Looking for a pleasant city walk combining street art, culture and sandy beaches at the Belgian coast? Then check out Ostend and it’s ‘Chrystal Ship’ hiking or cycling route: a great idea to discover Ostend’s best.
The Chrystal Ship: what’s in a name
The Chrystal Ship all started with a ship but is in fact about … street art! Interested? Well, Ostend hosts Belgian’s leading open-air street art event. It all began in 2016, when The Chrystal Ship dropped anchor in Ostend. Ever since, over a dozen of world-renowned street artists have made enormous paintings on the walls of apartment buildings or ordinary houses. Over the past five years, the festival has played host to artists from all over the world. Each year in the beginning of April, new artists cover additional walls. In 2022, artists created new murals as of April 9th. Once finished, the new art works are included in the overall program.
On top of the gigantic murals, the artists created over the years fantastic art installations and sculptures in open space, all to be admired for free.
The gigantic murals in combination with the art installations give Ostend a colorful, bright and vibrant appearance, but maybe this was also because I visited on a sunny day.
City walk or cycle around?
So, how to know where to find all these splendid wall paintings? That’s very easy. Ostend has worked out several walking and a cycling routes, going from short children walks to the longer work. The cycling route not only covers the city center but also the surrounding towns, such as Mariakerke. The starting point is at Tourism Ostend, where you can get a free walking and cycling map. You can even use a Messenger chatbox or if you like, take a guided tour. The map outlines the tour and the location as wel l as a detailed description of each artwork.
If you don’t have a bike, you can rent one at the station via Blue Bike.
I went for the 11 kilometer walking tour, covering not only the main part of the inner city but also a small part of the Vissersdok east of the train station. As such, you not only get to admire the magnificent art street, you also get a good impression of what Ostend has to offer.
The trip took me nearly a full day, including some breaks at the beach and a stop at several other highlights of Ostend, such as
- Ferry Visserskaai – Oosteroever. To get to the Oosteroever (East Bank), you need to take a ferry ‘Raveel meets Ensor’ which runs several times a day between the city center (aquarium) and the Maritiem Plein. The crossing is free of charge. It only takes about 10 minutes but gives you a nice view of the small harbor. Bicycles can come along. Oosteroever also gives access to Fort Napoleon.
- The famous Lighthouse ‘Lange Nelle‘ is also on Oosteroever. It’s the fourth one in the history of Ostend and the third one on this location. It was built between 1947 and 1949, rises 65 metres above the sea and guides the fishermen safely in the Ostend harbour. You cannot visit the lighthouse.
- The Royal Galleries. An ideal spot to take pictures at sunrise or sunset. These galleries, about 400 m long, were finished in 1905 to protect the middle classes from sun and rain during their walks. The next-door Thermae Palace, currently a four-star luxury hotel, still breathes the Belle Époque atmosphere.
- Ostend’s shopping street
- Ostend’s beach
- The Mercator, a three-master sailing ship designed by Arctic traveller Adrien de Gerlache and in 1956 used for the repatriation of the remains of Father Damien from Molokai. You can find it in the small harbor close to the station.