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Belgium travel guide - Travel S helper

Belgium

travel guide

Belgium is a low-lying nation in the Benelux region. It is strategically located at the crossroads of Western Europe. It combines the continent’s ancient monuments with stunning contemporary architecture and rural idylls, while its capital, Brussels, is home to the European Union’s headquarters.

Belgian society, despite this, is not without divides. On the contrary, Flanders, the northern portion of the nation where Dutch is spoken, and Wallonia, the southern, French-speaking region, often clash, and at times it seems as if their quarrels would divide the country in half. Despite this apparent incompatibility, Belgium’s two parts combine to create a nation that boasts some of Europe’s most beautiful and ancient towns and is a’must-see’ for every tourist to the continent.

Belgium, which is located on the North Sea coast, is bounded on the south by France, on the east by Luxembourg, on the east by Germany, and on the north by the Netherlands.

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Belgium - Info Card

Population

11,584,008

Currency

Euro (€) (EUR)

Time zone

UTC+1 (CET)

Area

30,689 km2 (11,849 sq mi)

Calling code

+32

Official language

Dutch, French, German

Belgium | Introduction

Geography Of Belgium

Belgium borders France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Its total area, including water areas, is 30,528 square kilometers; land area alone is 30,278 km2. It is located between latitudes 49°30 and 51°30 N, with longitudes 2°33 and 6°24 E.

There are three main geographical areas in Belgium.

Its coastal plain is composed mostly of sand dunes and polders. Further inland is a gentle, slowly rising landscape irrigated by numerous watercourses, with fertile valleys and the northeastern sandy plain of the Campine(Kempen). The heavily forested hills and plateaus found in the Ardennes is more rugged and rocky with its caves as well as small gorges. This area, which extends westward into France, is joined to the east by the High Fens with the Eifel in Germany, where the Signal de Botrange, at 694 meters, is the highest point in the country.

The climate is maritime-moderate with considerable rainfall in all seasons (Köppen climate classification: Cfb), as in most of northwestern Europe. In January, the average temperature is the lowest with 3 °C and in July it is the highest with 18 °C. Average precipitation per month varies from 54 millimeters in February or April to 78 mm in July. The average values for the years 2000 to 2006 show daily temperature minima of 7 °C and maxima of 14 °C, and monthly precipitation of 74 mm; these are about 1 °C and almost 10 millimeters above the normal values of the last century, respectively.

Because of its high density of population, its industrialization, and its location in the center of Western Europe, Belgium continues to face several environmental problems. Belgium also has one of the highest waste recycling rates in Europe. In particular, the Flemish region of Belgium has the highest waste recycling rate in Europe. Almost 75% of the municipal waste generated there is reused, recycled or composted.

Demographics Of Belgium

On 1 January 2015, the total population of Belgium was 11,190,845 according to the population register. Almost the entire population is urban, 97% in 2004. Belgium’s population density in March 2013 was 365 per square kilometre (952 per square mile). Flanders is the most densely populated area. And the Ardennes has the lowest density. The Flemish region had 6,437,680 inhabitants, with the most populated cities being Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges. Wallonia is the most densely populated, with Charleroi (202,021), Liège (194,937) and Namur (110,447).  Brussels has 1,167,951 inhabitants in the 19 municipalities of the Capital Region, three of which have more than 100,000 inhabitants.

In 2007, almost 92% of the population held Belgian citizenship, other EU members accounted for about 6%. Among the most common foreign nationalities are Italians (171,918), French (125,061), Dutch (116,970), Moroccans (80,579), Portuguese (43,509), Spanish (42,765), Turkish (39,419) and German (37,621). In 2007, 1.38 million foreign-born residents lived in Belgium, representing 12.9% of the total population. Among them, 685,000 (6.4%) where born outside the EU while 695,000 (6.5%) was born in another EU Member State.

It was estimated that people with a foreign background as well as their descendants made up approximately 25% of the total population. Among those new Belgians, 1,200,000 had European ancestry and 1,350,000 originated from non-Western countries. including Morocco, Turkey and the DR Congo. Since the amendment of the Belgian Nationality Act in 1984, more than 1.3 million migrants have acquired Belgian nationality. Moroccans are the largest group of immigrants in Belgium with more than 450,000. Turks are the third largest group and the second largest Muslim ethnic group with 220,000 people.

Religion In Belgium

Since the country’s independence, Roman Catholicism, balanced by strong free-thinking movements, has played an important role in Belgian politics. Nevertheless, Belgium is very much a secular nation, since the secular constitution provides freedom of religion and generally governments have respected this legal right in practice.

Roman Catholicism has traditionally been the majority religion in Belgium, particularly in Flanders. In 2009, Sunday church attendance was 5% throughout Belgium, 3% in Brussels and 5.4% in Flanders. Despite the decline in church attendance, Catholic identity remains an important part of Belgian culture.

According to the latest Eurobarometer survey in 2010, 37% of Belgian citizens replied that they believe there is a God. 31% replied that they believe there is some kind of spirit or life force. 27% replied that they do not believe that there is some kind of spirit, god or life force. 5% did not answer.

In symbolic and material terms, the Catholic Church continues to be in a very favourable position. Belgium has three officially recognised religions: Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican), Islam and Judaism.

At the beginning of the 2000s, there were approximately 42,000 Jews in Belgium. In Antwerp, the Jewish community ( with approximately 18,000 people) represents one of the largest communities in Europe and also one of the last locations in the world in which Yiddish is the main language of a large Jewish community (comparable to some Orthodox and Hasidic communities in New York and Israel). Moreover, most Jewish children in Antwerp receive a Jewish education. There are several Jewish newspapers and more than 45 active synagogues (including 30 in Antwerp) in the country.

A 2006 survey in Flanders, which is considered a more religious region than Wallonia, found that 55% consider themselves religious and 36% believe that God created the universe. On the other hand, Wallonia is one of the most secular/ least religious regions in Europe. The majority of the French-speaking population does not regard religion as an important part of its life and as many as 45% of the population describe themselves as irreligious. This is particularly the case in eastern Wallonia and in the areas along the French border.

An estimate made in 2008 shows that approximately 6% of the Belgian population (628,751 people) is Muslim. 23.6% of the Brussels population, 4.9% of Wallonia and 5.1% of Flanders is Muslim. Most of Belgium’s Muslims reside in larger cities including Brussels, Antwerp and Charleroi. The largest group of immigrants in Belgium are the Moroccans with 400,000 people. Turks are the third largest group and the second largest ethnic Muslim group with 220,000 people.

According to new surveys on religiosity in the European Union conducted by Eurobarometer in 2012, Christianity is the largest religion in Belgium with 65% of Belgians. Catholics are the largest Christian group in Belgium with 58% of Belgian citizens, while Protestants account for 2% and other Christians for 5%. Non-belies/agnostics make up 20%, atheists 7% and Muslims 5%.

Language & Phrasebook in Belgium

Belgium has three official languages at federal level: DutchFrench and German. However, English is widely spoken by the younger generation in the Dutch-speaking regions. On the other hand, English is not as widely spoken in the French-speaking areas due to lack of exposure, although it is always possible to find English speakers if you make the effort. You will find that some older people speak English, especially in Flanders, but this is less likely.

Although Belgium has three official languages, this does not mean that they are all official everywhere. Flanders’ only official language is Dutch; Brussels has Dutch and French as official languages, although French is the lingua franca; and Wallonia’s only official language is French, except in the nine municipalities (including the city of Eupen and its surroundings) of the German-speaking community.

