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Visiting Ostend in Belgium

Ostend, the favourite holiday spot for the Belgian kings Leopold I and Leopold II, is one of those cities that make travelling a pleasure as everything is within walking distance. It is possible to make a day trip to Ostend from Brussels as the train ride takes only 1 hour 15 minutes. And don't miss it if you are in Bruges as it is only 15 minutes away by train. Be warned though that this Flemish city is not too tourist-friendly. Everything is only in Flemish so you are likely to have a hard time finding your way around and a city map from the Tourism Office should be acquired before you start your wanderings. You will find the Tourism Office next to the Casino-Kursaal (picture below) which serves as a good point of reference as it is located midway along the esplanade. Budget travellers will be glad to learn that since February 2014 a youth hostel belonging to HiHostels has opened in Ostend. You can find more information here. (Picture above shows the unique floral clock at Leopold Park.)




If you are using a laptop or desktop PC you can click on the photos below for a larger version (1200 x 900px).
CASINO-KURSAAL
Hailed as a seaside resort in Belgium, Ostend has two great names linked to it. One is the painter James Ensor, who is associated with the expressionism and symbolism movements and the other is the musician Marvin Gaye, nicknamed "The Prince of the Soul". More below*
THERMAE PALACE
A good starting point for your leisurely evening walk along the Albert I-Promenade is the Thermae Palace Hotel. Head for the arcade where you will see the looming equestrian statue of Leopold II. It's quite awe-inspiring.
DANCING WAVES
Another sight that will catch your eye as you stroll along the esplanade fronting the sea is a sculpture by Patrick Steenon called Dancing Waves (Dansende Golven).
ROCK STRANGERS
As you walk further down you will come across what is known as "Rock Strangers", a number of huge, beaten-out-of-shape structures in red. They are the works of Arne Quinze, a Belgian conceptual artist who started out as a graffiti artist in Brussels.
FISH MARKET
Next you will pass by the daily fish auction market where the day's catch is brought in every morning 7 days a week (it's only closed on Christmas and New Year's Day) between 6 and 8 in the morning. No wonder you should only be eating fish when in Ostend!
AQUARIUM
Just next to the fish market is Ostend's North Sea Aquarium along Visserskaai, which is actually an extension of the Albert I-Promenade. This is quite a small aquarium but has a good collection of sea-shells. As you leave the aquarium look towards the port and if you are lucky you might see the ferry boat coming in or maybe it's already docked and waiting for the last passengers.
FREE SHUTTLE BOAT
It is with this free shuttle boat at Vissersplein (in case you want to look it up on your map) that you will be able to visit Napoleon's Fortress. The short 10-minute ride will take you to Maritiem Plein. There is nothing much here except Napoleon's Fortress. If you are not too keen to take the long walk to the fortress you can just enjoy the boat trip back to Vissersplein.
AMANDINE MUSEUM
Next on view at Vissersplein is the Amandine fishing boat which has since become an interactive museum. It was on 3rd April 1995 that it entered Oostende harbour for the last time after its fishing expedition on the waters of Iceland. More here...
RAILWAY STATION
Ostend's railway station is just behind the Amandine museum so if you should arrive by train you would already be in the port and the centre of things. If you want to head for the promenade turn right as you leave the railway station. Keep on walking and you will arrive at the beach.
BEACH
The seafront is Ostend's principal attraction. Note how fine and clean the sand is on the vast Ostend beach. There is room for everybody here unlike some beaches where you have to inch your way through the sun-bathing crowd.
LEOPOLD PARK
Leopold Park was built in 1860 during the reign of King Leopold II and was based on British parks with ponds, paths and flowerbeds. The magnificent floral clock is at the entrance to the park, which is hardly a 5 minutes' walk from the Casino-Kursaal.
SHOPPING
The principal shopping street in Ostend is the Kapellestraat, not far from the St. Peter and St. Paul Church. If you continue straight on from here to Vlaanderenstr. you will find yourself at the Albert I-Promenade again.


ALBERT I-PROMENADE
There are numerous souvenir shops, bars as well as restaurants along this long promenade along which you can enjoy the view of the seafront and fill your lungs with the invigorating air.
CHANGING BOOTH
Unlike other beaches where you have to look for a secluded area in order to change, here you have changing booths for your use. You will also find individual cabins further down the esplanade.
NEO-GOTHIC CHURCH
The St. Peter and Paul Church (Sint-Petrus-en-Pauluskerk) is a neo-Gothic church built in 1907 with a memorial chapel dedicated to Louise-Marie, Belgium's first queen. Just behind it is the Peperbusse, an old church tower.
NAPOLEON'S FORTRESS
This fortress is really for history buffs only as it is situated in the middle of nowhere. To go there take the free shuttle boat near the Aquarium along Visserskaai. You will need to walk for 15-20 minutes along deserted sandy dunes to reach it.

*It was in Ostend that Marvin Gaye spent two years of his later life away from drugs. The invigorating air of Ostend was what gave new life to a depressed Marvin Gaye whose clip for his famous song "Sexual Healing" was shot at Ostend's Casino-Kursaal. There is a statue of him playing a golden piano there today. You can even take a Marvin Gaye Midnight Love Tour while in Ostend.



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