Belgium is a strange naughty little but also highly underrated country situated in the heart of western Europe. Most people have been to Belgium as part of a ‘drive by’ on their mainland European road trip and have visited one or two main tourist cities, yet all they know about Belgium upon departure is that it just has chocolate, beer, waffles, Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. But apart from Belgium being the rudest word in the entire universe, according to ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams, there are many other interesting facts about Belgium that are great to know when visiting this tiny anomaly of a country.
Belgians tend to be very modest about their own country and landmarks, as well as bad marketeers about all the good things they have. This comes from my experience travelling abroad. When I tell people I come from Belgium, they first look at me funny, as if to say ‘Bel…what?’, then a bell starts to ring and their next question will be, do you live far from Brussels? Knowing that the city furthest from Brussels is about 180 km away and for some countries, this is still considered to be the ‘suburbs’.
There are lots of articles on what Belgium has to offer, but I would like to describe some Belgium facts that most people probably don’t know.
updated version March ’18
21 Interesting Facts about Belgium
- Some of the most famous comics as The Smurfs, Lucky Luke and TinTin are all created by Belgian cartoonists. With over 700 professional comic creators, Belgium has the world’s most comic artists per square km.
- The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax. In Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Sax, you cannot avoid seeing saxophones in all colours and shapes. They even have a bridge in the city centre that is entirely dedicated to this beautiful instrument. Apart from the saxophones, there are plenty of other great things to see and do in Dinant.
- Ironically, one of the most famous landmarks of Belgium is a tiny 61 cm tall bronze statue of a little boy pissing right in front of you. (Manneken Pis). You can visit him in the city centre of Brussels. Manneken Pis has a wardrobe of over 1000 different costumes and at various times during any given week he’ll be wearing a different one, such as Michael Jackson, Elvis ‘The king’ Presley etc.
- Loperamide, brand name ‘Imodium’ was first developed by a Belgian scientist Paul Janssen. A product well known and probably well used by lots of travellers.
- A famous saying is that all Belgians are born with a brick in their stomach (‘de belg heeft een baksteen in de maag’). The ultimate goal of many Belgians is to build their own home, preferably with a nice little garden surrounding it. Belgium is slowly becoming a concrete ‘paradise’ as the population density is one of the highest in the world, considering most Belgians want their own piece of land and home.
- BMI (Body Mass Index) was devised by the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet and still used today as a simple measure to know how much a persons body mass varies from what is desirable.
- Belgium is a monarchy and the country currently has 2 kings and 2 queens. In Belgium, the principle of ‘once a king, always a king’ counts. So as soon as the prince takes over the duty as the King of The Belgians, the retired king and queen will maintain their status, but not as rulers. So when the current king Filip took over the duties from his father king Albert on July 21, 2013, Belgium even had 2 kings and 3 queens. The retired queen Fabiola passed away in December 2014.
- Over 1500 different Belgian beers are officially listed, all produced in this tiny country. Moreover, most of these beers have their own special glass. It is highly recommended to drink the beer out of its proper glass. Can you imagine the amount of glasses a bar needs to have when serving a large selection of different beers?
- Belgium has 3 official languages, which are Dutch, French and German. Most official documents are published in those 3 languages. Also in education, a lot of attention is given to the study of the various official languages and will include also English. Therefore, most Belgians are multilingual.
- Christmas markets are very popular and pretty widespread in Europe. Belgium is a big participant in such and by the end of the year, various christmas markets in all shapes and sizes are popping up all over the country. Typical of these markets is to buy various hand crafts (lately not only christmas hand crafts), but also handheld food like frites (French fries) and waffles, and of course lot’s of alcohol. The favourite drinks at christmas markets are glühwein (warm red wine with spices) and belgian jenever (originally juniper flavoured liquor but now comes in various flavours, like lemon, melon, candy, chocolate…)
- The Belgian coast tram is the longest tram line in the world, having a length of 68 km and connects the cities along the entire coast line of Belgium. However, it’s one of the countries with the shortest coast line in the world (compared to other countries with a coast line)
- With over 3000 castles, Belgium has the worlds highest number of castles per square km. Around 300 of them are open to the public. ~ “Excuse me, who lives in that castle?”….”No one”….”Well then who is your Lord?”….”We don’t have a Lord, we sort of take it in turns to act as executive officer for the week….” ~ Monthy Python – The Holy Grail
- After the governmental elections of 2008, it took 535 days to form a new government. This was classified in the Guinness Book of Records as the country with the longest time without an official government. Funny enough, the country was still running pretty fine during that time.
- Some of the largest music festivals in Europe take place in Belgium. Festivals like Tomorrowland, Pukkelpop, Rock Werchter, TW Classic and Graspop are world famous and attract some of the biggest artists in music land. Basically every weekend you can visit a festival somewhere in Belgium from rock, pop, heavy metal, afro and latin, you name it and you will probably find it in this small country.
- Belgium will unfortunately never win any prizes for having the highest mountain ranges in the world. At 694 metres (2277 ft), Signal de Botrange is Belgium’s highest point. On the rare occasions that it snows sufficiently, it is possible to ski or snowboard in that area. It is not the largest downhill, but it surely will wet your appetite to tackle the Alps.
- Belgium is one of the few countries in the world that has enforced compulsory voting. In fact, Belgium has the oldest excisting compulsory voting system in the world. It was introduced in 1894, however at that time only men could vote. Women were finally allowed to vote in 1949. This means that every Belgian has to vote, even when being an expat or officially living abroad. If you are on holiday or cannot go because of illness, you need to hand in proof thereof otherwise you will be fined.
- The oldest town in Belgium is Tongeren. Located in the Belgian province of Limburg, Tongeren dates back to Roman times. Ambiorix, the leader of the Eburones, resisted against Julius Ceasar. A 3-metres bronze statue of Ambiorix can be visited on the main square of Tongeren.
- The idea of an expanding universe was first formulated by the Belgian Catholic priest George Lemaître in 1927 which at a later time became known as the Big Bang Theory. It is the idea that the universe began in a cataclysmic explosion of a small, primeval super-atom.
- The town of Spa, located in the province of Liege, is famous for its hot springs and mineral waters. The use of thermal baths started to thrive in the 16th century in Spa. One of the many funny facts about Belgium is that the term ‘Thermal Spa’ used for all thermal baths around the world got its name from the Belgian town Spa.
- Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium and has been known as the diamond capital of the world. In fact, it is the world largest diamond processing and trade centre.
- And last but not least, I think Belgium is the only country in the world where a prime minister (Yves Leterme) when asked to sing the Belgian National Anthem, ‘The Brabançonne’ in French (he is Dutch speaking) starts singing ‘The Marseillaise’, which is the French National Anthem.
Are there any other interesting or fun facts about Belgium that you know of?
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