A very small number of people in Wallonia, especially the older generations, still speak the Walloon language. This language, although not official, is recognised by the French Community of Belgium as an “indigenous regional language”, as are several other varieties of Romance (Champagne, Lorraine and Picard) and Germanic (Luxembourgish) languages.

Internet & Communications in Belgium

Belgium has a modern phone system with nationwide mobile phone coverage and several internet access points in all cities, which are free in most libraries. Wi-Fi is also available in many petrol stations, NMBS stations and motorway service stations.

  • Nowadays, many cafés offer free Wi-Fi but for some reason don’t put it on the door .
  • If you can’t find one, you can always fall back on Quick, McDonaldsLunch GardenCarrefour Planet or Starbucks, all of which offer a free Wi-Fi connection.

Mobile

Belgium uses the GSM standard for mobile phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands), which is used in a large part of the world, except for certain regions of America. Three major companies (Proximus, Orange and Base, as well as a large number of MVNOs) provide mobile services. The country is almost completely covered.

If you are staying for a while, it may be advisable to buy a prepaid mobile phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard in the 900/1800 MHz bands. With these cards, incoming calls and text messages are usually free. SIM cards for the three main companies are available in phone shops. SIM cards for MVNOs are readily available in supermarkets (Carrefour, Aldi and Colruyt, to name a few, all have their own brand).

All networks offer UMTS and HSDPA (3G) mobile internet coverage and are currently building a 4G network, mainly in major cities.

Economy Of Belgium

Its highly integrated globalised economy and transport infrastructure has been well connected to the rest of Europe. Its position at in the heart of a highly industrious region played a part in making it the 15th biggest trading nation in the world. The economy is characterised by a highly productive labour force, a high GNP and high exports per capita.

With a strong service orientation, the Belgian economy shows a dual nature: a vibrant Flemish economy followed by a Walloon economy that lags behind. As a founding member of the EU, Belgium is a strong supporter for an open economy and for the increase of EU institutions’ powers in order to integrate the national economies of its members. Since 1922, Belgium and Luxembourg have formed a common trade market with customs and monetary union through the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union.

Belgium was the first continental European country to experience the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century. Mining and steel production developed rapidly in Liège and Charleroi and flourished in the Sambre and Meuse valleys until the mid-20th century, making Belgium one of the three most industrialised nations in the world from 1830 to 1910. However, during the 1840s, Flanders’ textile industry was in serious crisis which resulted in the region experiencing starvation from 1846 to 1850.

Following the WWII, Ghent and Antwerp have experienced tremendous expansion in the chemical and oil industries. The oil crises in 1973 and 1979 sent the economy into recession; it was particularly protracted in Wallonia, where the steel industry was no longer competitive and suffered a severe decline. In the 1980s and 1990s, the country’s economic centre shifted further north and is now concentrated in the populous Flemish Diamond area.

By the end of the 1980s, Belgian macroeconomic policies had led to a cumulative public debt of about 120% of GDP. In 2006, the budget was balanced and the public debt was 90.30% of GDP. In 2005 and 2006, real GDP growth rates were slightly above the Eurozone average at 1.5% and 3.0%, respectively. The unemployment rate was close to the region’s average at 8.4% in 2005 and 8.2% in 2006. By October 2010, this had risen to 8.5%, compared to an average rate of 9.6% for the European Union (EU 27) as a whole.[99][100] From 1832 to 2002, the Belgian currency was the Belgian franc. Belgium switched to the euro in 2002, with the first euro coin sets minted in 1999. The standard Belgian euro coins intended for circulation show the portrait of the monarch (initially King Albert II, since 2013 King Philippe).

Even though there was an 18% decrease between 1970 and 1999, Belgium continues to have the densest rail network in the European Union, with 113.8 km/1,000 km2 in 1999. On the other hand, during the same period, 1970-1999, the motorway network grew enormously (+56%). In 1999, the motorway density per 1000 km2 and 1000 inhabitants was 55.1 and 16.5 respectively, well above the EU averages of 13.7 and 15.9.

Belgium has one of the highest congestion rates in Europe. In 2010, commuters in Brussels and Antwerp were stuck in traffic jams for 65 and 64 hours a year respectively. As in most smaller European countries, more than 80% of air traffic is handled by a single airport, Brussels Airport. The ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge account for more than 80% of Belgian maritime traffic. Antwerp is the second largest European port with a gross handling weight of 115,988,000 tonnes in 2000, after a growth of 10.9 % over the last five years.

There is a significant economic gap between Flanders and Wallonia. Wallonia has historically been prosperous compared to Flanders, mainly due to heavy industry, but the decline of the steel industry after the Second World War led to a rapid decline in the region, while Flanders has experienced rapid growth. Since then, Flanders has done well and is one of the most prosperous regions in Europe, while Wallonia has been in decline. Since 2007, unemployment in Wallonia has been more than twice as high as in Flanders. This discrepancy has contributed to the tensions between Flemings and Walloons, on top of the existing language gap. As a result, the independence movements in Flanders have gained great popularity. For example, the separatist party New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) is the largest party in Flanders.

Entry Requirements For Belgium

Visa & Passport for Belgium

Belgium is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between the countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most countries of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • Before boarding an international flight or ship, there is usually an identity check. Sometimes there are temporary checks at land borders.
  • Similarly, a visa issued for a member of the Schengen area is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.

Nationals of the above-mentioned countries are allowed to work in Belgium without a visa or other authorisation for the duration of their 90-day stay. However, this possibility to work without a visa does not necessarily extend to other countries in the Schengen area.

How To Travel To Belgium

By plane

Brussels Airport (also known as Zaventem because of the city where it is mainly located) is the main airport in Belgium (IATA: BRU). It is not located in Brussels itself, but in the surrounding area of Flanders. The airport is the base of the national carrier Brussels Airlines. Other full-service airlines use BRU, as do low-cost carriers such as Vueling, JetairFly and Thomas Cook.

A train (5.10 euros) runs every 15 minutes in 25 minutes to the centre of Brussels, some of them further to Ghent, Mons, Nivelles and West Flanders, and bus lines 12 and 21 (3 euros at the ticket machine / 5 euros on board) every 20 to 30 minutes to Place Luxembourg (European Parliament Quarter). The bus stops at NATO and Schuman (for the European institutions) towards the centre. There are also two trains per hour to Leuven, which take 13 minutes. A taxi to the centre of Brussels costs about 35 euros – cheaper if you book in advance. Blue taxis: +32 2 268-0000, Taxis Autolux: +32 2 411-4142, Green taxis: +32 2 349-4949.

Brussels South Charleroi Airport (IATA: CRL) is located about 50 km south of Brussels and is mainly served by budget airlines such as Ryanair and Wizzair. By bus, you can reach Brussels South station in about an hour (€13 one way, €22 return). If you are travelling to another part of Belgium, buy a combined bus+train ticket via Charleroi Sud station from the TEC ticket machines outside the airport for a maximum of €19.40 each way.

However, if you are really stuck, it is not unusual for taxi drivers to accept credit cards. The price of a taxi ride to Brussels is a fixed price (about €95 in May 2006) and you can check with the taxi driver whether or not he accepts your credit card(s).

Antwerp Airport (IATA: ANR) offers some business flights, including the low-cost CityJet service to London City Airport. The other airports are Ostend, Liège and Kortrijk, but these only handle cargo and charter flights.

Flights to airports in neighbouring countries could be considered, in particular to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, which has a direct rail connection with Brussels, with stopovers in Antwerp and Mechelen.

