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25 Things You Didn’t Know About Belgium

By alison - August 3, 2009

Brussels, BelgiumLike most North Americans, I knew next to nothing about Belgium before I moved here. I knew they had beer, chocolate and were the home of the EU, but I certainly couldn’t name many famous Belgians or recite interesting events in Belgium’s history.

To this day I am still learning interesting facts about this little country. One of the main reasons for this lack of image abroad is that Belgians don’t like to toot their own horns. Since there is so much more to Belgium than beer and chocolate, I’ve decided that I should do a little horn tooting for it.

Here are 25 facts about Belgium that I bet you didn’t know:

  1. In 1066, Huy, Belgium became the first European city to receive a charter of rights, making it the oldest free city on the continent.
  2. Brussels sprouts really do come from Belgium and have grown in the Brussels area for over 400 years.
  3. Although the exact number is disputed, Belgium makes over 800 different beers. Belgians drink an average of 150 litres of beer per year per person.
  4. Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year. That’s about 22kg of chocolate per person in Belgium.
  5. Luckily Belgians don’t eat all of that chocolate. The Brussels’ International Airport is the World’s biggest chocolate selling point.
  6. Belgium has one of the lowest proportions of McDonald’s in the developed world. It has 7 times fewer McDonald’s restaurants than the USA and 2 times less than France.
  7. Belgians tend to be liberal thinkers. They legalised euthanasia in 2002, and gay marriage in 2003.
  8. A 2007 European Report stated Belgium has the lowest salary gap between men and women in the EU after Malta. Belgium has the highest proportion of female ministers in the world (55% in 2000) and was one of the first to have a female parliamentarian, in 1921.
  9. Belgium has compulsory education up to 18 years old. This is one of the highest in the world.
  10. Belgium also has enforced compulsory voting.
  11. Belgians pay some of the highest tax rates in the world, around 40% of their gross earnings. Taxation represents 45.6 % of the country’s GDP.
  12. Belgium grants the most new citizenships per capita in the world after Canada. 1.6 million people in Belgium are immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants. That’s 15% of the population.
  13. Belgium has the highest density of roads and railroads in the world. It is the country with the 3rd most vehicles per square kilometre after the Netherlands and Japan. Because of the quantiy of lights, the Belgian highway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon at night.
  14. The longest tramway line in the world is the Belgian coast tram (68 km), which operates between De Panne and Knokke-Heist, from the French border to the Dutch border.
  15. Spa, Belgium is home to Europe’s first modern health resort, opened in the 18th century and Europe’s first casino, “la Redoute”, opened in 1763.
  16. Belgium is also home to Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, the Galeries St Hubert in Brussels, opened in 1847.
  17. Belgium was the scene of Napoleon’s final defeat, at Waterloo, south of Brussels.
  18. The Law Courts of Brussels is the largest court of justice in the world (26,000 m² at ground level). It is bigger than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  19. Nemo33, in Brussels, is the world’s deepest swimming pool, reaching 35 metres in depth. It is a practice ground for scuba divers.
  20. Most people have heard of the comic strip Tintin, but did you know that in 70 years of existence, 200 million books of “The Adventures of Tintin” have been sold worldwide. Belgium also has more comic makers per square km than any other country in the world, even Japan.
  21. The saxophone was invented in Belgium, in the early 1840’s by Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), in the city of Dinant.
  22. The Body Mass Index (BMI) was developed by the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet, and is still used today to determine a person’s ideal weight.
  23. In the 15th century, Belgians were credited with inventing oil painting.
  24. 80% of billiard players use Belgian-made balls.
  25. Brussels was a famous hideout for Europeans in Exile. Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engles between 1845 and 1848. Victor Hugo was also exiled here and completed Les Misérables while visiting Waterloo in 1861.

Want to know even more fun facts about Belgium? Check out our NEW post called 15 MORE Things you didn’t know about Belgium.

Now that you know more about Belgium, why not test your knowledge by taking our quiz!

