West FlandersFlanders in Belgium and the country's westernmost. It encompasses Belgium's entire coastline and thus is a favourite travel destination for Belgians in the summer months. Its capital, Bruges, is also very popular with tourists due to its unique medieval charms. Otherwise, West Flanders is mainly known for its agriculture. There are many open fields between the small towns and villages and the general flatness of the region make it ideal to go on a cycle holiday.
Cities and towns
West-Flanders is densely populated and has been so for centuries, therefore you will find a multitude of larger and smaller towns, featuring historic cores, spread over its entirety and connected with a network of roads and railroads, enabling one to get around easily by car or a solid network of public transportation. The landscape is flat and open, so cycling and hiking are also a good way to enjoy the countryside.
- (Brugge) – capital of West-Flanders, whose entire medieval centre is classified as .
- – a rather big town at the river Leie. You can find a mix of medieval buildings and shopping facilities. Very close to the French city of Lille.
- (Oostende) – Queen of the coastal towns, developed by the Belgian royal family in the Belle Époque.
- – an industrialised town. The town is mainly known for its shopping facilities and the Rodenbach brewery. Its belfry is a .
- (Ieper) – a military and fortified town by history, the medieval centre was bombed to the ground in World War I, and reconstructed in medieval style from photographs afterwards.
- – a nice coastal town, with an original style of buildings.
- – the most western town in Belgium, next to Koksijde, it also has a wide beach and many sand dunes. Including a nature reserve "De Westhoek".
- – a worldly coastal town, with many facilities. On the north side of the town, at the boundary with the Netherlands, you can also find a nature reserve "Het Zwin".
- – together with Oostduinkerke, coastal towns with a very wide beach and many sand dunes. Oostduinkerke is also known for its horseback-fishers. During the low-tide, sturdy horses draw nets over the sandy shore to capture shrimps, sometimes the shrimps are cleaned and boiled on the beach itself, available for direct consumption.
- – a medieval port on the Belgian coast, at the mouth of the river Yser. Now mainly used as a port for yachts and water sports. At the fishing mine (vismijn), you can also find fishing ships mooring, and buy fresh fish directly from the fishers. The old town still has a very nice medieval centre.
- – a medieval coastal town, just south-east of De Panne and Koksijde. Now further away from the sea due to the sanding of the coast. Its belfry is a .
Other notable towns
- – a tiny medieval, fortified tiny town, along the canal that connected Bruges back to the ocean (after the sanding of the coast). Ideal to visit on a bike, or with a ferry, from Bruges.
- – a small town, in the middle of the Flemish polders. The town also played a vital role in World War I. Its belfry is a .
- – its belfry is a .
- – former Roman town
- – a small town with a medieval centre which played an important role during World War I.
- – Dutch for "the land of hills", a collection of small villages, south of Ypres, in a forested and very hilly environment. Ideal for mountainbiking or hiking. The hills also played a vital tactical role in World War I. It's close to the French border, where you can find French-Flanders: a region that was historically part of Flanders, with the similar villages and towns, but now belongs to France.
- – a picturesque village close to Bruges with many small white houses. Lissewege is to Bruges like Montmartre to Paris.
The main language in West Flanders is Dutch using the West Flemish dialect. Most people are proficient in standard Dutch and many have a functional command of English and French.
By carWest-Flanders is crossed by many motorways.
- The E40 comes from Calais, follows the West-Flemish coast for a while, then near Bruges, turns towards Ghent and Brussels.
- The E403 crosses West-Flanders north-to-south. At Bruges, it has a connection with the E40, it passes Roeselare and Courtray to arrive in Lille.
- The E17 connects Coutray with Ghent and Antwerp
- The A19 is a local motorway, connecting Coutray with the front region around Ypres.
By public transportThere are train lines operated by the NMBS from France (Lille) to Bruges via Courtray, and from Brussels and Ghent to Bruges, De Panne and Courtray. The front region around Ypres can only be reached via Courtray, the northern coastal region can only be reached via Bruges, the southern coastal region can only be reached via Diksmuide.
By boatZeebrugge has a ferry directly to the British city of Kingston upon Hull.
The French port of Calais is also very close to West-Flanders, with a good train and motorway connection to it.
Coast Tram (Dutch: De Kusttram) is the longest tram line in the world with 69 stops over 67 km long track.
