Belgium is an interesting country that’s been shaped by many different influences. Best known in the world for its waffles, chocolate, and beer, Belgium is as fascinating and as diverse as its food and drinks!
In this article, I want to show you a lighter, fun side of this beautiful country that I now call home. Some interesting facts and fun things that you probably didn’t know about Belgium.
So here are some of the typical things that make Belgium unique. Things that Belgium is famous for, but also some weird facts that you probably never heard of. Some of these facts and habits might seem very strange at first sight, but once you get to know and love this country, you cannot imagine it any other way.
Scroll down to learn more about Belgium and the Belgians!
READ ALSO: Belgium Travel Guide
In random order, here are all kinds of fun and interesting facts about Belgium:
1. Belgium can function without a government
Belgium is a constitutional monarchy. We have a King and 6 governments – a federal government and 5 regional governments. Belgium has proven time and again that the country can function without a federal government.
Once, it took 589 days for a government to be formed and people found it totally acceptable. Some things just take time, they say. Others argue that it is actually even better this way because we don’t have any new tax increases during the period that it takes to form a government.
Update: During the most recent government formation in 2019-2020, Belgium broke its own previous world record. This time, it took 652 days for a federal government to be formed in Belgium.
The reason for this is that political views are very different in Flanders and Wallonia. So the political parties that get the majority of votes in one region don’t necessarily have a related counterpart in another region.
2. There is no Belgian language
Belgium has three official languages and none of them is called Belgian. People speak Dutch, French, and German in different parts of the country.
In the Dutch-speaking schools, kids start to learn French in the 5th grade at the latest. So the majority of Flemish people also speak French. Whereas the schools in Wallonia don’t have obligatory lessons of Dutch, so very few French-speaking people from Wallonia can communicate in Dutch.
Most Flemish people also speak English. Kids often learn English from the TV long before they learn it at school. It’s not the case in the French-speaking part of the country because all their TV programs are dubbed.
How do you say ‘hello’ in Belgium? As already mentioned, Belgium doesn’t have one single language. If you want to say ‘hello’ or ‘good day’ in French, you say ‘salut’ or ‘bonjour’. In Dutch – ‘hallo’ or ‘goedendag’.
How do you say ‘thank you’ in Belgium? If you want to say ‘thank you’ in Belgium, you say ‘merci’ (French) or ‘dank je/ dank u wel’ (Dutch).
3. Belgians are crazy about football
Belgium’s football team is called the Red Devils and the whole country colors red when there are any major football events. When this article was first published, the Belgian national team was number 1 in the world on the FIFA ranking and the country was as united as never before.
Football (soccer) is the only thing that can unite all Belgians and make them forget all the differences and disagreements, even if for a short while.
During any major football events, you’ll see people wearing all kinds of football-related accessories, cars are decorated with flags and devil horns, and you can see Belgian flags hanging out of the windows all over the place.
4. There are tens of different types of Belgian waffles
You can find more than 30 types of different waffles in an average Belgian supermarket (yes, I counted). But most Belgian waffles in Belgium don’t taste anything like Belgian waffles in the U.S.
The two most popular types of waffles that you’ll find for sale at tourist places are Brussels waffles and Liege waffles. The Brussels waffles are airier and not as sweet, whereas the Liege waffles are very thick, rich, and full of pearl sugar.
The ‘Belgian waffles’ that you find abroad are usually somewhat similar to the Brussels waffles.
5. Belgians are a bit snobbish about chocolate
As far as Belgians are concerned, Belgium has the world’s best chocolate. And even I’m an ‘adopted’ Belgian, I have to agree with them on this one.
Giving foreign chocolate as a present might be taken as an insult by Belgians. After all, they are the ones who have the very best chocolate in the world.
The truth is that Belgian chocolate is very good; much too good actually, and they are absolutely right to be proud of it.
6. Belgian national symbol is a peeing boy
The Belgian national symbol is a peeing boy, Manneken Pis of Brussels.