Alison

Alison

Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of Cheeseweb.eu She landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about this quirky little country. She loves to discover Belgium's hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She loves to travel the world with her husband, Andrew, and spend quiet nights reading with her cats and a glass of red wine. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison
Did you know France has volcanoes? We climbed one... (well we sat on a train that did the climbing for us).... http://t.co/EHCpZq5Ezy - 10 hours ago

15 comments

  1. Comment by Andrew

    Andrew August 3, 2009 at 14:48

    Belgium’s also the home to some pretty big companies, including AB-Inbev which owns brands like Bud, Labatt’s, Alexander Keith’s, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Stella, Jupiler, and so on. There are also a lot of scientific and medical breakthroughs happening here (such as the research into Alzheimer’s (http://www.vib.be/Research/EN/). And recently, I’ve become acquainted with some of the technical innovation happening in this country (http://www.betagroup.be/). There are also lots of unexplored corners of this country with amazing history… but I think the Belgians like to keep these places to themselves! :)

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison August 3, 2009 at 15:05

      Absolutely! The innovation that is happening here is really surprising. Canadians and Americans would be shouting these things from the rooftops.

  2. Pingback: 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Belgium | Any Comic Strip

  3. Comment by Lydia

    Lydia August 3, 2009 at 16:27

    Interesting trivia, but I doubt the statement “Because of the quantity of lights, the Belgian highway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon at night.”

    The Earth at night looks like this:
    http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap001127.html

    And from the moon, the Earth is this big:
    http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2009/5/28/1243515703002/Apollo–Apollo-mission-to-001.jpg

    So it doesn’t really seem to me that Belgium would stand out above all else to an astronaut :)
    .-= Lydia´s last blog ..The decision: kittens =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison August 3, 2009 at 17:04

      Hi Lydia,

      Perhaps my wording isn’t the best on that statement but according to the .be website “From space, astronauts have only two reference points on Earth: the Great Wall of China and Belgium. For many years, NASA has called the glow generated by the illuminated Belgian motorway system – a tangle of strings of light – “the Belgian window”.” Since I’ll never be viewing it from that perspective, I’m not going to argue it either way :)

  4. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler August 3, 2009 at 22:06

    Those are really cool facts, but that Nemo33 pool is a bit too scary for me!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison August 4, 2009 at 10:45

      Lol, yes it is a bit odd. I guess if you were into scuba it would be fine but I think my clausterphobia would get the best of me :)
      .-= Alison´s last blog ..25 Things You Didn’t Know About Belgium =-.

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  7. Comment by N

    N September 13, 2009 at 20:48

    Wow, 50 % of this list I didn’t even know (and yes, I’m Belgian..)!!
    .-= N´s last blog ..I’m on a roll! =-.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison September 14, 2009 at 11:12

      Thanks for stopping by! I have heard this from several Belgians now although I’m sure there are probably many facts that I don’t know about Canada either. I’m working on a new list so hopefully we can learn a few more things about this great little country!

  8. Comment by Walter

    Walter September 24, 2009 at 16:54

    Great site, Alison, for Belgians also.
    @N : I lived in Mechelen (Malines) for over 30 years but never made it to the top of the famous St.Rombouts Tower. The Dome of Florence somehow seemed to be more exiting. I presume, for many of us “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” …

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison September 25, 2009 at 17:39

      Thanks for stopping by Walter! It’s nice to know that Belgians find CheeseWeb useful also. I do agree that we often neglect the sights of our home countries. When I visit home now I always try to enjoy a few things like a tourist would :)

  9. Comment by CL

    CL October 28, 2009 at 22:40

    Liberal thinkers.

    It is true but this comes from the north, from the Netherlands. We are living in a country where progressive ideas make their way more easily because Belgium is small and Belgian are quite humble.

    So very progressive ideas come from NL (abortion, legal drugs, euthanasia) then travel through belgium (we don’t consider cannabis legal but the police are not harsh if it is personal consumption, all they would do is take it from you).

    Then these ideas go down to france. Where they waited long to legalize abortion, where they even don’t want to talk about euthanasia or hear about drug legalization.

    But eventually they might come to these too. Maybe 20 years after we did and 30 years after the dutch people :D

  10. Pingback: 20 Famous Belgians | Expat Life in Belgium, Travel and Photography | CheeseWeb

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