When you’re at sea you sail past it before you know it, but Belgium does have a small coastline. 67 kilometres to be exact. On a sunny day half the country temporarily migrates to the coast to enjoy a day at the beach. But what makes this small strip of coastline so special?
The Belgian coast is dotted with small villages/cities who, at some places, are so close together that they merge. Almost in the middle of the coastline you can find Ostend. The city got the nickname ‘The Queen of the Belgian seaside resorts’ due to her rich history. Here you can find the impressive Thermae Palace. This luxurious hotel is connected to the Royal Galleries, which together are almost 400 metres long.
St Petrus & Paulus Church
The one place that you should certainly visit is De Haan. Where all the other villages along the coast were overtaken by modernisation, this one kept many of its historic buildings preserved. The result is one of the most picturesque villages in Belgium.
Typical for the Belgian coast are the dykes alongside the sea. These promenades are very popular and house many cafés, restaurants and stores. Most of them have high rising flats on them with 8 or more stories. It may not be the prettiest sight but after a while you don’t pay attention to it anymore. All but one village along the Belgian coast doesn’t have a dyke: Bredene. There you still have dunes between the beach and the villages. Other dunes can be found between the villages at the East-side of the coastline, and a few on the West-side (as seen from Ostend).
It’s also very easy to explore the coast thanks to the tram route that covers the entire length of the coast, from the border with France to the border with the Netherlands. ‘De Kusttram’, or ‘Coastal Tram‘ in English, has almost 70 stops and is by far the easiest way to move along the coastline. The line was started back in 1885 and it is still unique in the world. No other tram route covers the entire coastline of a country.
Near the border with the Netherlands you can find ‘Het Zwin’. Every year this nature reserve attracts thousands of birds who come to breed. You are able to enter the reserve as a visitor, to take a walk and to enjoy the nature. Many of the plants are unique to the park.
When we go back to West on the coastline we come across Zeebrugge. This small village is almost completely surrounded by the port of Zeebrugge, but there are still some interesting things to see. In the Marina you can find the Russian submarine Foxtrot, which is part of the family theme park Seafront about fishing and maritime history. Visitors are able to take a look onboard the submarine. They can also visit the lightvessel Westhinder, which is located next to the dock.
Next to Zeebrugge you can find Blankenberge. This city is one of the most popular places on the coast. It’s almost always buzzing with activity. There is a large shopping street and even a large casino that will make you feel like you are in Las Vegas. On the beach next to the dyke you can find the ‘Lustige Veldroom’. This attraction was founded in 1933 and has about 70 unique bicycles that you can ride around on the velodrome. Each of the bicycles is atypical. On some of them you have to pedal backwards, or with both feet at the same time, others have oval wheels, and so on… It is great fun to both try it and watch it.
Apart from the velodrome every village or city along the coast has shops where you can rent go-carts. Pedalling around the villages and dykes in these carts is very popular and is done by both children and adults. You can choose from a wide array of go-carts: carts for one person, 2 people, 5 or more, go-carts in the shape of an ice-cream cart, with a horse attached, … The vendor will most likely have a go-cart to your liking.
Every 3 years you can find contemporary art all across the coast. It is part of the exhibition ‘Beaufort‘ and is free for everyone to see. This year Beaufort is back and can be seen from June 21st until September 21st. Below you can see some of the art from the previous editions. Not every art piece may appeal to you but it’s always interesting to find out what the artist means with it. Apart from Beaufort the Belgian coast also has it’s typical artists like the painters James Ensor and Paul Delvaux.
De man die de boot zag, in de lucht – Jean Bilquin
Analgesia/Temi Perenni (Cani) – Paolo Grassini
With all those possible activities you would almost forget that you could also just sit, or walk on the beach and enjoy the beautiful sunset.
The Belgian coast has something to offer for everyone and is certainly worth paying a visit for one or more days.
Text & pictures: Sebastiaan Peeters
More information: www.belgiancoast.co.uk
Sebastiaan Peeters is a student who lives in Antwerp, Belgium. Since he sailed onboard the cruise ferry Color Fantasy in 2005 when he was only 11 years old, he became interested in ships. In 2009 he started to follow and photograph all the cruise ships in his own city, Antwerp. In 2011 he combined all these photos, together with info about the port, on his website ‘Cruiseschepen in Antwerpen‘. During the past few years he has photographed many cruise ships and ferries in different ports around the world. On Sebastiaan Peeters Photography’ you can find those pictures and his non-ship related pictures.