In the heyday of the cross-Channel ferries it often made sense to head to the Belgian ports of Ostend or Zeebrugge if your destination was Holland or northern Germany—trading a bit longer relaxing on the boat against time saved driving. Hence my first visit to Ostend was at Easter 1972 when we crossed from Dover on a short visit to my aunt and uncle at RAF Laarbruch on the German-Dutch border. We stopped off in Rotterdam on the way to drop my grandmother with some friends who had been neighbours during the war. It was her only ever trip outside of Britain.
I returned to Ostend a couple of years later. We'd set off on a 7 week camping trip around Europe, crossing from Dover to Boulogne on the Sealink hovercraft as our first destination was Paris. But the end of our trip brought us down the North Sea coast from Denmark, through Germany and Holland, to Ostend where we bought a ticket for the next ferry to Dover and home. On neither of these trips did Ostend make much impression! I guess our minds were always focused on the next part of the trip.
When I grew up Dover–Ostend was one of the major cross-Channel ferry routes, and there were also air ferries from Southend to Ostend. Then for 15 years there was a ro-ro passenger car and freight ferry service to Ramsgate. But the last cross-Channel ferry service ceased operation in 2013, and the port now seems to cater for pleasure craft, a moderate amount of cross-Channel freight and various utility shipping roles, and to be much less important than many of the neighbouring ports. The sand dunes and beaches here are much better suited to attracting tourists than boat traffic.
I returned to the town once more in 2009 when we took my Mum over to Brugge (Bruges) for a few days. This time it was the Channel Tunnel that we used, and we drove up the coast from Calais, stopping in Ostend for a bite to eat—yes, they do produce good Belgian waffles In Belgium! My strongest memory from that visit was of the trams running along the seafront, and the almost impenetrable line of high apartments or hotels along the seafront.
And the waffles.