A low-lying country in the Benelux, Belgium (Dutch: België, French: Belgique, German: Belgien) sits at the crossroads of Western Europe. It marries the historical landmarks for which the continent is famous with spectacular modern architecture and rural idylls. Its capital, Brussels, is home to the headquarters of the European Union.
Although Belgium is a relatively wealthy country, it is also one of the most politically complex countries in the world. Differences in language and culture between Flanders (the Dutch speaking portion) and Wallonia (the French speaking portion) have led to several far-reaching reforms, and this continuing antagonism makes Belgian politics so complex that even ordinary Belgians aren't able to make sense of what's truly going on. Despite all this, the two halves form a country that contains some of Europe's most attractive and historical cities, and is a true 'must-see' for any visitor to the continent.
|Capital||City of Brussels|
|Population||11.5 million (2021)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Type E)|
|Time zone||Central European Time to UTC+02:00 and Europe/Brussels|
|Emergencies||112, 100 (emergency medical services, fire department), 101 (police), 102 (Awel)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Belgium is a densely populated country trying to balance the conflicting demands of urbanization, transportation, industry, and commercial and intensive agriculture. It imports large quantities of raw materials and exports a large volume of manufactured goods, mostly to the EU.
Belgium is the heir of several former Medieval powers, and you will see traces of these everywhere during your trip in this country.
After the collapse of the Carolingian Empire in the 9th century, the territory that is nowadays Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg, was part of Lotharingia, an ephemeral kingdom soon to be absorbed into the (German) Holy Roman Empire; however, the area of Lower Lotharingia remained intact in the feudal empire: this is the origin of the Low Countries, a general term that encompasses present-day Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
The widely autonomous fiefdoms of the Low Countries were among the richest places in Medieval Europe and you will see traces of this past wealth in the rich buildings of Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven, Tournai, Mons, etc. These cities progressively fell under the control of a powerful and ambitious family: the Dukes of Burgundy. The whole realm of the dukes extended from the Low Countries to the borders of Switzerland. Using wealth, strategy, and alliances, the Dukes of Burgundy aimed at reconstituting Lotharingia. The death of the last duke, Charles the Bold, put an end to this dream. However, the treasures of the Dukes of Burgundy remain as a testimony of their rules in Belgian museums and landmarks.
The powerful Habsburg family then inherited from the Low Countries. Reformation is the reason that Belgium and Netherlands were first taken apart: the northern half of the Low Countries embraced Protestantism and rebelled against the Habsburg rule, while the southern half remained faithful to both its ruler and the Catholic faith. These two halves roughly correspond to present-day Belgium and Netherlands.
Belgium was called Austrian Netherlands, then Spanish Netherlands, depending on which branch of the Habsburg ruled it. The powerful German emperor and Spanish king, Charles V, was born in the Belgian city of Ghent and ruled from Brussels. Many places in Belgium are named after him, including the city of Charleroi and even a brand of beer. Every year, the Brusselers emulate his first parade in their city in what is called the Ommegang.
Belgium was briefly a part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon's defeat, a large Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, comprising the whole of the Low Countries. However, the religious opposition still remained and the split was aggravated by political differences between Belgian liberals and Dutch aristocrats. Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 after a short revolution and a war against the Netherlands.
It was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II and has many war graves near the battle zones, most of them are around Ieper (in English, archaically rendered as Ypres, with Yperite another name for mustard gas due to intensive use there in WWI). It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.
Flat coastal plains in northwest, central rolling hills, wooded hills and valleys of Ardennes Forest in southeast.
Temperate; mild winters with cool summers. Generally rather rainy, humid and cloudy. Belgium's average annual temperature in the decade between 1976 and 2006 was 10 °C — a somewhat meaningless measure for non-meteorologists.
Electricity is supplied at 220 to 230 V and 50 Hz. Outlets are CEE7/5 (protruding male earth pin) and accept either CEE 7/5 (Grounded), CEE 7/7 (Grounded) or CEE 7/16 (non-grounded) plugs. Older German-type CEE 7/4 plugs are not compatible as they do not accommodate the earth pin found on this type of outlet. However, most modern European appliances are fitted with the hybrid CEE 7/7 plug which fits both CEE 7/5 (Belgium & France) and CEE 7/4 (Germany, Netherlands, Spain and most of Europe) outlets.
Travellers from the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Italy, Switzerland and all the other countries using 230 V and 50 Hz, which use different plugs, simply require a plug adaptor to use their appliances in Belgium.
Travellers from the US, Canada, Japan and other countries using 110 V 60 Hz may need a voltage converter. However, some laptops, mobile phone chargers and other devices can accept either 110 V or 230 V so only require a simple plug adaptor. Check the voltage rating plates on your appliances before connecting them.
Belgium consists of three regions, listed from north to south:
|Flanders (West Flanders, East Flanders, Antwerp, Flemish Brabant, Limburg)|
The northern, Dutch-speaking region of the country. It includes well known cities like Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges.
The bilingual capital region of the country and headquarters of the European Union.
|Wallonia (Hainaut, Liège, Walloon Brabant, Namur, Luxembourg)|
The southern, French-speaking region, incorporating a small German speaking region in the east near the German border.
Belgium has a very high rate of urbanization and has an astonishing number of cities for such a small territory
- 1 Brussels — Belgium's capital and the unofficial capital of the EU. Nice historic centre and several museums of interest. One of the most multicultural cities in Europe.
- 2 Antwerp — Belgium's second largest city, with a giant cathedral, medieval streets and artistic heritage, and a great place for fashion.
- 3 Bruges — one of Europe's wealthiest cities in the 14th century, it is touristy yet still very authentic, medieval and quiet at night, with small guest houses and family businesses greatly outnumbering chain hotels.
- 4 Ghent — once one of Europe's largest cities, now a perfect mixture of Antwerp and Bruges: a cosy city with canals, yet with rich history and lively student population.
- 5 Leuven — a small city dominated by one of Europe's oldest universities. Beautiful historic centre and a lively nightlife.
- 6 Liège — second largest city of Wallonia, along a wide river, industrial cityscape with hiking and resorts in the nearby hills, it has a very strong, independent character and an exciting night-life.
- 7 Mechelen — a small medieval city with a nice historic district around the cathedral.
- 8 Mons — has had the extraordinary privilege of having two sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List and one event on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
- 9 Namur — capital of Wallonia, at the confluence of Sambre and Meuse with the Citadel.
- 1 Kraainem — a municipality with a rich industrial history on the outskirts of Brussels with many historical landmarks.
- 2 Tervuren — known for its proximity to the lush Sonian Forest, its parks, and royal summer residence.
- 3 Grimbergen — known for the beer with the same name, risen to worldwide fame, but still produced in its abbey.
