Belgium – the most detailed information about the country with photos. Attractions, cities of Belgium, climate, geography, population and culture.
Belgium (Nederlandse België, Fr. Belgique, germany Belgien)
Belgium is a small state in northwestern Europe. The official name is the Kingdom of Belgium. The country borders with the Netherlands in the north, with Germany in the east, with Luxembourg in the southeast, with France in the south and west. Belgium is a constitutional monarchy, a member of the European Union, UN and NATO. It is one of the most wealthy and stable countries in the world, and is also the political center of Europe.
Belgium harmoniously combines the charm of the past with modern culture and innovation. It has a rich cultural and historical heritage, from charming medieval cities, castles and sacred architecture to modern buildings, magnificent museums and shopping galleries. Belgium is a jewel in Europe with hundreds of spectacular sites that have preserved the charm of the Middle Ages and the charm of nature.
Flag of Belgium
Useful information about Belgium
- Population – 11.4 million people.
- Area – 30,528 km².
- Currency is the euro (€).
- Three official languages are recognized in Belgium: Dutch, German and French.
- Time is Central European (UTC +1, +2 in summer).
- Visas are Schengen.
- Traffic – right-hand traffic.
- Voltage of the electricity grid – 230 V / 50 Hz.
- The predominant religion is Catholicism (75% of all believers). Although most modern Belgians are not religious.
- Belgium is a very safe country, except perhaps in some parts of Brussels and the port city of Antwerp.
Geography and Nature
Belgium does not have much geographical diversity, which is not surprising given its small size. The country has an almost homogeneous topography, climate, flora and fauna. Most of Belgium is lowlands and plains. Although geographically there are three areas:
- Coastal plain or low Belgium – sandy lowlands or plains with elevations up to 100 m above sea level.
- Central Plateau or Middle Belgium – the plains between the valleys of the rivers Sambra and Maas with an altitude of 100 – 200 m above sea level. This region is almost completely changed by human economic activity. Much of it is occupied by arable land and meadows.
- The Ardennes Highlands or High Belgium is a hilly area south of the Maas and Sambra valleys with an altitude of 200 – 500 meters above sea level. It is a region of low mountains covered by forests and small villages.
Belgium has a fauna and flora typical of Western Europe. In the forests, which are most extensive in the Ardennes, you can find wild boars, fallow deer, roe deer, hares and squirrels. In the marshlands there are many birds: pheasants, ducks, partridges.
Belgium has a temperate maritime climate, typical of much of Western Europe. It is characterized by mild and rainy winters with rare subzero temperatures. Summers are quite cool and often rainy.
The best time to visit
The best time to visit Belgium is from April to September. It is also very atmospheric during the Christmas season. In winter, despite the positive temperatures, it is rather wet and windy.
In ancient times the territory of modern Belgium was inhabited by a Celtic tribe of Belgae, from which, in fact, the name of the state came. In the 1st century BC, the country was conquered by the Romans and included in the province of Gaul. In the 5th century AD (after the fall of the Roman Empire) Belgian lands were conquered by the Franks. For most of the Middle Ages Belgium was part of the Duchy of Burgundy.
In the 15th century Burgundy became part of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1556 to 1713 Belgium was ruled by Spain. In the 18th century the country again became part of the Holy Roman Empire. From 1792 to 1815 Belgium was part of France. Then for a time belonged to the Netherlands. In 1830, the Belgian Revolution occurred, after which the independent Belgian kingdom was formed.
In the 19th century Belgium was neutral. During this period, industry developed here and the economy grew. World War I left the worst scars on Belgium in the 20th century. Much of the country was the scene of hostilities. The history of Ypres, where sending gas was used for the first time and the city itself was completely destroyed, is very tragic. During World War II Belgium was occupied by German troops.
Belgium has a very interesting administrative and territorial division. Firstly, the country is divided into three regions: Flanders in the north, which is Dutch-speaking, the bilingual capital (Brussels) and the French-speaking Wallonia in the south, which includes a small German-speaking region.
Flanders consists of five provinces: Antwerp, Limburg, East Flanders,West Flanders, and Flemish Brabant.
