Belgium has the highest income tax of any OECD country; Brussels' Royal Palace is bigger than Buckingham Palace; a Belgian founded the Holy Roman Empire; French-speaking Belgium is the world's biggest producer of comics per capita; it is a Belgian who founded New York City; the first printed newspapers in the world was published in Antwerp, Belgium. What else don't you know about Belgium ? Have a look at the surprising or just informative facts below.
Belgians consume in average 150 liters of beer per person per year.
The world's first beer academy opened in Herk-de-Stad, in the Belgian province of Limburg, in 1999.
Jean Neuhaus invented the pralines chocolate in Brussels in 1912.
Belgium produces 220,000 tonnes of chocolate per year. This amounts to 22 kg of chocolate per inhabitant annually, i.e. 61 grammes per day in average.
The world's biggest chocolate selling point is Brussels National Airport.
Belgians claim to have invented chips (French fries), and indeed about all towns and villages have their own friterie/frituur (chips seller).
There are 3 main sorts of Belgian waffles : Liege waffles (the most common), Brussels waffles (bigger, lighter, rectangular, and eaten with toppings such as strawberries or ice cream), and galettes (thinner, softer, and typically eaten for breakfast, sometimes with jam - nothing to do with French galettes from Brittany, which are a kind of pancake).
Belgium is renowned for its bakeries. Local specialities include cramique (bread cooked with egg yolks and raisins), cougnou (a speciality from Wallonia eaten mostly in winter), gozettes (turnovers) and tarts. The most typical tarts are cherry tart, plum tart, apple tart, sugar tart, and especially rice tart (originally from Verviers, near Liège).
Belgium has one of the lowest proportion of McDonald's restaurants per inhabitant in the developed world, with only 0.062 per 10,000 people, or 7x less than the USA, 4x less than Japan, and twice less than France or Germany.
The Foire de Libramont is the largest agricultural, forestry and agri-food fair in Europe.
Law & Government
Belgium became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia in 2002 (although the Netherlands decriminalised it a few months before), and the second to legalise gay marriage in 2003 (2 years after the Netherlands).
Belgium became the world's first country to ban cluster bombs, and second to ban forced marriages in 2006.
Belgium was the world's first country, along with Italy, to introduce electronic ID cards in March 2003. It will also be the first European country to issue e-ID's to the entire population.
Belgium was the first country in the world to issue electronic passports complying with the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
Belgium is the country with the highest proportion of female ministers in the world (55% in 2000, 50% in 2020) and one of the earliest to have a female parliamentarian (in 1921).
Belgium is one of the few countries with compulsory education up to the age of 18 years old (the highest in the world).
Belgium is the only European country with compulsory voting. Only a handful of other countries have compulsory voting, such as Australia and Brazil.
Possession of up to 3 grammes of cannabis is legal in Belgium.
24 million tablets of ecstasy are consumed in Belgium each year.
Tax levels in Belgium are among the highest in the world, with about 40% of gross earnings given up in tax for a single-income family. According to the OECD, as of 2021, Belgium had the highest tax wedge for the average worker in the OECD at 51.5% (ahead of Germany at 49%). The personal income tax plus employee social security contribution amounted 60.2% of one's salary, the 2nd highest in the OECD after Slovenia at 61.1%. Total taxation represents 44.6% of the country's GDP - the 3rd highest worldwide after France and Denmark. Inheritance tax can reach up to 80% for non-related parties - the highest rate in the world by a large margin. The Royal family alone receives 12 million € of tax-payers' money each year.
Belgium was elected 12 times at the Presidency of the UN Security Council (1947, January and December 1948, 1955, 1956, 1971, 1972, 1991, 1992, 2007, 2008 and February 2020), the 6th highest score worldwide, behind the USA, USSR/Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom, who are the only five permament members.
The Belgian motorway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon (at night, due to the lights all along the motorway network).
Belgium is the world's 3rd country with the most vehicles per square kilometres after the Netherlands and Japan. It has the highest density of roads and the highest density of railroads in the world.