- 4 Ardennes — the most sparsely populated region in Benelux, this is a hilly countryside region covered with forests
- 5 Dinant — small city in a stunning natural setting, a popular spot for adventure sports such as canoeing and rock-climbing, best visited in winter
- 6 Pajottenland — also called the "Tuscany of the north", is a green region west of Brussels, consisting of rolling hills, meadows, small villages and castles. Home of the Geuze beer and great for hiking, biking, and horse riding tours.
- 7 Spa — the hot water treatments of the spa town that gave its name to all spas in the world has drawn visitors for centuries.
- 8 Ypres, 9 Poperinge and surrounding villages — destroyed during World War I, this former military stronghold is marked by memorials and cemeteries.
- 10 Sint-Niklaas — known for its market square (the largest in Belgium), its annual balloon festival and nearby scenery along the river Scheldt.
Belgium is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
- There are normally no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most of the European Union and a few other countries.
- There are usually identity checks before boarding international flights or boats. Sometimes there are temporary border controls at land borders.
- A visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.
- Please see Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works, which countries are members and what the requirements are for your nationality.
Citizens of the above countries are permitted to work in Belgium without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorisation for the period of their 90-day visa-free stay. However, this ability-to work visa-free does not necessarily extend to other Schengen countries.
Brussels Airport (BRU IATA), also known as Zaventem due to the town in which it is mainly located, is Belgium's main airport. It is not located in Brussels proper, but in surrounding Flanders. The airport is the base of the national airline Brussels Airlines. Other full-service airlines use BRU, as well as budget carriers such as Ryanair, Vueling and JetairFly.
There is a train (€5.10) running every 15 minutes to Brussels centre taking 25 minutes, some of them continuing to Ghent, Mons, Nivelles, and West Flanders and bus lines number 12 and 21 (€3 at the vending machine/€5 on board) every 20 to 30 minutes to Place Luxembourg (European Parliament district). The bus stops at NATO and Schuman (for the EU institutions) on its way to the centre. There are also two trains per hour to Leuven, taking 13 minutes. A taxi to the centre of Brussels costs around €35 - cheaper if booked in advance. Taxis bleus: +32 2 268–0000, Taxis Autolux: +32 2 411–4142, Taxis verts: +32 2 349–4949.
Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL IATA), about 50 km (31 mi) south of Brussels, mostly serves low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair and Wizzair. You can get to Brussels Gare du Midi on a coach in about an hour (€13 one way, €22 return). If you're going to any other part of Belgium, buy a combination bus+train ticket via Charleroi Sud train station from the TEC vending machines outside the airport for at most €19.40 one-way.
However, if you are really stuck, it is not unusual for taxi drivers to take credit cards. The price of a taxi ride to Brussels is a set fare (approximately €85 as of Jan 2020) and you can check with the taxi driver if they will accept your credit card or not.
Antwerp Airport (ANR IATA) has some business flights, including CityJet's reasonably priced link to London City airport. Other airports include Oostende, Liège and Kortrijk, but they only handle freight and charter flights.
Liege Airport (LGG IATA) is located near the city of Liege. A small airport served only by TUIFly, a low cost airline. It has between 5-10 daily mainly from Spain, sometimes to Greece and Morocco. It suffers from very poor transportation options to the city of Liege: there is a bus number 57 running several times a day bus, it goes to the train station of Liege-Guillemins, this bus only runs during the week. Another option is to take bus number 53 or 85 which sometimes go via the airport to the city centre, approx. 30 minutes. TEC buses have no special prices for Liege Airport and will cost €3.50 per person.
Taxis will cost around €25.
There are direct trains between Brussels and:
- Luxembourg (normal trains, running every hour). All public transport in Luxembourg is free. It Takes around 2 hr 30 min from Luxembourg to Brussels, 3 hr from Luxembourg to Liege.
- Paris, Cologne, Aachen, Rotterdam, Amsterdam (Thalys )
- Lyon, Bordeaux, Paris-CDG airport and many other French cities (TGV operated by SNCF).
- London, Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Lille, Calais, Rotterdam, Amsterdam (Eurostar). If you're going to another Belgian city, the "any Belgium Station" ticket (£5.50 one-way in 2nd class) includes local transport in your Eurostar ticket. Depending on the distance this may work out cheaper then getting a separate ticket. Passengers travelling from the UK to Belgium go through French passport/identity card checks (done on behalf of the Belgians) in the UK before boarding, rather than on arrival in Belgium. Passengers travelling from Lille/Calais to Brussels are within the Schengen Area.
- Frankfurt, Cologne (ICE operated by Deutsche Bahn)
There are hourly intercity trains from Brussels via Antwerp to Rotterdam and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The intercity services run from Brussels to Amsterdam via Mechelen, Antwerp, Rotterdam, The Hague and Schiphol. The other direct connection to Amsterdam is the expensive Thalys (book well in advance for reasonable fares). Alternative is to catch a train from Brussels or Antwerp to Roosendaal (NL), where connecting intercity trains to Rotterdam and Amsterdam are available. Passengers travelling to Belgium from the Netherlands will need to buy their tickets at the NS Internationaal desk or website which are different from the ones that sell tickets for domestic trains. NS Internationaal also sells Thalys tickets at the same prices as seen on the Thalys website.
International trains connect with domestic trains at Brussels' Gare du Midi/Zuidstation, and with all Eurostar or ICE and some Thalys tickets, you can finish your journey for free on domestic trains. For all high-speed trains, you need to book in advance for cheap fares, either online or using a travel agency. There are no regularly scheduled sleeper trains anymore.
You might want to check the TGV connections to Lille too. The trains from the rest of France to Lille are more frequent and usually cheaper. There is a direct train connection from Lille Flandres to Ghent and Antwerp. If your TGV arrives in Lille Europe, it will take a 15-min walk to the Lille Flandres railway station.
Plan your trip with the Deutsche Bahn timetable. It has all domestic and international connections across Europe.
Smoking is not allowed on Belgian trains.
The train fare for passengers 65+ travelling within Belgium is often capped at €6 and is valid for same-day return but such a fare may require travel only after 09:00.
Major European highways like the E19, E17, E40, E411 and E313 pass through Belgium.
There are bus companies serving the Bosnian diaspora, which provide a cheap and clean way of getting to the other side of the European continent. Semi tours runs three times per week from various destinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina to Belgium and the Netherlands, off-season about €132 for a return ticket.
Calais and Dunkirk (France), a short drive from western Flanders, receive dozens of ferries a day from Dover in England. The overnight ferries to Zeebrugge from Hull were axed in 2021, though ferries still run from Hull to Rotterdam (Netherlands), which has good road and rail access to northern Flanders.
- There are domestic Belgian trains that terminate in Lille (station Lille-Flanders).