Wallonia also includes five provinces: Hainaut, Liège, Luxembourg, Namur, Walloon Brabant.
Secondly, Belgium is divided into three linguistic communities: Flemish, French and German.
Belgium is a densely populated and highly urbanized country. 97% of the population lives in cities. The most common religion is Christianity (most Belgians are Catholics). The official languages are Dutch, French and German. Language is a complex and sensitive subject in Belgium, which is subject to the “principle of territoriality. The root of this is that Belgians are a nation made up of different ethno-cultures. Historically, Dutch is spoken in Flanders, French in Wallonia, and German in Eupen-Malmedy. So to insist on speaking French in Flanders or Dutch in Wallonia would be insulting.
Wind turbines in Belgium are a typical element of landscapes
Some national traits of the Belgians:
- Belgians are very tolerant and liberal.
- Belgians are not very religious.
- Modesty is considered a positive quality in this country. Bragging is a negative quality.
- The Belgians are very strict about privacy.
- Sarcasm, irony, and some cynicism are common to this nation.
The main airport of Belgium is the port of Brussels. It is located not in the capital itself, but outside the city. To get to the center of Brussels from the airport you can take a train (service interval 15 minutes) and buses STIB № 12 or 21. Other airports are located in Charleroi, Antwerp and Liege.
Belgium has regular rail connections to all Western European countries. It is easy to get here by train from Rotterdam, The Hague, Cologne, Paris, Amsterdam, Lyon, London, Lille, and Frankfurt am Main. Also the main European highways pass through Belgium.
Belgium is a relatively small country, which can be crossed in just a couple of hours. Public transport here is fast and convenient. There are comfortable buses and trains between cities.
Belgium has a very high level of urbanization and just a huge number of cities in such a small territory.
Brussels is the bilingual capital of Belgium and the unofficial capital of the EU. Today it is one of the most multicultural cities in Europe with a magnificent historical center, a huge number of museums and other interesting places.
– The second largest city in Belgium and one of the largest European ports. Known for its enormous Gothic cathedral and the fact that Rubens worked here.
- Beringen is a historic coal mining center. – One of the richest medieval cities in northwestern Europe, nicknamed the “Venice of the North” because of the canals and romantic atmosphere. – in the past one of the largest cities in Europe, which is a mixture of Antwerp and Bruges. It has a cozy medieval center with canals, magnificent sacred monuments and an imposing castle. – a small historical city that is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe. – a charming Flemish town with a Gothic cathedral and narrow medieval streets. – an important medieval city with an imposing medieval cathedral, famous for its carillon school. – The oldest city in Belgium.
A great tourist destination is the valley of the river Maas. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy the quiet Belgian countryside, visit pretty old towns and admire the beautiful nature.
– the largest city of Wallonia, an important industrial and economic center of Belgium. – A small beautiful city on the river Maas with an ancient cathedral and citadel on a rocky cliff. – The cultural center of Wallonia. It is a magnificent multi-faceted city that has an eclectic mix of architecture from the Middle Ages to modern times, many museums and an exciting nightlife.
- Tourne is one of the oldest cities in Belgium. – The capital of Wallonia with an impressive historical center. – A stunning historic city known as the Walloon Bruges.
Attractions in Belgium
The Grand Place in Brussels
The Grand Place or Grote Markt is a magnificent historic square in Brussels, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, surrounded by beautiful historic buildings from the 14th to 17th centuries. Its architectural ensemble is dominated by a striking medieval town hall, a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
In August, the Grand Place is adorned with a flower carpet measuring 75 by 24 meters and consisting of more than 700,000 begonias.
The Belfort Bell Tower in Bruges
The Belfort Bell Tower and the canals in Bruges are the main symbols of this old commercial city. The bell tower was built in the 13th century and is 83 meters high. It’s a magnificent Gothic-style structure that is the architectural dominant feature of the historic center. The canals of Bruges are a symbol of this charming city’s trading past and prosperity. These waterways permeate virtually the entire historic center, and the bridges and old houses by the water itself make a stay here so atmospheric.
