Wedged between Germany, the Netherlands, and France in Western Europe lies the fascinating country of Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium. Belgium is world-famous for its chocolates, beer, and waffles as it is for its culture, rich history, and linguistic diversity. Here are some interesting facts about Belgium.
Facts about Belgium
1. Belgium is quite small.
Belgium has an area of 30,689 km² (11,849 sq mi), which makes it the 136th largest country in the world. It is about the size of the US state of Maryland.
2. Belgium shares a land border with four countries.
Belgium is bordered by France (556 km) to the southwest, the Netherlands (478 km) to the north, Germany (133 km) to the east, and Luxembourg (130 km) to the southeast.
3. Belgium has a 66.5 km (41.3 mi) long coastline.
All of Belgium’s 66.5 km (41.3 mi) long coastline stretches along the North Sea in the northwest of the country.
4. Belgium has a misleading reputation for being a flat country.
Like its neighbor the Netherlands, Belgium is often regarded as a very flat nation. This is really only true in the country’s northwest, where polders of drained coastal marshes form large expanses of rich green pastures. The central portion of Belgium features undulating farmland, while the terrain in the southeast rises progressively into the dramatic hills and scenic forests of the Ardennes.
5. The highest point in Belgium only reaches 694 m (2,277 ft).
Located at the top of a broad plateau in the High Fens in east Belgium, Signal de Botrange rises to an elevation of 694 meters (2,277 feet). Not only is Signal de Botrange the highest point in Belgium but it is also the highest point in the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg).
6. The name Belgium comes from the Romans.
It is presumed that the name ‘Belgium’ stems from the Belgae tribes which lived in the northern part of what was then Gaul around the third century BC. When Julius Caesar set out to conquer the Gauls of Western Europe in 58 BC, he encountered a fierce group of Gallic tribes there, known as the Belgae.
7. Belgium was once Called the “Battlefield of Europe”.
Belgium’s location on the crossroads of northern Europe made it both a hub of international trade and the battlefield for contending nations, thus earning it the moniker “Battlefield of Europe”. From Charlemagne to Napoleon, from the Habsburgs to two World Wars, Belgian has been in the thick of the action.
The English, French, Spanish, Dutch, and German armies have all fought each other on Belgian soil. The battles of Oudenarde, Ramillies, Waterloo, Ypres, and Bastogne were all fought in Belgium.
8. Christianity is the predominant religion in Belgium.
Approximately two-thirds of Belgium’s population identifies as Christian. The overwhelming majority of Belgians are Catholics with smaller numbers of Protestants, and Orthodox Christians. Belgium is also home to a growing community of non-religious people who comprise nearly a third of the nation’s population. The next biggest religious group is the Muslims.
9. Belgium gained independence in 1830.
Historically a border region situated between France and the Netherlands and ruled by the Habsburgs, modern Belgium first emerged as an independent entity in 1789. After Napoleon Bonaparte’s crushing defeat at Waterloo—just miles from Brussels, it was decided that by the Congress of Vienna that Belgium be united with the provinces of Holland. In 1815, William I of Orange was appointed king of the United Kingdom of Netherlands.
From the beginning, the kingdom was hugely divided due to the fact that people in the north were mainly Protestant, while individuals in the south were Catholic. Further, there was also a linguistic division between the Walloons and the Flemish.
William I’s autocratic style, together with a series of anti-catholic measures, bred discontent in Brussels and among the French-speaking Walloons in the south. This disgruntlement led to a rebellion that ultimately resulted in a provisional Belgian government declaring independence on October 4, 1830.
10. Belgium is a constitutional monarchy.
After Belgium became independent in 1830, the National Congress chose a constitutional monarchy as the form of government. On July 21, 1831, Belgium officially became a constitutional monarchy when a German prince, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, became king. The role of the Belgian monarch is a largely ceremonial one and they hold no real power. The real executive power over Belgium lies in the hands of its prime minister.
11. The capital of Belgium is Brussels.
Brussels is a fascinating and vibrant city in its own right, with fun-to-explore neighborhoods, interesting cultural attractions, pleasant pedestrian zones, and a quirky French-Flemish blend. Today, Brussels is not only the capital of Belgium but also the headquarters of NATO, and the administrative center of the European Union (EU).
12. Belgium has three official languages.
Belgium has not one, but three official languages: Dutch, French, and German. It can be said that Belgium suffers from severe linguistic indigestion. The primary language in Belgium is Dutch, spoken by approximately 60% of the population. The inhabitants of Flanders speak Dutch, although some differences in vocabulary have led some to refer to the language colloquially as “Flemish”.
The second-most common language in Belgium is French, spoken by almost 40% of the population. The inhabitants of Wallonia speak French, and a minority still speak the old Walloon dialect. In Brussels, the two languages mingle, but French is more dominant.
German is spoken by less than 1% of the population and the German-speaking community of Belgium numbers around 80,000. The German-speaking part of Belgium can be found along the border with Germany, an area that was ceded by the former German Empire as part of the Treaty of Versailles.
