Belgium's 70km (44 miles) of North Sea coast is one continuous vista of beaches backed by sand dunes and speckled with resort towns. Except for De Haan, each resort is encumbered with a dense waterfront lineup of hotels, restaurants, and apartment buildings. Together, these have been dubbed the "Atlantic Wall," after Hitler's World War II fortifications, and they all but neutralize the coast's natural beauty.
Most visitors don't seem too concerned. Even those who might find compensation in superb seafood dining, good shopping, and general vacation hustle and bustle. Kids love the seacoast. For adults, the region offers several vacation styles -- sea, sand, and sun; casino and nightclub action; gustatory gluttony; or a series of sightseeing expeditions. It's possible to cover all of these options in an incredibly short amount of time.
The beaches reach back up to 500m (1,640 ft.) at low tide, and their gentle slope into the sea makes for generally safe swimming -- warnings are in force against swimming along isolated stretches. Just remember that this is the North Sea, not the Caribbean -- the water is gray and pretty darn cold. Visitors skim along the sand on wind-blown sail carts (there's no shortage of wind), pedal beach buggies, or join the ever-hopeful sun worshipers in search of a tan.
Accommodations can be hard to come by in July and August, despite the presence of thousands of vacation homes, apartments, and private homes offering bed-and-breakfast. Reserve well ahead for this period, either through the local tourist office or directly with your chosen lodging. Don't worry too much about this -- you'll always be able to get something, but it might not be what you want, where you want, and for the price you want.
Tracks Along the Coast -- The De Lijn company's Kusttram (Coast Tram; tel. 070/22-02-00; www.dekusttram.be) runs the length of the seacoast between Knokke-Heist and De Panne in 2 hours, and stops at 70 places along the way. Departures are every 10 to 20 minutes in summer, and every 30 minutes in winter, in both directions. Purchase your ticket from a De Lijn sales point or automat before boarding and you'll pay less for it (the "twin" prices listed here reflect this distinction). An enkele rit (one-way) ticket costs 1.20€/1.60€ ($1.90/$2.55) for two zones, and 2€/2.70€ ($3.20/$4.30) for three or more zones. A dagkaart (day card), valid for the entire tram line, costs 5€/6€ ($8/$9.60) for 1 day; 10€/12€ ($16/$19) for 3 days; and 15€/18€ ($24/$29) for 5 days. Children 5 and under ride free.