Belgian National Day is celebrated on 21 July each year, commemorating an event on 21 July 1831 in which Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg swore allegiance to the new Belgian Constitution, thus becoming the first King of the Belgians. The king’s vow marked the start of the independent state of Belgium under a constitutional monarchy and parliament.
The day typically starts with a Catholic Te Deum service in Cathedral of Brussels attended by the King and other dignitaries. In the afternoon, there is Belgian army march-past at the Royal Palace and around the Parc de Bruxelles. There is also a flypast by the airforce.
Many notable buildings in Brussels that are usually closed are also open to the public on National Day. A variety of entertainment is presented in several venues around the city, particularly in the city center. In the evening, a large fireworks display occurs in the Parc de Bruxelles. Smaller events occur in towns and cities across Belgium.
On National Day 2013, King Albert II officially resigned his position as King of the Belgians on health grounds and his son, Philippe, ascended to the throne.
Respect for the monarchy is one of the few factors that crosses the communal divide in Belgium, and King Albert exercised his constitutional authority in advising political leaders on the formation of a government during the 2010-2011 parliamentary stalemate.
Despite its small size as a country, Belgium has been a major European battleground over the centuries, ending to host the headquarters of the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato). Brussels thus turned into the polyglot home of an army of international diplomats and civil servants.
Economically speaking, Belgium’s strongly globalized economy and its transport infrastructure are integrated with the rest of Europe. Its location at the heart of a highly industrialized region helped make it the world’s 15th largest trading nation in 2007.. The economy is characterized by a highly productive work force, high GNP and high exports per capita. Belgium’s main imports are raw materials, machinery and equipment, chemicals, raw diamonds, pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, transportation equipment, and oil products. Its main exports are machinery and equipment, chemicals, finished diamonds, metals and metal products, and foodstuffs.
Straddling the cultural boundary between Germanic and Latina Europe, Belgium is home to two main linguistic groups: the Dutch-speaking, mostly Flemish community, which constitutes about 59% of the population, and the French-speaking, mostly Walloon population, which comprises 41% of all Belgians. Additionally, there is a small group of German-speakers who are officially recognized.
Overall, Belgium comes to the front as a country where people live well, where everything is still and furnished. There are strong social support systems, liberal attitudes, imaginative museums, a vibrant theatrical and artistic life and fabulous food.
Belgium’s national pride portfolio includes state-of-the-art galleries in Mond and Leuven, the superb new Hergé museum at Louvain-laNeuve, and the Magritte Museum and subterranean Coudenberg experience in Brussels. Then there’s the incredibly ambitious Grand Curtius in Liege, which is also where one of Europe’s most extraordinary 21st-century architectural talking points, Liege-Guillemins station, opened in 2009.
Many highly ranked Belgian restaurants can be found in the most influential restaurant guides, such as the Michelin Guide. Belgium is famous for beer, chocolate (pralines), waffles and French fries with mayonnaise, as contrary to their name, french fries are claimed to have originated in Belgium.
Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate per year. That’s about 22kg of chocolate per person in Belgium. Apparently, The Brussels’ International Airport is the World’s biggest chocolate selling point.
Moreover, in Belgium there are over 1,100 types of beer, with the Trappist beer of the Abbey of Westvleteren being repeatedly rated as the best beer in the world. Although the exact number is disputed, Belgium makes over 800 different beers, while Belgians drink an average of 150 liters of beer per year per person.
Did you know that?
- In 1066, Huy in Belgium became the first European city to receive a charter of rights, making it the oldest free city on the continent.
- Brussels sprouts really do come from Belgium and have grown in the Brussels area for over 400 years.
- Belgium has one of the lowest proportions of McDonald’s in the developed world. It has 7 times fewer McDonald’s restaurants than the USA and 2 times less than France.
- Belgians tend to be liberal thinkers. They legalized euthanasia in 2002, and gay marriage in 2003.
- Belgium has compulsory education up to 18 years old. This is one of the highest in the world.
- Belgium also has enforced compulsory voting.
- Belgium is the country with the highest proportion of female ministers in the world (55% in 2000) and one of the earliest to have a female parliamentarian (in 1921).
- Belgians pay some of the highest tax rates in the world, around 40% of their gross earnings. Taxation represents 45.6 % of the country’s GDP.
- Belgium grants the most new citizenships per capita in the world after Canada. 1.6 million people in Belgium are immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants. That’s 15% of the population.
- Belgium has the highest density of roads and railroads in the world. It is the country with the 3rd most vehicles per square kilometer after the Netherlands and Japan. Because of the quantity of lights, the Belgian highway system is the only man-made structure visible from the moon at night.
- The longest tramway line in the world is the Belgian coast tram (68 km), which operates between De Panne and Knokke-Heist, from the French border to the Dutch border.
- Spa in Belgium is home to Europe’s first modern health resort, opened in the 18th century and Europe’s first casino “la Redoute”, opened in 1763.
- Belgium is also home to Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, the Galeries St Hubert in Brussels, opened in 1847.
- Belgium was the scene of Napoleon’s final defeat, at Waterloo, south of Brussels.
- The Law Courts of Brussels is the largest court of justice in the world (26,000 m² at ground level). It is bigger than Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
- Nemo33 in Brussels, is the world’s deepest swimming pool, reaching 35 metres in depth. It is a practice ground for scuba divers.
- Most people have heard of the comic strip Tintin, but did you know that in 70 years of existence, 200 million books of “The Adventures of Tintin” have been sold worldwide. Belgium also has more comic makers per square km than any other country in the world, even Japan. French-speaking Belgium is actually the world’s biggest producer of comics per capita;
- The saxophone was invented in Belgium, in the early 1840’s by Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), in the city of Dinant.
- The Body Mass Index was developed by the Belgian Adolphe Quetelet, and is still used today to determine a person’s ideal weight.
- 80% of billiard players use Belgian-made balls.
- Brussels was a famous hideout for Europeans in Exile. Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto with Friedrich Engles between 1845 and 1848. Victor Hugo was also exiled here and completed Les Miserables while visiting Waterloo in 1861.
- Bars never have to close in Belgium, as the does not have a legally mandated bar time (aka last call).
- Brussels’ Royal Palace is bigger than Buckingham Palace
- A Belgian founded the Holy Roman Empire and it is also a Belgian who founded New York City
- The first printed newspapers in the world was published in Antwerp, Belgium.
- Belgium became the world’s first country to ban cluster bombs, and second to ban forced marriages in 2006.
- Belgium was the world’s first country, along with Italy, to introduce electronic ID cards in March 2003. It will also be the first European country to issue e-ID’s to the entire population.