Belgium is 6th Most Urban Country

By alison - August 27, 2009 (Updated: November 25, 2014)

St. Josse-Ten-Noode - the most densly populated commune in Brussels.

Saint-Josse-Ten-Noode – the most densly populated commune in Brussels.

97.4% of Belgium’s population live in urban centres; I was shocked to learn today. Expatify had an interesting post listing countries with the highest percentage of their population living in urban areas. Belgium came in at number 6.

It’s true that Belgium is a small country that doesn’t have a lot of wide open spaces. However, with the fields of Flanders and hills of Wallonia, I would have never guessed that it would beat out countries like Kuwait and Quatar in terms of urbanisation.

Oddly, just this morning, Andrew and I were talking about living in Brussels. I was recalling how as a high school student, I was adamant I never wanted to spend my life living in a big city. Now I can’t imagine not.

I grew up in Saint John, the largest city in New Brunswick. With a population of around 68,000 in the city centre (122,500 for the metropolitan area), it’s not exactly a metropolis.

I moved to Halifax for university and before moving to Europe it was where I spent my adult life. The Halifax Regional Municipality is the largest city east of Quebec City, with a population of around 380,000. At over 3 times the size, it was the big city compared to Saint John.

The fields of Flanders - How could this be the 6th most urban country?

The fields of Flanders – How could this be the 6th most urban country?

Now I find myself in a city of over 1.8 million people. My commune, the smallest in the city at 1.1 square kilometres has the highest population density of the Brussels’ 19 communes, with 20,822 inhabitants per km². Saint John’s population density is 215.7/km2 I guess that explains why the roads seem so empty now when I visit home.

While Brussels seemed enormous when we first arrived, I realise the perception of size is all relative. I was speaking with a Brazilian who came here years ago for university. He couldn’t believe the capital of Europe was so small. Our friends from Bangalore, India had similar responses upon arriving in Brussels. They wondered where the heck everyone was.

These days I don’t find Brussels seems that big at all. I think there are two main reasons why the city doesn’t seem as big as it actually is. First of all, it’s divided into 19 communes. Each of these has its own distinct personality. They are separate communities within the city. Secondly, Brussels has a lot of green spaces, so you are always within easy escape of the busy streets.

Living in the country with the 6th highest urbanisation rate, means just about anywhere we go next will have more open spaces. What’s’ that you say? Singapore is 100% urban? Monaco is the most densely populated? Maybe it’s time to re-think some of our future choices.

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Big Cheese at CheeseWeb
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
One of my biggest goals in coming back to my home province was to learn as much as I could about our First... - 3 days ago


  1. Comment by Andrew


    Andrew August 27, 2009 at 14:17

    Wow… never realized how urban Belgium is… just doesn’t seem that way to me. Halifax, which was always the big city to me growing up, has a population density of 1506.2 per square kilometer. Of course, I grew up in an area with like 10 people per square kilometer depending on the size of the families next door! 🙂

    I guess the nice thing about Belgium is that it has all you want in terms of an urban city, with easy to reach green spaces that make you feel all alone.

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  3. Comment by Lilacspecs

    Lilacspecs August 27, 2009 at 19:27

    The thing about Belgium, or Flanders anyway, is that a lot of it is fields and trees. But because it was such a center of commerce in the middle ages, it’s population became extremely concentrated in its few major cities. And because Belgium itself is so small, the cities with such high population aren’t that far apart. It’s quite a juxtaposition really, but so are many other aspects of Belgium.
    .-= Lilacspecs´s last blog ..A Single Serving Yogurt =-.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison August 28, 2009 at 11:30

      I think ‘juxtaposition’ basically sums up Belgium really 🙂

  4. Comment by expatraveler

    expatraveler August 30, 2009 at 05:08

    I grew up in the Silicon Valley. When I left, the rough population of the bay area was at least 7 million people. The city I grew up in alone had 850,000 in 1990. Be it, that you needed a car to go anywhere and roads only took you so far. Since living in Europe, I find cities are so centrally located and so well planned out. You don’t have to go that far to find what you need and you certainly don’t need a car to get around..

    Having said that, I enjoy the population of Victoria. It’s small enough to laugh when people complain about traffic here.
    .-= expatraveler´s last blog ..Surprise Visit =-.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison August 31, 2009 at 11:41

      It’s true, that at least here in Brussels you can get along just fine without a car (not to say that they don’t come in handy now and again). Cities are a lot closer together than they are at home and the train service is excellent. I’m sad to say that the business park phenomenon seems to be growing here and more and more box stores are popping up. To get to these places you pretty much need to have a car. That’s one thing I really hate about home and it’s sad to see it happening here.

  5. Comment by Gilbert

    Gilbert August 31, 2009 at 14:16

    I’ve just come back from a week in a Belgian village 250m from the French border and I reckon that more people live on my street in Ixelles than in that village. Though maybe if they counted cats in the census the population of that village would probably double. Bliss.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison August 31, 2009 at 14:25

      Glad you had a great holiday. It is pretty incredible how there are tiny villages here that you would swear were a million miles from anywhere; but yet everything is within a few hours from Bxl.

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