13. Belgium is divided into two very distinct regions.
Belgium is divided into two halves – Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south. Situated wholly within Flanders is the country’s capital Brussels, a separate administrative region that is officially bilingual but which has a large French-speaking population.
French-speaking Wallonia makes up just over half the landmass of Belgium, but only a third of its population. People from Flanders, meanwhile, account for half of the population, with the remainder residing in Brussels.
Like a couple trapped in a loveless marriage, Flanders and Wallonia are stuck together but rarely agree on anything. The two regions differ considerably regarding language, culture, politics, identity, and consciousness. For this reason, Belgium has no national political parties, no national newspaper, no national TV channel, no common school curriculum, or higher education because both Flanders and Wallonia prefer to go their own way.
Economically, there is a great schism between the two regions. Flanders is significantly wealthier than Wallonia and contributes about 60% of Belgium’s GDP compared to 23% for Wallonia. Historically, Wallonia was the wealthier region in the earlier centuries due to heavy industries and mining activities but the region’s economy collapsed as the region’s smokestack industries faltered. Post-World War II, Flanders’s economy flourished due to investments in port infrastructure and light industrial and petrochemical industries.
14. Belgium was the first country on continental Europe in which the Industrial Revolution took place.
The Industrial Revolution was first seen in Wallonia and centered around coal mines, iron industries, steelmaking, and textiles.
15. Belgium was also the location of continental Europe’s first railway line.
One of the more lesser-known facts about Belgium is that continental Europe’s first railway line opened in 1835 between Brussels and Mechelen. This made Brussels the world’s first capital city to be served by train.
16. The currency of Belgium is the Euro (EUR).
Belgium adopted the Euro in 2002 replacing the former Belgian franc.
17. Belgium was the world’s first country to have an openly gay man as the head of government.
Another one of the obscure facts about Belgium. Elio Di Rupo, an openly gay Belgian social-democratic politician served as the country’s prime minister from 6 December 2011 to 11 October 2014.
18. Belgium was the second country in the world to legalize same sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage in Belgium has been legal since 1 June 2003. By doing so, Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, after the Netherlands.
19. Belgium is heavily urbanized.
With 98% of the nation’s population living in urban areas and cities, Belgium is the most urbanized country in Europe (besides the European microstates).
20. Belgium was the second country in the world to legalize euthanasia.
Euthanasia in Belgium has been legal since 28 May 2002. In doing so, it became the second country in the world to legalize euthanasia, after the Netherlands. Belgium is, however, the only country that does not have age restrictions on euthanasia.
21. Belgium controlled two colonies during its history.
One of the more unknown facts about Belgium is that it possessed two colonies in the past. The Belgian colonial empire controlled two colonies during its history, the Belgian Congo (Democratic Republic of Congo) from 1908 to 1960, and Ruanda-Urundi (Rwanda and Burundi) from 1922 to 1962. Belgian Congo consisted roughly 98% of Belgium’s overseas territory and was about 76 times larger than Belgium itself!
22. Belgium holds the world records for the longest-ever stretch without an elected government.
Remarkably Belgium went 652 days without an elected government from December 2018 to October 2020! In doing so, Belgium broke its own previous world record for the longest government formation in history when parties took 541 days to form coalitions after the June 2010 elections, plus 48 days to finalize government positions.
23. Belgium’s national flag is one of the most recognizable.
It consists of a vertical tricolor displaying the Belgian national colors of black, yellow, and red. The Belgian national flag was officially adopted in 1831. The vertical design of the flag was taken from the French Tricolor.
The Belgian national flag is known for its unusual height: width proportions of 13:15. The colors of the Belgian national flag were taken from the coat of arms of the Duchy of Brabant: a yellow lion, with red claws and a red tongue on a black background.
24. Belgium is home to the longest tram line in the world.
Another one to put on your random facts about Belgium list. The Belgian coast tram is the longest tram line in the world, having a length of 67 km (41.6 mi) and connects the cities along the entire coastline of Belgium. The coast tram runs between the towns of De Panne near the French border and Knokke-Heist near the Dutch border.
25. Voting is mandatory in Belgium.
Belgium has the oldest existing mandatory voting system. Compulsory voting was introduced in 1893 for men and in 1948 for women, following universal female suffrage. In Belgium, every citizen having the right to vote is obliged to turn out on Election Day.
Belgian citizens above the age of 18 and registered in the list of inhabitants of one municipality are automatically registered to vote. Fifteen days before the election, a polling card is sent to all voters mentioning clearly that voting is mandatory.
Those who fail to present themselves (without proper justification, or having appointed a proxy) at their polling station on election day can face fines and even prosecution. Failure to vote in at least four elections can lead to the loss of voting rights for 10 years. Non-voters also might face difficulties getting a job in the public sector.
26. Brussels is home to more embassies than any other city in the world.
The Belgian capital has a high level of international presence and is home to 186 embassies, more than any other city in the world.