By train

There are direct train connections between Brussels and :

  • Luxembourg (normal trains running every hour)
  • Paris, Cologne, Aachen, Amsterdam (Thalys [www])
  • Lyon, Bordeaux, Paris-CDG airport and many other French cities (TGV Brussels-France [www]).
  • London, Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Lille and Calais (Eurostar [www]). Tip: If you are travelling to another Belgian city, opt for the “any Belgium Station” ticket (£5.50 for a one-way 2nd class journey) and your local transport is included in your Eurostar ticket. Depending on the distance, this may be cheaper than buying a separate ticket. Note: Passengers travelling to Belgium from the UK are subject to a French passport or ID check (carried out on behalf of Belgians) in the UK prior to boarding, and not on arrival in Belgium. Passengers travelling from Lille/Calais to Brussels are in the Schengen area.
  • Frankfurt, Cologne (ICE [www])
  • Zurich, Switzerland, via Luxembourg (normal trains, 2 per day)

There used to be hourly intercity trains between Brussels and Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands via Antwerp. This route was due to be replaced in December 2012 by a new high-speed service called “Fyra”, but after two months of unreliable operation, the new trains were withdrawn for safety reasons as they literally began to collapse under the snow. The only direct connection to Amsterdam is the expensive Thalys (book well in advance for cheap fares). The alternative is to take the train from Brussels or Antwerp to Roosendaal (NL), where connecting trains to Rotterdam and Amsterdam are available. A rack-and-pinion service from Brussels to The Hague is expected to start in early 2013 until a reliable high-speed service can be re-established.

International trains connect with national trains at Brussels Midi/Zuidstation station, and all Eurostar or ICE tickets and some Thalys tickets allow you to end your journey on national trains for free. For all high-speed trains, you need to book cheap fares in advance, either online or at a travel agency. There are no longer any regularly scheduled sleeper trains.

You can also check TGV connections to Lille. Trains from the rest of France to Lille are more frequent and usually cheaper. There is a direct train connection between Lille-Flanders and Ghent and Antwerp. If your TGV arrives in Lille Europe, you can walk to Lille Flandres station in 15 minutes.

Plan your journey with the Deutsche Bahn timetable [www]. It offers all national and international connections throughout Europe.

Smoking is no longer allowed on Belgian trains.

The price of a train ticket for travellers aged 65 and over in Belgium is often capped at 6 euros and is valid for a return journey on the same day, but this price may require a journey only after 9 hours.

By car

Major European motorways such as the E-19, E-17, E-40, E-411 and E-313 pass through Belgium.

Carpool

The cheapest way to get to Belgium from anywhere in Europe (3 euros/100 km) is – if you’re a little flexible and lucky – usually the taxi stop

By bus

With Eurolines buses you can travel to Belgium from all over Europe. International buses have stops in Antwerp, Brussels North Station, Leuven and Liège.

Due to the war in Bosnia in the 1990s, there are bus companies for the Bosnian diaspora that offer a cheap and clean way to travel to the other side of the European continent. Out of season, there are half-day excursions from various destinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands three times a week (about €132 for a return ticket).

By boat

There are night ferries between Zeebrugge and Hull in England, but they are not cheap. There used to be a special vehicle service during the day between Ostend and Ramsgate in England, but this has not been in operation since 2015.

From France

  • There are Belgian national trains that end in Lille (Lille-Flanders station).
  • Between De Panneterminus on the Belgian railway (and the coastal tramway – Kusttram) and the French coastal town of Dunkirk, there is a bus route operated by DK’BUS Marine: [www]. However, it can only operate at certain times of the year. It is also possible to take a DK’BUS bus as close as possible to the border and cross it on foot, walking along the beach and arriving at a convenient tram stop on the coast, such as Esplanade.

From Germany

  • You can travel by bus between the train stations of Eupen (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany), which is quite fast and cheaper than covering the same distance with an international train ticket.

From the Netherlands

  • You can see a list of border buses between Belgium and the Netherlands at [www].
  • The city of Baarle (formerly Baarle-Hertog in Belgium and Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands) is not only a special result of ancient European history, but also a possible transfer point, as the city’s main bus stop, Sint-Janstraat, is served by both Flemish (Belgian) and Dutch buses.
  • The Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn operates a cross-border bus between Turnhout in Belgium and Tilburg in the Netherlands, both of which are end points of each country’s railway network.
  • A bus (line 45) of the Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn runs between the stations Genk (Belgium) and Maastricht (Netherlands). Another bus (line 20A) runs from Hasselt to Maastricht. There is no rail connection there, but it is under construction.

How To Travel Around Belgium

Because the country is so small (300 km as the maximum distance), you can get anywhere in a few hours. Public transport is fast and convenient, and not too expensive. There are frequent train connections between the major cities and buses for shorter distances. A useful site is InfoTEC [www], which provides a door-to-door itinerary for the whole country, covering all forms of public transport (including train, bus, metro and tram).

A glance at the map suggests that Brussels is a good starting point for day trips to Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Namur and Leuven. Antwerp is popular with those who want to be in a cosmopolitan place, and Ghent is high on the list for those who like a good mix of open provinciality. Liège is beautiful, but too close to Germany to be a good starting point for day trips. Mechelen is considered boring by tourists, but has a very good brand new youth hostel next to a train station with trains for everyone every 30 minutes.

For local tourism, especially in Flanders, there are many facilities for cycling. It is possible to rent bicycles practically everywhere. Mountain bikes are available in the Walloon countryside and rafting is popular along the border with Luxembourg.

By train

Most of Belgium is well served by rail, operated by SNCB (www), whose main lines run via Antwerp, Namur or Brussels. You arrive there by international trains. Both are accessible by train from Brussels airport or by bus from Antwerp or Charleroi airport. Transfers are very easy. Note that all ICE tickets and some Thalys tickets allow you to change trains for free on the same day with national trains to any other Belgian station. There are also Thalys trains from Paris directly to Ghent, Bruges and Ostend without having to change trains in Antwerp or Brussels. From London (via Eurostar) you have to change in Brussels for Antwerp, Leuven or Ghent, but for Bruges you can already change in Lille (France) without having to make the diversions via Brussels. In both Lille and Brussels, the staff is very helpful and ready to smile. The trains are punctual and mostly modern and comfortable.

Normal Belgian rail fares compare favourably with those in Germany or the UK, without the need to book or reserve in advance. Second class fares are only 20 EUR for the longest domestic journeys, while first class costs 50% more. Trains can be very crowded at peak times and you may need a first class ticket to get a seat at these times. You can buy regular tickets online [www] or at stations, but not usually at travel agencies. If you want to buy a ticket on the train, you must tell the conductor and there will be a surcharge, unless the ticket office at the departure station is closed. At the station you can pay in cash or by credit card. Not buying a ticket can cost you up to 200 euros. Return tickets are 50% cheaper at weekends.

Normal tickets are sold for a specific day, so there is no additional validation when boarding the train.

The cheapest option if you are planning several train journeys is the Go-Pass [www], which entitles you to 10 single journeys in 2nd class (with change of trains if necessary) for €50. It is valid for one year and can be passed on without restrictions. The only problem is that you have to be under 26, but there is a more expensive version for older people, called “Rail Pass”. It costs 76 euros for 2nd class or 117 euros for 1st class. If you use these cards, make sure you have filled in the line before you board the train (actually: before you step onto the platform). The conductor can be very fussy if the pass is not filled in correctly. However, if you speak to the station staff before boarding the train, they will be happy to help you.

