Home About Belgium Basics 10 things to learn about Belgium
Last update on February 05, 2020
Written by Sandy 

Belgium is more than EU institutions and Manneken Pis. Sandy from ‘S Marks The Spots’ lists 10 things about Belgium to test your knowledge.

Have you ever tested yourself on how much you know about Belgium? Many see Belgium as being boring or the home of European politics. But this small yet wonderful country is much more than that.

1. Belgium holds the Guinness World Record for having no government

In 2011 Belgium earned the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest absence of a government in peacetime – 589 days to be precise. I will not go into detail about the (very complicated) Belgian politics of how and why this happened but it is suffice to say that even without a federal government everything seemed to function as per usual thanks to the existing regional ones.

2. The first skyscraper in Europe is in Belgium

Constructed between 1929 and 1932, the Boerentoren (‘farmers’ tower’) in Antwerp – which is known nowadays as the KBC Tower – was the first skyscraper in Europe and the tallest building of its time. When considering its construction, the city council initially specified that the building should not compete with Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp’s cathedral. It finally took a special board of renowned architects to grant approval and go forward with the project.

3. Six of the 11 Trappist breweries in the world are from Belgium

Monk-crafted beer is among the most respected in the world in terms of quality, and strict rules apply to qualify for the Trappist label. It is brewed in monasteries by Trappist monks whose revenue is devoted to social service. Out of the 11 official Trappist abbeys in the world, six of them are in Belgium: Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westmalle and WestVleteren. In case you are curious, the remaining five are located in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States.

4. French fries aren’t pommes frites

Belgian frites

Let’s be clear here: French fries are not the same as Belgian frites. Belgian frites are made from bintjes, namely soft Belgian potatoes, which are thick-cut and fried twice in fat. They’re typically served in a paper cone with a tiny fork and topped with mayonnaise. Frites are a true Belgian staple and although calorific, they are delicious indeed.

5. The Marathon man is Belgian

Stefaan Engels, also known as the ‘marathon man’, is a Belgian from Ghent who was the first man to run 365 consecutive marathon distances in a single year and set the Guinness World Record. Yep, that’s right: he ran a marathon per day for a whole year. It’s an amazing feat, even more so taking into account that Engels was diagnosed with asthma as a kid and was advised to avoid sports.

6. Famous Belgians: from Jean-Claude van Damme to Hergé

Speaking of remarkable people, Belgium is the birthplace of a number of household names. The long list includes:

  • famous artists, such as painters Peter Paul Rubens, Antoon van Dyck, James Sidney Ensor and René Magritte;
  • musicians and singers such as Adolphe Sax and Jacques Brel;
  • architects such as Victor Horta and Paul Hankar;
  • scientists such as Georges Lemaître;
  • cartoonists such as Georges Remi (also known as Hergé);
  • actors such as Jean-Claude van Damme and Audrey Hepburn, who were born in Brussels.

7. Belgium was home to the smallest town in the world

Durbuy, Belgium

For many years Durbuy, a municipality in Wallonia, was the smallest town in the world. This may have been true in 1331 when it became a town and there were no more than 400 residents. This isn’t the case nowadays, as that Durbuy joined some of its surrounding towns to form a single larger community. Regardless, it is a true beauty and a nice destination for a day-trip from Brussels.

8. Belgian inventions: from pralines to the saxophone 

What do roller skates, the saxophone, pralines, and asphalt have in common? They are all Belgian inventions. Despite being a relatively small country, Belgium has offered the world some pretty big things: roller skates (1760, John Joseph Merlin), the saxophone (1846, Adolphe Sax), asphalt (1870, Edward J. de Smedt), pralines (1912, Jean Neuhaus II) and the list goes on.

9. There is no such thing as Belgian waffles

Having a Belgian waffle is among the top things on the agenda of many who visit Belgium. But in truth, there is no such a thing as a ‘Belgian waffle’ in Belgium. Although the term is popular in America, there are actually different types of waffles, the most common being the Brussels and Liège waffles.

10. The world’s first newspaper is from Belgium

In 1605 the world’s two first printed newspapers were published in Europe – one in Strasbourg and the other in Antwerp (Nieuwe Tijdingen) – by publisher Abraham Verhoeven.