Church of St. Peter in Leuven
The Church of St. Peter in Leuven is a magnificent religious building built in the 15th century in the style of the Brabant Gothic. It is located on the Market Square (Grote Markt) and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The building has a low bell tower, which was never completed.
Leuven Town Hall
The town hall in Leuven is definitely one of the most beautiful historical buildings in Belgium. It dates from the 15th century and is a masterpiece of late Gothic architecture in Brabant.
Gravensten in Ghent
Gravensten in Ghent is an impressive fortress, which is the only medieval castle in all of Flanders. This residence of the Counts of Flanders was built in the 12th century and has been preserved in near-perfect condition, and is one of the best structures of its kind in Europe. Gravensten is located in the center of the old city of Ghent, towering beautifully over the roofs of old houses and the maze of medieval streets.
St. Bavon’s Cathedral in Ghent
St. Bavon’s Cathedral in Ghent is one of the best examples of sacred architecture in Belgium. It is an imposing Gothic church with a Romanesque crypt and features magnificent works of religious art, ancient tombs and beautiful murals.
Bruges Basilica of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges impresses with its combination of Romanesque and late Gothic architecture. This church preserves a precious Christian relic – a drop of Christ’s blood.
The Grand Place in Antwerp
The Grand Place in Antwerp is a beautiful historic square with a beautiful architectural ensemble of old merchants’ houses, behind which stands the enormous imposing Gothic cathedral. It is one of the most beautiful old market squares in Western Europe.
Old Town in Mons
The old town in Mons is a delightful historic center. Its heart is the charming Grand Place, adorned with 15th – 18th century buildings, dominated by the imposing bell tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Waterloo is a place famous for being the site of the last major battle of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. The artificial hill with a memorial sculpture of a lion on top marks the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Belgium has plenty of good hotels to suit all tastes and pockets. Hotel or guesthouse can be found even in a small town. If you start searching in advance, you can book excellent options. In general, the room rate in Belgian hotels is slightly higher than the average in Europe. Also the season and tourist popularity of a particular place affects the price of accommodation.
The best option on the price-quality scale are apartment hotels.
Belgium is a country that understands food and can be a great gastronomic adventure.
Popular traditional dishes:
- Mussels – mussels in white wine.
- Balletjes – meatballs with fries served with tomato sauce or Liege sauce. By the way, the Belgians claim that French fries (friten in Dutch) are their invention.
- Frikadellen met krieken – meatballs with cherry sauce.
- Stoemp – mashed potatoes with carrots, sausages and bacon.
- Stoofvlees – beef stew with fries.
- Witloof met kaassaus – ham with béchamel sauce and mashed potatoes.
- Konijn met pruimen – rabbit in beer.
- The famous waffles are Gaufres de Bruxelles or Gaufres de Liège.
Frikadellen met krieken
Belgium has a rich tradition of brewing and offers an incredible variety of beers. Belgian beer is of excellent quality and is considered one of the best in the world. The country is home to several major beer producers – Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler and Hoegaarden.
Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a state in Western Europe, a small piece of the continent with access to the North Sea, sandwiched between France to the south and west and Germany to the east. In tourist guides Belgium appears as a country with eclectic architecture, home of the most delicious chocolate, beer and the Flemish school of painting, and the cradle of Art Nouveau. And in general, all this corresponds to the truth. In terms of the number of medieval monuments per capita, the Kingdom of Belgium is indeed able to compete with the larger powers, not to mention the gastronomic delights, long ago turned into associative clichés that make every traveler salivate involuntarily.
Save money on a trip to Belgium!
There’s literally so much to see and admire in Belgium, and the economic stability of this tiny state is something to be seriously envied. Colourful historical districts from the pages of old books, numerous museums with priceless Flemish masterpieces, exquisite Michelin Red List restaurants – Belgium generously offers these riches to its foreign visitors. On a cursory glance, this calm and prosperous corner of Europe somewhat resembles its northern neighbor, the Netherlands. The same dams and polders, picturesque canals, windmills, even in the art galleries of paintings by the same Bosch and Bruegel. But do not hurry to hang labels: there are significant differences between the countries. But to see them, you have to stay in Belgium for a week or two and drive not only through the major cities, but also through the provincial towns, where the features of national character are clearer and more distinct.
