The town De Panne is one of the most popular beach resorts in Belgium primarily because of its beach which is the widest in the country and covered in white sand. The town is of great importance in Belgian history as it is here that King Leopold I first set foot in the territory in 1831. It was also the dunes between here and Dunkirk that were the scenes for the evacuation of British troops in WW2 that proved vitally important. Both of these events are honoured in the town with a monument for King Leopold and an interesting World War 2 Museum with free entry.
Nowadays, the town is best known for its beach and is a popular destination for tourists especially in the summer time. The white sandy beach with its bars and bistros make for the perfect destination on a hot summers day. Aside from the beach itself, the surrounding dunes are the oldest in Europe and make for an interesting setting for a stroll. There are also many bike routes in the surrounding countryside as well as walking routes which offer good day activities for the more active travellers. Besides the sand, sea and countryside there is not a great variety of other things to try in the town although families with children will appreciate the theme park and nearby aqua park. All in all, the good food and beach will be enough to keep you in De Panne for a few days but you will struggle to occupy yourself for more time than this unless you are purely looking to chill out.
Lets explore the best things to do in De Panne:.
1. Have fun at Plopsaland
This theme park, which gets its name from Belgian TV character plop the gnome, is the main tourist attraction in De Panne.
The park, which costs 35 euros for anybody over 1m tall, is mainly aimed at children but does have one or two thrill rides for adults.
Anubis the Ride is best for adrenaline junkies and catapults riders to 90kmph in just 2 seconds! The park is closed during January and February.
Throughout the rest of the year, the park hosts various events including appearances of popular TV characters and even pop music concerts.
Book your tickets online before visiting for a small but handy discount.
2. Stroll along the De Panne beach
De Panne is known for having one of the widest stretches of beach in Belgium and this is the main reason for people visiting the town.
The sea is ideal for swimming and paddling due to the gradual slope and the beach is entirely sand making it great for sports or sandcastles.
If you are visiting De Panne in the summer and have children with you, look out for the great activities for kids on the beach including sand castle competitions and junior lifeguard contests.
3. Tour the Dumont Quarter
The Dumont Quarter is a fascinating historical area in the town of De Panne.
The area is visited for its architecture; a collection of buildings from the 19th and 20th Century which were designed by the architect Albert Dumont.
The buildings here were built in the style of cottages and were considerate of the surrounding dunes and surroundings.
Walking tours of the area take place year-round, more information can be obtained from the De Panne tourism office.
4. Take a tram ride
The tramway that passes through De Panne offers great value for money.
Simply jump on, pay 5 euros and you are then able to ride the tram as much as you like for one day.
The tram will take you to Knokke on the Dutch border with many stops in between but the route is not particularly scenic.
An added bonus is that, if you are a dog owner, dogs are allowed onto the trams at all times.
5. Chill at Le Clapotis
Definitely the coolest place in De Panne, Clapotis is a bar right on the beach with great views, bean bags and good music.
The bar offers cocktails, champagne and beers all at reasonable prices for such a touristy spot as well as a snack laden beach bar style food menu.
This is the best place to chill out on a hot summers day in De Panne but be warned it does get busy.
6. Explore 5000 year old dunes
The oldest dune area in all of Europe, the Cabour Dunes are a fascinating sight.
The dunes can be walked through via a marked path but you cannot walk on the dunes themselves as they are a protected natural area.
Look out for the dune’s inhabitants, ponies and horses, which help to keep the area clean with their grazing.
To help preserve the dunes, book a guide with a bio-guide.
7. Visit the Flemish Visitors and Nature Education Centre de Nachtegaal
The name (De Nachtegaal is translated as the nightingale) of this small but interesting visitor centre may not exactly roll of the tongue but it is worth remembering.
The centre houses a vast collection of interactive exhibits to educate and inform guests about the sea, beaches and dunes in De Panne and the surrounding area.
The centre also features changing exhibits with about two different temporary exhibits taking centre stage each year.
The centre is a great place to visit before or after a walk through the dunes.
8. Take a bike ride
If you enjoy cycling, it really is worthwhile hiring a bicycle.
There are many enjoyable routes in and around De Panne.
Cycling around the town itself is enjoyable but for those looking to travel further, the Cobergher Bike Route is ideal, it will take you from De Panne to the French border and back again with many charming villages and scenery along the way.
9. Go bowling
De Panne is a popular choice for those who love to go ten-pin bowling.
The Bowl Inn Bowling Group, which has other bowling venues in major Belgian cities, offers a meet, eat and bowl tour package.
The package includes food, socialising and of course bowling.
The venue may seem odd to those used to bowling in the UK or USA as it combines an open fireplace and rusting looking woodwork with bright and flashing lights.
10. Visit the Sculpture Park
The so-called Beaufort: Permanent Sculpture Park features many sculptures both new and old.
Some of the sculptures were installed here to begin with and others have been moved here from their original spots.
The highlights include three African elephants which were originally located in Durban, South Africa and a giant male torso.
The park is great to walk around even if you are not an art aficionado.
11. Eat fresh fish
There is nothing else you should be eating when you are staying this close to the coast and luckily for you there are plenty of good seafood restaurants in De Panne.
Arguably the best is the Au Filet de Sole on Walckierstraat.
The restaurant is known for its great taster menus which consist of five or six courses of seasonal and fresh produce all cooked to perfection and for a restaurant with such a great reputation it is not too expensive.
Be sure to book a table here as it is very popular.
12. Look around the Culture House
The Culture House De Scharbiellie is packed full of oceanic art which once belonged to Paul Simpelaere.
The collection is unlike any other art museum in Europe and contains paintings, sculptures and other artwork relating to the ocean.
The museum is not open year round and is always closed on Sundays so be sure to plan your trip in advance.
13. Explore the World War 2 Museum in Cabour
Just outside of De Panne this World War 2 Museum is worth a look.
The collection housed here was acquired in 2009 and consists of a large portion of the Robert Moeyaert collection.
Exhibits of the museum focus on specific stories from the war including refugees, the air force and events in the Somme.
Local events such as battles along the Belgian coast are also explored.
Entry to the museum is free.
14. Get wet at Plopsaqua
A different attraction entirely to the Plopsaland theme park, and one that may or may not seem more attractive, is the Plopsaqua water park.
As with Plopsaland, the park has rides suitable for all ages, the most terrifying of which is the Sky Drop where riders begin in a small capsule before free falling 20 metres; not for the faint-hearted! The park is open year round but not every day so check before visiting.
15. See the first king of Belgium
The first king of Belgium, Leopold I is honoured with a monument on Leopold I Esplanade in De Panne.
The monument covers a rather large area, with the statue of Leopold I taking centre stage.
The nearby Royal Chapel re-enforces the ties between De Panne and the Belgian Royal Family.