Friends told me about Ostend once or twice before, a pleasant seaside city in Belgium. But other than that vague idea, Ostend was still completely new to me. Until this spring. That’s when I got word of a certain street art festival called The Crystal Ship. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was enough to convince me to hop on the train. I was more than ready to spend a few days in town to discover the coolest things to do in Ostend, Belgium. And let me tell you: I was not disappointed.
Belgium’s Sunniest City: What are the Best Things to Do in Ostend?
What I found wasn’t just an incredible repertoire of next level street art, especially for the size of this surprising city (population of 71,000). Ostend turned out to be much more versatile than I expected. When you look beyond the sandy beaches, you’ll also discover stylish shops, trendy cafes, delicious dishes, and a relaxed yet lively and youthful atmosphere. What’s fascinating is that I certainly wasn’t the first person to fall for Ostend’s charms. Expressionist and surrealist painter James Ensor spent many years in the Belgian city and Marvin Gaye even wrote his iconic song ‘Sexual Healing’ in Ostend while recovering from his drug addiction. Let’s dive in a bit more and look at all the things you can experience in Belgium’s sunniest city (yes, it’s an official title).
1. Discover the Incredible Street Art All Around Ostend
In recent years, many European cities have upped their street art game and kick-started creative mural projects. I’ve seen amazing examples in Brussels, Krakow and the Centro region in Portugal, but the street art in Ostend might just be my favourite so far. The street art festival in Ostend is called ‘The Crystal Ship‘ and there are already over 50 murals around town. New works are added to the streets every year in April. Slowly, the city is turning into an open air art gallery.
Highlights include a pyramid of rodents by the anonymous Roa, tongue-in-cheek illustrations of garbage collectors by Jaune, and a colourful composition about plastic pollution by Marina Capdevila. Other murals I personally loved are ‘La Femme en Couleur’ by Dourone, Elian’s optical illusion and Bosoletti’s ‘#Nofilter’, which is painted in negative.
2. Relax on the Beach, Take a Dip in the Sea & Stroll Along the Shore
Obviously, if you’re heading to Belgium’s biggest and sunniest coastal city, you can’t really skip a day at the beach. Check if the weather will be sunny and go for a swim or surf and spend a few hours sunbathing. Not the best temperatures for a dip in the sea? Go on a refreshing beach walk to pick up shells or listen to the sound of the crashing waves. Whatever floats your boat, since you can’t really go wrong. In the summer months, you can also look forward to events like the Ostend Beach music festival (July) and the sand sculpture festival (June-September).
3. Try the Fresh Fish and Typical Shrimp Croquettes
Thanks to its seaside location, Ostend is well-known as one of the best places in Belgium to try fresh fish recipes and other typical seafood dishes. A great brasserie to do so is Histoires d’O. I chose the ‘sliptong’ (common sole flatfish) for lunch and also had a few bites of the popular shrimp croquettes. I would encourage you to try either of those two dishes! The restaurant is open year-round and the outdoor terrace is a lovely spot for a refreshing drink in summer.
4. Shopping in Ostend: Fashion at LILY’s and Indoor Jungle Plants at Fleur de Lies
If the incredible street art, sandy beaches and mouth-watering meals aren’t enough to satisfy your cravings, you should probably head into town for some serious shopping. Ostend certainly doesn’t have shortage of excellent boutiques, chocolatiers, and florists. My favourite store in central Ostend is concept store LILY. The store has a feminine touch and sells colourful fashion, stylish accessories, stationary and all sorts of thingamabobs. Another one of my favourite spots is Fleur de Lies. Here, you can buy adorable baby cacti or participate in a terrarrium workshop. Just know that I’m trying to grow my own indoor jungle, so I might be a bit biased.
5. Take the Free Ferry Across the Outport to see the Lighthouse Quarter in Ostend
Another fun but also one of the most budget-friendly things to do in Ostend is taking the free ferry for pedestrians and cyclists from the town center across the outport. The ferry will then take you to the Oosteroever (East Bank), where you’ll be able to explore interesting sights like the charismatic ‘Lange Nelle’ lighthouse and the historic Fort Napoleon. Of course, you’ll also find a few murals in this area. What’s more, it’s a great place to go on a short hike in the dunes along the shore and chill on the beach, away from any potential crowds.
6. Plan a Lunch or Dinner Date at Mommy’s Bastards
Another great foodie spot you won’t want to miss is Mommy’s Bastards. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner and used to specialise in mussels. But the mussels got so enormously popular, that customers weren’t ordering anything else. So, recently, the trendy restaurant went through a major re-branding and updated its interior. The mussels are still on the menu (with an added oriental touch), but perhaps you will want to try the veggie burger or tuna poké bowl instead. Shrimp croquettes are also on the menu, in case you didn’t try them yet.
7. Have Traditional Italian Ice Cream For Dessert at Gelato Maxzim
When I asked the locals, they told me that Gelato Maxzim is probably the best place to get your fill of delicious Italian-style ice cream scoops. On warm and sunny days, you may have to get in line to get a taste of the traditional gelato, but it should be worth it. Maxzim perfected his skills by learning from the Sicilian Roberto Jacobi. The ice cream parlor is usually open for business in the afternoons and evenings between May and November. That should be a fantastic way to end your day!