It connects all Belgian seaside towns from De Panne near French Duinkerke to Knokke near Dutch border. During peak summer months a tram goes every 10 min from 08:00 till 21:00.
BrugesBruges is the capital of West-Flanders, and by far the most touristic town in West-Flanders. Its medieval city-centre is almost like a living museum, and certainly worth visiting.
CoastWest-Flanders is the coastal province of Belgium. The entire coast is a sand beach, ideal for walking. In the summer, dogs aren't allowed on the beach, in the winter, dogs are allowed (legally, dogs must always be on a leash). The coast is largely build-up with apartments, many consider this ugly, but if you go a bit further to the countryside, you can see the typical coastal houses.
Het Zwin, Nature Reserveaddress: Knokke-HeistHet Zwin is a nature reserve near the boundary with the Netherlands. It's the north-most place of the province, and many sea-birds and salt plant species can be found.
De Westhoek, Nature Reserveaddress: De PanneDe Westhoek is a nature reserve near the boundary with France. It's the west-most place of Belgium. The nature reserve is a lot more "sandy" than Het Zwin, with hard-to-climb dunes. This is the only place in Belgium where your view isn't obstructed with trees, but where it's impossible to see any buildings. Get totally lost in the shifting sand.'
The front regionAlong the front line of the First World War, there are many small towns and villages worth visiting. With many memorials and cemeteries in the countryside. Visiting the front line is best done by car, or with operated bus tours, since public transport is sparse in those regions with low population. Travelling by bicycle is also possible, when you want to combine sportivity and remembrance.
247 British cemeteries are scattered all over - too many to list here. Please consult the cwgc for complete information.
The towns of Ypres, Poperinge, Diksmuide and Nieuwpoort, are towns near the front line, where you can find sleeping accommodation. There are also many guest houses and farms in the countryside.
A list of places to visit, from north (Nieuwpoort) to south (Mesen). If you continue to follow the front line south, you'll arrive through Hainaut in France.
King Albert monumentaddress: NieuwpoortA monument dedicated to the King Albert I, king of Belgium during the first world war. The monument is placed near a lock-complex called De Ganzepoot. By operating the locks of de Ganzepoot wrongly, the entire area from Nieuwpoort to Diksmuide could be submerged, which caused the German army to stop. There's also a museum below the monument, and you can walk on top of the monument to get a good view on the surrounding region. The base floor is free to visit. But you have to pay for the museum and the walk on the top.
Lange Max cannon, Koekelareaddress: OudenburgThe Lange Max was a massive cannon used by the Germans. This cannon in Koekelare served to bomb the French town of Dunkirk.
German military cemetery, VladsloKäthe Kollwitz.
Trench of Death (Dodengang)
Yser towerYser tower is the tallest peace memorial in Europe. The first Yser tower was build after World War I, to honour the Flemish soldiers who fell at the river Yser. The tower had a big meaning for those who wanted Flemish independence. After World War II, the first tower was dynamited, as a payback for the many Flemish who collaborated with the Germans. The remains of the first tower are still visible on top the Pax gate (the entrance gate to the site). After World War II, the tower was rebuild, and now remembers both wars. The top of the tower contains the initials AVV-VVK, written in a cross. This stands for "All For Flanders, Flanders For Christ", symbolising the meaning of the tower for the Flemish. The four sides of the tower show the sentence "No more war" in the languages of the four fighting sides: Dutch, English, French and German. You can visit the tower, inside it, there's a museum about both world wars, and about the call for Flemish independence and the relation with the wars. At the top of the tower, you get a nice panoramic view over the very flat region.
Belgian military cemetery, Houthulst
German military cemetery, Langemark
Tyne Cot, British military cemetery, Passendale
Passchendaele Memorial Museum, Zonnebeke
Menin GateLast Post is blown under the Menin Gate, as a final salute.
In Flanders Fields Museum
Hill 60, Preserved Battlefieldhill 60 is a unique piece of land, preserved as it was after World War I.
Talbot Houseaddress: PoperingePoperinge was a town on the British side of the front. It was used as a centre of transport, to bring men and weapons to the front. The Talbot House was a famous pub, chapel and hotel where British officers would go when they returned from the front. It is operated as a museum.
French Mass Grave, Kemmel
Spanbroekmolen Crater a.k.a. Pool of Peace
Island of Ireland Peace Park, Messines