Belgium is one of the most developed countries in Europe and it’s popular with tourists who are looking to have a good time. The country is the host of the most famous festival of electronic music after all, as well as the home of a ridiculous amount of bars and pubs.
But there are plenty of other famous things about Belgium, some of which might surprise you. Like the fact that some of their most famous beers have to be manufactured in monasteries and that the country operated for nearly two years without an official elected government. And it just gets weirder from there. Read on to find our top 20 things that Belgium is famous for!
Belgium’s capital city is easily the most famous thing about the country. Brussels is a very unique city that boasts an astounding blend of different architectures and cultures. With massive Gothic cathedrals, Art Deco taverns and a 19th century shopping arcade, there’s quite a lot to love about this city.
There are lots of interesting attractions and spots to see in Brussels, but one of the best ones is definitely Mini Europe. The theme park features recreations of some of Europe’s best known buildings and landmarks, so it’s definitely worth your time. From the Big Ben to the Berlin Wall – Mini Europe features famous landmarks from all of EU’s member states.
Just across the street from this charming theme park is the Atomium, Belgium’s famously failed attempt at an iconic landmark. The Atomium was supposed to be to Brussels what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, but it took a while for people to embrace this weird monument.
Other spots worth visiting in Brussels are the Castle of Laeken, the Grand Palace, the National Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Koekelberg and Parc du Cinquantenaire, among others.
When it comes to popular tourist attractions in Belgium, Bruges is just as popular as Brussels. The medieval city has a charm that’s very hard to rival, with its canals, gothic buildings and many museums.
The historic center of Bruges is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site because most of the buildings are at least several centuries old. There are many amazing things to see in this charming city, but the first one of your list should be the Markt. The central square is the heart of the city and in the winter it boasts one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe.
The Bruges City Hall is also an impressive sight with its Gothic exterior and tall towers. And we can’t forget about the museums – from the Sint-Janshospitaal that is situated in an 11th century hospital to the Frietmuseum that tells the story of the origin of the Belgian fry, and many others in between.
Breakfast food connoisseurs are very familiar with the delicious Belgian waffles. They are light, fluffy and can hold more syrup than the traditional American waffle. And for that exact reason they are the preferred waffle among those of us who really love our syrup.
But it’s still a waffle and it doesn’t differ that drastically from the classic American one. The batter is slightly different as Belgian waffles are traditionally yeast based. They are also lighter and have deeper pockets, but that is attributed to the style of waffle irons that are prevalent in Belgium.
Belgium is divided into two main territories – the French speaking Wallonia in the south and the northern Dutch speaking Flanders. Brussels is pretty much in the center of the country, which is why the inhabitants are usually fluid in both French and Dutch.
For the most part, the Dutch and French spoken in Belgium are identical the the official language of Holland and France respectively. Locals have different accents, but if you are fluent in one of the two languages you shouldn’t have much issues communicating with Belgians.
Belgian chocolate is just as famous as Swiss chocolate, but we dare not say one is better than the other. Even though Switzerland has a higher number of chocolate manufacturers, the ones that come from Belgium are just as famous. Godiva is a great example of this – their chocolates are famous all over the world, and they actually tend to be more affordable than the Swiss manufacturers.
Also, the delicious praline was invented in Belgium by Jean Neuhaus II. He was the grandson of the famous chocolatier who founded Neuhaus, which to this day remains one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the whole word.
Although we can’t be 100% sure who exactly invented french fries, it’s no secret that they are one of the most popular foods in the entire world. Both France and Belgium are claiming ownership of this delicious invention, but the rest of the world really couldn’t care less – we’re just happy that the salty comfort food exists and is available anywhere in world!
It is honestly fascinating how many different stories there are on the origin of one single dish. The French obviously hold that the fry was first seen at street vendors on the Pont Neuf in the late 18th century. But then again, Jo Gérard, the Belgian journalist, claims that they were first spotted in the Meuse valley of the then-Spanish Netherlands (modern day Belgian territory) near the end of the 17th century. But how can that be true if potatoes were first introduced in the region half a century later?
The truth is we will likely never know who exactly invented French fries. What we do know is that they are an essential part of Belgian heritage and culture, and you can find numerous different variants of the dish all over the country.
Whether or not you’re a fan of electronic music, you had to have at least heard of Tomorrowland at one point in your life. It is one of the largest festivals of electronic music in the world and it is held annually in Antwerp Province.
