Impress Your Friends with 20 Famous Belgians

By - April 15, 2011 (Updated: November 21, 2014)

It’s a standing joke that it’s impossible to name five famous Belgians. However this tiny country has its fair share of important historical and modern day heroes.

So the next time you are down at the pub, impress your friends with not only five, but the following 20 famous Belgians:

Self-portrait by Peter Paul Rubens

Self-portrait by Peter Paul RubensFamous Belgians in Art

  1. Although now there are indications oil painting probably originated in Asia, Jan Van Eyck, of Limburg, is known as the ‘father of oil painting,’ for his mastery of the technique.
  2. World famous baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens, was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.
  3. If you know anything at all about Belgian art, you’ll have come across René Magritte and his famous painting of a pipe, The Treachery of Images . The Magritte Museum in Brussels contains some of his most famous works such as The Empire of Light.
  4. The architecture world owes Victor Horta thanks for his stunning Art Nouveau designs; Four of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Famous Belgians in Music

  1. The world of music would be very different had Belgian musician and inventor, Adolphe Sax, not created the saxophone.
  2. Arguably the world’s most famous harmonica player is Belgian, Jean ‘Toots’ Thielemans, who became a became NEA Jazz Master in 2009.
  3. Legendary on the French ‘chanson’ and pop music scene is Jacques Brel, who sings about his birth place in his song Bruxelles.
Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Famous Belgians in Film

  1. Most people know modern-day action movie actor, Jean-Claude van Damme is ‘The Muscles from Brussels.’
  2. Fewer seem aware the lovely Audrey Hepburn,of Breakfast at Tiffany’s fame, was born Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston in Brussels.

Famous Belgians in Literature

  1. If you grew up reading TinTin’s adventures, you probably know his creator, Belgian Georges Remi, as Hergé.
  2. Georges Simenon, is one of Belgium’s most prolific authors, with his world famous detective series about Commissaire Maigret, of the Paris police.

Famous Belgians in Sports

  1. One of Belgium’s best loved sports is cycling and Eddy Merckx, five time winner of the  Tour de France, is the national hero.
  2. Tennis lovers know Belgian star, Kim Clijsters, who was ranked number 1 in the World, in both singles and doubles.

Famous Belgians in Science

Gerardus Mercator

Gerardus Mercator

  1. Belgian Roman Catholic Priest, Georges Lemaître, proposed what he called the ‘hypothesis of the primeval atom’ which would later become known as the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe.
  2. Another man of the cloth, Reverand Julius Nieuwland, created the synthetic rubber that led to the invention of neoprene by DuPont.
  3. Collectors have Belgian, Leo Hendrik Baekeland, to thank for the invention of the early plastic, Bakelite.
  4. Belgian bacteriologist, Jules Bordet, developed the first vaccine against the whooping cough as well as the Wassermann test for syphilis.
  5. Flemish cartographer, Gerardus Mercator, devised a technique to produce globes and is remembered for the Mercator projection world map.

Famous Belgians in Fashion

  1. The Fortune 500 company CEO and fashion designer Liz Claiborne, was born Elizabeth Claiborne Ortenberg, in Brussels.
  2. In 2005, the New York Times described Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten, “one of fashion’s most cerebral designers.” His eccentric style is world famous.

Although I’ve listed 20 of my favourite famous Belgians here, there are many, many more. You can discover others at and Wikipedia’s List of Notable Belgians.

Want to learn more Belgian trivia? Check out our post 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Belgium.

Who’s your favourite famous Belgian?

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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+
It's after Halloween so I can officially share Christmas Markets now right...? 🎄🎅 - 1 week ago


  1. Comment by Gilbert

    Gilbert April 15, 2011 at 11:23

    I think Justine Henin just un-friended you on facebook!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 15, 2011 at 11:26

      Lol, I thought about adding her too but 21 didn’t sound as catchy at 20 😉

  2. Comment by Amy

    Amy April 15, 2011 at 11:57

    I didn’t know about Liz Claiborne!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 15, 2011 at 12:23

      See, CheeseWeb is educational 🙂

  3. Comment by Gilbert

    Gilbert April 15, 2011 at 14:58

    Audrey Hepbrun’s house is on Rue Keyenveld, just a couple of doors along from Les Brassin.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 18, 2011 at 09:54

      I’ll have to check that out!

  4. Comment by pugwash pops

    pugwash pops April 16, 2011 at 02:21

    Herge yes but Tintin himself, eh? … and Poirot, eh? … what’s the count now?

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 18, 2011 at 09:55

      If we count Tintin then we cave to count Captain Haddock and snowy and all the rest too 🙂

  5. Comment by Shweta

    Shweta April 17, 2011 at 19:29

    My husband (who is Belgian) approves!!!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 18, 2011 at 09:55

      Yay! Did he actually know of them all?

  6. Comment by Shweta

    Shweta April 19, 2011 at 14:37

    Surprisingly no. He knew most of them. We were surprised to see Audrey Hepburn on the list.

  7. Comment by Unexpected Traveller

    Unexpected Traveller April 22, 2011 at 14:27

    If only someone knew who the genius was who invented the frites …

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 26, 2011 at 10:15

      Wiki says “The Belgian journalist Jo Gérard recounts that potatoes were fried in 1680 in the Spanish Netherlands, in the area of “the Meuse valley between Dinant and Liège. ” Frites are old 🙂

  8. Comment by Leigh

    Leigh April 25, 2011 at 15:25

    The Belgians have got to love this post!

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison April 26, 2011 at 10:15

      Hehe, I hope so 🙂

  9. Comment by Bluegreen Kirk

    Bluegreen Kirk May 23, 2011 at 17:28

    Great list but I think if I can rattle off 20 Famous Belgians to most of my friends they will look at me as though I was crazy or something. I didn’t know Van Damme was Belgian! 21 doesnt sound as catchy as 20.

    • Comment by Alison

      Alison May 23, 2011 at 17:35

      I actually had to cut the list back to 20 because there are so many! Who knew? 🙂

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