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Introduction to Belgium

If Belgium's spotlight on the European stage is a little dim, it's only because its people are rarely boastful. This slow-burning country has more history, art, food and architecture packed into its tiny self than many of its bigger, louder neighbours.

A rich and bubbling vat of beer, chocolate, oil paint and bureaucrats, Belgium gives off the heady pong of the bourgeoisie. But stir the pot a little and you'll find an 'artificial state' roughly made up of two parts Germanic Flemings to one part Celtic-Latin Walloons.

Divided by pride first and language second, the country's binding agents are a pervasive sense of family and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit. Visitors, lulled by the locals' friendliness, will probably not even notice the tensions that spark across the Linguistic Divide.

Full country name: Kingdom of Belgium

Area: 30,510 sq km

Population: 10.3 million

Capital City: Brussels

People: 55% Flemish, 33% Walloons (French Latin) and about 10% foreigners.

Language: Dutch, French

Religion: 75% Roman Catholic

Government: federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarch

Head of State: King Albert II

Head of Government: Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt

GDP: US$299.7 billion

GDP per capita: US$29,000

Annual Growth: 2.8%

Inflation: 2.2%

Major Industries: Services, agriculture, chemicals, engineering, metal products, car manufacturing, iron and steel, textiles and food

Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Germany, France, Netherlands, UK), USA

Member of EU: Yes

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Traveler Facts

Visas: There are no entry requirements or restrictions on EU nationals visiting Belgium and Luxembourg. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the USA do not need visas to visit either country as tourists for up to three months. Except for people from a few other European countries (such as Switzerland and Norway), everyone else must have a visa. Three-month tourist visas are issued by Belgian or Luxembourg embassies or consulates. They can take a while to be processed, so leave enough time before departure to apply. Fees vary depending on your nationality.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (Central European Time)

Dialling Code: 32

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Brussels' most festive months are July and August. On the first Thursday in July there's the Ommegang pageant, a huge parade of nobles dressed in historic costumes. Belgium's colourful National Day is July 21, which also marks the start of the month-long Brussels Fair. Throughout the year there are jazz fesitvals, religious processions, local fairs, film festivals and classical music extavaganzas. Carnival is a big do - people shake off the winter blues with outrageous celebrations ranging from balls to masked parades. In Ypres, the Kattenfestival (Festival of the Cats) involves imitation cats being hurled from the town's belfry!

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Best time to Visit

You're unlikely to encounter extremes in weather during an average Belgian year. April to September is the warmest time, but be prepared for grey skies and soggy streets no matter what time of year you go. Visitors may be forgiven for assuming umbrellas and raincoats are part of the Belgian national dress.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Euro


Budget: 5-8

Mid-range: 8-20

High: 20-60

Deluxe: 60+


Budget: 11-45

Mid-range: 45-120

High: 120-180

Deluxe: 180+

Being a pocket-size sort of country, Belgium is cheap to get around in, but budget hotels are both rare and heavily booked - especially in summer. On the food front, eating out is far better for your palate than it is for your wallet. Travelling modestly, you could survive on US$30 per day. But if you don't fancy sleeping in public toilets, figure on at least USD50.00per day.

Tipping isn't obligatory, and haggling is not exactly a national pastime.

Tipping is not obligatory as service and value-added tax (VAT) are included in hotel and restaurant prices. But if you're pleased with the service, add a little extra. Cinema and theatre attendants generally expect a 0.50 tip, and in public toilets it's usual to leave 0.25 for the attendant.

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The city of choice for Eurocrats, Brussels is sumptuous, historic and luxuriously cosy. With artistry richer than chocolate, architecture as graceful as its cuisine and diversity frothier than the beer, Brussels is an heirloom of northern culture at its best.

Get lost in a dense circuit of cobblestone alleys before emerging suddenly into the magnificence of the Grand Place, with its baroque guildhalls, splendid Gothic town hall and ringside gaggle of pavement cafes and intimate restaurants. Then see what else the backstreets of Brussels have to offer.


The richly historic city of Antwerp is Belgium's most underrated tourist destination. Few places tangle the old and the new quite so enchantingly. Here eclectic Art Nouveau mansions stare back at Neo-Renaissance villas, and medieval castles provide a magical backdrop for the city's myriad bars and cafes.



Home to Europe's best-preserved medieval buildings, Bruges is Belgium's most visited town. Suspended in time 500 years ago by the silting of its river, this 13th-century city is blessed with two medieval cores, the Markt and the Burg, and some of the country's most compelling art collections.

In the middle of summer Bruges teems with tourists; out of season its beauty is an easier delight to behold. The whole historic centre of Bruges was added to Unesco's World Heritage List in 2000 and, in 2002, Bruges took centre stage as the European City of Culture.

The Ardennes

Home to deep river valleys and high forests, Belgium's southeast corner is often overlooked by travellers hopping between the old art towns and the capital. But here you'll find tranquil villages nestled into the grooves of the Meuse, Lesse and Ourthe valleys or sitting atop the verdant hills.

It was in this area that the Battle of the Bulge once raged. There are several tours available which make the most of the ancient citadels of the region. The town of Namur is the best base for exploration, offering plenty of transport options to some of the more inaccessible spots.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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