- Between the De Panne terminus of the Belgian railways (and the coast tram – Kusttram) and the French coastal city of Dunkirk, there is a bus line run by DK'BUS Marine: . It is also possible to take a DK'BUS bus which goes to the closest possible distance of the border and then cross it on foot by walking on the beach and arriving at a convenient station of the Coast tram, such as Esplanade.
- You can take a bus between the train stations of Eupen (Belgium) and Aachen (Germany) which is quite fast and less expensive than doing the same trip on an international train ticket.
- If your destination in Belgium is further away from the border, you can take the local train from Aachen to Welkenraedt and then change to the InterCity-train connecting Eupen with Oostende, passing by Leuven, Brussels, Ghent and Bruges. The trip from Aachen to Brussels takes less than two hours.
From the Netherlands
- For a list of border-crossing buses between Belgium and the Netherlands, you may consult the list at .
- Apart from being a peculiar result of ancient European history, the town of Baarle (formally Baarle-Hertog in Belgium and Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands) is a possible change point, since the town's main bus stop Sint-Janstraat is operated by both Flemish (Belgian) and Dutch buses.
- The Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn operates a border-crossing bus between Turnhout in Belgium and Tilburg in the Netherlands, both of which are termini in the respective country's railway network.
- There's a bus (line 45) operated by the Flemish (Belgian) company De Lijn going between the train stations of Genk (Belgium) and Maastricht (the Netherlands). There is another bus (line 20A) departing from Hasselt, going to Maastricht. A train connection is being built.
Being such a small country (300 km as its maximum distance), you can get anywhere in a couple of hours. Public transport, when fully functioning, is fast and comfortable, and not too expensive. Between larger cities, there are frequent train connections, with buses covering smaller distances. A useful site is Smart Mobility Planner, which has a door-to-door routeplanner for the whole country, covering all forms of public transport (including train, bus, subway and tram).
A look on the map may suggest that Brussels is a good starting point to explore Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Namur and Leuven on day trips. Antwerp is popular among those who want to be in a cosmopolitan place, and Ghent is tops with those who like a good mix of open-minded provincialism. Liège is beautiful, but too close to Germany to be a good base for day trips. Mechelen is considered boring by tourists, but has a very good youth hostel next to a train station with trains to everywhere else every 30 min.
To do some local sightseeing, especially in Flanders, a lot of infrastructure is available for cycling. Bikes can be rented virtually everywhere. In the country side of Wallonia, mountainbikes are available, and rafting is popular along the border with Luxembourg.
- Belgiantrain.be journey planner. Use the official journey planner operated by the National Railway Company of Belgium to find train itineraries and prices
Most of Belgium is well connected by train, run by NMBS (SNCB in French) with most of the main routes passing through Antwerp, Namur or Brussels. This is where you'll arrive on international trains, and both can be reached by train from Brussels airport or by coach from Antwerp or Charleroi airport. Transfers are very easy. All ICE and some Thalys tickets allow free same-day transfers by domestic trains to any other Belgian station. From London (by Eurostar) you need to switch in Brussels for Antwerp, Leuven or Ghent, but for Bruges, you can already switch in Lille (France) with no need to make the detour via Brussels. In Lille and Brussels the staff are very helpful and willing to smile.
The trains are punctual and mostly modern and comfortable.
Normal fares on Belgian trains are cheap compared to Germany or the UK, with no need nor a possibility to reserve. 2nd class fares don't go higher than €21.30 for the longest domestic trips (one way). 1st class costs 50% extra. Trains can get very full during the rush hours, so you might need a 1st class ticket to get a seat at those times. In the train station, you can pay with cash or credit card. Return tickets are 50% cheaper at the weekend.
Most tickets are sold for a designated route on a designated day, so you can take any train on the day of your ticket. There is no extra validation when you step on a train.
You can buy tickets via the website, app, vending machines, ticket counters and on the train. If you want to buy a ticket on the train, you have to warn the train conductor. Avoid buying tickets on the train, as you will have to pay an extra €7 per ticket. Many smaller stations don't have ticket counters anymore, and if there are, they are not open very often. In every station, there is at least one vending machine. If ticket counters are closed and vending machines don't work, no supplement will be charged on the train if you address the issue to the conductor.
You can pay with cash and credit card. You can also pay with PayPal via the website or app. Contactless payments are accepted in most train stations and at some vending machines. As for paying cash at vending machines, they only allow coins, no paper bills. Not buying a ticket can result in a fine up to €225.
A cheap option if you're planning several train trips is a Go Pass  for travelers under the age of 26, which gives you 10 single 2nd class trips (including train changes if necessary) for €53. It's valid for a year and can be shared with or given to other people without any restrictions. If you're 26 or older, you can use the Rail Pass. This costs €83 for 2nd class or €128 for 1st. When using these passes make sure you have filled in an empty line by hand before you get on the train. The train conductor can be very picky when the pass is not correctly filled in. However, if you address train station staff before boarding, they will be glad to help you. It is also common practice to ask other people on the platform to use their pen when you do not have one.
The cheapest option if you travel during Belgian school holidays, for people under 26, is a Go Unlimited pass for €18 per week or €28 a month (only during July and August). This pass allows you to hop on and off any NMBS/SNCB train in 2nd class on any (national) route. You will need a personal MoBIB card for this pass. You can buy this for €5, only at a manned ticket office. The school holidays are the summer break (two months: July and August), autumn break (the week of November 1), Christmas break (two weeks encompassing both Christmas and New Year's Day), spring break (one week at the end of February - beginning of March), Easter break (two weeks around Easter). The exact dates of the last two holidays vary every year.
If you're visiting a certain event or concert, be sure to check if your train travel isn't already included in the ticket. Some major festivals and concerts like Rock Werchter, Pukkelpop or I Love Techno include train travel in the ticket price. For visiting special places like theme parks or museums, inform for the option 'B-Excursions'. That way you buy your entrance ticket and train ticket in one at the train station. This always is low-priced, normally resulting in normal entrance ticket price plus €4-5 for travel. The desk agent will surely point you out the details.
There are IC-trains (InterCity), L-trains (local, stops at every station), P-trains (extra trains during rush hour) and S-trains (serve suburbs of big cities). For tourists, IC-trains or ICT-trains (tourist trains) are the best option since they are faster, more frequent and more comfortable. You should only use L-trains and S-trains if your destination is not served by an IC-train. L-trains and S-trains tend to be less crowded though, except during rush hour. S-trains are mainly meant for commuters in nearby areas, but can also be used for some in-town trips. As an example, the journey Ghent-Bruges takes 25 minutes on an IC-train and 42 minutes on an L-train, but costs the same.
Train schedules usually change around December 10. Those changes are usually limited to introducing a few new train stations and adding a few regular lines. No lines have been discontinued in a very long time. Here, you can find a map of Belgian railways and stations.