If you are attending an event or concert, check if your train journey is not already included in the ticket. For some mayor festivals and concerts, such as Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop or I Love Techno, the train ride is included in the ticket price. If you want to visit special places like theme parks or museums, ask for the ‘B excursions’ option. You can then buy your ticket and your train ticket at the station in one train. The price is always low, which usually means the normal entrance fee + 4-5 € just for the ride. The receptionist will surely give you the details.

The SNCB website offers a calendar [www] with information about delays and a fare calculator [www]. You can also find a map of Belgian railways and stations [www] and a more detailed but non-printable map [www].

Please note that train timetables usually change around 10 December. These changes are usually limited to the introduction of some new stations and the addition of some regular lines. No lines have been removed for a very long time.

By bus/tram

Buses cover the whole country, as do trams and the metro in the big cities. Most lines cover short distances, but it is possible to travel from city to city by bus. However, this mode of transport is much slower and only slightly cheaper than the train. There is also the Kusttram [www], which runs along most of the Flemish coast from France to the Netherlands and is worth a visit in summer.

In the cities, a normal ticket for an area never costs more than 2 euros, and there are different tickets available. Note that local transport is provided by different companies: STIB/MIVB in Brussels [www]DeLijn in Flanders and TEC in Wallonia, and outside Brussels they do not accept tickets from others. Tickets are cheaper when bought from ATMs.

Most tourists will not need the bus companies as it is much easier to take the train between cities and walk. Only Brussels and Antwerp have a metro, but even there you can walk. The historic centre of Brussels is only about 300 metres by 400 metres. Antwerp is much bigger, but a ride in a horse-drawn carriage gives a better overview than the metro.

By car

Belgium has a dense network of modern, toll-free motorways, but some secondary roads in Wallonia are poorly maintained. Signage is always in the national language only, except in Brussels, where it is bilingual. As many Belgian cities have very different names in Dutch and French, this can lead to confusion. For example, Mons in French is Bergen in Dutch; Antwerp is Antwerp in Dutch and Anvers in French; Liège in French is Luik in Dutch and Liège in German, and so on. This even applies to cities outside Belgium; if you are driving on a Flemish motorway, you may see signs indicating Rijsel, which is the French city of Lille, or Aken, which is the German city of Aachen. Exits are marked with the word “Uit” (exit) in the Flemish area, “Sortie” in the Walloon area and “Ausfahrt” in the German-speaking area.

Drivers in Belgium should also observe the rule “Right of way from the right”. At level crossings, traffic coming from the right has the right of way, unless signs or markings on the road indicate otherwise. Such intersections are more likely to be found in urban and suburban areas. Observant visitors will notice many cars with bumps on the right! Drive defensively and your car will not suffer the same fate.

In Belgium, motorway signs are notoriously impractical, especially on secondary roads. There is no uniformity in layout and colour, many are in poor condition, inconveniently placed or simply missing. A good road map (Michelin, De Rouck, Falk) or GPS system is recommended.

Car rental

Some rental cars are equipped with a satellite navigation system, but it is advisable to ask for this when booking. This is probably the most reliable way to get from point A to point B in Belgium. You will be able to discover some of the Belgian sights, flat as they may be, but the architecture of the cities is to be admired. You will be pleasantly surprised at how clean the towns and villages of Belgium are. Drive by on any given afternoon and you will see people tending to the road in front of their houses – a real backward village community.

Speed traps are often set up along the roads, and drink-driving is punishable by severe penalties even for small amounts, e.g. a fine of 125 euros on the spot at 0.05% and 0.08%. From this amount of alcohol in the body, you risk up to 6 months in prison and the loss of your driving licence for 5 years.

By thumb

The best place for hitchhikers. Just ask for a lift! Cardboard signs with city names can really help you get a quick lift.

  • Coming from Brussels: Heading south (e.g. Namur), get off at the “Delta” metro station.

Nearby you will find a large park and ride and a bus stop. If you hitchhike near the bus stop, you should be able to make a tour in less than 5 minutes during traffic hours.

  • In the direction of Ghent/Bruges: Good location near the “Basilix” shopping centre in Berchem-ste-Agathe. You can get there by bus N°87.

Another contact point in the north-east is in Anderlecht, near the Erasmus/Erasmus hospital (Erasmus/Erasmus metro station).

  • Direction Liège/Hasselt: Take the Pre-Metro to the “Diamant” station in Schaerbeek. When you leave the station, you should see a lot of cars leaving directly below you. Just walk and follow the signs “E40”. You should arrive at a small street that leads to a road that joins the E40 (cars come out of a tunnel at this point). At this point, hitchhike on the hard shoulder, in the area of the tunnel. Cars should still be driving slowly at this point and see that you are visible to them, so it is not that dangerous.
  • When you leave Louvain-la-Neuve (university) in the direction of Brussels (north) or Namur (south), you will be at the roundabout next to the exit/entrance “8a”, near the signs “Louvain la Neuve-centre”. A fast approach is guaranteed. Avoid exit 7 or 9, as they are much less frequented.

Destinations in Belgium

Regions in Belgium

Belgium consists of three regions, listed from north to south:

  • Flanders
    The Dutch-speaking region in the north of the country. It includes well-known cities such as Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges.
  • Brussels
    The bilingual region of the country’s capital and seat of the EU.
  • Wallonia
    The French-speaking region in the south, which includes a small German-speaking region in the east, near the German border.

Cities in Belgium

Belgium has a very high urbanisation rate and has an amazing number of cities for such a small area.

  • Brussels – capital of Belgium and unofficial capital of the EU. Historical centre of Nice and several museums of interest. One of the most multicultural cities in Europe.
  • Antwerp – the second largest city in Belgium with its huge cathedral, medieval streets and artistic heritage, and a great place for fashion.
  • Bruges – one of the richest cities in Europe in the 14th century, is a tourist city, but still very authentic, medieval and quiet at night, with small guesthouses and family-run businesses that far outnumber the hotel chains.
  • Ghent – once one of the largest cities in Europe, now a perfect blend of Antwerp and Bruges: a welcoming city with canals, but with a rich history and a vibrant student body.
  • Leuven – a small city dominated by one of the oldest universities in Europe. A beautiful historical centre and a lively nightlife.
  • Liège – the second largest city in Wallonia, situated on a wide river, an industrial cityscape with hiking and recreation spots in the nearby hills, it has a very strong and independent character and an exciting nightlife.
  • Mechelen – a small medieval town with a beautiful historic quarter around the cathedral.
  • Mons – Mons has had the exceptional privilege of having three sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and one event inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
  • Namur – capital of Wallonia, at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers with the Citadel.

Other destinations in Belgium

  • The Ardennes – the most sparsely populated region in the Benelux, a region of hilly, wooded landscape.
  • Dinant – small town in a breathtaking natural setting, a popular place for adventure sports such as canoeing and climbing, especially worth visiting in winter
  • Fondry des Chiens
  • Pajottenland, also known as “Northern Tuscany”, is a green region west of Brussels, consisting of hills, meadows, small villages and castles. It is the home of Gueuze beer and is well worth a visit. It is ideal for hiking, cycling and horse riding.
  • Spa – the hot water treatments of the spa town that gave its name to all the world’s spas have attracted visitors for centuries.
  • Ypres and its surrounding villages – the former military stronghold destroyed in the First World War is marked by memorials and cemeteries.

