So, what are the best coastal cities to visit?
Most of Belgium's coastal towns are small and cozy, but there’s a few major coastal cities you need to know. Pick your coastal town style and get the full experience of Belgium’s coast.
The major coastal cities you’ll always hear about are Blankenberghe, Nieuwpoort, Ostend, Knokke-Heist, De Hanne, De Panne and Bredene. We’ve put together a full guide to give you the highlights and hidden gems of the Belgian coast.
But before you go on your coastal adventure...
Getting to the Belgian coast
Get to the Belgium coast easily on the train or by car. Wherever you’re coming from in the country, it’s usually not too far. For example, from Brussels to Ostend, you’re looking at a 111 km (70ish miles) trip. Not too bad!
Good to know: there’s usually the main city a few km inland, then the seaside port. You’ll know you’re getting close to the Belgian coast when you see signs to places ending in “-bad” like Koksijde-Bad as this means the port.
Get the train if you want your pick of the whole of Belgium’s coastline. The easiest to get to are Ostend and Knokke as they have the most direct connections but essentially the train goes to all the major coastal cities, so you’re spoilt for choice. And who doesn’t love sustainability? You’ll have to take the tram to get to the seaside and smaller towns.
Tip! Trams are your friend. Once you’re at the coast, the trams are your best option to get around. Fun fact: Kusttram is the longest tram line in the whole world at a whopping 67 km. The tram comes by around every 10-20 minutes. It’s a good option, especially if you’re on a budget! See the tram website for full ticket prices
Here are some quick deets on each town and the vibe you will be getting! So whatever you’re looking for on a day or beach day out, you’re sure to find here:
- Ostend: a more commercial coastal town with lots of variety! Lots of history here too.
- Bredene: tons of camping sites and super easy to reach on the coastal tram. Good option for families
- Knokke-heist: known as the more fancy coast side of Belgium by locals. You’ll find lots of food, beach bars and a beautiful nature reserve nearby. Lots of fancy shops.
- De Panne: a bit of everything for your coastal trip! Nature reserves, beaches and family fun aplenty. Plus some architectural surprises.
- De Hanne: come to De Hanne for viewpoints across the beach, interesting buildings and to trace the footsteps of Albert Einstein
- Blankenberghe: best coastal town for a budget trip. Plenty of activities for families like the aquarium with some surprises too
- Nieuwpoort: classic coastal town with a busy fishing market, pier, shops and pretty nature reserve by the beach
Ostend is a commercial coastal town and has the biggest boardwalk of them all. The main sight strolling into the very broad “Dijk” or boardwalk will be the large casino and the very wide sandy beaches. So you can stroll, walk a long, long way and explore all the cafes nearby. But it’s also a beach city with a historical twist!
Explore Belgium’s world war history on a stroll along the coast. Ostend’s war history goes back even further to the time of Napoleon. For travellers planning a trip to the Belgium coast, Ostend is one to consider for history buffs.
Best things to do in Ostend
Discover traces of Belgium’s WWI and WWII history. This wall is just part of the massive defenses used by the German forces in both wars. See real bunkers and weapons at this historical sight. The guns pointed out to sea are authentic. Take a stroll along the coast by Ostend for a unique coastal experience.
Every coastal city in Belgium has something unique to offer. Ostend has a lively street art culture. Forget a regular trip to the beach.
Walk through this coastal city to spot artsy gems by local and international street artists.
Colourful graffiti across the city brings Ostend to life!
Take a stroll around to the city to enjoy this open air gallery before you head over to the beach.
Enjoy a tour of lake Spuikom in Ostend and take in the breathtaking view. Young or old, water fun is guaranteed to be had here. Sail, canoe, kite, and windsurf on the Spuikom basin with lessons by skilled professionals. It’s even possible to get your beginner’s sailing license at this sailing if you have the time and dedication.