By bus and tram
Buses cover the whole country, along with trams and metro in the big cities. Most routes cover short distances, but it is possible to go from city to city by bus. However, this is much slower and only slightly cheaper than taking a train. There is also the Kusttram, running along almost the whole Flemish seaside from France to the Netherlands—definitely worth a trip in the summer.
Within cities, a normal ticket for one zone never costs more than €2, and there are various travelcards available. Local transport is provided by different companies: STIB/MIVB in Brussels , De Lijn in Flanders and TEC in Wallonia, and, outside Brussels, they don't accept each other's tickets. Tickets are cheaper when bought at ticket machines.
Most tourists will not need the bus companies, as it is much more user-friendly to take trains between cities and go on foot inside them. Only Brussels and Antwerp have a subway, but, even there, you can make your way around on foot. The historic center of Brussels is only about 300 m (980 ft) by 400 m (1,300 ft) long. Antwerp is much bigger, but a ride on a horse-pulled coach gives a better view than the subway.
Belgium has a dense network of modern toll-free motorways, but some secondary roads in Wallonia are poorly maintained. Signs are always in the local language only, except in Brussels, where they're bilingual. As many cities in Belgium have quite different names in Dutch and French, this can cause confusion. For example, Mons in French is Bergen in Dutch; Antwerp is called Antwerpen in Dutch and Anvers in French; Liège in French is Luik in Dutch and Lüttich in German, and so on. This even applies to cities outside Belgium; driving along a Flemish motorway, you may see signs for Rijsel, which is the French city of Lille or Aken, which is the German city of Aachen. Exits are marked with the word Uit (out) in Flemish areas, Sortie in Walloon areas and Ausfahrt in German-speaking ones.
Drivers in Belgium should also be aware of the "priority from the right" rule. At road crossings, traffic coming from the right has the right of way unless otherwise indicated by signs or pavement markings. You're most likely to encounter such crossings in urban and suburban areas. Observant visitors will notice a lot of cars with dents along their right sides! Drive defensively and your car will avoid the same fate.
In Belgium the motorway signs are notoriously inconvenient, especially on secondary roads. There is no uniformity in layout and colour; many are in bad state, placed in an awkward position or simply missing. A good roadmap (Michelin, De Rouck, Falk) or a GPS system is recommended. Belgium is one of the few countries to solely use the European E numbers on major routes.
As well as fixed-speed cameras on motorway and secondary roads there are also average-speed cameras that run for a good number of miles on motorways around major cities.
Some hire cars come equipped with sat nav but it's a good idea to request this when you book your car. It's probably the most reliable way to get from A to B in Belgium. This way you will get to see some of the sites of Belgium, as flat as it may be, but architecture in the towns is something to be admired. You will be pleasantly surprised at just how clean the towns and villages of Belgium are. Drive through on any afternoon and you will see people caring for the street in front of their homes - a real, backdated village community feel.
Speed traps are positioned along roads frequently and drunk driving of only small amounts comes with serious penalties, such as €125 on the spot fine for 0.05 per cent and 0.08 per cent. Over that amount of alcohol in your system and you face anything up to 6 months imprisonment and loss of driving licence for 5 years.
The best place for hitchhikers. Just ask for a lift! Having cardboard signs with towns' names on it can really help to get a quick lift.
- Leaving Brussels: Heading south (e.g. Namur) get to the underground station named 'Delta'.
Next to it you have a huge 'park and ride' and a bus stop. Hitchhiking near the bus stop should get you a ride in less than 5 minutes during traffic hours.
- Heading to Ghent/Bruges: Good spot near the Shopping Mall called 'Basilix' in Berchem-ste-Agathe. You can reach this place with the bus N°87.
An alternative spot to go to the north is in Anderlecht, near the Hospital Erasme/Erasmus (Metro station Erasme/Erasmus.)
- Heading to Liège/Hasselt: Take the pre-metro to the station 'Diamant' in Schaarbeek. When leaving the station you should see a lot of outgoing cars just below you. Just walk and follow the roadsigns mentioning 'E40'. You should arrive in a small street giving access to a road joining the E40 (the cars are leaving a tunnel at this point). Just hitchhike on the emergency lane at this point, in the portion near the tunnel. Cars should still be riding slowly at this point and see you are visible to them, so it's not that dangerous.
- Leaving Louvain-la-Neuve (University) to Brussels (north) or to Namur (south), stand at the roundabout next to exit/entrance "8a" near to "Louvain la Neuve-centre" road signs. Quick lift guaranteed. Avoid exit 7 or 9, since they have far less traffic.
Mostly known for its key role in European Union administration, the small nation of Belgium might leave you surprised by its rich and gorgeous heritage. It boasts a number of fascinatingly historic cities packed with medieval and Art Nouveau architecture and famous for their long traditions in arts, fashion and fine dining. If you've seen the best of them, the Belgian countryside offers anything from sandy beaches to the densely forested hills and ridges of the Ardennes.
Brussels, the country's vibrant capital, is a modern world city with a highly international character. It combines massive post-modern buildings in its European Quarter with impressive historic monuments, such as the World Heritage listed Grand Place, surrounded by guildhouses and the Gothic town hall. There's Laken Castle and the large St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, dedicated to the cities patron saints. The Royal Palace is a more recent but no less grand structure. One of the city's most famous landmarks is the Atomium, a remarkable steel structure and remnant of the 1958 World's Fair. And yet, with all those magnificent sights at hand, many travellers' favourite is a tiny bronze fountain in the shape of a peeing boy: the curious Manneken Pis. The Walloon Brabant province, a few kilometres south of Brussels, is certainly worth a visit. There you can visit the Lion's Mound in Waterloo or the beautiful Villers Abbey in Villers-la-Ville.
Perhaps the most popular of the Belgian cities is Bruges. Much of the excellent architecture that arose during the towns Golden Age, roughly the 14th century, remains intact and the old centre is a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its most prominent landmarks is the 13th century belfry, where the carillonneur still rings the bells on a daily basis. With countless other noteworthy monuments, Bruges is a highly popular destination and get a bit overcrowded during holidays. And then there's Ghent, which in ages past was one of the wealthiest cities in northern Europe. Although larger and much busier than Bruges, its excellent medieval architecture can definitely compete. Its beguinages, belfry and former cloth hall are World Heritage Sites. Or visit Antwerp, the country's current place to be as it is a hotspot of the Belgian fashion, clubbing, arts and diamonds scenes. Nevertheless, the city's timeless old centre is right up there with the others, boasting the countries most stunning cathedrals. Other pleasant cities with good sights include Leuven, with the oldest Catholic University still in use and Liège.