Historically the land belonging to the Kingdom today has always been identified with the Dutch territories. Up to the Revolution of 1830 Belgium was subdued by the Netherlands, which in turn acted as a passing pennant to the more developed powers. As the birthplace of Van Gogh and Vermeer passed from the Duchy of Burgundy to Spain, and from the Holy Roman Empire to France, the Belgian provinces roamed with it. To break away from a stronger neighbor and to declare itself an independent country the kingdom succeeded only in the nineteenth century.
Determined with the independence, Belgium began to actively gain momentum in economic terms, and even managed to grab a colony in Africa (Congo). By the way, as early as 1831, the first steam locomotives began to run between Belgian cities, while in the rest of Europe, the construction of railroads was still in the planning stages.
Belgium suffered its share of devastation as a result of participation in the military conflicts of the twentieth century, of which the greatest damage was caused by World War I. During the Second World War, the territory of the kingdom was again under German occupation. Having hastily signed the act of surrender, the Belgian government scattered by 1940, leaving the German authorities to impose the notorious “Ordnung”. It was not until 1944 that it was possible to expel the adherents of the Third Reich from the country, but it was the British who did so, not the Belgians themselves.
The city of Liège in 1967 Antwerp in 1973
Belgium: The present
Belgium is a country with a constitutional monarchy and an active member of the EU and the political-military bloc NATO. The head of state is King Philip I, whose power is limited to appointing the government and appearing in public as a living symbol of the nation. Legislative power is vested in the parliament, which in the kingdom is bicameral.
Despite its modest size, Belgium is a federal state with a somewhat unusual system of administrative division. Three regions are officially part of the kingdom: Brussels, Walloon and Flemish. Each of them has a certain degree of independence and has its own government and parliament. Since time immemorial, the Flemish and Walloons have been in constant conflict with each other. The relatively prosperous north (Flanders) openly dislikes the financially unstable south (Wallonia), which, in turn, does not like the more successful and arrogant neighbor. In addition, there are so-called linguistic areas, which divide the country along linguistic lines. Thus, the kingdom is divided into Flemish, French and German-speaking communities.
From an economic point of view, things in Belgium are quite stable, if not brilliant. The main sectors that bring the lion’s share of revenue to the local budget are textiles and metallurgy. In addition, Belgium boasts a high-intensity agriculture, so the country exports up to 40% of its agricultural products. The local economy also gets its share of profits from diamond processing.
Geography and climate
Geographically Belgium is divided into:
- low – the coastal zone, formed mainly by dunes and polders;
- middle – the most fertile and flat area of the kingdom;
- high – the least populated part of the country, a tourist region, characterized by an abundance of woodlands.
The climate in this part of Europe is mild and corresponds to the temperate marine type, but Belgium has its own understanding of what the “good weather” is. In particular the local July is “nice” to local residents with high humidity and an average temperature mark from +14 ° C to +18 ° C. Winters in the kingdom are rainy, but cool because of the constant winds blowing from the sea. For Belgians snowfalls are quite extraordinary, so you can go skiing just in the Ardennes (Belgium highlands), and almost never on the plains.
Since 2002, the Belgian franc has been gone for good, handing over its powers to the euro.
Brussels Stock Exchange
Exchange offices in Belgium are located in the most crowded places – airports, train stations, malls. Use the services of these offices only in case of emergency, because the commission and the rate are not the most pleasant. The best way to avoid unnecessary expenditures is to exchange money before your flight. But keep in mind that it is better to stock up on bills not the largest denomination, because denominations of 500 euros will not accept in any Belgian store. There are some details about the change: if it is more than 20 Euros, the enterprising Belgians have the right to consider it as currency exchange and they are going to charge the commission of 1-3 Euros.
