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The largest city on the Belgian coast, Ostend is known as 'the Queen of beaches'. In summer, holiday-makers fly kites, build sandcastles and swim in the North Sea, but lively culture and a rich heritage also awaits. Look out for historical grandeur, world-class street art and a burgeoning foodie scene. Ostend's cheerful, welcoming outlook can be summed up in a glass of local Dikke Mathilde beer, affectionately named after the city's beloved reclining statue.
Ostend hostels are mainly modern accommodation a few minutes' walk from the beach. Expect spacious communal areas, cosy dorms and private rooms – plus extras such as security lockers and free Wi-Fi. Most hostels have a free breakfast in the morning; for other meals, some have an on-site bar and restaurant. Get local recommendations from friendly staff who can also help you book activities and guided tours. There's usually a 24-hour reception in an Ostend hostel, so you can check in as late as you like.
Ostend's wide beach wraps around its working harbour and historic centre, where you'll also find the train station. Here sits the old Fisherman's Quarter, now a busy network of 18th-century buildings, seafood restaurants and the charming Winterijs square. From here, heading towards the large Mariakerke-Bad commercial and leisure district on the seafront, you'll pass verdant Leopold Park, home to a famous floral clock created from 20,000 plants.
Although a popular beach destination, Ostend also has a range of things to do beyond the shore. The contemporary Mu.ZEE art gallery tells the story of Belgium's cosmopolitan culture through its large and varied collection. Back in the harbour, the bustling Visserskaai market street is where to find seafood truly fresh off the boat. Ostend's nightlife is mostly centred on Langestraat street, where there's a mixture of relaxed beer cafés, cocktail bars and places to dance.
Ostend-Bruges International Airport is a 15-minute bus ride from the city centre (take route number 6). You can also fly into Brussels Airport and take a train (around three hours direct, or two hours with a change at Gent-Sint-Pieters station). Ostend is flat and small enough to explore on foot, with plenty of bike paths and local buses if you want to get around faster. Belgium's Kusttram (Coast Tram) runs from De Panne in the east to Knokke-Heist in the west, connecting Ostend to towns all along the coast.