Highlights of Belgium

A relatively small, densely populated country of modern cities, historic towns, bustling ports, seaside resorts and varied countryside, Belgium is bordered by the larger Western European countries of France, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the smaller country of Luxembourg.

In the north of Belgium, the province of Flanders has a flat landscape, similar to the Netherlands and the north of France. The busy ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge are located on the North Sea coastline, as well as a number of seaside resorts, including the town of De Panne.

Sometimes known as the Venice of the North, Bruges, also in Flanders, is an extremely beautiful town dominated by canals. Here you can admire the medieval architecture from a canal boat or a horse-drawn carriage, or simply by walking through the cobbled streets.

The port of Antwerp is the largest city in Flanders. Its diamond quarter, near the central station, has been the center of the European diamond trade for centuries. Antwerp’s historic area, which includes many buildings and statues dating from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is at the heart of its modern city center.

The oldest town in Belgium can also be found in Flanders. Tongeren was set up by the Romans in 15 BC and excavations dating from this period are on view today.

In the center of the country is the Brussels Capital Region. As the headquarters of the European Union and NATO, Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a very cosmopolitan city. At the heart of Brussels is the Main Square (Grand Place) edged with historic buildings.

The French-speaking region of Wallonia is in the south of the country. It has an undulating landscape, culminating in the picturesque Ardennes region of forested hills topped with castles. In the Ardennes, you can relax and enjoy spa treatments or explore the beautiful countryside by foot, bicycle or car.

Memorials and museums commemorating those who fought on the Belgian battlefields of World War I are found in and around the town of Ieper (Ypres). The battles of World War II on Belgian soil are also remembered, mainly in the Ardennes region, while there is a memorial to the Battle of Waterloo in the town of Waterloo.

Belgium has three official languages that are each spoken in different parts of the country. Flemish, a version of Dutch, is the most widespread language, spoken in the northern region of Flanders. French is the language of Wallonia, while German is spoken in a small area close to the German border. In the center of the country, both Flemish and French are the languages of the bilingual Brussels region, where English is also often heard, since Brussels is home to many expatriates from all over the world.

Belgium is easily accessible by road, rail and air. It has a well-developed road network connecting with the roads of the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and France. Its train services are fast and efficient and no part of the country is more than a few hours’ distance away. International train services link Brussels with Paris, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Cologne and London. Brussels Airport is the main international airport in the country and has a fast train connection with the center of the city. There are also smaller airports in Antwerp, Ostend and Liège.

When traveling in Belgium, bear in mind that many places have both a Flemish and a French name. In the Flemish-speaking part of the country, signposts show place names in Flemish only, while those in the French-speaking area are exclusively in French. This can sometimes be confusing, especially if the place name is quite different in the two languages. For example, it is not immediately obvious that Mons (French) and Bergen (Flemish) are the same place or that the French-speaking city of Liège is referred to as Luik in Flanders.

To add to the confusion, the English place names are also different in a few cases. For example, Antwerp is Antwerpen in Flemish and Anvers in French. Similarly, Brussels translates to Brussel in Flemish and Bruxelles in French.

If you manage to navigate your way through the linguistic diversity of Belgium, you will discover the beauty of this historic country and find out that it offers much more than just a convenient connection between several European countries.

author: Rosalind Andrews

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