Belgium is famous for Manneken Pis, the Atomium, the Flower Carpet, and countless beer sorts and chocolates. Its main city is the Capital of Europe and its second-largest town – the Diamond Capital of the World. Belgium is also known for its creative minds, thousands of castles, and highways lit at night.
People in the West European country the size of Hawaii speak three official languages.
Its courthouse is the largest in the world.
And its capital hosts a hoard of EU institutions plus the NATO headquarters.
On this list, you’ll find 33 cool things Belgium is famous for.
From world-renowned Renaissance painters to futuristic architecture, and from scrumptious food to beloved comics, discover what makes Belgium special.
Ready to explore?
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The Most Popular Attractions Belgium Is Famous for
Belgium is known for some of the most unusual and cool attractions in the world. Below, you’ll find the most notable of them all.
- Belgium’s most recognizable landmark is a urinating boy. The national symbol goes by the name of Manneken Pis. You can find the 24-in (61-cm) tall statue near the famous Grand Place in the capital Brussels. The bronze figure even has his own dresser and thousands of different costumes for any occasion imaginable. Chances of seeing him dressed in something eye-catching are quite high. Tip: Oddly enough, visiting Manneken Pis isn’t even one of the most unusual things to do in Brussels. There are two more urinating statues in the city, which make the list.
- The Palace of Justice in Brussels is the biggest courthouse in the world. The edifice currently measures 520 x 490 ft. (160 x 150 m). This makes it larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Even more peculiar is the fact that there’s a difference of 66 ft. (20 m) between the lower and upper levels of the building because it stands on top of a hill.
- Belgium’s most popular modern symbol is the Atomium. The structure, resembling a model of an atom magnified 165 billion times, was the main pavilion of the 1958 World Fair Expo in Brussels. Similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the plan was to dismantle the Atomium after the exhibition’s end. Due to its enormous popularity, the authorities left it standing. Soon, it turned into the modern symbol of Brussels, representing future ideas and universality. Nowadays, the spheres house temporary and permanent collections. The topmost one hosts a restaurant with sweeping views of the Belgian capital.
- Belgium is famous for the abundance of historical castles. The country boasts the greatest number of castles per square mile in the world. This comes out to approximately two castles per village. If you love exploring medieval structures, you’ll be in heaven in the Belgian countryside. The fortifications you shouldn’t miss visiting are Dinant Citadel, Namur Citadel, Het Steen in Antwerp, and Gravensteen Castle in Ghent.
- The country creates one of the most stunning flower carpets in the world. Every two years, the Grand Place in Brussels becomes a celebration of scent and color. The Flower Carpet features more than half a million buds. It measures the whooping 230 ft. x 79 ft. (70 x 24 m) – or about the size of a football pitch. More than 100 volunteers work eight hours to assemble the gigantic carpet. The robust begonias are the main character in the show. It’s no wonder since Belgium is the world’s largest producer of the fragrant flowers with 35 million bulbs per year.
- Belgium is famous for some of the world’s best music festivals. Tomorrowland is by far the most popular one. In fact, it’s the largest in the world. Nowadays, it takes place not only in Belgium but also in the U.S.A., Australia, Brazil, and France, among others. Over 200,000 people attend the event every year. Other famous Belgian festivals include Rock Werchter, Brussels Summer Festival, Pukkelpop, and I Love Techno.
Things That Make Belgium Special
In this section, discover the things that make Belgium different. From the official languages to the political scene, that’s what the kingdom is famous for.
- Belgium has three official languages, and none of them is Belgian. People in the country speak predominantly Dutch in the province of Flanders and French in Wallonia. The third spoken language is German. In a small portion of the country, located near the border with Germany in the eastern Liège province, Belgians speak German.
- The world record for the longest period without a government belongs to Belgium. You might think that a war-thorn country like Iraq would be the record holder. However, Iraqis spent “only” 289 days without a government. Belgium failed to select an official administration for the unbelievable 541 days. This Belgium fact didn’t stop the country to preside over the EU for six months in 2010 while it was government-less.
- The headquarters of some of the largest international organizations are in Belgium. The capital Brussels houses the head offices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and many European Union institutions. The country is also a member of Benelux – an economic union with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. The Benelux General Secretariat is located in the Belgian capital. Tip: The European District where most of the institutions are located is among the best areas to stay in Brussels for tourists.
- In terms of international presence, Brussels is second only to New York City. Brussels is not just the capital of Belgium. It’s also the unofficial Capital of the European Union. The moniker is due to the amassment of EU institutions in the city. Overall, the Belgian capital hosts 120 international governmental organizations, 1,400+ non-governmental organizations, and 180+ embassies employing more than 3,000 diplomats.
- Belgium is one of the EU’s founding members. The country founded the European Union, along with West Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands in 1957. This explains why Brussels is home to so many European institutions. The country is also a founding member of WTO, OECD, NATO, and the Eurozone.
