Not far from the city of Brugge lies the seaside resort Knokke – Heist. This is considered a fashionable summer resort for the rich and … well. Countless fat SUVs of all noble car brands with Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourgian and German license plates in the streets of Knokke especially on weekends and vacations seem to confirm this. Looking for what makes Knokke – Heist so popular, I got lost between the glass facades of luxurious apartment – houses.
Lots of beach in Knokke Heist – and what else?
The journey from Brugge to the coast with the IC of the Belgian railroads takes only a short time. Halfway around the route are the port facilities in Zeebrugge, from where ferries still run across the Channel to England even after Brexit. The train already reaches Heist and thus the first stop in the elongated coastal town of Knokke – Heist. Then follows Dunbergen and as terminus the station of Knokke.
While the view from the window is dominated by meadows and polder landscape on the right, interrupted only by a few buildings such as the Knokke Water Experience Center, north of the railroad line on the strip to the beach and sea is a closed settlement. At the terminus Knokke Station, one immediately seems to have arrived in the urban center of the city. The central bus station is right next to it, as is the terminus of the „coastal streetcar“ (Kusttram). The large Sint Margareta church on the opposite side is visible from the forecourt, which is characterized by several traffic circles.
Shopping and fine dining – Knokke’s world of experience
Next to the church also begins the main shopping street of Knokke, the Lippenslaan, which runs with wide sidewalks and two calmer lanes towards the beach. Between boutiques and smaller stores you will find various restaurants with different offers. Knokke is known for upscale gastronomy in the four-star level, the Michelin restaurant guide alone lists eight of the culinary temples in its current edition.
Window shopping as an event
Who is anyway already on the Lippenslaan on the way, should take itself actually times the time for a relaxed Shopwindow – stroll. Unlike in many cities, where nowadays only bored mannequins seem to continue the dreariness of the city centers behind glass, in Knokke there are some shop windows designed with imagination and plan, where it is really fun to take a closer look.
The preferred theme is, of course, beach, summer, leisure and joie de vivre. But somehow some decorators in Knokke sometimes seem to pack wit and self-irony into the motifs.
To the right of the Lippenslaan opens the Alfred Verweeplein, which on some days is filled with market life. Well, this weekly market with its offer, however, is quite typical as in many other cities.
The Flemish painter Alfred Verwee, who also found his landscape motifs on the coast near Knokke, has a small memorial column in the middle of the square. Verwee is, however, together with van Bunnen and another „investor“ the originator of the investment boom in Knokke. He not only founded a Knogge artists‘ colony, but also began as early as 1887 with the targeted construction of vacation apartments for resale.
Vacation apartments – expensive place for real estate buyers
On the east side of the square stands the rather handsome Knokke Town Hall, built of red brick. People there will be especially pleased with the bubbling influx of money, because Knokke is an expensive place to live due to its popularity with the region’s wealthy. A panoramic view of Knokke from the south showed me eleven construction cranes. Unceasingly, more apartment buildings with „vacation homes“ are built, despite square meter prices from 33,000 € upwards. With the curious look in the shop window of a real estate company I found no offer under 1/2 Mio.€.
The „boulevard“ Lippenslaan is also characterized by apartment buildings, which house boutiques, real estate offices or restaurants on the ground floor. Only in a few places there are a few older houses, which seem to be left over from the early days of Knokke as a seaside resort. There is nothing left of the old fishing village. A tiny fishermen’s church, which is supposed to be left somewhere, I did not find. Unfortunately, it is also nowhere prominently marked on village maps…
On the beach of Knokke
Between two glazed apartment blocks at Van Bunnenplein, the shopping street Lippenslaan meets the beach promenade. The beach is hardly visible at first, as rows of wooden shacks stand in front of it on the first meters to the sea.
The fine-grained sandy beach with a length of about 12km is considered the main attraction of Knokke – Heist (probably the only one). To the west, the port facilities of Zeebrugge adjoin, so you can see ships passing in the distance again and again. The beach promenade is also characterized by apartment buildings. Only the Casino Knokke interrupts the front of the houses at an arch of the beach. The building from the year 1930 is with its art deco – equipment a small characteristic of the place. Until 1973, the Casino Knokke hosted an international song festival (Coupe d’Europe du tour de chant ), which came close to the Grand Prix d’Eurovision for Western European countries.
Today, the annual fireworks festival of Knokke (Internationaal vuurwerkfestival ) still makes a name for itself. Every evening during a summer week there is a spectacular fireworks display accompanied by a musical program.
