Belgium is known for its delicious food – from waffles, fries to beer, but how much do you really know about this small European country? In this post, we’ve compiled a list of 45 interesting facts about Belgium that will make you look like a savvy traveler!
So the next time someone asks you why Brussels is so important or what’s up with Belgian chocolate, you’ll be prepared to wow them with your knowledge!
45 Interesting Facts about Belgium
Belgium is located in western Europe, bordering the countries of the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg, France, and the North Sea. Although it is one of the smallest nations, it is actually the 6th most densely populated country in Europe.
1. The official name of Belgium
The official name of Belgium is the “Kingdom of Belgium”. Shortened for Belgium or België (in Dutch).
2. Belgium has gone without a government not once, but twice in its history
Belgium is a sovereign state and a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. It has a federal government that is divided into three Parliamentary assemblies: the Walloon Assembly, the Flemish Parliament, and the Brussels Regional Parliament.
One of the interesting things about Belgium is that the country has managed to run without a government.
Not once, but twice. It happened in 2010 when it went without a government for 541 days, and the second time happened recently in 2018, where there was no government for 592 days.
3. Belgium has a royal family
Belgium has a long monarchy history dating back to 1165!
The current king of Belgium is Philippe, who was born in 1960. He’s married to the country’s queen consort, Mathilde, Duchess of Brabant. They have four children together.
Their main residence is the Royal Palace of Laeken, and they also make appearances at other royal residences such as the Castle of Balmoral (in Scotland) and the Royal Palace of Lopud (in Croatia).
The Royal Palace of Brussels located near the Grand Place is not their home, instead, this palace is used for administration, and for hosting guests. Visitors are not allowed at this site, except in the summertime, when the Royal Palace opens its doors to the public (and for free) to explore the interiors.
4. Belgium has an interesting monarchy history
Today, Belgium is a constitutional monarchy. Its monarchy history, however, is quite different.
Before becoming a kingdom in 1831, Belgium was part of Napoleon’s First French Empire (1804-1815).
After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, it became independent as the Kingdom of the Netherlands for a brief period of time, and before splitting into the Kingdom of Belgium (1831-1839).
It finally became a fully independent state in 1839.
5. Belgium has three official languages
There are three official languages in Belgium: Dutch, French, and German.
The majority of citizens speak the latter two in everyday life. Although there is no official “Belgian” language, many also speak Dutch with some differences in pronunciation and spelling.
6. Belgium has two linguistic communities
Belgium is home to two main linguistic communities: the Flemish Community and the French-speaking Community. This leads to some interesting situations, such as street signs changing their names from Flemish to French or vice versa.
7. Belgium has 10 provinces and 3 regions
Belgium has 10 provinces just like Canada. And the country is split into 3 administrative regions: Flanders (Dutch-speaking), Wallonia (French-speaking), and Brussels Capital Region (bilingual).
Regions were created to minimize linguistic, cultural, social, and economic tensions in the 1970s and 80s through Constitutional Reforms.
8. Epic City Walls in Belgium
There are five cities in Belgium that still have well-preserved city walls standing tall and proud. These are also recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. They are the historic town centers of Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, and the medieval city center of Leuven.
9. The “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels was written in Belgium
Belgium is a fascinating country in many ways. It’s also one of the places where the Communist Manifesto was written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. This famous pamphlet describes the beliefs of communists, who wanted to overthrow capitalist societies.
Marx and Engels wrote it while living in Brussels, which is today home to several international organizations including the European Union and NATO.
10. The first French Fries stand was opened in Belgium
Belgium is home to the very first French Fries stand, which was opened way back in 1863.
Did you know? In Brussels, fries are often eaten with mayonnaise instead of ketchup, and there’s an annual festival dedicated to them!
11. One of the most popular dishes in Belgium is mussels & fries
Fries, or French fries as we know them today, were invented by the Belgians. It dates back to the battle of Waterloo which was fought against Napoleon’s troops.
Although fries are eaten by many people all over the world, the Belgian variant is slightly different from what you would find in, say, France. They are typically cooked twice with an exception being when they’re served with steak.
Mussels are another popular dish in Belgium. They’re served alongside fries with mayonnaise, white wine, celery sticks, and often lemon juice squeezed over them.