27. Belgium has the distinction of having more castles in a given area than any other country in the world.
Belgium is home to more than a whopping 3,000 castles, out of which more than 400 are open to the public.
28. Belgium is home to the smallest city in the world.
Well, at least technically! Durbuy, in eastern Belgium, prides itself on being the “smallest city in the world”. Durbuy is not really a city since it’s home to less than 500 inhabitants but it was given the rank of a city in the 14th century by the Count of Luxembourg due to it being an important center of commerce and industry.
29. Football is the most popular sport in Belgium.
Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in Belgium. The Belgian men’s national football team has competed regularly at the FIFA World Cup, even finishing in third place in the 2018 edition. Some of the most notable Belgian footballers include Jean-Marie Pfaff, Enzo Scifo, Eden Hazard, and Jan Ceulemans.
30. Belgium is famous for its chocolate.
Belgium has a rich tradition of chocolate making that dates back to the mid-17th century. Since then, the country has built an excellent reputation for the art of chocolate making that is second to none.
Today, Belgium has more than 2000 chocolate shops and the nation is one of the top four chocolate producing countries in the world. Some of the most famous Belgian chocolate brands are Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonidas, Mary, Belvas, and Bruyerre.
31. Brussels Airport is the number one selling chocolate point in the world.
Brussels Airport is regarded as the number one selling chocolate point around the world. On average, an impressive 1.6kg (3.52 lb) of chocolate is sold per minute.
32. Belgium produces some of the world’s best beer.
Belgium’s beer-making history goes back centuries and it’s famous the world over as being a top beer-producing nation. There are hundreds of Belgian beers and dozens of styles. Before the great craft beer boom, Belgium made more beers, and in a greater mix of styles and flavors, than any other country in the world.
From simple Witbiers to complex Lambics, and rustic Farmhouse ales to Gueuzes, Belgian ales are some of the best in the world. The most revered of Belgian beers, Trappist beers have been highly rated since the Middle Ages when monks began brewing them. Trappist beers are characterized by their rich, yeasty flavor. Some of the best Belgian Trappist beers are Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, and Westvleteren.
33. Belgians are an innovative lot.
This is definitely one of our favorite facts about Belgium. Belgian chocolates, beers, and waffles are the stereotypical icons of Belgium but besides world fame for this tasty trifecta, this small nation has plenty to boast about.
Belgium’s small size belies the country’s massive influence on world history. Some of the most famous Belgian inventions are the contraceptive pill, the body mass index (BMI), plastic, inline skates, the saxophone, the Mercator projection, the electric tram, the internal combustion engine, French fries, soft-centered pralines, and the JPEG conversion.
34. Belgium is the world’s leading exporter of billiard balls.
Approximately 80% of the world’s billiard balls are made in Belgium. Saluc AC, established in 1923, has its own chemical plant to make the phenolic resin, which gives Aramith balls their characteristic high-gloss, rock-hard finish.
35. Belgium is one of the world’s most densely populated countries.
With a population of 11.5 million, Belgium has a population density of 376/km² (973.8/sq mi). The high population density makes Belgium one of the most densely populated countries in the world and the second-most densely populated country in Europe (not counting the European microstates).
36. Some of the world’s most famous comic strips originate in Belgium.
One of the coolest Belgium facts is that it has more comic makers per square kilometer than any other country in the world. Belgian comic strip art is as much a part of Belgian culture as chocolates and beer. The nation’s reputation for producing some of the best comic strip art in Europe was established after World War II.
Some of the world’s most-loved comic strip characters originated in Belgium. Tintin is definitely the most famous, but Lucky Luke the cowboy, Suske en Wiske the cheeky children, Spirou & Fantasio the adventurous journalists, and The Smurfs have been published worldwide.
37. Belgium is home to 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A total of 13 places in Belgium have been chosen as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Some of these are the Historic Center of Brugge, the La Grand-Place in Brussels, the Major Mining Sites of Wallonia, the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Tournai, and the Neolithic Flint Mines at Spiennes.
38. Jenever is the national spirit of Belgium.
While beer is undoubtedly the most alcoholic beverage in Belgium, jenever has been the country’s traditional and national spirit for over 500 years. A precursor to the modern London dry gin style that dominates today, jenever is a juniper-flavored liquor. Best described as a cross between whiskey and gin, jenever is a blend of a botanical-infused neutral spirit and malt wine.
39. Antwerp is the undisputed diamond capital of the world.
Antwerp, Belgium’s second-largest city has for centuries been synonymous with quality in the diamond industry. Antwerp’s diamond district has an annual turnover of over 50 billion dollars. With more than 80% of the world’s rough diamonds and 50% of all cut diamonds passing through, Antwerp is rightly called the “Diamond Capital of the World.”
40. Moules-Frites is the national dish of Belgium.
Strictly speaking, Belgium has no national dish. However, Moules-Frites is often regarded as the national dish of Belgium. Moules-Frites is a simple dish of mussels steamed with onion and white wine and served with chips (fries) and mayonnaise.