Only 12% of trucks and lorries using Belgian roads are immatriculated in Belgium.
A 2006 survey revealed that only 11% of car commuter to Brussels would choose to use the train if it was free.
The Law Courts of Brussels is the largest court of justice in the world with a built land area of 26,000 m² at ground level - bigger than Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome (21,000 m²).
The Association of European Airports reported that Brussels National Airport (Zaventem) was the most punctual of the 27 largest European airports in 2006.
The Royal Palace of Brussels, built in a similar neoclassical style as Buckingham Palace, has a façade 50% longer than its British equivalent.
80% of billiard players use Belgian-made balls.
Belgium produces the greatest variety of bricks in the world.
The largest Freemason temple on the European continent is the Great Temple in Brussels (at 79, Rue de Laeken).
Nemo 33 was the world's deepest swimming pool from 2004 to 2014 (now 2nd), reaching 35 metres in depth. It is located in the Brussels neighbourhood of Uccle and is a famous place to practice scuba diving.
The Belgian construction company Besix is one of the four contractors of the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest man-made structure (636m) since 2009.
The man behind the construction of the world-famous Sydney Opera House was Sir Eugene Goossens (1893-1962), an English conductor and composer of Belgian origin, who was director of the NSW State Conservatorium of Music at the time.
Arts & Culture
There are now over 1,000 registered Belgian comic series, up from 104 in 1985. In an average year Franco-Belgian comics publish slightly more titles than Japanese mangas, and over half of that production is in Belgium. Belgium has more than 700 professional comics creators, making it the country with the most comics artists per capita, with about six times the output per capita of Japan.
In 90 years of existence, 200 million books of "The Adventures of Tintin" have been sold worldwide and have been translated in 70 languages. Yet, the best-selling Belgian bande dessinée is Lucky Luke, with over 300 million copies sold (more than Dragon Ball or Naruto).
Durbuy dubs itself the smallest town in the world. Although it now has less than 500 inhabitants, it was granted the rank of town in medieval times, which it hasn't lost since then.
Belgium has the highest density of art collectors of any country.
There are several famous carnivals in Belgium, including Binche, Aalst, Fosse-la-Ville and Malmedy.
There isn't only one Manneken Pis in Belgium. Apart from the world-famous statue in Brussels, Geraardsbergen has had a similar boy peeing continuously in front of its townhall since the middle of the 15th century.
The two French-speaking authors who have been the most translated are both Belgian : Hergé and George Simenon.
The Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, founded in 1957 and held in Brussels, is considered to be one of the most prestigious classical music competition in the world, but also one of the most difficult.
People & Lifestyle
Many super-rich French and Dutch people have moved to Belgium (and often taken Belgian citizenship) in order to avoid wealth taxes in their country. Wealthy French people prefer Brussels, while most Dutch millionaires have elected Antwerp as their home.
Half of Belgian households have at least one pet. Domestic cats and dogs alone are over 2 million in the country, for 10 million people.
97% of Belgian households receive cable TV - the highest percentage in the world.
Belgian people are the most avid users of discount coupons in the world, just before the United States.
Until the 1970's, Belgian children were often served beer with their school lunch. The most popular was Piedboeuf, a sweetened beer with only 1.1% of alcohol. There is still no minimum legal age to drink alcohol in Belgium, although since 2010 one must be 16 years old to purchase alcohol in a shop, pub or restaurant (18 years old for spirits).
1.6 million people in Belgium are immigrants or children or grandchildren or immigrants, i.e 15% of the population, including 280,000 of Italian origin and 240,000 of Moroccan origin.
Neanderthal skulls were first discovered in the Belgian village of Engis (suburb of Liège), in 1829, although the name comes from the Neander Valley in Germany (the site of a later find in 1856).
Clovis (466-511), the Frankish king who conquered Roman Gaul and is considered to be the first king of France, was born and raised in Tournai (a town founded by the Romans in 50 C.E.), as were his father Childebert and grandfather Merowig, the founder the Merovingian Dynasty.