12. Belgians are also the largest fries consumer!
Not only were fries invented in Belgium, but they are also the largest consumer of fries per capita. They eat about 55 pounds (25 kilograms) each year!
13. Belgium is well known for its chocolate
Did you know that Belgium produces more than 220,000 tons of chocolate annually?
Belgium has about 2000 chocolate brands, and 40% of these are produced by small to medium-sized enterprises. That’s more than any other country in the world!
And….there are over 500 types of Belgian chocolates, and it’s no secret that they take their chocolate seriously!
14. Belgium has a very deep-rooted chocolate industry
The first chocolates were introduced to Europe via Belgium by a physician named Dr. Tobias Venner in the 16th century.
He had studied chocolates in Mexico, where it was consumed by the Aztec Indians, and brought cocoa plants back to Europe.
15. There are a variety of Belgian waffles
Belgium is home to several types of waffles. You will even find one cooked with speculoos (a type of biscuit), and filled with whipped cream!
These are the different types of waffles that you can eat in Belgium – gaufres from Brussels, which is a sweet, and caky type of waffle.
Another popular one is Liège-style waffles, which are crispy, and caramelized waffles with small pieces of pearl sugar in them. It is a specialty of the city of Liège.
Brussels-style waffles that are found everywhere are yeast-based puffier rounds with square indentations, and they are served with toppings on them – yum!
Lastly galettes – which are round pancakes cooked in a special iron mold. They’re usually made from buckwheat flour, and are very popular in Belgium!
16. The Brussels sprout was accidentally invented by a Belgian farmer
The first Brussels Sprouts were grown by a Flemish farmer in 1720.
It’s believed that he didn’t bother to collect the seeds after throwing them away, and they began growing on their own in his field. The mischievous farmer decided to replant them, but by then they’d already produced an abundance of sprouts!
Some say this is the story of how the famous Christmas dish “tutti-frutti” was invented.
17. Belgium is home to several beer breweries
Belgium is home to over 1500 types of beer and some breweries date back to the Middle Ages. Flanders alone has about 140 breweries!
The Belgians understand their beers well, and there are several terms used when talking about them like ‘degustation’ (tasting), ‘abbey’ (brewed in an abbey), or ‘Trappist’ (Trappists are monks that brew beer). How cool?
18. Belgians LOVE football
Belgium is the birthplace of four out of ten players that play in England’s top league (Premier League). Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini were all born in Belgium.
Did you know? There have been a total of 382 players from Belgium who’ve played in the Premier League – that’s more than any other country!
The country was also the first continental European nation to be represented in a World Cup when it sent an unofficial team for the 1904 competition.
Their national football team is one of only eight teams to have won the coveted “Jules Rimet trophy” – a three-time winner no less.
19. The Belgian police use Winged Victory of Samothrace as a logo!
The Winged Victory of Samothrace is an ancient Greek sculpture that was discovered in 1863. It depicts the Greek goddess Nike, who was also known to the Romans as Victoria and was believed to bring victory to any army she flew over.
This iconic statue has been used as a logo by various organizations for centuries now, including the police force in Belgium. You can see it clearly on their shoulder patches which are placed right below the words “police” and “Belgium”.
20. Atomium – One of the national symbols of Brussels and Belgium
The Atomium is regarded as the national symbol of Belgium. It was built for Expo 58 and lies next to the Heysel exhibition centre which is known today as King Baudouin Stadium.
The Atomium has become the logo for the Brussels-Capital Region and is an iconic landmark.
21. Tin Tin was born in Belgium
Belgium has a long comics history, going back to the 1930s. The country also has the highest number of professional comic creators per KM.
Tintin, which is the most widely-translated comic strip hero of all times was Belgian and so were Lucky Luke and the Smurfs.
Brussels is home to the world’s largest comic book museum. My husband loved murals with Tin Tin all over the city!
Ghent is also has a museum dedicated to comics, called the Museum of Comic Book Art, which has a collection of over 9,000 comic books, as well as artists’ work!
22. Belgians are some of the tallest people in Europe
Belgians are one of the tallest nations in Europe, averaging 184.8 cm for adult males and 170.4 cm for adult females.