In Wallonia, don't miss the city of Mons which has been the Cultural Capital of Wallonia since 2002. In 2015 the city had the honour of being the Cultural Capital of Europe. Mons is the largest and most important city in the Province of Hainaut, of which it is the administrative and judicial centre. One of its primary aims, however, has been to safeguard its heritage to better share it with the growing numbers of tourists to the area. Three major masterpieces, the Belfry, the Neolithic flint mines at Spiennes and the Doudou, all of which have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List, can be found in and around Mons.
For hiking, biking and camping, head to the rugged hills of the Ardennes with their tight forests, caves and cliffs. They are home to wild boar, deer and lynx and hide a number of friendly villages, lots of castles and a few other notable sights. The impressive caves of Han-sur-Lesse, the castle of Bouillon and the modern Labyrinth of Barvaux are some of the best picks. The city of Namur makes a great base from where to explore the Ardennes and has some fine sights itself too. The city is beautifully located along the rivers Meuse and Sambre and from the ancient citadel you'll have a great view over town.
The Belgians brought forward a good number of world famous masters of art, and their love for arts is still today reflected in the range of fine arts museums. The Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp are just a few excellent examples. However, the Belgians love museums, with over 80 of them in the capital alone. Besides arts, they display anything from history and folklore to industry and technology. As some of the worst fighting of both World Wars took place on Belgian territory, there's also a large number of memorials and museums dedicated to those dark times, along some humbling military cemeteries.
- Mons International Love Film Festival: yearly festival of cinema (February)
- Ritual Ducasse of Mons: Doudou is the popular name for a week of collective jubilation that takes place in Mons on the weekend of the Trinity each year. There are four key moments: The Descent of the Shrine, The Procession, The Ascent of the Car d’Or and The Battle called Lumeçon (Trinity Sunday).
- Ethias Tennis Trophy: one of the better matches in the world. (October / Mons)
- Ommegang: a parade in Brussels that celebrates the beginning of the reign of Charles V of Habsburg. It takes place on the stunning cityscape of the Grand Place and involves thousands of stunts in period costume.
- Zinnekeparade: the yearly celebration of the Brusseler's spirit - the theme changes each year and involves costumes & chariots made by volunteers and locals.
- DOCVILLE - International Documentary Film Festival, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, ☏ . International Documentary Film Festival in the beginning of May, with national and international competition in the city of Leuven. Selected films have a focus on cinematography. €4.50-6.
- Graspop Metal Meeting. Yearly heavy metal festival held in the town of Dessel, in June.
- . Three days in February the town of Binche is transported back to the 16th century for one of the most fantastic festivals of the year. Highlighted by music parades and fireworks, the climax of this event is when the Gilles appear on the Grand Place and throw oranges to the spectators. This infamous festivity has been classified as part of the world's cultural heritage by UNESCO along with its renowned Gilles.
- Rock Werchter. End of June, beginning of July, Werchter.
- Dour festival. "European Alternative Music Event" - 12–15 July 2007 - Dour.
- Pukkelpop. Mid- August
- Atomium built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair (Expo ’58), it is a 102 metre tall representation of an atomic unit cell. More precisely, it is symbolic of a unit cell of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times. Nine steel spheres 16m in diameter connect via tubes with escalators 32 m long.
- Gentse Feesten. 2nd half of July. Huge, ten day long street festival in the historical centre of the city of Ghent. The biggest street festival in Europe, with theatre, music in all genres, techno parties, and so on - Gentse Feesten
- Activiteiten Gent & Antwerpen, Rerum Novarumlaan 132 (Merksem), ☏ . Great boat tours around Ghent and Antwerp.
- 24 hours cycling, Louvain-La-Neuve Louvain-La-Neuve is in the Wallonia not far from Brussel, it's a small pedestrian city created in the 60s for the French-speakers students. Every year, in October, they organised a bicycle competition. Actually, the course is a pretext to enjoy the event... And to drink beers. This party is one of the most important consumption of beers of the whole Europe.
- Belgian Beer Tour Belgian Beer Tour is a tour operator specialising in tours of Belgium breweries. It offers a great way for beer lovers to visit their favourite breweries and discover new ones. The tours cover a wide range of beers and appeals to connoisseurs and amateurs alike.
- International Short Film Festival Leuven, Naamsestraat 96, 3000 Leuven, ☏ . International Short Film Festival with many foreign guests and directors. Focus on the best Flemish and European short films. €4.50-6.
- TomorrowLand, De Schorre, Boom.
- Flowercorso Loenhout, Loenhout Centre. one of the largest flower corsos of Belgium. With the title of Royal Corso their theme cars and floats are totally covered with over flowers and go up to 80 feet length. Every year, start of September €2-8.
- Flemish Dutch is not always easy to understand for other Dutch speakers. A lot of words used in Flanders would be considered "archaic" even in former Dutch colonies. Furthermore, Flemish Dutch is a lot less guttural than its northern counterpart.
- The French spoken in Belgium, whilst marked by distinct annunciations and intonations, is mostly intelligible to the average French person, and younger generations in urban areas like Brussels tend to speak with a relatively standard French accent. Nevertheless, some "rural" accents can come off as harsh to the casual listener, especially those in and around Charleroi and eastern Wallonia. Anglicised words are also used more often than in France or Quebec.
- The German spoken in Belgium is nearly identical to Hochdeutsch (standard German) but, not unlike Flemish, it does incorporate antiquated words and idioms. German-speaking Belgians also speak a lot more slowly than Germans.
Although Belgium has three official languages, that does not mean that all of them are official everywhere. The official language of Flanders is Dutch and the official language of Wallonia is French. Brussels' official languages are Dutch and French (though French is more commonly spoken) and German is the official language in nine municipalities in Wallonia (Eupen and its surroundings).
Virtually all Flemish people are bilingual in both Dutch and French, whereas the Walloons are typically monolingual and don't speak any Dutch. Even though German is an official language, less than 1% of the population understands it fluently and you're unlikely to find speakers of the language outside the German-speaking community.
English is usually spoken and understood at a basic level throughout Belgium, but don't expect everyone to be comfortable expressing themselves in it, even younger generations. As an international city, Brussels is one of the most English-friendly cities in Europe; nearly everyone working in the tourism sector can speak it at an advanced level, and most locals have daily exposure to it. English is fairly prevalent in Flanders, as their education system bears some similarities with the Netherlands; however, some people may not be as fluent as expected. In contrast, English is not widely spoken in Wallonia though it is still possible to find English speakers in touristy areas.
It's important to note that language is a highly sensitive issue in Belgium, and there's no place in Europe other than Belgium where you can get into trouble for using the "wrong language". Refer to the section on 'Respect' for more.
