As you might already know, Western Europe can be intriguing and magnetic for just about anyone with a taste for travel. What you might not know, however, is that the small country of Belgium happens to be one of the region’s crowning jewels when it comes to intrigue and beauty.
Of course, you might have already heard about the world-famous Belgian chocolate or its spectacular waffles. Or perhaps you’re a sports enthusiast that knows Belgian soccer players are top-or-the-line.
But, there are many enchanting facts about Belgium. Parties, parades, and picturesque cities can be found in every region and the more you know, the better.
From the tasty cuisine to the charming countryside and the very eclectic populace, there’s a little something fit for everyone’s taste.
Whether you’re planning a week-long itinerary, spending a mere 24 hours in Brussels, or even if you’re simply curious, you don’t want to miss out on these 21 neat Belgium facts.
Sandwiched between France and Germany, it’s easy enough to be fooled by Belgium’s size, especially from a map. In actuality, Belgium is a very densely populated country with a population of over 11 million.
Somehow, despite the fact that the Belgian landscape is only about 11 787 square miles, there still seems to be enough room for everyone.
Belgium is quite an advantageous site for transportation. The Brussels airport handles the majority of the incoming and outgoing airfare, and the port in Antwerp on the North Sea is responsible for the majority of the maritime activities.
Belgium is also largely connected by many highways, most of which are famously lit all throughout the night. However, the Belgian highways are notoriously one the most congested highways in Europe when it comes to traffic.
This is something you should definitely keep in mind, especially if you’re planning to visit Brussels. The traffic in the capital city can get especially bad.
Belgium is still officially known as the Kingdom of Belgium and is governed according to a constitutional monarchy. This means that their current monarch, King Philippe, still holds representative power and official responsibilities.
But, these duties still need backing from parliamentary ministers and the effective head of state, the prime minister. They do need the king to appoint the prime minister, though, and you’ll find his portrait on all the Belgian Euro coins.
Of all the interesting Belgium facts, this one is among the top. As Belgium is a federal state, its governing body includes both the central and five regional governments. This means that forming a federal government takes some time.
Although Belgium has become somewhat notorious for its political deadlock. They actually hold the world record for being the country that has gone the longest time without a federal government.
In the 2019-2020 government reformation, it took Belgium a whopping 692 days to form a central governing body. This is mainly due to the fact that politics differ so greatly between Flanders and Wallonia, but they somehow managed to still get the job done.
Due to the country’s positioning and a rather complicated history, Belgium shares a national language with three of its major neighbors. The three official languages are Dutch, French, and German, although the majority of the population is either Dutch or French-speaking.
Despite not originating from this country, Belgians hold their languages in high regard and are not fond of careless bilingualism. As such, Belgium’s three regions, Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels Capital Region, are divided according to language.
The Flemish Region is Dutch, with the Walloon Region being the French speaking region while also hosting the German-speaking minority in Eastern Belgium.
These regions are, for the most part, monolingual, although the capital city and region of Brussels is openly bilingual.
If you’ve ever tried to virtually explore the different cities and towns in Belgium, the different names can be a bit confusing at first. This is actually to accommodate for the country’s bilingual communities, so major cities usually have a Dutch name and a French name.
You needn’t worry too much, though, as the names do not differ all that much. Although you should at least make sure you know the name of the city as per the language of the region it falls under.
One of the more interesting facts about Belgium is that it was the site of significant conflict in both world wars, which is also why the area is so multilingual.
Belgium has actually been the battleground for more European wars than any other country and has gone to significant lengths to heal those wounds.
Nonetheless, it’s still a pretty good place to visit in Europe to learn about WWII history.
Not only that, but Belgium also played a significant role in the founding of the European Union, and is even the current headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Belgium is also home to many European immigrants, especially since the second world war. Immigrants make up about 12.7% of the population, amounting to about 1.4 million people. And as Belgium is part of the Schengen Area, European travelers can visit without a passport.
In Belgium, you will find many impressive buildings, but none that are as imposing as the Palace of Justice, otherwise known as the Law Courts of Brussels. It not only holds significant legislative and judicial importance but is also a landmark of sorts.
The building still holds many traces of its Greco-Roman-inspired architecture, although much of the structure was damaged during the multiple confrontations in the second world war. Repairs began in 1984, although some areas are still boarded off and incomplete.
Association football is a fan favorite across most of Western Europe, and all of Belgium is no exception to this. The national football team is known as the Belgian Red Devils, the national club of famous players like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Belgium has also been a strong contender in the FIFA World Cup for many years and was even the top team and European country in 2015.
Belgians love their cycling almost as much as their football, and who wouldn’t in such a picturesque place? With numerous nature reserves, hiking trails, lakes, and enchanting towns being biker-friendly, there are almost more opportunities to cycle than there are to walk.
Also, among the most interesting facts about Belgium is the fact that the only country with more Tour de France wins than Belgium is France. Out of 109 Tour de France editions, Belgium has a resounding 18 wins behind France’s 36.
12. Belgians Did Not Get French Fries From the French, Although They Did Get the Idea For Their Flag From Them
French fries are actually Belgian fries and have nothing to do with the French. Although, the well-known black, red and yellow Belgian flag does have something to do with France.
The colors come from the coat of arms of the Duchy of Brabant, which was a state of the Holy Roman Empire. This used to stretch over much of the Flemish and Walloon Regions, including Brussels and the second largest city, Antwerp (Antwerpen).
