shores of the North Sea to be an easy target. Examples include the Siege of Oostende, which lasted for three years (between 1601 and 1604).
Oostende, which received its city status rights in 1265, counts almost 70,000 inhabitants. Nowadays an industrial center and a rail transportation hub, the sea also continues to be highly important to the city’s residents. With 5.6 miles (9 kilometers) of sandy beaches, Oostende is a major holiday destination for many Belgians (and foreigners, too).
Tourism and Oostende go back quite some time. In the mid-1800s, the Belgian king Leopold I spent many of his holidays here. Leopold II followed in his father’s footsteps, and, as a result, many villas and monuments were built for the Royal family. As Belgium’s rich and famous of the nineteenth century continued to spend their holidays in Oostende, the city came to be known as “The Queen of Belgian sea-side resorts.”
The famous seaside promenade is the place to be in Oostende (at least during summertime). The Albert I Promenade is named after king Albert I, who succeeded Leopold II. Dominating the view of the promenade is the Casino Kursaal. Built in white Portland stone, the building is in fact the second casino being built on that spot. The first casino (built in 1875) was demolished when the Nazis built the Atlantic Wall defense structure during the Second World War.
Oostende is situated in the region of West Flanders. Most of the city’s residents speak Flemish (Dutch) but also have knowledge of English, French and German.
Oostende’s cruise port is situated next to the city’s railway station. A short walk will take you to the city center, with all that it has to offer in terms of shopping and culture. See below under Do Not Miss and Museums.
Cruise passengers who enjoy exploring destinations on their own should make sure they get a copy of Visit Ostend – A City Walk. The brochure features a handy guide that will take readers on a 3.7 mile (6 kilometers) walk through the city. Top museums and attractions are also listed. Visit Ostend – A City Walk can be obtained from the tourist information office in central Oostende (Street address: Monacoplein 2).
- Fort Napoleon is a massive defense structure, built by the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in fear of a possible invasion from England. Napoleon had to wait in vain for the English, however, and the fort was only completed in 1814 – the year of Napoleon’s fall. Situated some 2.8 miles (4.6 kilometers) from the city center, the fort also houses a good restaurant. Street address: Vuurtorenweg
- Domain Raversijde. With one of the best preserved remnants of the so-called Atlantic Wall, Raversijde provides a fascinating (and horrifying) insight in the atrocities of the Second World War. The Aachen battery, a remainder from the First World War, is also situated in Raversijde. But there’s more to the area than just war monuments: Since 1992, a medieval fishing village has been excavated here. The distance from central Oostende is about 3.4 miles, or 5.5 kilometers. Street address: Nieuwpoortsesteenweg 636
- The Japanese Garden. An oasis of calm, this Japanese garden is a place for contemplation and tranquility – right in the middle of central Oostende. Street address: Koningsstraat/Koningin Astridlaan
- Modeled after an English park, the Leopoldpark was finished in 1870. Oostende’s famous floral clock with its 20,000 plants was placed here in 1963. The date – made of flowers – is adjusted daily during the summer months. Street address: Leopold II-Laan
- The Casino Kursaal. The throbbing heart of Oostende, the casino traces it origins back to 1875. Architecturally an expression of modernism, the current casino building was finished in 1953. It is now one of the largest and most well-equipped convention and concert halls in Belgium. Under the roofs of the casino, you will also find a coffee house, the exclusive Ostend Queen Fish Brasserie and a lounge. The casino is situated on the well-known Albert I Promenade, amid the many tearooms that face the sea. Street address: Monacoplein
- Shopping. Although Oostende is relatively modest in size, the city is in no shortage of shops specializing in clothes, accessories and gifts.
As a reflection of Oostende’s proximity to the sea, both boat trips and fishing tours depart the city during summer.
You will find a number of museums in Oostende and its vicinities. Examples include:
- The Mercator, a three-masted tall ship hosting a nautical museum. Built in 1932, this sailing ship still occasionally partakes in international sailing shows. Street address: Mercatordok (in front of the train station)
- Art museum by the sea has its focus on contemporary art. At the core of the collection are works by James Ensor and Leon Spilliaert, both with a connection to Oostende. Visitors will also find various works by representatives of the modernist movement on display. Street address: Romestraat 11.
Oostende also features several art galleries.
- Some 20 miles (32 kilometers) from Oostende is Bruges (Brugge in Flemish), with its historic city center (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Although few, traces have been found of human activity from Pre-Roman times. Most of the city’s medieval architecture is intact.
- Kortrijk (Courtrai in French) was once at the crossroads of important Roman roads. Much of the city’s medieval architecture remains intact.
- Ypres (Ieper in Flemish), with its medieval houses, is surrounded by war graves – a remnant of the wars that torn the European continent apart in the early 1900s.
- Major Belgian cities, such as Ghent, Antwerp and Brussels, can be reached by high-speed train, car or coach.
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An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com