Charles Martel (686-741) saved Europe from islamization by defeating the invading Muslims at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. He is also the founder of the Carolingian dynasty. He was born in Herstal, near Liège.
Charlemagne (742-814), king of the Franks and founder of the Holy Roman Empire, was born and raised near Liège in Wallonia. He established the capital of his empire in nearby Aachen, 40km from his native Liège.
In 1066, Huy became the first European city to receive a charter of rights, making it the oldest free city of the continent.
Belgian painters are credited to have invented oil painting in the 15th century (probably Jan van Eyck).
Several of the 191 people enshrined in the Walhalla temple (Hall of Fame and Honor of the German nation) in Regensburg, were Belgian, including 5 Flemish painters and 5 Frankish monarchs born and raised in Wallonia (Clovis, Charles Martel, Pippin of Herstal, Pippin the Younger, and Charlemagne).
Charles V of Habsburg (known as Charles Quint in French), Holy Roman Emperor, King of Spain (and colonies), Naples and Sicily, and ruler of the Burgundian territories, was born and raised in Ghent, with French as his first language. The greatest Renaissance ruler, who famously declared "in my realm the sun never sets", was an international sovereign, but Belgian of birth and education.
The word "gas" was proposed by Flemish chemist Jan Baptist van Helmont (1577-1644) as a phonetic spelling of his Dutch pronunciation of the Greek word "chaos".
The world's two first printed newspapers were both published in 1605>. One was printed in Strasbourg, the other (the Nieuwe Tijdingen) was printed by Abraham Verhoeven in Antwerp.
Belgian Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest (1623-1688) founded the Observatory of Beijing. He was the secretary of the emperor of China Kang-Hi, for whom he also built 400 cannons. Verbiest is credited to have built what may have been the first steam powered car in about 1672.
Ludwig van Beethoven's family originated from Mechelen, and before that the nearby villages of Boortmeerbeek and Kampenhout. Beethoven is a medieval form or corrupted spelling of Bettenhoven (Bettincourt in French), a village on the linguistic border between Flanders and Wallonia in the province of Liège (near Waremme).
On 5 May 1835, the first railway line on the continent (and first in the world outside the UK) opened between Brussels and Mechelen, 2 years before the first railway in Germany, France or Italy, and 8 years before the Netherlands.
The saxophone was invented in the early 1840's by Adolphe Sax (1814-1894) in Dinant.
The Body Mass Index (BMI), still used today to know one's ideal weight, was developed by the Belgian statistician and anthropometrist Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874).
Karl Marx (1818-1883) wrote his famous Manifesto with Engels while in exile in Brussels, between 1845 and 1848.
Victor Hugo (1802-1885) lived in exile in Brussels in 1851-52, 1861 and again from 1866 to 1870. He completed his masterpiece Les Misérables on a trip to Waterloo in 1861.
Brussels also served as temporary home to other famous French exiles, such as Jacques-Louis David (1815 to 1825), Alexandre Dumas (1851), Charles Baudelaire (1864 to 1867), Napoléon IV (1870), Auguste Rodin (1870 to 1886) and Paul Verlaine (1872 to 1873).
Baron Édouard Empain (1852-1929), Belgian financier and industrialist, founded a group which constructed electric urban tramlines in Europe, Russia, China, the Belgian Congo, and in Cairo, Egypt. In 1906, Empain established the Heliopolis Oasis Company, designed as a "city of luxury and leisure", which became the town of Heliopolis in the suburbs of Cairo. It is best known for its Hindu temple, as well as the Heliopolis Palace Hotel (now the presidential palace of Hosni Mubarak) and Heliopolis House.
It is the Belgian Jean Jadot (1862-1932) who built the 1200km railway line between Beijing and Hankou in 1900. He also directed the construction of the Cairo tramway and railway lines in Lower Egypt.
The last Emperess of Mexico was Charlotte of Belgium (1840-1927), daughter of King Leopold I of Belgium, himself the uncle of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. After her husband Emperor Maximilian was deposed and executed in 1867, she went back to Belgium and spent the last 48 years of her life at at Bouchout Castle in what is now the National Botanic Garden of Belgium.
