Monday, February 25, 2008
By Richard Monk
Located on the European mainland, Belgium often is short-shifted in discussions of Europe. Following is an overview of Belgium for travelers.
An Overview of Belgium for Travelers
Belgium is located on the coast of the North Sea between Holland, German and France. The name comes from the Belgae, a celtic tribe.
Belgium’s geographic location places it at the crossroads of much of Europe, particular in relation to the United Kingdom and mainland Europe. As a result, the country has been heavily influenced by the powers that be in Europe during certain periods of times. You can find aspects of Romans, Celtics, Germanic, French and Spanish influences.
Ruled by various European empires, the cities of Bruges, Brussels and Antwerp were major commercial trading posts. They also produced some of the more spectacular artists in Europe, including Eyck and Rubens.
In modern times, the country is really three separate states with significant autonomy. The country is divided up into Flemish, Walloon and a smaller Germanic area. The Flemish are Dutch speaking while the Walloon are oriented to French. The divisions between these areas are significant and they have significant autonomy from the federal government. One might argue they are countries unto themselves.
The official name of Belgium is the Kingdom of Belgium. The country is located in Western Europe and covers approximately 12,566 square miles. Brussels is the capital of the country and has a population of approximately 922,000 people. The second largest city is Antwerp with 452,000 residents.
The people of Belgium are known as Belgians. Total population for the country is 10.4 million with a paltry annual growth rate of less than one half of one percent. The country is divided into three linguistic regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels. French is the dominant language in Wallonia, Dutch in Flanders and German in the Brussels area. Most people of Belgium claim Roman Catholic as their faith, but Protestant, Jewish, Muslim and Anglican communities exist. The literacy rate is 95 percent.
Belgium is an odd hodgepodge of influences. That being said, everyone seems to get along in these modern times and Brussels is a major financial center in the Europe.
Richard Monk is with FactsMonk.com - a site with facts about everything. Visit us to read more about country facts and Belgium facts.
Belgium chocolates and Belgium waffles have made this small European country famous around the world. But Belgium offers more than just sweets and breakfast items. In fact, Belgium is known for hosting more street and music festivals than any other country in Europe. After all, this is where the Saxophone was invented, by Adolph Sax, in 1846. Belgium's historical sites, small towns, and peaceful countryside make it an excellent destination for inquisitive travelers.
Belgium is both multicultural and multilingual. Flanders, in the north, is a land surrounded by canals that hosts medieval art cities such as Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent. Wallonia, in the south, leads you to the hills of the Ardennes, countless castles, and the cities of Liege, Namur, and Tournai. Brussels, the capital, is one of the world's great cosmopolitan cities, home to the European Union, NATO and the Atomium monument. All these cities and regions are connected through a train network that makes it easy and simple to hop on and hop off at your desired destination.
What to do?
Christmas in Belgium, with Christmas markets in Brussels, Bruges, Liege, Antwerp and in other cities, is really an experience you cannot miss. Every winter, Brussels features a magical decor, superb Christmas market, illuminated Big Wheel, roundabouts, street activities, music and the famous skating rink. Winter in Bruges is a month long celebration of the holidays with carillons concerts, Christmas markets and processions making it an original Christmas wonderland.
Looking for something to do during your vacations? Belgium has become the hot destination in Europe for the 20-30 something set. Students and young travelers are gathering at cities like Brussels, Antwerp, Leuven and Namur for stylish shopping, inexpensive hotels, great food, and a pulsating nightlife.
Looking for rest and relaxation? Belgium offers you the original Spa. Located in the middle of the Ardennes and surrounded by forests and rivers, the city of Spa is famous for the mineral springs that initiated the hydro-therapy industry centuries ago. In addition, Belgium offers 67 km of coastline along the North Sea in the Flanders region where you will find beautiful beaches such as De Panne, Ostend, De Haan and Knokke-Heist.
Where to eat?
Trendy cafes throughout Belgium are crowded with students and young professionals. In most places you will find Brussels legendary "frietkots" where they serve Belgian fries for those who want to hang out after the restaurants close. For those blessed with a sweet tooth, Belgium can be paradise offering exquisite chocolates, pralines, and waffles. For more information, here is a complete list of restaurants.
Visas & Documents
Visas for stays of no more than 3 months are required by all except EU/EEA nationals and citizens from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, United States, United Kingdom and other countries. A uniform type of visa, the Schengen visa, is issued for tourist, business and private visits. All visas cost either US$44 (short stay; up to 90 days) or US$64 (long stay). For more information, contact the Belgium embassy or consulate in your country.
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Denisse has worked with international students and scholars at universities in different countries and in different departments ranging from international relations in Ecuador to graduate admissions in the United States. Currently, Denisse operates MacQuil.com and works for an international organization in Washington, DC. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of New Orleans and a Master of Science from the George Washington University.