Usually, he is not dressed and foreigners always find it amusing. But the little guy also has hundreds of different costumes for all kinds of occasions and somebody takes the trouble of changing his clothes two to three times a week.
If you are interested, you can learn all bout Manneken Pis and see a part of his impressive wardrobe at the GardeRobe MannekenPis museum in Brussels.
7. Belgium is the land of music festivals and parades
Belgium has some of the best music festivals in the world. Tomorrowland, Rock Werchter, I Love Techno – these are just a few examples of the music festivals attracting thousands of people from all over the world.
In addition, Belgians love parades. There are so many traditional parades all over the country! Some of them happen every year, but there are also traditional historic or religious parades that only take place every so many years.
We have the annual Aalst Carnival parade, the triennial Cat Parade in Ypres, the septennial Lady Virga Jesse parade in Hasselt, the Horse Bayard of Dendermonde that takes place every 10 years, and many, many others.
Especially in summer, Belgium turns into one huge festival terrain. There’s always music and so many fun events everywhere you go.
8. Belgians invented the ‘French’ fries
Belgians say that they invented French fries. And to give them credit, the fries in Belgium are indeed better than in France (or anywhere else for that matter).
You can find the world’s best fries at no more than 5 minutes driving distance from pretty much anywhere in the country. Every little village has at least one ‘fritkot’ – a kiosk or a van serving Belgian fries.
You probably heard that Belgians eat fries with mayo. As strange as it might sound, it’s absolutely delicious! It has become my absolute favorite Belgian food and it wouldn’t occur to me to eat fries with ketchup ever again.
9. There are over 1000 different types of beer brewed in Belgium
You can drink a Belgian beer every day for 4 years and never have the same beer twice.
There is some uncertainty about the exact number of different Belgian beers. But according to most sources, there are at least 1,000-1,200 original Belgian beers brewed in Belgium.
On top of that, there are many different types of beers under the same name. That explains why you can find a café that serves more than 1,700 different Belgian beers in Brussels (look for Café Délirium).
10. Every Belgian beer has a matching glass
Every single Belgian beer has its own special glass. I have difficulties imagining how a café can store over 1,000 different kinds of Belgian beer with their matching glasses, but somehow they do.
We are just an average half-Belgian family and our basement is filled with all kinds of different beer glasses. We hardly ever use most of them, but – to my Belgian husband – it would be unthinkable to serve a beer in the wrong glass.
So we have all kinds of different glasses that match my husband’s favorite beer types.
11. Smurfs come from Belgium
Belgium is world-known for comic strips. The most famous are probably the Smurfs, Tintin, and Lucky Luke.
There are more than 800 registered Belgian comic series!
Pretty much everyone I know here in Belgium owns hundreds of comic strip books. It’s one of the first books that our kids started to read and it’s also the first thing they always look for at a school library.
12. Belgian highways are lit at night
Belgium’s highways are lit at night. I am so used to it by now that I only understand how spoiled we are when they switch the lights off or when we travel to other countries.
As I’m updating this article, I have to say that these days, some parts of the highways remain dark during the least busy hours of the night. However, most Belgians find that it’s too dangerous and don’t agree with these ‘savings’.
READ ALSO: Is Belgium Safe?
13. Belgians love to talk about the weather
You can make friends in Belgium just by talking about the weather. Really. Belgians are obsessed with the weather and so you always have an easy conversation topic available.
Contrary to the popular belief, it doesn’t rain all the time in Belgium, but we do get a fair bit of rain. In any case, enough to give us something to talk about. And if we get an exceptionally dry year, as it’s happening more and more recently, there’s just so much more to discuss…
So if you meet a Belgian for the first time and are looking for a way to start the conversation, just say something about the weather.
14. Belgians love to cook (& to eat)
Cooking books top book bestsellers lists in Belgium for years. Belgians love to cook. And to eat. Belgians love the Burgundian lifestyle, fine food, and drinks.