The first cinematographic performance in Belgium took place on 1 March 1896 in the Galeries Saint-Hubert in Brussels, only a few months after the first movie picture ever commercialised, in Paris in 1895.
In 1920, Belgium became the sixth country in the world (out of 21 so far) to host the Olympic Games (in Antwerp).
Belgium provided the uranium for the A-Bomb dropped by the Americans on Hiroshima. It came from the colony of Belgian Congo.
The world-famous Club Med was started in 1950 by former Belgian water polo champion, Gérard Blitz. It is now based in Paris.
In 1966, Sicilian-born Belgian singer Salvatore Adamo (1943-) reached the second highest disk sales in the world after the Beattles. He has sold over 80 million copies of his albums worldwide so far.
Belgian physicist and mathematician Ingrid Daubechies (1954-) developed the mathematical model used by the FBI to stock finger prints.
Belgium has hosted seven World Expositions ("Universal Expositions"), four times in Brussels (1897, 1910, 1935, 1958), twice in Liège (1905 and 1939) and once in Ghent (1913). Only three countries have hosted more World Fairs: the USA (12x), France (9x) and Italy (8x). Only Paris has hosted more World Fairs than Brussels. The Atomium is a structure purposely built for the World Fair of 1958.
The name of the euro currency was first proposed by a Belgian to the European Commission in 1992. The design of euro sign (€) was created by the Belgian Alain Billiet.
2017 : The Sonian Forest (Dutch: Zoniënwoud, French: Forêt de Soignes) at the southern edge of Brussels.
2021 : Colonies of Benevolence
2021 : Spa, the thermal resort that gave its name to all other spas.
As of 2021, Belgium had 11 elements inscribed by UNESCO in the representative list of Intangible cultural heritage. This is to date the highest number of any country in Europe. The Intangible cultural heritage for Belgium comprise:
The Aalst carnival was also listed from 2010 to 2019, but was removed amid controversy over the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes.
A tiny populous country
Belgium is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with the population density similar to that of Japan, India, England or the neighouring Netherlands.
Although Belgium is 321 times smaller than the USA, with 10.5 million inhabitants, it would rank as the 8th most populous US State, between Ohio and Michigan. In other words, it has the same population as the 12 states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, District of Columbia, Delaware, North & South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Alaska combined.
Contrarily to what is often written in English-language guide books, Belgium is not ethnically divided between North and South. Genetic studies have shown that all Belgians, Flemish or Walloon, are a blend of Gallo-Roman and Germanic (mostly Frankish) blood. Inter-personnal differences tend to be bigger than regional ones.
Belgium has 3 official languages. The North (Flanders) speaks Dutch, the South (Wallonia) speaks French, and a tiny part in the East speaks German (only 0.6% of the total population). People in Brussels, at the center of the country, speak mainly French, Dutch and English. Many Belgians are at least bilingual or trilingual as a consequence.
French is spoken in southern Belgium because Latin was the official language of the Merovingian and Carolingian courts (respectively based in Tournai and Liège), not for ethnic reasons. Note that Wallonia was never part of France, except for the brief interlude of the French Revolution (but so was most of Europe).
English, Belgium's natural lingua franca
Belgium is one of the nearest country from the UK. It takes about 2 hours by Eurostar (bullet-train) from Brussels to London, that is less than from Northern England, Scotland or Wales. Interestingly, the English language is a hybrid of Germanic languages (Anglo-Saxon and old Norse, close ancestors of Dutch) and Latin languages (Old French and Latin, direct ancestors of modern French). Nowadays, the most similar Germanic language to English is still Dutch, and many words in English have kept an (almost) identical spelling to French.
As Belgians speak both Dutch and French, English should be the easiest language to learn for speakers of either language, and even more so for those who already master the two national tongues.