23. Belgians have a strange but wonderful world record
Belgium holds the strange Guinness World Record of “most microcars in one location”.
These vehicles are so small that they can’t be used on public roads, and are only built for city use.
There were 300 of these vehicles parked together at an event in Brussels in 2011.
24. 97% of the Belgians live in cities
Belgians mostly live in cities or urban areas of the country.
25. Belgium also coined the term Spa
The town of Spa is located in eastern Belgium. This is where the ancient Romans came to bathe and soak in the thermal waters, known to have healing properties.
Its popular mineral springs, known locally as pouhons, have caused the name ‘spa’ to be given to all health resorts. And that’s where the term/word, ‘spa’ originated.
26. Belgium is home to numerous festivals and parades
Belgium is known for its many festivals (including beer festivals), but none are more popular than their annual parades. These parades usually last 8 hours and involve around 3 million participants!
Each year over 2000 different groups march through the city of Brussels, rejoicing in the Parade of Music (Fête de la Musique). This event takes place on the night of the summer solstice.
It’s free to join, so you can imagine how many people are involved!
Or flower carpet events…say what? (27)
The Flower Carpet is a biennial event that takes place in Brussels at the Grand Place. During this event, volunteers weave a carpet out of colorful begonias.
Plan your trip around August, coordinating with Assumption Day to see this event.
28. It is Saint Nicholas and not Santa Claus who brings presents, and weeks ahead of Christmas
Children in Belgium believe that Saint Nicholas brings them presents on December 5th and 6th, which is celebrated as St. Nicholas’ Eve and St. Nicholas’ Day. And this is weeks before Christmas Eve. December 25th is mostly celebrated as a religious festival in the country.
On St. Nicholas’ Eve kids will leave a note, or homemade gift, snacks for St Nicholas by the fireplace before bed. Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas arrives with gifts for those who behaved well (and the bad ones are taken to Spain by Sinterklaas Assistant aka Sooty Piet)!
Different regions in Belgium follow a variation of this tradition.
29. Belgium has one of Europe’s oldest universities
The University of Ghent was founded in 1817, making it one of Europe’s oldest institutions for higher education. The first classes were held on October 9th of that year.
30. A popular English actress was born in Belgium
Although Audrey Hepburn is best known for her roles as a British actress, she was born in Brussels Belgium.
She was one of the most successful actresses of all time and was known for starring alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names, such as Gregory Peck and Frank Sinatra.
31. The saxophone was invented by a Belgian
Adolphe Sax was a Belgian inventor who created the saxophone. He also invented the saxhorn and saxotromba.
In Dinant, you can visit a museum dedicated to Adolphe Sax and the history of saxophone. This city is sprinkled with colorful saxophones all over!
32. World Wide Web was co-invented by a Belgian
Belgium is responsible for the World Wide Web, which came about from a project named CYCLADES. In 1989, young computer scientists Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau worked together on this huge new concept.
33. Belgium with BeNeLux paved the way for the European Union
The BeNeLux stands for Belgium – Netherlands – Luxembourg, and these three neighboring countries have economic and transport packs. It was the first-ever customs union.
This agreement paved the way for a larger European Union set up in the future years!
Belgium enjoys an important position in the European and international economy. It is an EU member, and it follows the Schengen Agreement to allow non-visa-exempt travelers to visit the country. Euro is its official currency.
34. Belgium has the oldest graveyard in Europe
St. Peter’s Church in Belgium has the oldest graveyard that dates back all the way to 900AD! It is located in Halle, near Brussels.
35. Belgium has more castles per square kilometre than in any other country
Belgium has more castles per square kilometre than in any other country in the world (including its surrounding countries like France Germany, Netherlands, Luxembourg).
The most famous of them are the Fortifications of Vauban, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are about 12 of these architectural gems throughout Belgium.
36. Belgian flag and the German flag have the same three colors; black, yellow and red
The Belgian flag is black, yellow, and red. It’s believed that the colors were derived from William I of the Netherlands.
Germany uses a slightly different version of this flag- they have two vertical stripes of black on either side with a large white stripe in between it all.
Did you know? Canada accidentally decorated the Rideau Hall to welcome the Belgian Royal Family in 2018, with German flags. Thankfully it was rectified prior to the Royal Family’s arrival!
