Central Ostend

It’s a pleasant diversion to watch squawking gulls scavenging from beam-netted sole-fishing boats as they unload behind the little Fish Market. The quayside road is backed with wall-to-wall fish restaurants, there’s a tiny Aquarium and two operators offering summer sea excursions.

Oosteroever

If you've driven to Ostend, a money-saving tactic is to park for free in Oosteroever (the east side of the harbour), then use the free passenger/bicycle mini-ferry that shuttles several times an hour across to the Aquarium jetty in the town centre. If coming from the centre, it's 10 minutes' walk from the ferry jetty to Fort Napoleon. Earth Explorer is 500m beyond that, near the Kusttram stop ‘Duin en Zee’.

Domein Raversijde

Around 6km west of Ostend, the dunes and marshes of this extensive provincial reserve create a rare green gap between all the coast's apartment towers. If visiting both of the main attractions, it's cheaper to buy the three-site combination ticket (adult/concession €9.75/8.10) which also throws in the Memorial Prins Karel, a minor house museum commemorating King Leopold II’s brother, Charles. Charles had been regent following WWII, then in 1950 retired to this remarkably modest basket-weaver’s cottage. It was by giving his Raversijde Royal Estate to the provincial government that Charles saved this fascinating area from coastal developers.

By public transport, take the Kusttram to ‘Domein Raversijde’, reach the Atlantikwall via wooden steps leading south up the dune-side then follow the signs (around 150m). A footpath between the marshes takes around 10 minutes on to Walraversijde, from which you can take bus 6 back to Ostend. By car the only parking is at Walraversijde.

Bring waterproofs and walking shoes.

Worth a Trip: Thornton Bank

Looking across the harbour it's hard not to be intrigued by the the vast columns and sails stacked up on Zeewezendok. These are parts of gigantic wind turbines being slowly transported 30km out into the English Channel and erected to create the Thornton Bank offshore wind farm. The operating company C-Power has information boards near the Oosteroever miniferry jetty where you can also see a cross-section of the extraordinary undersea cable that will carry electricity from the wind turbines. Franlis organises boat trips out to see the wind farm at close quarters.