This small lake located 2km inland is perfect for windsurfers beginners as it's a shallow beginner venue in contrast to open sea where conditions can be more unpredictable.
Bredene is the perfect coastal city for those planning a longer trip by Belgium’s sea. In a central location, Bredene is in a great spot to reach all the other seaside cities on the coastal tram. With tons of camping sites, Bredene is a super slow travel friendly city. The beach is fairly well-known.
Best things to do in Bredene
It wouldn’t be a top coastal city without a beach. Bredene’s beach is known as the most natural part of Belgium’s whole coastline. Relatively untouched by the beach tourists, the sand and dunes are as natural as it gets. Soak in the sun or soak in the sea at this dog friendly beach.
Planning a big day trip on the coast? From Bredene Beach, you can walk to Ostend for 5km then catch a free ferry ride for the final stretch. A perfect way to get your Belgian coastal city trip started.
Have an active day at the beach and join the fun of water sports at Twins Club in Bredene. At this sports club, you can surf with gigantic sups, play volleyball, and relax in the club lounge. If you’re coming for a day, become a day member and have access to entry-level surf materials so you can wave surf, sup, and kayak with a wetsuit. You can also sign up for one hour of lessons in surfing, sup or power kite lessons or 2 hours of lessons in windsurfing, patin or land yacht. There are plenty of events and group activities happening here so no matter who accompanies you, there is something to do together. At the end of the day, enjoy the sunset with a fresh beer in the surfer's bar.
Bredene has a lot of family-friendly camping sites to choose from right near the beach. So if you’re spending the night head over to the park Grasduinen to find plenty of cabins, camping spaces, and more. You can also try the budget-friendly Campsite Astrid.
The stylish and ‘sophisticated’ coastal city of Belgium. Known for its busy cultural events, beaches and more. Knokke has 5 (yup, 5!) beaches for you to explore. Escape into Belgium’s beachy paradise for the relaxing summer holiday you’ve been needing without breaking the bank.
Note that this coastal town is known for its beach bars that start late spring and are around until early fall. So heading to the beachside? Check out the various beach bars - a lot have playgrounds so very kid friendly too!
Want more than a beach-packed trip? Knokke-Heist has some natural surprises!
Best things to do in Knokke-Heist
Ready for a coastal adventure? Try out water skiing with a cable car over in Knokke-Heist. What’s cable skiing ? Well, you’ll be pulled across the water by a cable car instead of a motorboat. Even if you’ve tried water skiing before without a cable car, give it a try. It’s a different feeling!
Cable skiing not your thing? No problem. Lakeside is also known for its mini beach where you can relax and take a walk around the lake.
Prefer to keep your feet on solid ground? Head over to the nature reserve Zwin for a wildlife and nature discovery. You could book a guided tour to get all the details or take a stroll around at your own pace. Just make sure to get to the top of the Panorama Tower for the best views.
Zwin has tons of walking paths and nature highlights. But there’s one you can’t miss. The walking and cycling trail from Knokke to Cadzand is just stunning! Walk across the Belgium coast and up to the Netherlands border. At low tide you can even walk all the way along the beach between the two costal resort towns, it should take around an hour and a half.
Zwin is beautiful, but it’s no hidden gem. Get local in the forest of Koningsbos. Sometimes called 't Sparrenbos by the locals, this forest is basically a small grove with a few hilly paths. Picture-perfect with tall trees and squirrels running about, the forest is a charming nature spot in the heart of the bustling coastal city.
Relax on the beach at Albertstrand
Known for having the biggest casino in Belgium, Albertstrand is one of Knokke’s most popular beaches. With 4 beach cabins available, tons of restaurants, and stunning views of the sea, this beach is a super popular spot with tourists. Super family friendly too!
Walk a bit further out from the centre to find a quieter spot in the summer. Outside the height of the tourist season, Albertstrand is a more relaxing spot to chill and soak in the sun.