Accommodation & Hotels in Belgium

Budget

  • Couchsurfinghas many members in Belgium
  • Vriendenop challenges. If you are cycling or walking in Flanders, there is a list of 260 addresses where you can stay in private accommodation with bed and breakfast for a maximum of € 18.50 per person per night, but you also have to pay € 9 for membership.

Hotels

Belgium has many quality hotels. In the capital Brussels, there are countless fairly expensive business hotels that house EU bureaucrats. While you can usually get a good room for less than 100 euros, prices can skyrocket when there is a big EU party in town.

Things To See in Belgium

Mainly known for its key role in the administration of the European Union, the small nation that is Belgium might surprise you with its rich and magnificent heritage. It has a number of fascinating historic cities, rich in medieval and Art Nouveau architecture and famous for its long tradition of art, fashion and gastronomy. When you’ve seen the best, the Belgian countryside offers everything from sandy beaches to the densely forested hills and ridges of the Ardennes.

Brussels, the country’s dynamic capital, is a modern cosmopolitan city with a very international character. It combines massive postmodern buildings in its European Quarter with impressive historical monuments, such as the World Heritage Grand Place, surrounded by guildhalls and the Gothic City Hall. There is Laeken Castle and the great Cathedral of St Michael and St Gudula, dedicated to the city’s patron saints. The Royal Palace is a newer but no less grandiose building. The Atomium, a remarkable steel structure and a remnant of the 1958 World’s Fair, is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. And yet, with all these grand sights within reach, many travellers’ favourite is a tiny bronze fountain in the shape of a little boy peeing: the curious Manneken Pis. The province of Walloon Brabant, a few kilometres south of Brussels, is certainly worth a visit. You can visit the Lion’s Hill in Waterloo or the magnificent Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville.

Perhaps the most popular Belgian city is Bruges. Much of the outstanding architecture built during the city’s golden age, around the 14th century, has been preserved and the old centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the most important monuments is the 13th-century bell tower, where the carillonneur still rings the bells daily. Along with countless other remarkable monuments, Bruges is a very popular destination and gets a little crowded during the holidays. Then there’s Ghent, which was once one of the richest cities in northern Europe. Although it is larger and much livelier than Bruges, it certainly holds its own with its excellent medieval architecture. The beguinages, the bell tower and the former linen hall are World Heritage Sites. You can also visit Antwerp, now a mecca for Belgian fashion, clubbing, art and diamonds. Nevertheless, the city’s timeless historic centre is on a par with the country’s most impressive cathedrals. Other cities worth visiting are Leuven, with the oldest Catholic university still in operation, and Liège.

In Wallonia, don’t miss the city of Mons, which has been the Walloon Capital of Culture since 2002. In 2015, the city will have the unique honour of being the European Capital of Culture. Mons is the largest and most important city in the province of Hainaut, of which it is the administrative and judicial centre. But lately, the focus has been on preserving its heritage to better share it with the growing number of tourists in the region. Three great masterpieces, the Belfry, the Neolithic flint mines of Spiennes and the Doudou, all inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, are located in and around Mons.

For hiking, cycling and camping, the rugged hilly landscape of the Ardennes with its narrow forests, caves and cliffs is ideal. Home to wild boar, deer and lynx, they hide a number of welcoming villages, numerous castles and several other remarkable sites. The impressive caves of Han-sur-Lesse, the castle of Bouillon and the modern labyrinth of Barvaux are among the best options. The city of Namur is an excellent base for exploring the Ardennes and also has some beautiful sights to offer. The city is beautifully situated on the rivers Meuse and Sambre and from the old citadel you have a breathtaking view of the city.

The Belgians have produced a number of world-famous masters of art, and their love of art is still reflected in the range of art museums on offer today. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp are just a few excellent examples. But Belgians love museums, and there are more than 80 of them in the capital alone. Besides art, they present exhibitions on history, folklore, industry and technology. As some of the worst fighting of the two world wars took place on Belgian territory, there are also a large number of memorials and museums dedicated to those dark times, along with some modest military cemeteries.

Things To Do in Belgium

  • Mons International Love Film Festival : annual film festival (February)
  • Ritual Ducasse de Mons: Doudou is the popular name of a week of collective rejoicing that takes place every year on Trinity weekend in Mons. There are four key moments: The descent from the sanctuary, the procession, the ascent of the golden chariot and the battle known as the Battle of Lumeçon (Trinity Sunday).
  • Ethias Tennis Trophy: one of the best challenges in the world! (October / Mons)
  • Ommegang: a parade in Brussels celebrating the beginning of the reign of Charles V of Habsburg. It takes place in the magnificent cityscape of the Grand Place and includes thousands of waterfalls in period costumes.
  • Zinneke Parade: the annual celebration of the spirit of Brussels – the theme changes every year and includes costumes and floats made by volunteers and locals.
  • DOCVILLE – International Documentary Film Festival, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, +32-16-320300 International documentary film festival in early May, with national and international competition in the city of Leuven. The selected films focus on cinematography. 4,50-6 €.
  • GraspopMetal meeting. Annual heavy metal festival held in June in the town of Dessel.
  • CarnivalBinche. For three days in February, the town of Binche is transformed into the 16th century for one of the most fantastic festivals of the year. The highlight of this event is the appearance of the Gilles in the Grand Place, who throw oranges at the spectators. This infamous festival with its famous Gilles has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
  • RockWerchter. End of June, beginning of July, Werchter.
  • The Dour Festival “European Alternative Music Event” – 12-15 July 2007 – Dour.
  • Pukkelpop. Middle of August
  • The Atomium, built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (Expo ’58), is a 102-metre high representation of an atomic unit cell. More precisely, it is the symbol of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Nine steel spheres with a diameter of 16 metres are connected by tubes to 32-metre-long escalators.
  • GentseFeesten. 2nd half of July. Huge ten-day street festival in the historic city centre of Ghent. Europe’s largest street festival, with theatre, music of all kinds, techno nights, etc. – Gentse Feesten
  • ActiviteitenGent & Antwerp, Rerum Novarumlaan 132 (Merksem), +32 475 696 880. Great boat trips around Ghent and Antwerp.
  • 24 hours by bike, Louvain-La-Neuve Louvain-La-Neuve is located in Wallonia, not far from Brussels. It is a small pedestrian town founded in the 60s for French-speaking students. Every year in October, they organise a cycling competition. In fact, the course is an excuse to enjoy the event . And to drink beer. This festival is one of the most important beer consumption in the whole of Europe.
  • Belgian Beer Tour Belgian Beer Tour is a tour operator specialising in visits to Belgian breweries. It offers beer lovers an ideal opportunity to visit their favourite breweries and discover new ones. The tours cover a wide range of beers and are aimed at connoisseurs and beer lovers alike.
  • Leuven International Short Film Festival, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, +32-16-320300 International short film festival with many foreign guests and directors. It focuses on the best Flemish and European short films. 4,50-6 €.
  • TomorrowLand, De Schorre, Boom.
  • FlowercorsoLoenhout, Loenhout centre. One of the largest flower corsos in Belgium. Entitled Royal Corso, their themed floats and floats are completely covered in flowers and can reach 80 feet in length. Every year, beginning of September, 2 to 8 €.

Food & Drinks in Belgium

Food in Belgium

Belgians love to eat. Belgium is famous for its good food and people like to go to restaurants frequently. The best description of Belgian food would be “French food in a German crowd”.