Nature oasis and cyclists – Eldorado
To the east of Knokke borders the Belgian-Dutch nature reserve Het Zwin. For nature lovers this 159 ha large coastal protected area at the border to the Netherlands is considered a small Mecca. Unfortunately, due to limited mobility, it was not possible for me to visit this gem, which is probably why I missed the only real attraction of Knokke. Partly off the roads and outside the towns, there are also a variety of cycling and hiking trails through 3,500 ha of polder landscape in the Knokke – Heist area.
A center for water sports and fun is located south of the railroad line on the Duinenwater – road – the Sportoase Duinenwater. Here you can find a swimming pool, a mini-beach and a water-skiing facility.
Medical tourism to Belgium
Some travelers also come to Knokke for a completely different reason. South of the city center, in the middle of the second decade of the new millennium, a somewhat futuristic-looking building was erected – the AZ Zeno hospital. This is a normal public hospital, but it is partly occupied by specialists for operations.
For example, the well-known Belgian hip surgeon Dr. DeSmet and his team from the ANCA Clinic operate not only in Gent but also in the AZ Zeno in Knokke. For these appointments, younger hip patients in particular travel from all over Europe and even worldwide to have something other than the usual total hip replacement „fitted“, if possible. With hip resurfacing in metal or ceramic, an active sporting life can be resumed largely without restrictions after recovery. AZ Zeno provides the operating rooms, the pre- and postoperative treatment and also the first therapeutic measures, e.g. in the large hydrotherapy pool in the basement.
A visit to Knokke – Conclusion
Knokke – Heist tries to score with its 12km long beach. But honestly, is that enough for a real attraction? I am really skeptical about that. Even at the Baltic Sea, I find places that have „only beach“ quite boring.
Fortunately, there are mostly still nice bike paths and connections to the more or less attractive hinterland – and at least some historical trademarks such as thatched fishermen’s cottages, brick churches from the Middle Ages or small harbors. In Knokke, history has been pushed back so much that one can speak of „overbuilt“ in the literal sense of the word.
Some may have heard of the social trickle-down theory and hope that a small fortune will trickle through the pockets of the part-time Knokke residents during their visit. In the age of credit cards and mobile pay, I am very skeptical about the expected success. So I prefer to go window shopping for an hour on the Lippenslaan and amuse myself with many a successful arrangement or even individual grotesques that can be interpreted into the pictures. The closed waterfront of apartment buildings made of concrete and glass, on the other hand, which looks almost as unimaginative and callous as the embrasure architecture in Berlin’s government district, makes me shudder – if this is supposed to be the new feel-good world in a prime ocean-view location. For me, rather the epitome of a vivid (not ‚contemplative‘!) real estate bubble.
If you’re on the Flemish coast anyway, you can venture a short visit to Knokke – but I didn’t have the reason to go there.
Travel tips for Knokke – Heist
Arrival on the Flemish coast
Getting to Knokke – Heist by train is easy with the IC of the Belgian railroads, which run from Brugge at hourly intervals (condensed to half-hourly at peak times), sometimes also from Brussels and Brussels Airport to the terminus at Knokke Station.
If you are already on the Flemish coast, you can also use the coastal streetcar (Kusttram) – the longest streetcar line in the world at 68km! Five of the stations are located in the Knokke-Heist area.
Accommodation in Knokke
If you have a tent or camper, the small Nomad Knokke campground (Natiënlaan 72) is recommended. But even those who are traveling without their own tent will find quite comfortable accommodation in the associated Glamping Nomad Knokke* – from small two-bed tents with beds, refrigerator and terrace to large tents (up to 5 people) with roof gable – sleeping places. Bathroom and shower are common, but numerous in small „wet cell – cubes“, each of which can be locked to the outside for the duration of use. Barbecue stands are located in the squares between the respective rounds of tents. A large supermarket for self-catering can be found opposite the entrance on the other side of the road.
Relatively simple accommodations are offered by the traditional Hotel Prins Boudewijn* at the beginning of the Lippenslaan shopping street, only about 400m from the train station. A buffet breakfast can be included on request. The upper floors are accessible by elevator. There are two restaurants on the street front of the property. In the vicinity of the hotel are some cheaper restaurants from pita to pizza, as well as for self-catering in the vicinity also a small grocery – store. The rooms in the hotel have a refrigerator, but no kettles or similar.
Weather in Knokke – Heist
The weather forecast for Knokke-Heist today and in the next three days is shown in the adjacent overview. A look at the weather makes it easier to plan your beach days…
Money in Belgium
In Belgium, the euro is the legal tender. For obtaining cash, there are numerous ATMs available, for example, on the Boulevard Lippenslaan.
But also in Belgium the cashless (and surveillance-friendly) card payment is becoming more and more widespread. You can pay with a credit card in practically all stores. Make sure that your valuables are stored safely.