- Belgium is famous for being liberal and tolerant. It’s the second state worldwide to legalize homosexuality. Same-sex marriage became official in several countries at the beginning of the 21st century. The Netherlands was first in 2001. Belgium followed suit and gave equal rights to gay couples in 2003. However, this isn’t nearly as impressive as the fact that the country allowed same-sex relationships way back in 1795.
Surprising Belgian Records and Peculiar Facts
Some of the country’s historical facts and records are quite bizarre. Explore the most interesting of them that make Belgium popular in the section below.
- Belgium’s second-largest city is the Diamond Capital of the World. Antwerp is known for its diamond industry and trade. Its history began in the 16th century when the first diamond cutters guild was founded. Nowadays, 85% of the world’s rough diamonds pass through Antwerp. The Diamond Quarter is where the magic happens. The district accommodates 380 gem cutting and polishing workshops. Four diamond bourses in Antwerp trade the precious gems.
- The country ruled a colony, which was 80x bigger than its size. From 1908 until 1960, Belgian Congo, located in Central Africa, was part of the Belgian Colonial Empire. The Belgian rule protected national, missionary, and private-company interests. Large amounts of capital flowed into the country. In the 1940s and 1950s, Belgian Congo was extensively urbanized. By the 1950s, it had a wage labor force twice as big as that in any other African colony. In 1960, Belgian Congo achieved independence, becoming the Republic of the Congo.
- Belgium is famous for its illuminated highways. At night, 335,000 lights on 150,000 lampposts brighten almost 100% of the Belgian high-speed roads. Astronauts claim they could see the highways from space. Few other governments can afford such a luxury. Initially, they introduced the measure for safety reasons. In the 1950s, only a quarter of road traffic took place in dark, but over half of the fatalities happened in the night. Currently, authorities are considering turning the lights off because of energy-saving and cost-cutting concerns.
- Belgium is known for some of the most congested traffic in Europe. Brussels and Antwerp, the country’s biggest cities, are the most traffic-jammed cities on the continent. Commuters usually spend more than 80 hours per year in horrible gridlock. The main reasons for this crazy situation include the unattractive public transportation options and the fact that people live too far away from work.
- Belgian landscape and climate make it ideal for year-round exploration. The West European country is predominantly flat. Apart from the southern part, which is home to the Ardennes Hills, you can’t spot a high ground for hours. Meanwhile, it rarely snows in Belgium, especially at the seacoast. This temperate, maritime climate makes the country great for traveling during all seasons.
- Belgium was the first country in continental Europe to join the Industrial Revolution. In the early 19th century, Belgium became the first country to follow the ranks of the British Empire where the Industrial Revolution began. The cities of Liège and Charleroi started mining and producing steel. The manufacturing thrived until the Second World War. Between the 1830s and the 1910s, they managed to place Belgium into the top 3 most industrialized countries in the world.
- The world record for the production and export of billiard balls belongs to Belgium. Almost 80% of the world supply originates in the country. The biggest producer is Saluc. Founded in 1923, the company owns a chemical plant which makes phenolic resin. It gives the billiard and snooker balls their polished, robust finish resulting in an amazing spin. The company has other products, too, such as bowling and trackballs.
Prominent Inventions Belgium Is Known for
Belgian minds contributed greatly to the world of art and science with their theories and creations. Below, you can learn about the most noteworthy of them.
- A Belgian scientist proposed The Big Bang Theory. Georges Lemaître used Albert Einstein’s general relativity of cosmology to develop the “Big Bang” idea at the Catholic University of Louvain. In 1933, Einstein and Lemaître attended a series of seminars in California. After the Belgian shared his theory with the participants, Einstein stood, clapped, and supposedly said, “This is the most detailed and satisfactory explanation of creation which I’ve ever listened to.”
- We owe SPA to the Belgians. The word “spa” comes from the name of a tiny town in Belgium. It’s one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The main reason is the abundance of natural mineral springs, renowned for their curing powers since Roman Times. Spa also held the world’s first beauty contest back in 1888 and has had a Formula 1 racing track since 1925. Since 2021, the town is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Nowadays, Spa is a synonym for mineral baths with healing properties.
- Jazz wouldn’t be the same without this Belgian’s creation. In the 1840s, the instrument maker Adolphe Sax created the saxophone. Before working on the popular brass instrument, he made several improvements to the bass clarinet. Sax later created an instrument with a single-reed mouthpiece and conical brass body. In 1846, he received a patent for the saxophone. Just imagine what jazz would be like without the mellow sound of one of the most popular musical instruments.
- Body Mass Index (BMI) is also a Belgian invention. The mathematician, statistician, and sociologist Adolphe Quetelet devised the basic formula between 1830 and 1850. The modern term “body mass index” (BMI) defines the ratio of human body weight to squared height. It might not be a perfect formula, but it comprises a relative weight index and can warn of potential obesity.
