Like 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:
- In 1066, Huy, Belgium became the first European city to receive a charter of rights, making it the oldest free city on the continent.
- Brussels sprouts really do come from Belgium and have grown in the Brussels area for over 400 years.
- 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.
- Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year. That’s about 22kg of chocolate per person in Belgium.
- Luckily Belgians don’t eat all of that chocolate. The Brussels’ International Airport is the World’s biggest chocolate selling point.
- 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.
- Belgians tend to be liberal thinkers. They legalised euthanasia in 2002, and gay marriage in 2003.
- 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.
- Belgium has compulsory education up to 18 years old. This is one of the highest in the world.
- Belgium also has enforced compulsory voting.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Belgium is also home to Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, the Galeries St Hubert in Brussels, opened in 1847.
- Belgium was the scene of Napoleon’s final defeat, at Waterloo, south of Brussels.
- 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.
- Nemo33, in Brussels, is the world’s deepest swimming pool, reaching 35 metres in depth. It is a practice ground for scuba divers.
- 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.
- The saxophone was invented in Belgium, in the early 1840’s by Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), in the city of Dinant.
- The Body Mass Index (BMI) was developed by the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet, and is still used today to determine a person’s ideal weight.
- In the 15th century, Belgians were credited with inventing oil painting.
- 80% of billiard players use Belgian-made balls.
- 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!