Belgium - General Information
Many tend to pass by Belgium on their way from Holland to France or add two or three days to their trip to Holland in order to visit Belgium’s main attractions. You should know that Belgium has plenty to offer to families besides the Manneken Pis, excellent chocolate and a quick visit to beautiful Bruges or one of its stalactite caves. Belgium is definitely worthy of a trip of its own and I recommend taking more than just a couple of days to visit it.
Belgium has much more variety than Holland: it has big flat parts of land, but also an impressive mountainous area that is full of attractions, the Ardennes. Belgium has big beautiful cities alongside small picturesque towns, castles, great zoos, many amusement parks and water parks, plenty of options for active vacation (boating, biking, etc), museums, factory tours, and many other family attractions. Family lodging opportunities in the country also come in many varieties.
Full name of country:
The Kingdom of Belgium – Koninkrijk Belgie (Dutch), Royaume de Belgique (French), Konigreich Belgien (German).
30,510 square kilometres
90% Catholic. The remainder are Protestants, Muslims and Jews.
System of government:
Federal parliamentary democracy and Constitutional monarchy.
Dutch, French and German. Most Belgians also speak English.
International country code:
Brussels (The greater Brussels area has a population of 1,750,600)
Belgium is a small country in northwest Europe. It borders Holland in the north, Germany and Luxemburg in the east, France in the south and the North Sea in the west. The country is split into three main areas: The capital of Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia.
Belgium is a mostly flat
country. Only in its southwestern part, in the Ardennes,
it is partially mountainous. Two large rivers wind
through the country: Scheldt and Meuse. They both start
in France and spill out to sea in Holland. These two
rivers and the Rhine are connected to each other via
canals. Together they create a network of waterways
stretching all the way out to Holland, Germany and
Belgium’s population density is one of the highest in Europe, but there are still uninhabited large open areas and green hills, especially in the Ardennes.
Antwerp is Belgium’s biggest harbour city and one of the most important in all of Europe. Bruges and Ghent are the oldest cities in the country.
July 12th, 1831
Belgium is particularly famous for its fries (chips) and
excellent waffles. Fries are usually served with plenty
if mayonnaise or curry. Many traditional Dutch fast food
products, such as frikandel, gehaktbal or kroket are
served with the fries. Belgium is also world-famous for
its chocolate. It is proud of its local beer. 500
different kinds of beers are produced in Belgium!
Belgium is a serious competitor to France when it comes to food and it has a wide variety of excellent restaurants.
Information about restaurants in Belgium can be found here.
Belgium’s economy is
well-developed and is based on international trade. More
than 70% of Belgium’s GNP comes from imports and
exports. Belgium is one of the founders of Nato
(headquartered in Brussels). It is considered the
‘centre of Europe’ thanks to its geographic location
between two major countries – France and Germany, and
thanks to its excellent railway system, transport system
and harbour. The primary exports of the country are
metals, diamonds, glass, medicine, textiles (mainly
lace), and of course, chocolate.
Tourism is also a major industry in Belgium. The most popular tourist destinations are Antwerp, Bruges, Brussels, Ghent and the Ardennes.
As Belgium is a Catholic majority country, it celebrates all the Christian holidays, such as New Year’s Day, Christmas and Easter.
Other holidays celebrated in the country are:
May 1st – Labour Day
Mid May (7th Sunday after Easter) – Pentecost
Mid May (8th Monday after Easter) – Pentecost Monday
July 11th – Day of the Flemish CommunityJuly 21st – National Holiday
August 15th – Assumption of Mary
September 27th – Day of the French Community in Belgium
November 1st – All Saints’ Day
November 11th – Armistice Day
November 15th – Day of the German-speaking community of Belgium and also King’s Feast
The two most popular sports in Belgium are cycling and motorcycling. The most famous Belgian sportsperson is Eddy Merckx, who has won the Tour De France five times.
Other popular sports are football (soccer), mountain climbing (at the Ardennes), boating, and fishing (at sea and in rivers).
Belgium has cool, chilly weather, very much affected by its proximity to the sea. Winter is cold and summer is warm, with rainfall a possibility at any time of the year. Grey skies and fog are a common occurrence. July and August, the warmest months, are also the rainiest.
More information about weather can be found here.
When to visit:
The optimal time for a family holiday is between May and
October, when all tourist sites are open and you can
combine trips out to nature and active vacation.
Even at the height of tourist season in July and August, Belgium is still an excellent destination for families, as you do not feel crowded (It is not as famous as Paris and its vacation spots are not as busy as the ones around Italy’s lakes), and opening hours are long.
You should be prepared for rain all year round. Don’t be put off by grey skies.
How long to stay:
I recommend staying in Belgium for at least five days. If you would like to see everything there is to see without having to rush, stay for ten full days.
international airport (Brussels Zaventem, initials: BRU)
is located 12km northeast of the city, a 35-minute
drive. Brussels has another smaller airport, Brussels
South Charleroi, 46km away from the city.
Other airports are in Antwerp (initials: ANR), Ostend (near Bruges, initials: OST), and Liege (initials: LGG).
As Belgium is a fairly small country, it has no internal flights. The various airports are connected by a bus service.
The Belgian railway system (SNCB)
operates train services day and night at high frequency
to many other European countries. The fast trains, TGV,
travel between different cities in Belgium and France.
Fast trains belonging to the company Thalys travel
between Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne, and Paris.
Brussels and Antwerp have trams and metro services.
A family travelling in Belgium should
rent a car right after landing and use it for the rest
of their trip.
Roads in Belgium are excellent, and big cities are connected by toll-free freeways.
The speed limit on the freeways is 120kmph, 90kmph on intercity highways and 50kmph inside cities.
10 interesting facts about Belgium:
Brussels, the capital of Belgium, was picked as the capital of the European Union.
Belgium has more castles per square kilometre than any other country in the world.
The Smurfs were created in Belgium by an artist named Peyo.
172,000 tons of chocolate are created in Belgium every year and sold in the country’s 2130 chocolate shops.
Antwerp is one of the world trade and centres for diamonds.
Belgium is a heaven for lovers of gourmet food. It has the highest concentration of restaurants that have received a star from the Michelin Guide in all of Europe.
It is illegal to hold raffles in Belgium.
Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French, and German.
Belgium is one of the most prolific producers of glass in the world.
The railway system in Belgium, 4,055km in total length, is the densest in the world.