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Its North Sea beaches have drawn in tourists since the 19th century when it was a fashionable outing for royalty and aristocracy. It has since become more democratic and is now densely built up with tall 20th-century blocks of holiday apartments and hotels.
Its waterfront promenade features every cliche of a European seaside holiday, including a large musical theatre and casino. Besides being a holiday destination, Ostend is also a sizeable port for cargo traffic, particularly across the English Channel. Passenger lines towards the UK have ceased.
Ostend used to be a small fishing village on the easternmost edge of an island on the shore of the coast. The original town centre is m away in the sea compared to the present day seashore. After the town was flooded and destroyed several times by severe storms, it was moved onshore to its current location. The mudflat between the island and the coastline gradually sanded and the island became a part of the main land. Ostend prospered as a market town.
In the 17th century the harbour of Ostend gained importance. Ostend received a lot of attention of Belgian kings Leopold I and Leopold II, since they liked to spend their holidays here. They built many important buildings in the city, such as the Hippodrome Wellington horse racing track and the Royal Galleries.
Thanks to these investments Ostend started to be called "Queen of the Belgian sea-side resorts". In the 20th century Ostend hosted all of the sailing events for the Olympic Games for Antwerp. Post-war hunger for investments destroyed much of Ostend's original charm with tall concrete apartment buildings.