37. The Big Bang theory is considered to have originated in Belgium
The Belgian Catholic priest and physicist, Georges Lemaître was the first person to talk about the Big Bang theory. This came about in 1927 when he noticed discrepancies in calculations that were based on Einstein’s 1915 general relativity equations.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Big Bang model was accepted by scientists, following the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation by American physicist, Arno Penzias.
38. Belgium has one of the highest income tax rates in the world (but low corporation taxes)
Belgium’s income tax rates are very high compared to other European countries. It sits at 42%. The tax money goes into the social security system of Belgium to fund their programs.
Even though Belgium’s cost of living is high, and the income taxes take almost half of it, the low cost of healthy groceries, available housing, government assistance, make Belgium a great place to live!
Corporate taxes in Belgium are 25% (in 2020, prior to that it was 33%).
39. Belgium is nicknamed “The Crossroads of Europe”
This country is often called The Crossroad of Europe because it has 3 countries surrounding it!
France, Netherlands, and Germany are all within 100 km of the country.
It’s often used as a stop-off point for many travelers and so has one of the busiest airports in Europe, Brussels Airport! (Plus hotels and food are cheaper in Belgium as compared to France and Netherlands).
40. Did you know that Brussels Airport is the largest chocolate outlet in the world?
Due to the influx of tourists through Brussels Airport, there are over 40 stores selling Belgian chocolates! It has even been described as ‘the world’s biggest chocolate corner’ with its own Ferris wheel and fountain with jets of chocolate.
According to the Brussels Airport – Zaventem, about 1.5 kg of chocolate is sold per minute, which is about 2 tonnes per day and more than 800 tonnes per year.
41. Belgium grants the most citizenships per capita in the world
In 2016, a total of 20,000 people became new citizens in Belgium. This is the highest number in the whole world (in terms of per capita)! The reason for this has to do with their citizenship policy which they call “the impossible mission”.
Did you know? 15 percent of Belgium’s population or 1.6 million people are immigrants.
42. Europe’s oldest shopping arcade is the Galeries St Hubert in Belgium
Located in central Brussels, the Galeries St Hubert is the oldest shopping arcade in Europe. It has been around since 1847. It was built to shelter traders from the rain and snow, which is why they have a glass roof over them!
Today there are over 100 stores including chocolate, shoe, jewelry shops, clothing boutiques, and restaurants.
43. Belgium’s town of Durbuy is the smallest town in the world with a population of 1000 or more
Durbuy is located in the Ardennes region and is only 0.82 sq km in size. It’s steeped in nature and rich in history with castles, abbeys, and chapels scattered throughout the area.
To get around, there are cycle paths and walkways making it easy to explore!
44. Napoleon’s final defeat happened in Belgium at the Battle of Waterloo
The Battle of Waterloo was fought in 1815. Napoleon’s final defeat happened when the Prussian army defeated the French and Wellington defeated Napoleon, which led to his exile to Saint Helena where he died.
You can visit Waterloo on a day trip from Brussels.
45. There are a lot of World War sites in Belgium
The World Wars are an important part of Belgium’s history. There are numerous museums and sites that you can visit to learn and understand WW I, WWII, and nuclear weapons history (Belgium makes for a great educational and fun trip for kids too).
World War sites in Belgium include the Mousselse trench museum in Hoeselt, the Bulge American Cemetery and Memorial for US soldiers who died during WWII, In Flanders Fields Museum, Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres to name a few.
46. Belgium is tolerant
Belgium is one of the top three most tolerant countries in Europe according to a survey done by Bertelsmann Foundation.
To be in the top three tolerant nations in Europe, you must be one of the least racist and homophobic countries. The poll was completed in 2015 with over 30,000 participants from various European nations!
Wrapping up this post on Belgium facts, with a pro travel tip! Belgium is a great destination to explore more of Europe. From here you can check off some of the popular countries like the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, or even the United Kingdom – thanks to an efficient train network!
On our first visit to Belgium that is exactly what we did, we based ourselves in Brussels and then explored the neighboring countries using trains and tours.
Is Belgium on your bucket list? Add it, and you won’t regret it!