While the majority of Belgians regularly flocks to Knokke or Blankenberge, Ostend is a little overlooked at times. But the Belgian coastal town is much more than just the so-called “City by the Sea”, and if you expect more from a trip to the seaside than chilling at the beach, this is the perfect destination for you. Ostend pleasantly blends beach with city life, and to our delight its dynamic cultural scene is blossoming, too. Read on to discover the town’s major hotspots and hidden gems, from art spaces and culture cafés to museums and vintage shops. Plus, did you know American soul legend Marvin Gaye wrote his world hit “Sexual Healing” here?
1 Vintage design: Funky Vintage
“Funky Vintage”, founded by design passionate Luc Rommelaere, is a vintage treasure trove of no less than 500 square meters. Here, you’ll find anything from lighting to chairs and cabinets, mainly from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. “Some people think I just collect old rubbish, but for me these are objects with a soul, story and character.”, Luc says. And Funky Vintage is more than just a store: there’s also a workshop that not only restores and upholsters vintage sofas and seating, but also manufactures beautiful vintage-inspired furniture under the name ATOM58.
Karel Janssenslaan 1
2 Coffee heaven: De Familie Jansen
It’s thanks to coffee enthusiast Coby Avgoustakis that Ostend finally has a proper (award-winning!) coffee bar. De Familie Jansen has quickly become a favorite with locals and tourists alike, not only because of its yummy coffee creations but also due to a hip and cozy interior paired with Coby’s welcoming personality. The varied menu features not only classic coffee drinks but also rather unlikely and inventive creations: the specialty of the house is the so-called ‘kokoslimoentje’, a coffee with lime and coconut milk. And it’s apparently also a good spot for bumping into celebrities, as proved our lovely encounter with American band Flamin’ Groovies who were in town for a show at Zaal De Zwerver.
3 Gallery: L’Etage d’Euphrosine
L’Etage D’Euphrosine has extended Belgium’s art scene all the way to Ostend, offering intimate exhibitions on the lower floor of a beautiful Maison de maître. The creative mind behind it is art aficionado Emily Rammant, whose grandfather Hubert Peeters was one of the first European pop art collectors. With exhibitions featuring young, emerging artists from Belgian Elke Van Kerckvoorde to French-born Félicia Atkinson, she is blowing some much-needed fresh wind into the local art scene.
Euphrosina Beernaertstraat 89
4 Gin with a view: Histoires d’O
If you want to sip on a tasty, well-prepared cocktail while enjoying a stunning beach view, you should reserve a window table (or one on the terrace when the weather allows it) at Histoires d’O. It is here that Jurgen Nobels, one of the country’s best bartenders, first learned his skills. The interior is cozy and stylish at the same time, and the extensive gin menu leaves nothing to be desired. The place is also known for its delicious appetizers and tapas: we recommend the heavenly greesy cheese croquettes and grilled vegetables to snack on.
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5 Music history: Marvin Gaye walking tour
It’s still widely unknown that soul legend Marvin Gaye lived in Ostend for more than a year. That’s why the city’s tourist office now launched the “Marvin Gaye Midnight Love Tour”, which takes you on a trip down memory lane, letting you discover Gaye’s relationship with Ostend through a walk guided by a special map and documentary videos on an iPod. Gaye came to the Belgian coast fleeing drugs and depression, looking for some peace and quiet. The tour takes you to his boxing club, the apartment where he wrote the world hit “Sexual Healing”, and much more.
6 Art: Mu.ZEE
This museum alone is reason enough to pay Ostend a visit, especially if you want to learn more about Belgian art history. It’s vast permanent collection specializes in art from 1830 onwards and includes 180 works by Léon Spilliaert, 350 works by Paul Joostens, and a large collection of works by James Ensor and Permeke. Plus there are pieces by Raoul De Keyser, Panamarenko, Marcel Broodthaers, Luc Tuymans, and other Belgian art stars. Mu.ZEE also does temporary exhibitions, currently the brilliant “Holy Molecule”, a show looking back on the oeuvre of Belgian artist Honoré δ’O. His sculptures, assemblages and chain-reactions, partly interactive, are made out of everyday objects and materials and continually change, split and multiply in an endless variety of ways.
7 Local delicacies: De Cock bakery
Operating since 1855, De Cock is Ostend’s oldest bakery. Don’t only check out the breads and chocolates, but also this colourful specialty: meringue. By the way, its shape is reminiscent of the waves crashing on the shore, as the owner tells us.
8 Art history: James Ensor’s house
You can’t talk about Ostend without mentioning James Ensor. The famous painter grew up and died there, and the house he lived and worked in is open to visitors. An opportunity to dive into history and get to know a major figure of the Belgian avant-garde of the late 19th century a little better, whose work has been shown in renowned places from LA’s Getty Museum, to the MOMA in New York. By the way, you can also visit his grave at the Church of Our Lady of the Dunes.
9 Culture hub: Vrijstaat O.
Culture café Vrijstaat O. can easily compete with any hipster spot of the big capitals. It was established in 2010 as a new arts centre, the only one at the Belgian coast, bringing together music, visual arts, literature, and more, functioning as an artistic meeting place and open cultural centre. You can also just drop by for a coffee, organic juice, and the daily updated newspapers – and, of course, the amazing view on the sea!
10 Art meets food: Galerie Beausite
Galerie Beausite, located in a protected gorgeous Art Deco building, successfully unites art, design and food. It’s run by the charismatic Ann Rommelaere who lives upstairs from the gallery-cum-shop-cum-restaurant, a set-up that adds a dash of unconformity and coziness to the whole concept. The food is based on local, artisanal products, the view on the sea is absolutely beautiful, and after dinner you can have a look at the exhibitions or get your hands on some vintage design pieces.
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