In its origins, Tomorrowland was held over one weekend in July. In the last few years that has expanded to two weekends, which made the total attendance for all days of the festival spike up to a whooping 400,000. People from all over the world flock to Boom, Antwerp to attend sets from the best performers in the world. In the previous years, headliners included David Guetta, Armin Van Buuren, The Chainsmokers, Afrojack, Carl Cox and even Paris Hilton.
Tomorrowland was cancelled in 2020 for the first time since its founding because of the global pandemic.
You probably already know that beer is very popular in Belgium, but do you know exactly how much? Well, enough that UNESCO added the Belgian beer culture to their list of intangible cultural heritages. So, beer is to Belgians what Tango is to Argentinians!
Honestly, that makes perfect sense considering that there are more than 220 working breweries in the country. And there are so many different types of beer that are manufactured in Belgium that you’d wind up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning if you attempted to try them all in just one visit.
Trappist beers are probably the best known all around. They are named like that because they are manufactured in Trappist monasteries. Any beer that applies for the Trappist certification has to be manufactured in a monastery – is it just me or is that a little weird?
Other popular types of Belgian beer are the Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel, Blonde and Flemish Red. Here’s a pro tip – only drink the Quadrupel if you really want to get hammered since it can have up to 14% alcohol content. The average lager has 5% ABV.
Did you know that more than 80% of billiard balls used all around the world are manufactured in Belgium? Oh, and there’s only one company that manufactures them – talk about monopolistic practices!
Aramith billiard balls are used by professionals and amateurs alike, whether we’re talking about snooker, pool or carom billiard. They are truly the best and highest quality of billiard balls that exist, and they are exported to more than 100 countries all over the world. Aramith balls are also very long lasting and up to five times more durable than billiard balls from other manufacturers. That’s exactly why so many table owners opt for them – it’s the best value for the money they can get.
A lot of people have the misconception that Belgium isn’t very important in the world of politics. The next time you hear someone say that be sure to correct them because Belgium is pretty much the heart of the EU.
Brussels is the seat of four of the important institutions of the European Union as well as the NATO. In fact, Brussels is the seat of the two most important institutions for the EU – the European Council and the European Parliament. That’s why most of the important meetings between EU officials are often held in Brussels.
Belgium’s capital city is also the home of NATO’s head office. And the majority of people who apply for work in any one of the EU institutions are sent to Brussels for training at some point.
Belgium is home to the diamond capital of the world, Antwerp. It is estimated that 60-80% of the diamonds in the entire world are cut and traded in Antwerp, which is pretty astounding.
What’s even more interesting is that Antwerp has been at the center of the diamond trade since the 15th century.
That century marked a complete transformation for the diamond industry thanks to Lodewyk van Berken. The Flemish jeweller is famous for inventing the scaif – a tool that completely revolutionarized the process of polishing diamonds.
Also, Antwerp is the perfect place to shop diamonds if you’re actually in the market for some. They have the best price to quality ratio there, especially when we get particular about cut quality and clarity.
Comics are an essential part of Belgian culture and heritage. They are a very distinct subgroup in the history of comics and they played a big part in the overall development of European comics. The art of creating comics is popular in both Wallonia and Flanders, but the types of comics vary in the different regions. While there are obviously major differences between them, it is also clear that the comics of each region are influenced by those of the other.
All of the major comics in Belgium are bilingually published, regardless of which region they come from. The most famous Belgian comics include Tintin and Snowy, Lucky Luke, the Smurfs, Marsupilami and Dickie, among others.
Belgium has one of the highest divorce rates in Western Europe at around 70% and it’s not at all easy to pinpoint the exact reason. Some people attribute the high divorce rate to tax and pension benefits married couples get while others claim it’s because it’s just so easy to get married and divorced in the country. Perhaps it might be because Ross Geller moved there and the stats just went through the roof?
Honestly, the main reason is most likely the fact that not that many people get married in the first place, and because the statistics are calculated by looking at the amount of marriages and divorces in any given year. In 2020, Belgium had about 5.5 million unmarried residents, which is more than the amount of married (about 4 million) and divorced (around 1 million) residents combined.