Relatively advantageous in comparison with the classical exchangers offer bank branches and post offices in Belgium. The former work on weekdays from 9:00 to 16:00, the latter are open on Saturdays (until noon). If for some reason you came to Belgium with dollars instead of euros, you can exchange them at special ATMs, installed in city hotels. Classic ATMs are almost impossible to find on Belgian streets, all hidden under the roofs of airports, train stations and shopping centers.
As for the “plastic”, it is accepted only in large restaurants and malls – the rule applies to “Visa” and “Mastercard”. To pay with a cab or pay for a purchase at some small retail outlet, you have to prepare cash.
Each region of Belgium has its own language. For example, in the south of the country are spoken in French and very reluctantly pass into English, which here at a decent level, few people speak, so tourists who are able to build at least the most basic sentence in Hugo’s language, in Wallonia is not lost. In Flanders it is customary to chant Flemish, whose forebear was one of the Dutch dialects (although the Flemish prefer not to focus on such “insignificant” details).
In Brussels people speak both French and Flemish, but the first variant is more preferable for the capital region residents. In the eastern part of Belgium, in the Liège area, German is preferred.
De Crook Library in Ghent
Belgium is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe, with the vast majority of locals living in cities. On a small – in world terms – territory of 30,528 km², 11,376,070 people live quite happily and relatively well (data current as of 2018).
People on the streets in Bruges
The concept of “national mentality” practically does not apply to Belgians. And of what national identity can we talk in a country where each region imagines itself to be like a separate state. The local residents, who very rarely call themselves Belgians, but rather Walloons or Flemings, are no better.
The more expressive and careless southerners do not pity the thorough and German stingy Flemish, who in return pay them back in kind. A true resident of Flanders never misses a chance to tease the habits of their less fortunate neighbors. Well, the national flag of the Walloon Community, representing a rooster, is nothing but an inexhaustible source of ribald jokes for the Flemish. The reason for this mutual disdain lies in the not so distant past, when Flanders lagged far behind its southern neighbor in economic terms. It was only after the coal industry, on which Wallonia made its reputation, collapsed that the southern provinces reluctantly ceded the pedestal to the Flemings.
As for the portrait of a typical Belgian, a subject of the kingdom appears as an average burgher, adoring his cozy cottage, working hard all work week, and at the deserved day off having a good time in a pleasant company with a mug of good beer. Belgians are completely devoid of such a phenomenon as hooray patriotism, which allows them to adequately assess their own country, and often express open dissatisfaction with their state. Here they like to earn money, but do not want to boast about it, preferring to avoid artificial pathos and ostentatiousness in everything. And the Belgians have eternal friction with the Dutch. The reason for this is an offensive cliché, assiduously cultivated by the northern neighbors and concerning the slow reaction time and low intelligence of the Belgians. In response to these “stilettoes,” the locals compose aphorisms about the meanness of the Dutch, sometimes downright vulgar.
The Pier in Blankenberg
Belgium’s top tourist destinations
It may seem strange, but not so many tourists dare to go on their own trips to the iconic places in Belgium. Basically the kingdom becomes only a stopover in the so called sightseeing tours of Benelux, which includes Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The starting point of most trips often becomes Brussels. The Belgian capital is unbelievably photogenic and is great for architectural memorabilia hunters as well as for party animals cruising through Europe in search of a pleasant place for carefree relaxation. Among other cities of the kingdom Brussels especially distinguishes gourmets, and even the French love to eat in local restaurants, who are generally rather ironic towards everything Belgian.
The second most important city in the country, Antwerp, is famous for its port, plenty of large shopping centers and nightlife. It’s in Antwerp’s jewelry factories that they grind the proverbial “best friends of girls”, even international celebrities do not hesitate to come here to get them.
Unpublicized by British director Martin McDonagh and forever stuck in its postcard-perfect glossy Middle Ages, Bruges is the third most popular tourist destination in Belgium. Be sure to go to Grote Markt Square, home to the famous Belfort Tower. In between runs through Gothic churches and museums, you can also stock up on exquisite lace and eat unimaginable chocolate desserts.
