Belgium: Ostend, art by the sea

Ostend is not just about its sandy beach, its modern seafront and its seafront promenade facing the North Sea. This city on the Belgian coast, where singer Arno was born, has also inspired artists such as Léo Ferré and Marvin Gaye, painters James Ensor and Léon Spilliaert, but also graffiti artists from all over the world. Let's explore an arty Ostend. Under the museums, the beach ...

Ostend, the “queen” of Belgian beaches

Ostend, its long sandy beach, its casino, its more than a century old tram, its Albert I promenade facing the North Sea, its carnival, its lively nights on Langestraat, the gray shrimp croquettes and its seafront bristling with buildings… Here is the postcard of the one who was at the turn of the 20th century the “queen of the beaches” of the Belgian coast. The royal family then fell in love with Ostend and the wealthy bourgeoisie followed suit. Ostend became a kind of Flemish Monte-Carlo, to which some mansions and the 400 m long colonnade of the “royal galleries” still testify.

Different times, different customs… Ostend has modernized over the decades, losing its glamor and its “Belle Époque” cachet. The aristos have been replaced by tourists, especially English, and the mansions have given way, with a few exceptions, to imposing modern buildings.

In the footsteps of James Ensor and Léon Spilliaert

The attractions of Ostend are not only found on the sand. Because the queen of the beaches is also a city of culture, where two great Belgian fin-de-siècle painters were born: the expressionist James ensor (1860-1949) and the symbolist Leon Spilliaert (1881-1946), whose fascinating works can be discovered Mu.ZEE devoted to Belgian art from 1830 to the present day.  

Remained faithful to Ostend, James Ensor, whose universe, of a mad inventiveness, mixes the grotesque, the fantastic and the mystical, lived there a large part of his life. He even left his surreal imprint on the local carnival, throwing a costume party called… “the Dead Rat Ball”. Her house-workshop, currently under construction, should reopen in 2019, with a James Ensor Experience Center to explore the painter's singular universe.

Crystal Ship: Ostend, an open-air museum

Art in Ostend is not just about the past. The Belgian city welcomes every year one of the biggest street art festivals in Europe : " The Crystal Ship », An original event in which artists from all over the world create murals on facades across the city. 

This gigantic happening, which takes place during the Easter holidays, is done in collaboration with the people of Ostend. More than 200 residents of the city have already made the facades of their homes available during previous editions of the Crystal Ship.

After the festival, the murals are kept, forming a artistic journey in Ostend and its surroundings. In all, around forty large-format creations and around a hundred smaller paintings can be admired along a route that can be traveled on foot and by bike. An explanatory brochure is available at the tourist office in Ostend. Map downloadable from the Internet.

Ostend, the city where Sexual Healing was composed

Ostend appeals to artists and, in particular, musicians. Birthplace of Belgian singer Arno, it inspired one of the most beautiful songs of Léo Ferré (Comme à Ostende) and in 1981 welcomed a distinguished guest: Marvin Gaye. Moreover, the Belgian city played an important role in the life of the king of soul.

In conflict with his record company and pursued by the tax authorities, depressed and consumed by alcohol and drugs, Marvin Gaye had found refuge on the Belgian coast at the invitation of a friend. He will stay there for a year and a half, time to regain a taste for life. It was in Ostend that he began to compose songs again and not the least: the planetary hit Sexual Healing was indeed born here, on the shore of the North Sea!

To relive this essential page in the life of the great Marvin, the tourist office of Ostend has created the walk Marvin Gaye Midnight Love Tour. Embellished with testimonies and archival documents, the course, about 2 hours and guided by iPod (5 €), leads to a dozen places frequented by the singer, such as the bars of Langestraat, the Royal Stables, the Casino or the Jane Residence on the Albert I-promenade (# 77), where he lived.


Find all the addresses and practical information in Le Routard Belgique in bookstores

Consult our Belgium online guide

Visit Ostend

Visit Flanders

How to get there ?

Ostend is 2 hours by train from Brussels-Midi station, accessible by Thalys in 1 hour 22 minutes from Paris-Nord.

Good addresses

- De Ploate Jeugdherberg: Langestraat 72. In the heart of Ostend, a modern, comfortable and colorful AJ with rooms from 2 to 6 beds. Nights from € 22.

- Hotel Bero: Hofstraat 1A. A modern and very comfortable hotel, offering top-of-the-range services. Swimming pool, sauna, fitness, solarium… Ideally located in the city center, a stone's throw from the sea and 10 minutes' walk from the train station. Breakfast buffet Whiskey bar for amateurs. Rooms from 130 €.

- Cafe Bottelje: Louisastraat 19. An institution in Ostend for more than 30 years for its beers (around 300 à la carte), its gin, its tasty brasserie cuisine and its lively atmosphere. Also a hotel with modern rooms tastefully decorated on the theme of beer. Count 20-35 € the meal.

- Histoires d'O: Albert Ier Promenade 53. A pleasant stop on the promenade, a stone's throw from the casino, to nibble on a croquette or a burger while looking at the North Sea.

- Cultuur Cafe - Grote Post: H. Serruyslan 18. In the Grote Post cultural center, this cozy café serves light meals as well as hot and cold drinks. Nice to take a break between two visits

Beaufort 2018: contemporary art at the beach until September 30

A three-year contemporary art meeting in Ostend and on the Flemish coast. Every three years, artists from all over the world present their works in public space, all along the Belgian coast. More info on the Beaufort 2018 website.

To do

- The Perfume of Ostend route: a guided tour of the city via audio guide in the footsteps of the painters James Ensor, Léon Spilliaert and Constant Permeke. Duration 1 h 30-2 h.

- Coastal tram: Ostend is located in the middle of this 69 km tram line between De Panne, near the French border, and Knokke-Heist near the Dutch border. It stops in all the coastal towns and allows you to visit the neighboring seaside resorts of Ostend.

- Constant Permeke Museum: in Jabekke (10 km from Ostend). To discover the universe and the work of this great Belgian painter who evokes German expressionism. Some 80 works are exhibited in a village house where the artist lived.

Audio Video Belgium: Ostend, art by the sea
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