The best known tourist attraction in the entire country is a sculpture of a boy peeing in Brussels. The monument has almost 50,000 reviews on Google Maps and it can’t even break the 4-star rating. The majority of people describe it as underwhelming, disappointing and tell you to not even visit it if you’re going just for the sights.
On the other hand, nearly everyone agrees that the story behind the statue is at least a dozen times more interesting than the monument itself. There are several different legends about the origins of the statue, but none are exactly confirmed. The most famous one is about Duke Godfrey III of Leuven – supposedly, the troops of Berthouts abducted the two-year-old lord and put him in a basket. They hung the basket in the tree and the Lord proceeded to pee on the troops, who ultimately lost the battle.
Belgium proved that it can function perfectly fine without a government, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that they’re a monarchy. The general election of 2010 saw 11 different political parties make it to the Chamber of Representatives. The problem is none of them had more than 20% of the seats, so it was extremely difficult to create any form of majority.
The cabinet negations continued for a long time; so much so that Belgium actually broke the record for the amount of time they took to form a government. The formation of a new democratic government took 541 days, and it’s still the official record.
We have to thank the Swedish pop group ABBA for permanently ingraining in our brains the fact that Napoleon lost the battle of Waterloo. It was his most significant defeat, which ultimately lead to his surrender and the end of the Napoleonic rule.
Who would have thought that pretty much everyone on the planet would know about this quaint village in Belgium? Waterloo also happens to be home of MasterCard’s only headquarters in Europe, and quite a lot of its residents are not Belgium natives. The village is only about 30 minutes away from Brussels and a lot of people who live in Waterloo commute to Brussels on a daily basis.
If you ever visit the village definitely go to the Wellington Museum that houses some great exhibits on the famous battle. The actual museum is situated in the exact house where Duke of Wellington spent the nights before and after the battle.
Football fans are always a bit nervous when they country has to play against Belgium. Their national team is fierce, and they have some of the best football players in the world who play in the best clubs on the planet. Lukaku, De Bruyne, Hazard and Fellaini are just a few of the names that dominate Belgian football even today.
The 2018 World Cup reminded us just how strong Belgium is – they scored eight goals against Estonia, nine against Gibraltar and they made it all the way to the semi-finals where they lost 0-1 to France. Considering just how many excellent players their national team has, their amazing performance during the World Cup came as no surprise to anyone.
The Body Mass Index, popularly known as just the BMI, is the invention of Belgian astronomer and mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He also founded the Brussels Observatory and played a big part in introducing statistical methods to social sciences.
The Belgian inventor didn’t develop just the BMI; he is also the founder of anthropometry, which is another branch of science concerned with measurements of human individuals.
Depending on how fit you are you might dread the BMI calculators or you might be quite fond of them. But we can’t deny that they are extremely helpful in tracking healthy human weights as well as tracking and diagnosing obesity.
Nowadays we can’t really imagine our lived without the World Wide Web. Even though we don’t have to type the www before urls anymore, that’s how most of us get our news, stay in touch with friends and even work. Well, the origins of the World Wide Web can be traced back to Robert Cailliau – a Belgian computer scientist, informatics engineer and author.
Cailliau collaborated with Tim Berners-Lee in 1994 in order to create the World Wide Web, but his genius was evident even earlier when he proposed the first pre-www hypertext for CERN. Cailliau is also the mind behind the WWW’s first logo, as well as the man who organized the first International World Wide Web Conference. He helped move web development away from CERN so it would be accessible to a wider audience.
If it weren’t for this famous Belgian, our world today would be massively different. You can actually read Cailliau’s book How the Web Was Born – it describes the entire origins of the Web and it is honestly a fascinating read.
Belgium is a progressive country full of open minded people, which usually translates to some very liberal laws. They were the second country in the world to fully legalize same-sex marriage and they are one of the few countries where euthanasia is entirely legal, even for minors.
Belgian government even managed to legalize abortion in 1990 under the rule of a conservative Catholic king. The then king refused to sign the bill – he was Catholic and conservative – and he was removed as Head of State for a short period of time so that the Prime Minister could sign the bill and let it go through.
Prostitution has been legal in the country since the 1940s, and they even decriminalized personal possession of Cannabis way back in 2003. However, despite all these liberal laws, Belgium actually has some extremely weird laws. My favorites include the fact that it is illegal for foreigners to own pigeons in Belgium and that it is illegal to gamble during a game of poker in your own home.
Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.