A very small number of inhabitants of Wallonia, particularly the older generations, still speak the Walloon language. This language, while not official, is recognised by the French Community of Belgium as an "indigenous regional language", together with a number of other Romance (Champenois, Lorrain and Picard) and Germanic (Luxembourgish) language varieties. On the flipside, Italian is rather commonplace in Wallonia due to immigration. (At least 10% of Walloons can trace their origins back to Italy.)
Due to its international status, Brussels is home to a myriad of other languages; in addition to English being widespread, it is possible to find people who speak Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, etc.
In Belgium, foreign films and TV shows are available in their original language with French and Dutch subtitles in Flanders and Brussels cinemas and in the Dutch-language TV channels. Only children's TV shows and movies are dubbed.
In Wallonia, all movies and TV shows have a dubbed version in French or German and selected foreign films/TV shows have an original language version (marked with a "VO" in the cinema listing or in the case of TV shows, can be accessed through the remote control).
Exchange rates for euros
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Belgium uses the euro, like several other European countries. One euro is divided into 100 cents. The official symbol for the euro is €, and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.
All banknotes and coins of this common currency are legal tender within all the countries, except that low-denomination coins (one and two cent) are phased out in some of them. The banknotes look the same across countries, while coins have a standard common design on the reverse, expressing the value, and a national country-specific design on the obverse. The obverse is also used for different designs of commemorative coins. The design of the obverse does not affect the use of the coin.
Tipping in Belgium is not usually done as service charge is always included. However, you may tip as a sign of appreciation. Usually, this is done by paying in bank notes with a total value slightly higher than the price of the meal and telling the waiter/waitress that they can keep the change.
- Belgian chocolate: A long tradition has given Belgian chocolate a superior refinement process that is recognized worldwide.
- Laces in Bruges
- Designer fashions in Antwerp
- Jewelry in one of Antwerps many jewelry shops
- Belgian comic books and related merchandising, especially in Brussels
Belgians like to eat. Belgium is famous for its good cuisine and people like to go to restaurants frequently. Best description for Belgian food would be "French food in German quantities".
- As anywhere else in the world, avoid the tourist traps, where the touts are trying to get you in the restaurants. You will get average to bad quality food for average to high prices, and, at busy times, they will try to get rid of you as soon as possible to make space for the next customer. A good example of this is the famous "Rue des Bouchers/Beenhouwersstraat" in Brussels in this picture.
- Belgium is a country that understands what eating is all about and can be a real gastronomic paradise. You can have a decent meal in just about every tavern, from small snacks to a complete dinner. Just pop into one of those and enjoy it.
- If you want to eat really well for not too much money, ask the local people or the hotel manager (that is, supposing he does not have a brother restaurant-manager) to give some advice for a good restaurant. Not a bad idea is to find a restaurant or tavern a little bit outside of the cities (if advised by some locals) they are usually not too expensive but deliver decent to high quality food. And ordering the specialties during the season will be both beneficial for your wallet and the quality of the food.
- Quality has its price: since the introduction of the euro, price for eating out in Belgium nearly doubled. Expensive food like lobster or turbot will always cost a lot of money at any restaurant. But you can also find some local and simple dishes, rather cheap and still very tasty (such as sausages, potatoes and spinach). Normally a dinner (3 dishes) will be around €30-50 depending on your choices of food and restaurant. And for cheap, greasy food, just find a local frituur, also called a frietkot or friterie, it will be the best Belgian Fries you'll have had in ages. However, when you are in such a frituur, it may be best to avoid snacks (other than the fries themselves, and the rich choice in sauces that comes with them), which are generally fried and made out of low-quality scrap meat. Do NOT order a cheeseburger or hamburger in such a place! The so-called burger which you would get if you do, is especially notorious for being fried and containing a mixture of low-quality meat.
A number of dishes are considered distinctly Belgian specialities and should be on every visitor's agenda.
Mussels are a firm favorite and a side-dish of Moules et frites/Mosselen met friet (Mussels with French fries). The traditional way is to cook them in a pot with white wine and/or onions and celery, then eat them up using only a mussel shell to scoop them out. The top season is September to April, and as with all other shellfish, do not eat the closed ones. Belgium's mussels always come from the nearby Netherlands. Imports from other countries are looked down on.
Balletjes/Boulettes are meatballs with fries. They will either be served with a tomato sauce or with the sauce from Liège, which is based on a local syrup. For this reason they will often be introduced as Boulets Liégeois.
Frikadellen met krieken are also meatballs, served with cherries in a sauce of cherryjuice. This is eaten with bread.
Stoemp is mashed potatoes and carrots with bacon and sausages. It is a typical meal from Brussels.
Stoofvlees (or Carbonade flamande) is a traditional beef stew and is usually served with (you have guessed it already) fries.
Witloof met kaassaus/Chicons au gratin is a traditional gratin of chicory with ham and a cheesy bechamel sauce, usually served with mashed potatoes or croquettes.
Konijn met pruimen: rabbit cooked in beer and dried plums.
Despite the name, French fries (frieten in Dutch, frites in French) are proudly claimed as a Belgian invention. Whether or not this is true, they certainly have perfected it — although not everybody agrees with their choice of mayonnaise over ketchup as the preferred condiment (ketchup is often considered to be "for kids").
Every village has at least one frituur/friterie, an establishment selling cheap take-away fries, with a huge choice of sauces and fried meat to go with them. The traditional thing to try is friet met stoofvlees, but remember the mayonnaise on it .
Waffles (wafels in Dutch, gaufres in French) come in two types:
- Gaufres de Bruxelles/Brusselse wafels: a light and airy variety.
- a heavier variety with a gooey center known as Gaufres de Liège/Luikse wafels.
The latter are often eaten as a street/ take-away snack while shopping and therefore can be found at stands on the streets of the cities.
Last but not least, Belgian chocolate is famed around the world. Famous chocolatiers include Godiva, Leonidas, Guylian, Galler, Marcolini and Neuhaus, with Godiva, Leonidas and Neuhaus being official suppliers of chocolate to the Belgian royal family. In nearly all supermarkets, you can buy the brand Côte d'Or, generally considered the best 'everyday' chocolate (for breakfast or break) among Belgians.
As a small country in the centre of western Europe, the cuisine is influenced not only by the surrounding countries but also by many other countries. This is also emphasized by many foreigners coming to this country to make a living here, for instance by starting a restaurant. You can find all types of restaurants:
- French/Belgian: A traditional Belgian restaurant serves the kind of food you will also find in the best French restaurants. Of course there are local differences: at the coast (in France as well as in Belgium) you have a better chance to find some good seafood, like mussels, turbot, sole or the famous North Sea shrimp. In the southern woods of the Ardennes (remember the battle of the Bulge?), you are better off choosing game or local fish like trout.
- English/Irish: There are Irish bars and pubs everywhere and Belgium is no exception, try the Schuman area of Brussels for more Irish pubs than you can shake a stick at. There is also an English pub just off of Place de la Monnaie in central Brussels.