De Panne is the very last coastal city on the tram line before you hit the French border. De Panne has tons of Mother Nature’s best with nature reserves and beach space aplenty. With tons of family friendly things to do to choose from and beautiful sights to see, De Panne is a solid coastal city when you’re looking for nature and a calmer, relaxing day away from the crowds.
Best things to do in De Panne
Get some fresh air by the sea at the beautiful dune-filled nature reserve of Westhoek. Get away from the tourist crowds at the beach on a stroll. Choose from an easy going 2.5km walk to a longer walk across the border to France!
See the wildlife of De Panne from birds and butterflies to wild horses. Take in that sea salt air and refresh.
Wander the streets of the Dumont Quarter to see stylish cottages and villas. Named after the famous architect Dumont, this quarter is heavily inspired by the 1920s Art Deco craze. A must for photographers! Worth a detour for all after a trip to the beach or nature reserve. These villas overlook the De Panne dunes and are surrounded by hills, trees and more in this green party of the coastal city.
Belgium locals already know that this theme park is inspired by the Belgian TV character Plop the Gnome. A must visit for families! Or bring along a group of friends for a theme park experience.
Bring the kids along for a roller coaster ride on the back of The Dragon for a swirling trip through the air. Or slide through the water in dinosaur territory at Dinosplash. There’s lots of things to do for younger kids too like the petting zoo.
You can’t go wrong with a theme park visit near the coast. Combine with a trip to the beach for double family fun.
De Hanne is known for its stunning buildings and unique architecture, especially in the Concessie Quararter. Fun fact: Albert Einstein lived in De Hanne for a few months. There’s traces of him throughout the city, including a statue in the park. There’s lots to do for families too.
Best things to do in De Haan
We all love a walk on the beach. The views of the sea, the fresh air, and the sun. Plus, it’s free! But De Haan has one viewpoint you shouldn’t miss on your beach walk in De Haan. Get to the top of the 2nd highest dune of the coast for a panoramic view of the dunes and beach. There’s a cute pavilion here too, perfect for a quick rest in the shade after a stroll. Continue on your way to the bottom of the dune to find Rotonde, a spot for sunbathers, families and more.
See beautiful French-style Belle Epoque villas from the 1800s. A uniquely designed area in the north of De Haan, right by the coastline. Stroll through the quarter as you’re heading over to the beach for architectural treats. Start in the centre of town at Albertlaan and head up to the beach to see the major highlights like the 100 villas commissioned by King Leopold II.
The quarter was actually designed by Joseph Stübben, a German town planner and personal advisor to King Leopold II. Who would’ve known?
Known as one of the more casual and relaxed cities on the coast in Belgium, and one of the lesser expensive ones, seek out Blankenberghe if this is more your vibe. Blankenberge is one of the more popular coastal cities in Belgium. Walk across the sandy dunes for a beautiful view at the pier. Or bring the whole family for a fun day out at the aquarium. There’s tons of things to do no matter what you’re into, but Blankenberge is an especially popular destination for a family day out.
Best things to do in Blankenberge
Goolfy Blacklight Minigolf
Have a family friendly day by the beach with a mini golf activity. Great for kids and groups of friends, the mini golf course is just across the street from the beach! What makes this mini golf course by the coast so unique? Well, the course is in blacklight with tons of 3D sculptures. Super colourful and filled with themed courses, Goolfy Blacklight Minigolf is a family favourite.
Wondering what to do in Blankenberge? You probably didn’t expect us to recommend a museum in a coastal town. But if you want something unique to add to your day at the Belgian coast, you can’t beat this 18th century house. This old, charming cottage once home to a fisherman in the heart of Blankenberge.
Get that coastal feeling with a visit to an aquarium. Seal Life Blankenberge is THE spot to sightsee all the sea animals. Not just fish, but sharks, sea turtles and cute otters are right here in Belgium.
Family friendly: bring the kids along for an educational but fun trip to the aquarium. There’s interactive screens and info panels throughout to teach ‘em all about the wildlife.