General rules

  • Like everywhere else in the world, you should avoid tourist traps where thugs try to push you into restaurants. You will get mediocre to bad food at medium to high prices, and at busy times they will try to get rid of you as quickly as possible to make room for the next customer. A good example is the famous “Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat” in Brussels in this picture.
  • Belgium is a country that understands food and can be a true gastronomic paradise. In almost any tavern you can enjoy a decent meal, from a small snack to a full dinner. All you have to do is go to one of them and enjoy it.
  • If you want to eat really well and for not too much money, ask the locals or the hotel manager (assuming he doesn’t have a brother restaurant owner) if he can give you some tips for a good restaurant. A good idea is to look for a restaurant or taverna a bit outside the cities (if some locals advise it); they are usually not too expensive, but offer decent -> quality food. And if you order specialities in season, you not only save your wallet but also the quality of the food.
  • Quality has its price: since the introduction of the euro, the price of restaurant food in Belgium has almost doubled. Expensive dishes like lobster or turbot will always be very expensive in any restaurant. But there are also local and simple dishes that are quite cheap and always very tasty (e.g. sausages, potatoes and spinach). Normally, a dinner (3 courses) costs about 30 to 50 euros, depending on the choice of dishes and the restaurant. And for cheap and greasy food, just find a local “frituur”. It will be the best Belgian roast you have had in a long time.

Specialities

A number of dishes are considered typical Belgian specialities and should be on every visitor’s agenda.

Mussels are very popular and are served as a side dish with mussels and chips/mosselen met friet. The traditional method is to cook them in a pot with white wine and/or onions and celery and then eat them, taking them out with only a mussel shell. The high season is from September to April and, as with all other shellfish, you should not eat the closed shells. Belgian mussels always come from the neighbouring Netherlands. Imports from other countries are frowned upon.

Balletjes/Boulettes are meatballs with French fries. They are served either with a tomato sauce or with Liégeois sauce, which is based on a local syrup. That is why they are often presented under the name Boulets Liégeois.

Frikadellen met krieken are also meatballs served with cherries in a cherry juice sauce. They are eaten with bread.

The stoemp is mashed potatoes and carrots with bacon and sausages. It’s a typical Brussels food.

Stoofvlees (or Flemish carbonade) are a traditional beef stew and are usually served with (you guessed it) fries.

Witloof met kaassaus/Chicons au gratin is a traditional chicory casserole with ham and cheese bechamel, usually served with mashed potatoes or croquettes.

Rabbit with plums: Rabbit cooked with bear and three plums.

Despite their name, French fries (Dutch frieten, French frites) proudly claim to be a Belgian invention. Whether that’s true or not, they’ve certainly perfected it – even if not everyone agrees with the choice of mayonnaise instead of ketchup as their favourite condiment (ketchup is considered “for children”).

In every village there is at least one friterie, an establishment that sells takeaway fries at reasonable prices, with a wide choice of sauces and fried meat to go with them. Tradition dictates that you try the fries with the stoofvlees, but don’t forget the mayonnaise that goes with them.

The waffles (waffles in Dutch, waffles in French) come in two varieties:

  • Bruxelles/Brusselse Wafels: a light and airy option.
  • a heavier variety with a sticky centre called Gaufres de Liège/Luikse wafers.

These are often consumed while shopping on the street/ take-away and can therefore be found in stalls on city streets.

After all, Belgian chocolate is famous all over the world. Famous chocolatiers include Godiva, Leonidas, Guylian, Galler, Marcolini and Neuhaus, but the best stuff is found in tiny shops that are too small to create global brands. In almost every supermarket you can buy the Côte d’Or brand, which is generally considered by Belgians to be the best “everyday” chocolate (for breakfast or a break).

International cuisine in Belgium

As a small country in the middle of Western Europe, the cuisine is not only influenced by the surrounding countries, but also by many other countries. This is also underlined by the many foreigners who come to this country to earn a living, for example by opening a restaurant. You can find all kinds of restaurants:

  • French/Belgian: A traditional Belgian restaurant serves the kind of food you find in the best French restaurants. Of course, there are local differences: on the coast (both in France and Belgium) you are more likely to find good seafood, such as mussels, turbot, sole or the famous North Sea crabs. In the forests of the southern Ardennes (remember the Battle of the Bulge?), it is better to choose local game or fish like trout.
  • English/Irish: There are Irish bars and pubs everywhere and Belgium is no exception. Try the Schuman district of Brussels, where you can find more Irish pubs than you can shake a stick at. There is also an English pub right next to Place de la Monnaie in the centre of Brussels.
  • American: There is McDonald’s or imitators in almost every city. The Belgian version is called “Quick”. You can also find a local stand serving sausages, hot dogs or hamburgers. Try it: the meat tastes the same, but the bread is much better. In this region, ketchup is bland and made with less sugar (even the Heintz brand). Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Subway also have branches. There are no real American restaurants, although there is an American bar on the Golden Fleece in Brussels that serves food.
  • Mexican: Only in cities and quite expensive for only medium quality. ChiChi’s (near the stock exchange) serves Mexican-American food, but would not be considered cheap by American standards. ChiChi’s uses reconstituted meat.
  • Chinese: They have a long tradition of restaurants in Belgium. Rather cheap, but of acceptable quality.
  • German/Austrian: Maxburg in the Schuman area (next to Spicy Grill) makes a good schnitzel.
  • Greek/Spanish/Italian: Like everywhere in the world, nice, rather cheap, with good atmosphere and typical music (Greek: choose meat, especially lamb) (Spanish: choose paella and tapas) (Italian: choose everything).
  • Japanese/Thai: They are usually only found in the cities and are quite expensive, but they offer you good quality. In a concentrated group of Thai restaurants near Bourse station, both prices and quality are satisfactory. However, avoid Phat Thai if you don’t want to be disturbed as they let pot dealers and florists in and do their “work”.
  • Arabic/Moroccan: Rather inexpensive, with a large selection of local dishes, mostly lamb; no fish, pork or beef.
  • Turkish: Rather inexpensive, with a wide range of local dishes, especially chicken and lamb and also vegetarian dishes, fish dishes are rare; no pork or beef.
  • Belgium offers a wide range of other international restaurants.

Drinks in Belgium

For people who like to party, Belgium can be great. Most cities are close to each other and are either big metropolitan areas (Brussels, Antwerp) or student districts (Leuven, Liège, Ghent), etc.. In this small region you will find the largest number of clubs, cafés, restaurants per square kilometre in the world. A good starting point can be a place with a strong student/youth culture: Leuven around its large university, Liège in the famous “quartier du carré”, etc. You can expect a great variety in the appreciation of music, from jazz to the best electronic music. A wide variety of music awaits you, from jazz to the best electronic music. Ask for the best clubs and you will most likely meet music fanatics who can show you the best underground parties in this small country.

The government’s attitude towards bars, clubs and parties is basically liberal. They recognise the principle of “live and let live”. As long as you do not disturb public order, destroy property or get too drunk, the police will not intervene; this is also one of the main principles of Belgian social life, because drunken and disorderly behaviour is generally considered offensive. Of course, this behaviour tends to be tolerated in student communities, but in general you are more respected if you party as much as you want – but with a sense of discretion and self-control.

Officially, drugs are not allowed. However, as long as you follow the above principles, you are not in serious trouble. However, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is not tolerated and traffic laws are strictly enforced. Especially on weekends on major roads, you have a good chance of being pulled over for a blood alcohol test.

Water

Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Belgium, but most restaurants do not serve it. They usually serve hot spring water or other mineral water, which costs about 2 euros per bottle. Spa, like bru and chaudfontaine, is a very famous brand of water.