If you are going for dinner at a restaurant in Belgium, count at least 2-3 hours. Nobody likes to rush through dinner and restaurants don’t even expect to seat tables more than once in the same evening.
15. Belgians love to shop
Belgian favorite pastime is shopping or going to the seaside. An ideal weekend is spent in Knokke, the posh seaside resort with many luxury boutiques on the Belgian coast.
Come weekend and Belgians flock to shopping malls and seaside resorts. If you don’t like the crowds, stay away from these places on weekends and public holidays.
16. Every Belgian wants to own a house
Belgians say that they are ‘born with a brick in their stomach’. All self-respecting Belgians try to buy or build a house as soon as they can.
17. Belgians dream of a B&B in Southern Europe
The ultimate Belgian dream is to retire at 50 and run a B&B in the South of Europe. Many Belgians move to Provence in southern France or to Spain, buy a house, turn it into a small B&B, and only come back to Belgium when they need some serious medical care.
18. Money topics are taboo
Belgians are pretty open and will talk about pretty much anything, except money. Children usually don’t have the slightest idea of what their parents earn.
If there is one money topic that Belgians love to talk (complain) about, it’s taxes. And there’s a good reason for that – see below.
19. Belgium has some of the highest tax rates in the world
Belgium has one of the highest personal income tax rates in the world. If you earn more than 13,250 EUR per year, you pay 40% tax. From about 40,000 EUR per year, income tax is 50%.
In addition, you have to pay social security taxes of 13.07% and communal taxes that, depending on where you live, can be as high as 9%.
So it’s not uncommon for Belgians to pay 60-65% tax on their income.
20. Belgians make flower carpets
Belgians make carpets from flowers and they are really good at it. If you visit Brussels in mid-August on the even years, don’t miss the Brussels Flower Carpet!
21. Santa Claus doesn’t come to Belgium
Belgian children don’t get their presents from Santa Claus, but from Sinterklaas or St. Nicholas. He comes by boat from Spain around mid-November, takes a tour of schools and shopping malls in the following weeks, and brings presents to all the ‘good’ kids on the 6th of December.
Sinterklaas travels on a white horse and with the help of Black Peters enters the houses via the chimney. Kids put their shoes at the fireplace on the evening of December 5. They also leave some carrots and sugar for the horse and drawings for Sinterklaas.
Here you can read more about the Sinterklaas celebration in Belgium.
22. Belgium has the world’s smallest city
Belgium has some beautiful historic cities, like Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp, or Leuven. In addition, we have many smaller towns, but there is one that Belgians are particularly proud of – Durbuy.
Durbuy prides itself on being ‘the smallest city in the world’. It’s not really a city, rather a very small (and picturesque) town, with a population of just about 500 people.
However, Durbuy’s location and position were pretty significant in the past. In the early 14th century, the Count of Luxembourg gave the town the rank of the city.
23. Belgians co-invented the World Wide Web
When talking about the things that Belgium is famous for, people often forget that we have great universities and lots of scientists in Belgium. Here’s just one example – the invention of the World Wide Web (www).
Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau together with his English colleague Berners-Lee, invented the hypertext system for accessing documentation, which eventually led to the creation of the World Wide Web.
Can you imagine that? There would be no internet without Belgians. 🙂
24. You have to pay to use a bathroom in Belgium
One of the things I just can’t get used to here in Belgium is that you have to pay when you want to use a bathroom. Most bathrooms at the shopping centers, petrol stations, cinemas, etc. now charge 0,5 EUR for a visit.
Often, you also have to pay for bathrooms at restaurants, especially at busy places in city centers. Luckily, most of them make an exception to their customers.
So it’s always a good idea to carry some small change in your pocket in Belgium.
25. Saxophone was invented by a Belgian
Did you know that the saxophone was invented by a Belgian named Adolphe Sax? He was born in the small city of Dinant and if you visit the city today, you’ll see saxophones everywhere.
