Moules frites (mussels and chips) with a glass of cold Belgian beer. That’s what many people immediately think of when asked about Belgium. And it’s a good starting point. But as a founding member of the EU and home to the EU’s headquarters, it clearly has a number of other important claims to fame that are worth checking out.
Bordering France, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, Belgium is a small country that packs a powerful punch – as its position as host to the EU HQ and home to NATO illustrates. It has achieved a number of ‘firsts’ including (it is reputed) being the first country to publish printed newspapers and it was the first to issue electronic passports complying with the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Electronic ID cards were introduced in March 2003, putting Belgium at the forefront of Europe’s ongoing digital transformation.
Each of the country’s regions has its own cultural character and most villages and towns celebrate a special day or number of days in their own way. For a small country, it is fascinating to hear three different official languages (Dutch, French, German) depending on where you are. This also means that many Belgians are, at a minimum, bilingual and quite often trilingual. A number of regional languages or dialects adds to the mix, including Flemish and Walloon. With capital city Brussels renowned as a multicultural and multilingual city, the diversity within the country has given Belgium a social culture of its own.
It’ also a beer lovers paradise: with more than 400 different types of beer (some estimates suggest this is as high as 800) so it would be easy to lose days, or even weeks attempting to try them all! Look out for the more unusual varieties, such as chocolate beer and enjoy the many beer festivals and brewery tours while you’re in Belgium.
Of course, it’s not all beer and chocolate (Belgian chocolate is renowned all over the world). The Belgians are big food lovers and the country is a gourmet paradise with a large number of top quality restaurants.
At a glance facts
- Languages: French, Dutch and German, with a number of non-official dialects as well
- Population 11,498,519 (2018)
- International dialling code: +32
- Time: Central European Time (UCT/GMT+1)
The Euro (€)
Europe, Member of the EU