Whether you drop by the aquarium in the week to avoid the crowds or join in at the weekends, make sure to watch the feeding times. The sea lions, otters and penguins look super cute!
Hike the dunes
Hop off the coastal tram in Blankenberge. Start off your day on the beach with a stroll at Duinpad, a hiking area in the sandy dunes. Head to the beach for a look around the pier. The Belgium Pier at Blankenberge is a solid must see while you’re in the city. Walk to the end of the pretty Art Deco style pier from the 1930s for views of the sea.
Once you’re done strolling around the beach, head over to the city centre of Blankenberge. This coastal city has tons of cafes around the beach. Don’t miss Vishandel Pol that’s loved by locals and tourists alike for their fishy snacks. Find out even more to do in Blankenberge here.
Welcome to Nieuwpoort. A classic marina town, here you’ll find a sandy beach and port views. Nieuwpoort is connected to the beach tram, making it an easy stop for a coastal holiday. A family friendly seaside resort and a favourite of fishermen.
Best things to do in Nieuwpoort
Surfing, kite surfing and paddle boarding. What more can you want for a day at the beach? This watersports centre is a 1 hour drive from Knokke-Heist and 35 mins from Ostend. Come along for lessons in surfing or just to rent a board and face the sea solo. You can bring the kids (8+) too. Gets busiest around July and August, but still worth going to catch those waves.
After surfing it up, relax & drink by the beach at the nearby bar. There’s parking space right by the bar too if you’re coming by car.
Drop by in the early morning from Monday to Saturday to see the fishermen at work. Buy the local, fresh fish at the fish market and auction out on the docks.
Don’t know your way around? No worries! Pop over to the Tourist Centre to meet up with a local guide. Just get up early. The fish tour starts at 9:30 at the town hall. With the group, led by a guide, you’ll see the best points of the Nieuwpoort docks.
Catch shrimp on horseback
We promise it’s a thing. A short drive away from Nieuwpoort is Oostduinkerke. Walk to the beach at low tide to see the shrimp fishermen on horseback. You can hitch a ride and join in too. How does shrimp fishing on horseback work? Well, they basically walk the horses into the sea with a net behind them. When they come out of the sea, they look at the net and collect up the shrimps. Turns out shrimp fishing has been a thing here since at least the 1500s.
For the kids
Planning a family day out on the coast? The kids won’t forget seeing horses at the beach and the fresh shrimp. Book a sea class with the shrimp catchers to teach the family all about the sea, shrimp fishing, and the horses. Plus you get to try the freshly caught shrimp after the 45 min class.
Looking for free things to do near the beach? You really can’t go wrong with a stroll out on the pier. Enjoy that fresh air on the two piers of Nieuwpoort.
Walk out to the edge for views of the ocean. From a distance, you might think those things at the end of the piers are mini lighthouses. They’re actually a foghorn and signal lantern for the boats.
Want to try fishing yourself? Tourists come to Staketsel to park up a spot, sit and relax with a fishing rod. Who knows, you might just get lucky!
Beautiful from a distance, Nieuwpoort’s lighthouse is a postcard worthy sight. Snap up photos from the beach for a piece of your coastal memories. Away from the main beach and tourist crowds, the lighthouse is one landmark you can get close to on a quiet stroll.
The lighthouse isn’t open to the public. It’s actually a B&B. So, you’re just here to enjoy the classic coastal scenery.
Get away from the city and crowds in the nature reserve. Belgium’s coastal cities aren’t just beaches and tourist sights! They’ve got nature and wildlife all of their own. Ijzermonding isn’t as well-known as other nature reserves and there’s lots to see.
Travel along the salt marshes and stay quiet to see all birds. If you’re lucky, you might just see seals resting in the sand here too. Or keep to the edges of the nature reserve and explore the fields to find herds of adorable, fluffy sheep.