It’s the use of this tricolor vertical-stripe format that comes from the French. It is thought that the Beglians were indirectly inspired by the French Tricolor for its symbolism of national unity and independence. The Belgian flag we know today has been the official flag since 1830.
Definitely, among the funnier Belgium facts, this 21.9-inch bronze statue, more commonly known as Manneken Pis, can be found in the capital city of Brussels. A mere five minutes away from the Grand Place or Grote Markt, this small statue is somewhat of a national symbol.
The story goes that when enemies surrounded Brussels and tried to hide their gunpowder in a false retreat, a little boy named Julian spotted the ignited fuse and peed on it. To commemorate his heroism, the city commissioned a statue in his likeness that is now the delight of tourists.
Throughout the year, the city even goes as far as to dress him in different costumes for different occasions and festivals, or sometimes just for fun. You can see more of his wardrobe at the Garderobe MannekinPis, which is in the Brussels Museum.
If you’re looking for a raging party or explosive parades, Belgium will definitely knock your socks off. Many come to visit Belgium for the world-famous music festival Tomorrowland but is also home to many other festivals like the Rock Werchter and Pukkelpop.
Belgium also hosts many different festivals and parades throughout the year for a variety of occasions. From the famous Carnival of Binche to the Festival of Wallonia, to the Brussels Summer Festival and many, many more, Belgians certainly know how to celebrate.
Many of these festivals are often costumed celebrations that are tied in some way to Belgian folklore.
One of the fun facts about Belgium is that, although they are huge Christmas lovers, they do not celebrate the holiday as you would expect.
While they do still celebrate December 25th, Santa Claus, actually Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas, only brings presents to good Belgian children on December 5th.
For this reason, St Nicholas Eve and St Nicholas Day (December 5th-6th) are reserved for presents and revelry, where kids will leave out cookies and carrots for Sinterklaas and his horse, Piet.
Christmas Day is more of a religious celebration, though Belgian’s do love a good Christmas Market.
Some of the better-known comic strips to have come from Belgium are some of the most beloved in the world. There’s the 1946 comic series Lucky Luke by Belgian cartoonist Morrisfor starters. Or perhaps you’ve heard of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin, also made in Belgium.
Another famous comic series to originate from Belgium, perhaps the most famous, is Peyo’s The Smurfs. That’s right, before they became a box-office hit with a catchy theme song, they were frolicking along in print in this tiny part of Europe.
Indeed the arts are highly regarded across all the regions of Belgium. This refers not only to the fine arts like painting or sculpting. Indeed Belgium has always been a cultural hub for all kinds of artists like musicians, filmmakers, and even designers.
Being the home to so many revolutionary artists, like the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, there are many art galleries and monuments across the country to admire.
You will find many museums in the capital city, although some cities and small towns in Belgium are exquisitely preserved artworks in themselves. Many buildings are still preserved from medieval times, and much of the architecture harkens to the Art Nouveau stylizations.
Even buildings like the royal palace or the Galeries St Hubert shopping arcades are breathtaking to behold. You should definitely bring your camera along for this trip, just make sure that you bring the top travel case for the camera with you as well.
The artistic Belgian spirit runs true and deep across the country in every niche. Bruges (Brugge) in particular is well-known for its strictly hand-made lace production.
There is even a museum known as the Lace Centre & Museum, which displays many of the past and present techniques.
The museum also hosts demonstrations every afternoon, except on Sundays and holidays, where viewers can watch the bobbin lace making process up close and hear about the techniques first-hand. There’s even a type of lace that Brussels is famous for, known as the Brussels Lace.
19. Speaking of Things Belgians Are Good at Making, the Different Kinds of Belgian Waffles Are Superb
When it comes to treats, you’ll find very few that can hit every spot the way that Belgian waffles do. The most popular for locals and foreigners happen to be the incomparable Brussels waffles and the Liege waffles.
The Brussels waffles are usually lighter and airier thanks to the thin, yeast-leavened batter used in its baking. The Liege waffle in comparison, is thicker and stickier because of the pieces of pearl sugar in the thick, almost bread-like dough.
Try not to get them mixed up unless you want to upset your hosts. These would also be great to pair with some world-class Belgian chocolate
Belgium cuisine is world renowned for many reasons, though many do not know that the small Belgian coast on the North Sea happens to bring in some of the best mussels in the world.
Belgium’s national dish, or Moules-frites (Moules et frites), is actually just french fries and mussels and is usually served with Dijon Mayonnaise. You’ll want to think about packing light just in case you gorge yourself on mussels too much and need the extra room.
As Belgium does not export its mussels, this juicy seafood is served in abundance across the country and you’ll be sure to find it in your average Belgian supermarket. There is an old rule that you shouldn’t eat mussels between May and June, though.
When visiting Belgium, you should know from the start that you simply have to try a beer somehow, somewhere. There is a saying that a Belgian will drink a glass of beer a day, about 20 gallons a year.
Beer is as good as the national drink in this country, and the Beer culture of Belgium is so highly regarded that they are officially protected by UNESCO. It is as highly regarded a craft as any of Belgium’s other specialties, and many breweries have even become tourist destinations.
Not only are there beers of every variation and brew, and sometimes there will be a special beer brewed for specific occasions like Christmas. Most of these brews even have their own glasses.
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