Beer

Belgium is to beer what France is to wine; it is home to one of the world’s greatest beer traditions. As in other European countries in the Middle Ages, beers were brewed in many different ways and with many different ingredients. In addition to the usual ingredients such as water, barley malt, hops and yeast, many herbs and spices were also used. This activity was often carried out in monasteries, with each monastery developing its own style. For one reason or another, and this is unique to Belgium, many of these monasteries survived almost into modern times, and the process was entrusted to a local commercial brewer when the monastery closed. These brewers often increased the recipe and process to sweeten the taste slightly and make it more marketable, but the variety survived in this way. These beers are called abbey beers and there are hundreds and hundreds of them with a range of complex flavours that you can’t imagine until you try them.

The Trappist label is controlled by international law, just like the label for champagne in France. In Belgium, there are only six Trappist abbeys that produce beer with the Trappist label. To be allowed to carry the Trappist label, some rules have to be followed in the brewing process. The beer must be fermented on the abbey’s premises, the monks of the abbey must be involved in the brewing process and the profit from the sale of the beer must be used to support the monastery (like a non-profit organisation).

Belgium offers an incredible variety of beers. Wheat/white beers (with their blend of barley and wheat) and lambic beers (sour-tasting wheat beers brewed by spontaneous fermentation) originate from Belgium. For non-beer lovers, lambic beers are always interesting to try, as they are often brewed with fruity flavours and do not taste like normal beer. Belgian series beers include Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler and Hoegaarden. The names given to some beers are quite imaginative: for example, Verboden Vrucht (forbidden fruit), Mort Subite (sudden death), De Kopstoot (assface), Judas and Delirium Tremens.

Kriek (sweet and sour cherry beer) and, for the Christmas season, Silent Night are also recommended.

Simple blonde derivatives (4%-5.5%): Stella Artois, Jupiler, Maes, Cristal, Primus, Martens, Bavik.

Trappist beers (5 to 10%): Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle.

Geuze: Belle-Vue, the Lambic Sudden Death, Lindemans in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Timmermans, Boon, Cantillon, 3 Fountains, Oud Beersel, Giradin, Hanssens, De Troch.

White beers: Hoegaarden, Dentergemse, Brugse Witte.

Jenièvre

The city of Hasselt is famous in Belgium for its local alcoholic drink, jenever. It is quite a strong liquor, but it comes in all sorts of flavours beyond imagination, including, but not limited to, vanilla, apple, cactus, kiwi, chocolate and much more. Hasselt is located in the east of Belgium, about an hour by train from Brussels and 50 minutes from Antwerp. Trains leave Antwerp twice an hour.

Pubs

Pubs, or cafés, are very common. They all offer a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, both hot and cold. Some serve food, others do not. Some specialise in beer, wine, cocktails or something else. Smoking in pubs is against the law.

Money & Shopping in Belgium

Currency

Belgium uses the euro. It is one of the many European countries that use this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender in all countries.

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol of the euro is € and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

  • Banknotes: The euro banknotes have the same design in all countries.
  • Standard coins: All euro area countries issue coins that have a distinctive national design on one side and a common standard design on the other. The coins can be used in any euro area country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative €2 coins: These differ from normal €2 coins only in their “national” side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country can produce a certain amount of these coins as part of its normal coin production, and sometimes “European” 2-euro coins are produced to commemorate specific events (e.g. anniversaries of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins with other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, have very special designs and often contain significant amounts of gold, silver or platinum. Although they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector’s value is usually much higher and therefore you are unlikely to find them in circulation.

Tipping

In Belgium, tipping is not obligatory as service charges are always included. Nevertheless, people often tip as a sign of appreciation. This is usually done by paying with banknotes whose total value is slightly higher than the price of the meal and telling the waiter/waitress that he/she can keep the change.

What to buy?

  • Belgian chocolate: A long tradition has given Belgian chocolate a superior refining process that is recognised worldwide.
  • Shoelaces in Bruges
  • Designer fashion in Antwerp
  • Jewellery in one of the many jewellery shops in Antwerp
  • Beer
  • Belgian comics and related merchandising, especially in Brussels

Festivals & Holidays in Belgium

Holidays in Belgium

Date Holidays
1 January New Year’s Day
Monday after Easter Easter Monday
1 May Labour Day
39 days after Easter Ascension
Monday after Whitsun Whit Monday
21 July Belgian National Day
15 August Assumption Day
1 November All Saints’ Day
11 November The day of the ceasefire
25 December Christmas

Furthermore, the same legal text designates all Sundays as public holidays (this is why Easter and Pentecost, which always fall on a Sunday, are “celebrated” by extending the holiday from Sunday to the next day), but shops are free to choose another day of the week as a “weekly closing day” if they wish; they must then declare what that day is near the shop entrance: in French “Jour de fermeture hebdomadaire: ” and/or in Dutch “Wekelijke rustdag: ”.

As in 2008, when Labour Day and Ascension Day both fell on 1 May, employers had to declare an additional holiday on a different day of the month. 2 May had been proclaimed as the official day for this holiday, but in response to complaints from several industries, the government decided that the holiday could be placed on any date. In any case, most employers seem to have decided to keep 2 May as the date.

11 November is not observed by the European institutions, they are operational on that day. Instead, the European institutions observe Europe Day (Schuman Day) on 9 May.

Special days in Belgium that are not official holidays

Date Holidays
6 January Epiphany
14 February Valentine’s Day
8 May Iris Day (Brussels only)
11 July Flemish Community Day
27 September French Community Day
Third Sunday in September Walloon Region Day
31 October Halloween
2 November The Day of All Souls
15 November King’s Day
6 December St. Nicholas

The days of the three municipalities are public holidays for their officials and for employees of the institutions they control, supervise or finance (e.g. municipalities, universities) and may also be observed by the banks of the respective municipality. King’s Day is a public holiday observed by all administrations (i.e. federal, municipal or regional, provincial and local), including the schools they organise.

Traditions & Customs in Belgium

  • Belgians don’t like to talk about their income or politics. It is also best to avoid asking people their opinion about religion.
  • The question of Flanders and Wallonia is a controversial issue and best avoided.
  • Do not try to speak French in Flanders and Dutch in Wallonia! Speaking the ‘wrong’ language can be considered very offensive in both regions and you will either be ignored or, at worst, receive a frosty response and inferior service. However, the closer you get to the language border, the less often this will be the case. Throughout the country, the lingua franca between Flemings and Walloons has become English, especially among the younger generation, to avoid being addressed in the “other language”. Therefore, as a tourist, it is best to start a conversation in English or in the “right” language, i.e. Dutch in Flanders and French in Wallonia.
  • Don’t tell the Walloons (and most Brussels people) that they are French. Most Walloons speak French, but they are not French and do not consider themselves as such and do not like to be associated with their neighbour France.
  • And, for similar reasons, don’t tell the Flemish (and also the Brussels) that they are Dutch. Most Flemings speak (Flemish) Dutch, but they are not Dutch and do not consider themselves as such and do not like to be associated with their neighbour, the Netherlands.
  • Finally, the same applies to the 75,000 German-speaking Belgians who have a difficult historical past with their neighbour Germany.
  • Belgians are generally very proud of their cartoonists. The “Belgian School of Comics” is praised as a point of national pride. In Belgium, comics are precious books with a hard cover. There are dozens of beautiful but expensive merchandising items, and Belgians are infatuated with them. For example, a plastic figurine of a comic book character or a special piece of art by a famous comic book artist would be a perfect gift for your Belgian friends and in-laws.
  • A tip shows that you were satisfied with the service you received, but you certainly don’t have to give it. This is sometimes done in bars and restaurants. Depending on the total amount, a tip of 0.50 to 2.50 euros is considered generous.