Also some of the world’s most famous painters were Belgian: Rubens, Ensor, Magritte, Delvaux, van Eyck… to name just a few.
26. Belgian cities often have two different names
Belgium is multicultural and multilingual to its core and you will notice it in all kinds of details every single day. I’m not even talking about tens of different nationalities living together, this is about Belgium and Belgians.
Here is my favorite example and something that took me many years to get used to – the same city will have different names in Flemish, Walloon, or German-speaking parts of the country.
So Belgium is a place where it’s very easy to get confused and lost while driving around. Don’t look for ‘Liege’ road signs if you are on a highway in Antwerp, because the sign will say ‘Luik’. And when you finally manage to get to Liege, you will need to look for ‘Anvers’ in order to find your way back to Antwerp.
I still remember the first time I got lost in Belgium (this was before the times of GPS). I had a map with me, but road signs were pointing to places that were not on the map. I ended up driving around for several hours.
I remember asking people for directions and they looked at me as if I was from another planet. I was asking for directions to Mons while the signs were showing ‘Bergen’ and it was less than 30 minutes drive from where I was! It took me several weeks to realize that Gent is actually the same place as Gand.
Here are some examples of Belgian town names (some translations are quite similar, but some don’t even resemble the original):
- Bruxelles = Brussel = Brussels
- Antwerpen = Anvers = Antwerp
- Gent = Gand = Ghent
- Mons = Bergen
- Tournai = Doornik
- Mechelen = Malines
- Kortrijk = Courtrai
- Namur = Namen
- Ieper = Ypres
- De Haan = Le Coq
- Braine-l’Alleud = Eigenbrakel
- Jezus Eik = Notre-Dame-au-Bois
And in case you wonder, even the country name itself is different in all three official languages: België (Dutch), Belgique (French), Belgien (German).
Here are some additional facts that you may want to know about Belgium:
Belgium is world-famous for its chocolate, waffles, beer, and its national football team, the Red Devils. Belgium is also home to NATO headquarters and to the EU Commission and European Parliament. Brussels is often referred to as the capital of the EU.
The majority of people in Flanders speak English very well. It’s not always the case in Brussels or in Wallonia. However, as a tourist, you should have no problems finding someone who speaks English to help you out.
Yes, Belgium is one of the richest countries in the world. According to Allianz Global Wealth Report 2020, Belgium ranked as the 11th richest country in the world by net financial assets per capita.
Among others, Belgium’s high taxes are used to finance the healthcare system, education, and social security programs. For example, we have excellent and very affordable healthcare, school costs are low, and university studies are very affordable (the biggest cost is renting a place to live).
The cost of living in Belgium is relatively high, but still very affordable compared to many other Western European countries. For example, real estate is much more affordable in Brussels than in Amsterdam, Paris, or London.
So here are some weird and fun facts about Belgium. As you can see, it’s a unique country, very multicultural yet authentic and true to its values. It’s a great place to live and a wonderful destination to visit.
If you are planning a trip to Belgium, make sure to check out our post with a suggested Belgium itinerary for 3 or 4 days.
I also strongly recommend visiting our favorite Belgian town, Antwerp. Here you can read about the best things to do in Antwerp and some of our favorite secret places in Antwerp that most tourists never see. Check it out!
More travel inspiration for Benelux:
- Netherlands: Best Day Trips in the Netherlands
- Luxembourg: Best Day Trips in and Near Luxembourg
- Brussels: Best Things to Do in Brussels
- Accommodation: Where to Stay in Brussels & Brussels Most Popular Hotels
- Bruges: Best Things to Do in Bruges
- Amsterdam: 1 Day in Amsterdam & 2 Days in Amsterdam
- Winter trip: Best Christmas Markets in Belgium
- With kids: Best Theme Parks in Belgium & Antwerp with Kids
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