Country Fact file
Location: Western Europe
Capital City: Brussels
Population: 11.2 million
Government: Federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Main Languages: Dutch, French, German
Main Religions: Christianity (Roman Catholicism), Islam, Judaism
The Kingdom of Belgium is a small Western European country bordered by France, Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. It is a federal state divided into distinct linguistic regions with Dutch-speaking Flanders to the north, French-speaking Wallonia to the south and a small German-speaking region in the east. The Federal government has limited influence in local affairs and power is devolved to the different regions and communities which make up Belgium.
It is said that Belgium has more policy and law makers, international companies, research organisations and think tanks per square foot than anywhere else in the world. This is not surprising, the capital Brussels is home to NATO’s headquarters and is also the de facto capital of the European Union.
Despite its small geographical size, Belgium is not a homogeneous country with a single national identity. Since World War II, Belgium has transformed itself into a multicultural, liberal and modern nation. Its regional languages also influence culture - Flemish Belgians are said to be culturally similar to the Dutch and Germans, whereas in Wallonia there is more of a French way of life. Belgium is also a nation of expats, which has further added to the cultural diversity of the country. However, it can be said that on the whole, Belgians are modern and well-educated people who are proud of their multicultural country as well as their regional and national traditions.
Leisure time is spent in different ways according to the linguistic regions, but a passion for sport unites all Belgians. Football is followed with customary European fervour with throngs of Belgian fans travelling to watch the Red Devils (Belgium’s national team) play. Cycling is very popular and there is a comprehensive network of national cycling routes and accessible flat terrain. Formula 1 is also a national passion, with famous drivers Jacky Ickx and Thierry Boutsen hailing from Belgium. Family is central to all popular activities in Belgium and leisure time is often spent socialising in restaurants or at home with extended family.
Food and drink
Belgium has a varied cuisine which is heavily influenced by French, Dutch and German flavours and dishes. However, its position as a world centre means that you can find almost any cuisine, particularly in Brussels. The most well-known national dishes include moules-frites (mussels with fries), carbonnade Flamande (a rich beef and onion stew) stoemp (mashed potato with leeks and carrots) and of course chocolate. The composition of Belgian chocolate has been regulated by law since 1894 and the sheer variety on offer has earned the country the title of ‘Chocolate Capital of the World.’
Belgium is to beer what France is to wine and there are over 400 different types of native beer to choose from. Popular brands include Stella Artois lager and Duvel, a blond beer typical of Belgium.
Belgium is a multi-lingual country. The three official languages are Dutch (often referred to as Flemish or Belgian Dutch), French and German. Flemish is spoken by 60% of the population, French 33% and German 1%. The capital Brussels is officially bilingual (French/Dutch). Around 10% of the population of Belgium is non-native and languages spoken include English, Italian, Spanish and Arabic. Overall most Belgians speak a good level of English so foreigners can choose from many ways to communicate.
Accents and dialects
As well as the multitude of languages spoken in Belgium, the different linguistic regions have their own distinct dialects, particularly in the Dutch-speaking regions. Flemish dialects include Brabantian, West Flemish and East Flemish. Belgian-French is very similar to the French spoken in France itself so those proficient in the language should have no difficulty making themselves understood.
Belgium has a temperate climate similar to that of the UK, with cool summers, mild winters and quite a lot of rain. It is a small country so the climate doesn’t vary much from region to region. The summer months see average temperatures of between 18°C and 22°C and you can expect around 3°C to 10°C in winter.
Safety and security
Belgium has medium levels of crime but rates have climbed in recent years due to increasing racial tensions, especially in Brussels. The highest incidences of petty crimes against tourists are in Brussels and Bruges so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your belongings and stay with a group while walking in tourist areas after dark. However, in general Belgium is safer than other European countries such as the UK, France and Germany.