Culture Of Belgium

Despite its political and linguistic division, the region corresponding to present-day Belgium has seen the flowering of significant artistic movements that have had a considerable influence on European art and culture. Today, cultural life is to some extent concentrated within the individual linguistic communities, and due to various barriers, a common cultural space is less pronounced. Since the 1970s, there have been no bilingual universities or colleges in the country, with the exception of the Royal Military Academy and the Antwerp Maritime Academy, no common media and not a single major cultural or scientific organisation in which the two main communities are represented.

Fine arts

The contributions to painting and architecture were particularly rich. Moorish art, early Netherlandish, Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting and important examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture are milestones in the history of art. While fifteenth-century art in the Netherlands is dominated by the religious paintings of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, the sixteenth century is characterised by a wider range of styles such as the landscape paintings of Peter Breughel and the depiction of antiquity by Lambert Lombard. Although the Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck flourished in the south of the Netherlands in the early seventeenth century, it gradually declined thereafter.

The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the emergence of many original Belgian Romantic, Expressionist and Surrealist painters, including James Ensor and other artists of the Les XX group, Constant Permeke, Paul Delvaux and René Magritte. The 1950s saw the emergence of the avant-garde movement CoBrA, while the sculptor Panamarenko remains a notable figure in contemporary art. Multidisciplinary artists Jan Fabre and Wim Delvoye, as well as painters Guy Huygens and Luc Tuymans, are other internationally renowned figures on the contemporary art scene.

Belgian contributions to architecture continued into the 19th and 20th centuries, especially through the work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, who were the main initiators of Art Nouveau.

The vocal music of the Franco-Flemish school developed in the southern part of the Netherlands and made an important contribution to Renaissance culture. In the 19th and 20th centuries, great violinists such as Henri Vieuxtemps, Eugène Ysaÿe and Arthur Grumiaux performed, while Adolphe Saxin invented the saxophone in 1846. The composer César Franck was born in Liège in 1822. Contemporary popular music in Belgium is also well-known. The jazz musician Toots Thielemans and the singer Jacques Brel have achieved world fame. Today, the singer Stromae is a musical revelation in Europe and beyond and enjoys great success. In rock/pop music, Telex, Front 242, K’s Choice, Hooverphonic, Zap Mama, Soulwax and dEUS are well known. In the heavy metal scene, bands like Machiavelli, Channel Zero and Enthroned have fans all over the world.

Belgium has produced several well-known authors, including the poets Emile Verhaeren and Robert Goffin, and the novelists Hendrik Conscience, Georges Simenon, Suzanne Lilar, Hugo Claus, Joseph Weterings and Amélie Nothomb. The poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1911. Les Aventures de Tintin d’Hergé is the best known of Franco-Belgian comics, but many other important authors, including Peyo (Les Schtroumpfs), André Franquin (Gaston Lagaffe), Dupa (Cubitus), Morris (Lucky Luke), Greg (Achille Talon), Lambil (Les Tuniques Bleues), Edgar P. Jacobs and Willy Vandersteen have brought worldwide fame to the Belgian comics industry.

Belgian cinema has brought a number of mainly Flemish novels to the screen. Other Belgian directors include André Delvaux, Stijn Coninx, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; well-known actors include Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jan Decleir and Marie Gillain; successful films include Bullhead, Man Bites Dog and L’affaire d’Alzheimer. In the 1980s, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp produced important fashion designers who became known as the Antwerp Six.

Folklore

Folklore plays a major role in Belgium’s cultural life: the country has a relatively high number of processions, cavalcades, parades, “ommegangs” and “ducasses”, “kermesses” and other local festivals, almost always with a religious or mythological background. The carnival of Binche and its famous gilles, as well as the “processional giants and dragons” of Ath, Brussels, Dendermonde, Mechelen and Mons are recognised by UNESCO as masterpieces of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

Other examples are the carnival in Aalst, the still very religious Holy Blood processions in Bruges, the Basilica of the Virgin Mary in Hasselt and the Basilica of Our Lady of Hanswijk in Mechelen, the feast of 15 August in Liège and the Walloon feast in Namur. Founded in 1832 and revived in the 1960s, the Gentse Feesten have become a modern tradition. One of the most important unofficial festivals is St. Nicholas Day, a festival for children and, in Liège, for students.

Cuisine

Many top Belgian restaurants can be found in the most influential restaurant guides, such as the Guide Michelin. Belgium is famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and French fries with mayonnaise. Contrary to their name, French fries are said to have originated in Belgium, although their exact place of origin is uncertain. The national dishes are “steak and chips with salad” and “mussels with chips”.

Belgian chocolate and praline brands like Côte d’Or, Neuhaus, Leonidas and Godiva are famous, but so are independent producers like Burie and Del Rey in Antwerp and Mary’s in Brussels. Belgium produces more than 1100 types of beer. Trappist beer from the Abbey of Westvleteren has repeatedly been named the best beer in the world. The largest brewery in the world by volume is Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Leuven.

Sport

Since the 1970s, sports clubs and associations have been organised separately within each language community. Club football is the most popular sport in both parts of Belgium; cycling, tennis, swimming, judo and basketball are also very popular.

The Belgians hold the most victories in the Tour de France, all countries combined, with the exception of France. They also have the most victories in the UCI Road World Championships. Philippe Gilbert is the 2012 world champion. Another modern and well-known Belgian cyclist is Tom Boonen. With five Tour de France victories and many other cycling records, Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx is considered one of the greatest cyclists of all time. Jean-Marie Pfaff, former Belgian goalkeeper, is considered one of the greatest in the history of club football.

Belgium hosted the 1972 European Football Championship and co-hosted the 2000 European Championship with the Netherlands. The Belgian national football team reached the top of the FIFA world rankings for the first time in November 2015.

Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin were both named Player of the Year by the Women’s Tennis Association for being the number one player in women’s tennis. The Spa-Francorchamps motor racing circuit hosts the Formula One World Championship and the Belgian Grand Prix. Belgian driver Jacky Ickx won eight Grand Prix and six 24 Hours of Le Mans races and was twice runner-up in Formula 1. Belgium also has a good reputation in motocross. Sporting events held in Belgium each year include the Memorial Van Damme athletics competition, the Formula 1 Belgian Grand Prix and a number of classic cycling races such as the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The 1920 Summer Olympics were held in Antwerp. The 1977 European Basketball Championships were held in Liège and Ostend.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Belgium

Stay safe in Belgium

With the exception of certain areas in the centre of Brussels and the outskirts of Antwerp (the port and the docks), Belgium is a safe country. Belgians are somewhat shy and introverted, but generally helpful towards foreigners.

For those who end up in Charleroi and Liège, these are the regions with the highest crime rates in southern Belgium. But if you watch your stuff and avoid walking alone at night, nothing really serious will happen to you.

There can be mild resentment among Muslims and people of North African origin, a problem that is particularly acute in Brussels and Antwerp. The burqa is banned in public.

The marijuana laws are quite lenient, small amounts are only punishable by fines.

The emergency number in Belgium (fire brigade, police, ambulance) is 112.

Stay healthy in Belgium

In winter, as in most other European countries, only the flu will cause you considerable inconvenience. No vaccination is required to enter or leave Belgium.

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