The third most populous city in Belgium and the administrative center of the province of the same name, Liege, is worth stopping by to appreciate the magnificent architecture of St. Paul’s Cathedral and St. Bartholomew’s Church. Ghent and Leuven have their share of fans, typical student cities with their carefree atmosphere and vibrant nightlife.
Getting a black tan on Belgian beaches is unlikely. Bathing season is pretty short and lasts from mid-June to mid-August. But to relax on the soft sand and frolic in the invigorating waves of the North Sea here is quite possible.
In search of a cozy and civilized places for swimming is better to go to the main resort of Belgium – Ostend, famous for its free, and even better, clean beaches. An alternative option, designed for true snobs, is the resort Knokke-Heist, where everything is very glamorous and frankly expensive. De Panne takes the noisy fun, endless string of gastronomic festivals and a strikingly wide coastline, lined with soft yellow sand. For surfing or yachting, try the Neuveport. But for those who miss solitude and quiet family beaches, straight to De Haan.
Ostend Beach at Knokke Heist De Panne
Attractions in Belgium
Belgium’s main attraction is its diverse architecture. From the austere Romanesque, the elegant and austere Gothic, the ornate Brabant style, the graceful baroque and Art Nouveau – 99% of Belgian buildings fall into at least one of these categories.
To go back in time, be sure to visit Bruges, which, with its cozy little houses and tiny bridges, has long been an open-air museum.
The cathedral with an altar painted by Van Eyck himself, the legendary Gerard the Devil’s Castle and the impregnable Gravensteen castle await all fans of medieval flair in Ghent. In Liège, the cultural capital of Wallonia, it is worth stopping by to admire the Cathedral of St. Paul (the embodiment of eclecticism, so beloved by Belgians), the City Hall with its plaque in honor of the Honorable detective Megre, and the Church of Saint Jean, where the priceless image of Our Lady is kept. The home of the Belgian bishop, Mechelen, is famous for its Gothic (St. Rumold’s Cathedral) and Baroque (St. John’s Church) churches. Brussels with its Grand Place, Hôtel de Vil, the Palace of Charles of Lorraine, St. Michael’s Cathedral and countless anonymous, but no less old buildings, remains a champion in the number of old buildings.
St. Bavon’s Cathedral in Ghent Gerard the Devil’s Castle Gravensten St. Paul’s Cathedral in Liège Grand Place in Brussels
Belgium is also Europe’s little art treasure trove. Bruegel, Bosch, Rubens, Meunier, Finch – all these comrades kept their studios on the territory of the kingdom. In the 20th century, the country was swept by a wave of surrealism, giving rise to such extraordinary figures as René Magritte and Paul Delvaux. Of course, most of their paintings were scattered through the art galleries of Europe, but some also settled in Belgian museums. In particular, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels boasts an impressive collection of paintings by Peter Bruegel and other Flemish painters of the 14th century. The Rubens House in Antwerp inherited the master’s paintings, which were not to be sold. In Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts you can find symbolic works by Hieronymus Bosch, and in the Meyer van den Berg museum, the legendary Bosch’s “Mad Greta”.
Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels House of Rubens in Antwerp
For travelers who are not culturally ecstatic about art, Belgium has its own pleasures. Stop by the Chocolate Museum in Bruges and observe the whole process of creation of this delicacy. Get a ticket to the French Fries Museum to discover the history of Belgian – and not, as is commonly believed, American – fast food. Take a stroll through Brussels’ historic center and appreciate the most publicized symbol of the Belgian capital, the Pissing Boy, then arm yourself with a guidebook and go in search of two more “pissing” sculptures of the city.
Chocolate Museum in Bruges Fries Museum
In the same Brussels, there is a famous park “Europe in Miniature”, where it is easy to imagine yourself as Gulliver, wandering among reduced copies of the most iconic sights of the continent. You can also have a good time at the Spa, the oldest thermal spa in the Kingdom, today better known as the location of one of the Formula 1 circuits. For fans of beer, the halls of the Brussels Beer Museum are worth a walk. And for those looking for nature, the Kalmthautse Heide, a tour of the De Soom Calmthautse Nature Reserve, with its groves and dunes, is a great place to unwind and get zen.