- American: There are McDonald's or lookalikes in most towns. The Belgian variety is called "Quick". You may also find a local booth serving sausages, hot dogs or hamburgers. Try it: the meat tastes the same, but the bread is much better. Ketchup in this region is made with less sugar (even the Heinz brand). Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Subway also have establishments, but you won't find Burger King. There are no real American restaurants, although there is an American bar on the Toison d'Or in Brussels that serves food.
- Italian: Roughly 500,000 people in Belgium are Italian or have Italian heritage, and ties have been historically close between Belgium and Italy, so finding a tasty pizza or mouth-watering pastas is not difficult, especially in Brussels and Wallonia.
- Mexican: Only in the cities and rather costly for only medium quality. ChiChi's (near Bourse) serves Mexican American food but would not be considered a good value by American standards. ChiChi's uses reconstituted meats.
- Chinese: They have a long tradition of restaurants in Belgium. Rather cheap, but an acceptable quality.
- German/Austrian: Maxburg in the Schuman area (next to Spicy Grill) makes a good schnitzel.
- Greek/Spanish/Italian: Like all over the world, nice, rather cheap, with a good atmosphere and typical music (Greek: Choose meat, especially lamb) (Spanish: Choose paella and tapas) (Italian: Choose anything).
- Japanese/Thai: You usually find them only in the cities and they are rather expensive, but they give you great quality. The prices and the quality are both satisfying in a concentrated cluster of Thai restaurants near Bourse station. Avoid Phat Thai though if you don't want disruptions - as they let pan handlers and flower pushers enter and carry out their "work".
- Arabic/Moroccan: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with lamb; no fish or pork or beef.
- Turkish: Rather cheap, with a great variety of local dishes, especially with chicken and lamb and also vegetarian dishes, dishes with fish are rare; no pork or beef.
- Belgium offers a wide selection of other international restaurants.
For party-minded people, Belgium can be great. Most cities are close to each other and are either large urban areas (Brussels, Antwerp) or student areas (Leuven, Liège, Ghent), etc. In this little region, you will find the most clubs, cafés, restaurants per square mile in the world. A good starting point can be places with a strong student/youth culture: Leuven around its big university, Liège in the famous "carré" district, etc. You can expect a wide variety in music appreciation, going from jazz to the better electronic music to even some solid heavy metal bars. Just ask around for the better clubs and there you will most likely meet some music fanatics who can show you the better underground parties in this tiny country.
The government has a mostly liberal attitude towards bars, clubs and parties. They acknowledge the principle of "live and let live". As long as you don't cause public disturbance, vandalize property and get too drunk, the police will not intervene; this is also one of the main principles of Belgian social life, as drunk and disorderly behaviour is generally considered offensive. Of course, in student communities this is more tolerated, but generally, you are most respected if you party as hard as you like- but with a sense of discretion and self-control.
Officially, drugs are not allowed. But as long as you respect the aforementioned principles, you are not likely to get into serious trouble. Beware though, that driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs is not tolerated and traffic laws are strictly enforced in this matter. Especially in the weekends on main roads, you have a good chance of being stopped for an alcohol check.
Tap water is drinkable everywhere in Belgium, but most restaurants do not serve it. Hot spring or some other mineral water is typically served and costs about €2 per bottle. Spa is like bru and chaudfontaine a very famous water brand.
Belgium is to beer what France is to wine; it is home to one of the greatest beer traditions in the world. Like other European countries in medieval times, beers were brewed in a huge variety of ways with many different ingredients. In addition to the standard ingredients of water, malted barley, hops and yeast, many herbs and spices were also used. This activity was often done in monasteries, each developing a particular style. For some reason, uniquely in Belgium many of these monasteries survived almost into modern times, and the process was handed over to a local commercial brewer if the monastery closed. These brewers would often augment the recipe and process slightly to soften the taste to make it more marketable, but the variety survived in this way. These beers are called Abbey beers and there are hundreds and hundreds with a range of complex tastes unimaginable until you've tried them.
The Trappist label is controlled by international law, similar to that of Champagne in France. There are only six Trappist Abbeys in Belgium that produce beer qualified to be called Trappist. In order to carry the Trappist label, there are several rules that must be adhered to during the brewing process. The beer must be fermented within the walls of the abbey, the monks of the abbey must be involved in the beer-making process, and profit from the sale of the beer must be directed towards supporting the monastery (similar to a non-profit organization).
Belgium offers an incredible diversity of beers. Wheat / white beers (with their mixture of barley and wheat) as well as Lambic beers (sour-tasting wheat beers brewed by spontaneous fermentation) originated in Belgium. For the non-beer lovers, lambic beers are still interesting to try, as they are often brewed in fruity flavors and don't have a usual beer taste. Several well known mass-produced Belgian beers are Stella Artois, Duvel, Leffe, Jupiler, Hoegaarden. The names given to some beers are pretty imaginative: e.g. Verboden Vrucht (Forbidden Fruit), Mort Subite (Sudden Death), De Kopstoot (Head Butt), Judas and Delirium Tremens.
Warmly recommended are also Kriek (sweet and sour cherry beer) and, for the Christmas season, Stille Nacht (Silent night).
Plain blond draughts (4%-5.5%): Stella Artois, Jupiler, Maes, Cristal, Primus, Martens, Bavik.
Trappist ales (5%-10%): Achel, Chimay, Orval, Rochefort, Westvleteren, Westmalle.
Geuze: Belle-Vue, the lambic Mort Subite (Sudden Death), Lindemans in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw, Timmermans, Boon, Cantillon, 3 Fonteinen, Oud Beersel, Giradin, Hanssens, De Troch.
White beers: Hoegaarden, Dentergemse, Brugse Witte.
The city of Hasselt is well known in Belgium for its local alcoholic beverage, called jenever. It is a rather strong liquor, but it comes in all kinds of tastes beyond your imagination, including vanilla, apple, cactus, kiwi, chocolate. Hasselt lies in the east of Belgium, and is about one hour away by train from Brussels and 50 minutes from Antwerp. Trains go two times an hour from Antwerp.
Pubs, or cafés, are wide spread. They all have a large variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic, hot and cold beverages. Some serve food, others don't. Some might be specialised in beer, or wine, or cocktails, or something else. Smoking in pubs is forbidden by law.
- Couchsurfing. has a lot of members in Belgium
- Vrienden op de fiets. If you are travelling in Flanders by bicycle or by foot, there is a list of 260 addresses where you can stay at private homes with bed and breakfast for no more than €18.50 per person per night, although you must also pay €9 for membership of this scheme.