Indeed, it is now increasingly common for young Dutch-speaking Flemings and French-speaking Walloons to communicate in English together, instead of trying to speak each other's language. This way, there is no hesitation about which of the two languages to use, and it prevents giving the advantage to the native speaker of the chosen language of communication.
Regional languages and dialects
Flemish is considered as a dialect of Dutch. In fact every Flemish city has its own variant, with different words and accents, but mostly intelligible to all Dutch speakers. Brussels has its own Flemish dialect, spoken mainly in the Marolles quarter (south of the Grand Place).
Wallonia is more divided linguistically. If almost everybody now speaks French (as a first or second language), the easternmost part of Wallonia (Eupen-Malmedy-St Vith area) is officially German-speaking, with Ripuarian dialects (like in Cologne) spoken around Eupen, and Moselle dialects (like in Trier) spoken in the Malmedy-St Vith region.
Walloon language, a Romance language of its own with some Germanic influence, is spoken in 70% of Wallonia, but less than a quarter of people can speak it (mostly elderly people and farmers). There are four varieties of Walloon : Liege Walloon, Namur Walloon, Picard Walloon and Lorraine Walloon.
Three dialects of northern France are spoken in Wallonia : Picard in Western Hainaut (Tournai-Mons area), Gaumais (also called Lorrain) at the southermost tip (around Arlon), and Champenois in a few villages at the border of the province of Namur and the Champagne region of France.
GDP per capita
In 1820, Belgium had the 2nd highest GDP per capita in Europe after the Netherlands (though being the same country at the time). In 1900, it had become the highest in Europe, with over twice the individual income of Italy or Norway. In 1950, after two devastating wars, Belgium had fallen in 5th position, behind Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, who had stayed neutral or suffered less from the World Wars. (sources : Nationmaster)
In 2004, Belgium had the 5th highest GDP per capita (PPP) in the EU after Luxembourg, Ireland, Denmark and Austria. Brussels has the third highest GDP per capita of any European city, after Luxembourg and central London.
Trade & Industry
As of 2020~21, Belgium was the world's 2nd exporter of chocolate (after Germany) and pharmaceuticals (ditto), 3rd exporter of beer, 5th exporter of chemicals, and 6th exporter of cars (2nd in Europe after Germany, due to the presence of factories manufacturing vehicles for Audi, Opel, Volvo, Ford and Chrysler).
Antwerp is the world's 2nd busiest port in terms of cargo tonnage outside East Asia, after Rotterdam. It is Europe's 3rd port for container traffic, after Rotterdam and Hamburg.
Belgium is also the world’s main diamond centre (in Antwerp) and second largest petrochemical center. 90% of the world's raw diamonds are negotiated and distributed in Antwerp.
Despite its small size, Belgium is the main trading partner of India along with the UK (partly because of the diamond and steel industries).
Belgium is the first foreign investors in some developing countries, like Bulgaria.
Agfa-Gevaert : Belgo-German manufacturer of photographic products.
Lu : Belgo-French manufacturer of biscuits and snacks
From the origins of the name 'Belgium' to NYC
The name "Belgium" is derived from the Latin "Belgica" or "Belgium", which was the name of the area comprising roughly Northern France and Belgium of today. American people may be more interested in this story. From 1615, Dutch colonists settled the area between Virgina and New England and named it Novum Belgium (or Novo Belgio, Nova Belgica, Novi Belgii or else Nieuwe Nederland). The reason is that "Belgium" referred in Latin to the Netherlands, and Latin names were common at the time, like for Nova Scotia (New Scotland), which remained to this day. Let us add to this story that many of the Dutch settlers who purchased the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans came from today's Belgium -- most of them from Wallonia. Peter Minuit himself was a Walloon.
Belgium's place in the world
Belgium's long neutrality in history, and its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe, earned it to be chosen as the seat of many international institutions, such as the European Union or NATO. In fact, the exact geographic centre of the EU-15 (that is, before the 2004 enlargement) was situated in Oignies-en-Thiérache, at the southern tip of the province of Namur, a few kilometers from the French border.