- A Belgian chemist invented plastic. In 1907, Leo Baekeland devised the first synthetic plastic material. By combining under heat and pressure two chemicals, formaldehyde and phenol, he managed to create an inexpensive, non-flammable, and versatile material. He named his invention Bakelite. It was the first plastic invented that retained its shape after being heated. Due to Bakelite’s excellent insulation and heat-resistance, it soon found application in manufacturing radios, telephones, and electrical insulators. For his contribution, Leo Baekeland has been named The Father of the Plastics Industry.
- Some of the world’s most famous painters originate from modern-day Belgium. The names include Peter Paul Rubens, René Magritte, Paul Delvaux, James Ensor, and Jan Van Eyck. In fact, many experts consider Rubens to be one of the greatest artists of all time. You can see several of his masterpieces in the Antwerp Cathedral and in his birth house in the second-largest Belgian city.
- Belgium is home to some of the world’s most famous comic strips. You can’t convince us that you’ve never read a comics in your life. But did you know that some of the most recognizable series come from Belgium? Let’s test your knowledge: The Smurfs? Belgian. The Adventures of Tintin? Belgian. Gaston, Lucky Luke, Spirou et Fantasio? Belgian, Belgian, and Belgian. Along with France, Belgium played an important role in the development of European comics. You shouldn’t miss the Comics Route when in Brussels.
The Delectable Food Belgium Is Famous for
In an ordinary Belgian supermarket, you can find 30+ types of waffles, 10+ sorts of potatoes, and twice as many different beer types. Let’s not even start on the heavenly chocolate! If you want to know what foods Belgium is famous for, place a napkin nearby and read on.
- The French fries are a Belgian creation. One of the world’s most popular side dishes probably originated from Belgium. In the country, you can find potato chips virtually everywhere. Every town or village has at least one fritkot – a fries shack. The fries are usually served in a paper cone and are considered a whole meal, not just a side dish. Wanna eat them like the locals? Then, drench them in a sauce, such as mayonnaise or curry ketchup!
- The world’s best mussels come from Belgium. Oostende mussels are renowned worldwide. Already in the 19th century, the small Belgian coastal town supplied royals like Napoleon Bonaparte with fresh mussels. When in Belgium, you’ve got to try mussels with fries (moules-frites / mosselen met friet), Belgium’s national dish. The mussels are either cooked or steamed, and accompanied by copious amounts of celery and onions, with fries on the side. Be careful how many portions you order, as one dish can usually feed two people.
- Belgian cheese is to die for. The production of cheese in abbeys and monasteries traces back to the Middle Ages. Along with excellent beer, monks produced fragrant cheeses, too. Many of the brands continue to carry the name of the abbey that produces them. The most famous ones are Chimay, Maredsous, and Westmalle. Pair them with the abbey’s own strong beer for a match made in heaven.
- Waffles in Belgium are a staple snack. Sweet connoisseurs would argue that the Belgian waffles are among the best in the world. You’ll find them everywhere – in ice-cream vans, street cafés, supermarkets, and small shops. Don’t miss sampling the Liège Waffle and the Brussels Waffle. The Brussels variety is bigger and has right-angled corners. It’s crunchier on the outside and softer on the inside. The Liège waffle doesn’t have right-angled corners, and is sweeter and doughier than the Brussels Waffle. Try them both and let us know which one you prefer.
- Belgium is known for its world-class chocolate. Scrumptious fries, fragrant cheese, mouth-watering waffles, and now outstanding chocolate? We bet you didn’t expect to find so many delicacies in Belgium. The chocolate industry exploded in the 19th century. Nowadays, more than 2,000 chocolatiers exist. Every year, they produce over 172,000 tons of chocolate. Belgian chocolate is characterized by its buttery, medium sweet, medium bitter taste. To spoil your gourmet palate, hunt for the popular brands Côte d’or, Guylian, Leonidas, and Neuhaus, or explore the smaller chocolatiers.
- Belgium is world-famous for its beer. You can spend 6 years drinking in Belgium and never have the same beer twice. Most sources claim that the number of Belgian beers is over 2,200! Svet spent a year living in Belgium, yet he only managed to taste around 50 beers. Tip: When in Brussels, visit Delirium Café. In the bar, you can order from a menu with at least 2,004 beers from across the globe. This impressive selection earned the pub a Guinness World Record.
- Every Belgian beer has its own, special glass. There are as many different beer glasses as there are beer sorts in Belgium. Having a Belgian beer in the wrong glass is unthinkable. Locals are adamant about serving Stella Artois in a Stella Artois glass, Duvel in a Duvel glass, and Chimay in a Chimay glass. Expect your beer to arrive in goblets, chalices, and other peculiar glass shapes.
How Many of the Things Belgium Is Famous for Did You Already Know?
This wraps up the 33 things Belgium is famous for.
The kingdom will seduce you with its peculiar landmarks, diplomatic finesse, and scrumptious cuisine.
To make the most of your Belgian adventure, we recommend:
- exploring Antwerp for at least a day,
- visiting Brussels for two days or more, and
- roaming the countryside with its thousands of castles and lit-at-night highways for about a week.
Now, we’re eager to learn:
What’s your first association when you hear about Belgium?
Let us know in the comments below.