Belgium has many fine hotels. Capital Brussels has countless rather expensive business hotels catering to the European Union's bureaucrats, and while you can usually get a good room for under €100, prices can spike if there's a big EU shindig in town.
The different stages of education are the same in all communities:
- Basic education (Dutch: basisonderwijs; French: enseignement fondamental), consisting of
- Pre-school (kleuteronderwijs; einseignement maternel): -6 years
- Primary school (lager onderwijs; enseignement primaire): 6–12 years
- Secondary school (secundair onderwijs; enseignement secondaire): 12–18 years
- Higher education (hoger onderwijs; enseignement supérieure)
- University (universiteit; université)
- Polytechnic (hogeschool; haute école)
Education is organized by the regions (Dutch-speaking Flanders on the one hand, French and German speaking Wallonia on the other) and the small federal district of Brussels has schools run by both the Flemish and Walloon authorities. Both states recognize independent school networks, which cater to far more students than the state schools themselves. Most Flemish students go to a Flemish Catholic school. However, every independent school needs to follow the official state curriculum, and Catholicism in Flanders has long been extremely liberal anyway.
Having one of the highest labour taxes in Europe, Belgium is struggling to reposition itself as a high-tech country. In that struggle, Flanders is far ahead and much wealthier than Wallonia, in contrast to the previous decades, where Wallonia's steel industry was the main export of Belgium. Highly skilled people will have the most chance to find work, and knowing multiple languages (Dutch, French, English and perhaps German) is almost a standard requirement. Interim offices providing temporary jobs are flourishing in a search to avoid the high labour taxes.
Belgium has one of the highest tax rates in the world. An employer who pays a salary about €1500 a month actually pays another €1500 or more in taxes. Where does this money go to? It goes to social security. People only pay a small charge for healthcare, for example. And the budget for education, arts and culture is enormous. The budget for defense is however very tiny.
Although Belgium is undesirable for building wealth, it's a good place for someone who already is wealthy to reside because there is very little capital gains tax (some forms of capital gain is not taxed at all).
With the notable exceptions of certain major urban areas like Brussels (mostly the northern and western sections of the region), Antwerp (mostly the southern neighbourhoods), and some Walloon cities, Belgium is a very safe country. Tourists should not have to fear for their lives when taking basic precautions and knowing where they are going. Crimes such as murder are uncommon and natural hazards are rare.
As with much of Europe, however, petty crimes like pickpocketing do occur regularly, mostly in Brussels and more touristy cities, Bruges and Antwerp being prime examples. Aggravated assaults have occurred sporadically throughout the years, but they rarely involve tourists, except in Brussels.
Muslims and people of North African or Middle Eastern ancestry may experience mild resentment from certain people, a problem that is particularly acute among older generations, in rural areas, and wealthier sections of Brussels and Antwerp. The burqa and niqab are illegal in public. With all that said, Belgians - especially younger Belgians - are noticeably more welcoming towards Muslims than other Europeans, and public expressions against Islam have become widely condemned.
People who are recognisably Jewish, such as men who wear kippot, have also experienced harassment and worse, and should check on current conditions for Jews before they go.
Marijuana laws are quite lenient, with small amounts only punishable by fines. You may get into trouble for smoking weed in public, though.
The emergency phone number in Belgium (fire, police, paramedics) is 112.
In the winter, like most other European countries, only influenza will cause you a considerable inconvenience. No inoculations are needed to enter or leave Belgium.
Tap water is safe to drink throughout Belgium.
As one of Europe's most densely populated countries, air pollution is a major problem. This applies for both urban and rural areas.
Belgium has a modern telephone system with nationwide cellular telephone coverage, and multiple internet access points in all cities, free in most libraries. Also in multiple gas stations, NMBS/SNCB train stations and diners on the highways there is Wi-Fi available.
- Many cafés offer free Wi-Fi nowadays, but don't write it on the door for whatever reason...
- if you can't find any you can always fall back on Quick, McDonalds, Lunch Garden, Exki, Carrefour Planet or Starbucks which all offer free Wi-Fi.
Belgium has some of the slowest internet speeds in Western Europe.
Belgium uses the GSM standard of cellular phones (900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands) used in much of the world except parts of the Americas. There are three main companies (Proximus, Orange and Base, and a large number of MVNOs) offering wireless service. The country is almost totally covered.
It is no longer possible to buy anonymous prepaid SIM cards in Belgium as a result of new Belgian anti-terror legislation. Buying a SIM card in advance from Mobile Vikings now requires name and address registration. If you stay for some time, buy a pre-paid cell phone card that you can use in any phone that supports the GSM standard on the 900/1800 MHz bands. With these cards, incoming calls and SMSes are generally free. You can get SIM cards for the three main companies in dedicated phone shops.
All networks provide UMTS and HSDPA (3G) mobile internet coverage, and are rolling out a 4G network, mainly in the big cities.
Giving tips in bars or restaurants is virtually unheard of, even in larger cities. Doing so does shows that you were satisfied with the service given, but you are absolutely not obliged to do so. Depending on the total, a tip of €0.50 to €2.50 is considered generous.
Belgians in general are very proud of their comic book artists. The "Belgian school of comic books" is hailed as a national point of pride. There are dozens of beautiful yet expensive merchandise items, and the Belgians are fond of them. A plastic figurine of a comic book character or a special artwork of a hailed comic book artist would be a perfect gift for your Belgian friends and in-laws, for example.
Try to show appreciation for some of the things made in Belgium. For instance, French fries, beers, comic books, chocolate, and the like. Inquiries about them will be welcomed and appreciated by the vast majority of Belgians.
Do not speak French in Flanders or Dutch in Wallonia. Even if you're looking to practice your language skills, try not to speak the wrong language in the wrong region as it can be considered offensive. Some people won't hesitate to either dismiss you or at worst give an icy response. This doesn't apply to the German-speaking areas (as the German-speaking community is an observer in the Flanders-Wallonia dispute) and Brussels. As a tourist, it's better to communicate in English as it's considered to be the "diplomatic" language of the country.
The Flanders-Wallonia dispute and the possibility of Belgium partitioning are highly controversial, emotional issues and should be avoided. You should avoid discussing them where possible.
As with many countries in Europe, Inquiring about someone's salary or talking about your own is uncommon and in conversation is a great way to make someone feel uncomfortable. Similarly, discussing personal, political, or religious convictions are no-go areas until you're better acquainted with someone.
Do not tell the Walloons (and most of the people of Brussels) that they are French. Most Walloons, despite speaking French, are not and do not consider themselves French. And, for similar reasons, do not tell the Flemish (and also the people of Brussels) that they are Dutch. Most Flemings, despite speaking Dutch (Flemish), are not and do not consider themselves Dutch. The same applies to the 75,000 German-speaking Belgians, who have a heavy historical background with their neighbour Germany.