Bruges is Belgium’s most popular tourist destination and with its canals and historic buildings, it is a favorite for culture vultures. As the closest major city to the north coast, it makes sense to base yourself here if you want to explore the Belgian coastal region further. The coast of the country consists not only of a strip of coastline with dune beaches, but also of beautiful seaside resorts and the wild and beautiful Het Zwin nature reserve, which rolls for miles towards the Dutch border. For anyone with a penchant for hiking, biking or boating, this region is one of the most interesting in the country.
Zeebrugge is a popular seaside resort on the western side of the Belgian coast, which is also of interest to travelers visiting Belgium for its World War I history. An important German U-boat base during the war, this port was at the center of action on St. George’s Day in 1918 when the base was destroyed in a spectacular military raid. The monument to this event is located at the land end of the breakwater. Early birds here should go to the fishing port at 7 am witnessing the arrival of the daily fleet of colorful fishing boats in Zeebrugge coming in with their catch. Afterwards there are great local photography opportunities in the fish auction hall where the daily catch is sold from 9:30am.
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A meander along the sea side (Vismijnstraat) to see the former Belgian lightship and a Russian submarine is a must for visitors. For those up for a more nature-filled walk, the coastline from here – stretching all the way to Blankenberge – is marked by the Fountains Duneswhich offer ample beach walking opportunities.
Location: 19 kilometers north of Bruges
2 Port of Ostend and beach
Ostend (in Flemish Ostend) may be Belgium’s most important ferry port and the main port for ferry traffic to Britain, but it is also one of the most popular seaside resorts in Europe with a history as a major spa destination since the 1930s During the summer, the five the beach here are busy with local vacationers. The most popular stretches of sand are the beaches of Mariakerke in Raversijde, west of the racecourse. The main coastal road is Albert I-promenade where history buffs can pause to admire the façade of Ostend leisure complex, originally built in 1745 and restored to its former beauty in 1953 after being destroyed during World War II. The first floor of the building is decorated with frescoes by Paul Delvaux. For a good overview of the beach landscape, walk to the western breakwater where you can enjoy the best viewpoint in town, and if you walk west along the promenade you will reach the sand dunes of Westende and the royal residence and spa complex.
Location: 29 kilometers west of Bruges
3 Ostend Town
If you want to mix some history and culture in a beach day trip to Ostend, head to the center of the old town where you will find the Party palace on the Wapenplein, built in 1957 in place of the old town hall, destroyed in World War II. On the first floor is the local The Plate Museum, which traces the city’s history through its fishing and resort tourism industries. On the second floor of the Feestpalais is the Museum of Fine Artswith a collection of works by James Ensor, Constant Permeke and other Belgian artists.
North of the Wapenplein in Vlaanderenstraat, you can visit James Ensor’s old house, now dedicated to a museum about the life of the local artist, where many of his personal belongings, sketches and his studio are on display. The voluminous Gothic Saint Peter and Paul Church in the Kapellestraat is another of the most important sights of the historic city center of Ostend. The current church dates from 1905, but remnants of the older church, including the 18th-century brick Peperbus tower and 15th-century relics, can still be seen.
Location: 29 kilometers west of Bruges
With its three kilometers of beach, the North Sea coastal town of Blankenberge first began to attract holidaymakers as far back as 1860. The town’s boulevard – known as the Seawall – runs along the coast here and is packed with walkers, swimmers and tourists during the summer months. At the eastern end of the promenade are the Funny Velodroom bike path and Sea Life Blankenberge with aquariums, both popular attractions with visiting families. If you are tired of time on the beach and want to enjoy more sun, go to the Gothic Saint Anthony’s Churchnear the train station, first inaugurated in 1358 and restored in the 17th century.
Location: 18 kilometers northwest of Bruges
5 Beach of Knokke-Heist
Together with Ostend, Knokke-Heist, close to the Dutch border, it is probably the most elegant seaside resort in Belgium, with its wide 12-kilometer beach that encompasses a fifth of the Belgian coastline and has an attractive dune landscape. For visitors interested in activities such as lounging on the beach, Knokke-Heist Beach has excellent hiking, walking and cycling opportunities. There are 10 cycle paths in the area and several hiking trails. Two of the best walks in the area are the Rural Knokke and the Polder walkboth of which lead through the sand dunes.
Location: 19 kilometers northeast of Bruges
There is more to discover in the city of Knokke than just the famous beach. History buffs visiting in the summer should look for the For Freedom Museum (91 Ramskapellestraat), with a series of exhibitions and dioramas telling the story of Flanders’ battles in World War II and the effect on the region’s towns and villages. The museum is unfortunately closed during the winter months from November to March. For those more interested in nature, the city Butterfly Park gives you the chance to see hundreds of brightly colored butterflies up close and personal.
Location: 19 kilometers northwest of Bruges
7 The Zwin Nature Reserve
The Het Zwin nature reserve extends from the end of Het Zoute across the Belgian-Dutch border. About two-fifths of the 150 hectares are accessible to walkers. The Zwin is now the silted inlet that once made Bruges one of the richest ports in Europe. Today, the countryside, bordered by dunes and the seawall and criss-crossed by tidal wetlands, offers a unique habitat for plants and animals. More than 100 species of birds nest in the Zwin, including waders, ducks, the silver plover and snipe. At the entrance to the nature reserve, the native species are kept on several ponds and in aviaries, allowing visitors to see many of the birds up close without disturbing the wildlife. The best times to visit are in the spring to see the birds, and in July and August when the ground is covered in a sea of blossoms known as the “Zwinneblomme.”
Location: 25 kilometers northeast of Bruges
In Gistel, 10 kilometers south of Ostend, St. Godelieve was born in 1045. Her husband had her strangled in 1070 and threw the body into a pond, and from then on the water was considered miraculous. The church and museum are dedicated to the legend of St. Godelieve. Don’t forget to visit the pretty, whitewashed abbey here Ten Putte outside Gistel, which was built around the miraculous pond. Here you can visit the cellar where Godelieve was imprisoned, as well as the chapel where her first miracle took place.
Location: 22 kilometers west of Bruges
The charming, small Flemish town of Damme is located about 7 kilometers northeast of Bruges. Until the silting up of the Zwin inlet, it served as Bruges’ customs point and outer harbor and was of great importance and prosperity. Its heyday lasted only about 200 years, but some important buildings from this period still survive, which have kept alive the image of a medieval Flemish city. In particular, the beautiful Gothic City Hall (Town Hall), built by Gottfried von Bosschere in 1464-1468, with sculptures embellishing the front facade and interior doors carved with historical scenes, is well worth a visit. The impressive Church of Our Lady with its 45 meter high tower and choir room from the Middle Ages, it is also one of the top highlights of Damme. The interior of the church houses valuable figures of the apostles carved in oak from 1400.
Location: 7 kilometers northeast of Bruges
10 Schipdonk Canal
For a nice walk on a sunny day, the paths along the Schipdonk Canal are a great destination, and for those who want to hit the waterway, this is one of the best canals for a scenic boat trip. The Schipdonk Canal is a branch of the Leie and the canal leads to the north damme in a northwesterly direction to Zeebrugge. The canal’s two straight courses flow through a scenic route dotted with endless rows of poplars, providing a wonderfully tranquil tableau for the entire route.
Location: 7 kilometers northeast of Bruges