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Belgium's Flemish Coast

Tourist Information and Travel Guide

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ABOVE: Beach at Zeebrugge, Flanders, Belgium.

When the summer heat turns oppressive in Brussels and other inland cities, do as the Belgians do: head for the coast of Flanders and take a dip in the North Sea.

Smooth sandy beaches run for nearly 42 miles (67 km) between De Panne and Knokke, with a width of up to half a kilometer at low tide. In several resorts, you'll also find massive sand dunes and nature preserves--while in others, you can visit casinos, spend hours in fashionable shops, explore museums and aquariums, fish, ride horseback, windsurf, learn the sport of "sand yachting," or take the kids to amusement parks and other family attractions.

Farther down on this page, you'll find links to Web pages for some of the best-known resorts:

Blankenberge, with its classic pier (built in 1933) and a Sea Life Center where visitors view more than 70 types of fish from an underwater tunnel.

De Haan, a 19th Century gem of a town bordered by forested dunes and equipped with marked paths for walkers, bikers, and horseback riders.

De Panne, which claims a third of the dunes on the Flanders Coast and has four nature preserves plus the Plopsaland theme park (formerly Meli Park) in the neighborhood.

Knokke, where wealthy Belgians come for sun, fun, and shopping. (At Heist next door,  the emphasis is on family relaxation.)

Oostende (Ostend),  a thousand-year-old city with marinas, an old fishing port, a casino, a lively downtown, and high-speed ferry connections to England.

Zeebrugge, Belgium's deep-water port, which is just a short hop from Bruges (Brugge), a city that's often called "the Venice of the North."

Accommodations

The 13 coastal resorts of Flanders are dotted with hotels, apartments, villas, cottages, holiday villages, campgrounds, and other accommodations. See the tourism Web sites below for more information, and contact the local tourist offices for printed literature.

Renting one of the coast's 40,000 vacation houses and apartments through a real-estate agency is worth considering if you're staying for a week or longer. During July and August, self-catering rentals are usually for two weeks or a month, and cottages or flats may be booked months in advance.

TIP: If you're visiting a seaside resort for a week or more, ask the local tourist office for the names of firms that rent beach huts ("cabaņas" in U.S. parlance). With a beach hut, you'll have your own private changing facilities and won't have to lug all your gear down to the beach every day.

Belgium Flemish Coast Flanders Plopsaland transportation Coast Tram De Panne Knokke-Heist Vlaamse Kust beaches cities tourist office holiday villages hotels apartments campsites farm stays social tourism holiday villages Meli Park Belgium national railway

ABOVE: Frequent trains connect Brussels and other inland cities to Flemish beach resorts.

How to reach the Flemish Coast

You can drive, of course, using the E40 motorway from Brussels or any number of other roads. Buy a good map, resign yourself to traffic congestion on summer weekends, and try to forget that Belgium didn't require drivers' tests until the 1970s. (Warning: Traffic from the right takes priority, so watch out for aggressive drivers at intersections.)

Trains and trams (see page 2) are a more pleasant--and often cheaper--option. Frequent trains of the Belgian National Railways connect inland cities to Knokke, Blankenberge, Oostende, and De Panne. During the summer high season, special tourist trains make it easy to reach the Flemish coast without train changes. Travel times are short: for example, it's only about 1 hour 10 minutes to Oostende from Brussels, or 15 minutes from Bruges.

Once you've reached the coast, you can use the Coast Tram to shuttle between resorts. This modern light-rail system runs from De Panne to Knokke, with trams taking 2 to 2-1/2 hours to cover the entire route.

Belgium Flemish Coast resorts Blankenberge De Haan De Panne Knokke-Heist Oostende Ostend Zeebrugge tourism hotels ferries museum Anglican church weather Webcam LEFT: An old-fashioned beach cabin on wheels at the West Flanders resort of Knokke-Heist.

Web links:

General information

Visit Flanders
The region's official tourism site offers an excellent introduction to the region, with practical tools such as maps and weather reports.

Transportation

De Kusttram (The Coastal Tram)
The LIJN light-rail line connects the Flemish coastal resorts from De Panne to Knokke. Trams run every 20 minutes.

Belgian Rail
Belgium's national railway has timetables and other information in Dutch, French, English, and German.

Blankenberge

Blankenberge (Michelin)
A famous pier and a string of festivals throughout the year enliven this traditional seaside resort.

De Haan

De Haan
Nineteenth-Century architecture, flowers, and quiet charm make De Haan popular with vacationers who enjoy a romantic atmosphere.

De Panne

De Panne
This family resort's sand dunes have been used to shoot movies about the Sahara desert. In Dutch, but you can translate with Google. Or try an independent site in English, DePanne.com.

Plopsaland
The former Meli Park is now "Plopsaland." The theme park is located near De Panne.

Knokke-Heist

Knokke-Heist 
The resort's official tourism site has information in four languages, including English.

St. George's Anglican Church
This English-speaking church ministers to English-speaking residents of the Flanders Coast, and visitors are always welcome.

Oostende

Ostende (Oostende), Belgium europeforvisitors.com
Our article has tourism, transportation, hotel, museum, ferry, and other links for a resort and port city with 1,000 years of history.

Zeebrugge

Port of Zeebrugge
English-language tourist information for Zeebrugge is hard to come by, but the local port authority can tell you everything about ships and slips.

P&O Ferries
From Hull, England, P&O offers frequent service to Zeebrugge and Rotterdam.

"Best of the Web"
- Forbes and The Washington Post


Photo (c) iStockphoto.com/Arosoft

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