Brugge photo
View of Brugge

Belgium, a country of less than twelve thousand square miles, is a small country with big cultural appeal; in fact, Belgium is a nation of multiple cultures and has been for ages, not only in this modern era of globalisation. Flemish (a form of the Dutch language), French and even German are spoken in this mini melting pot of European cultures that converge in this charming coastal nation. The following article discusses the many facets of Belgium for would-be travellers who plan to visit a nation of great interest and beauty.

Belgium is made up of regions and each one is culturally quite singular. The country borders the North Sea to the east, France to the south, Luxembourg and Germany to the east and the Netherlands to the north. These bordering influences have had a great impact on Belgium historically giving way to the country's nickname as the "crossroads of Europe." The area that borders the sea is known as the lowlands region. As early as the eighth century, Belgians built canals near the coast to drain the seawater using windmills for which the Dutch are so famously known for. Many visitors come to the Belgian coast to enjoy swimming at the popular beaches.

Belgian flag Capital: Brussels
Languages: Flemish, Dutch, French, German
Time: GMT +1 hr
Currency: euro (EUR)

The western region of the country is known as Flanders and Flemish is spoken here with great pride. Flemish speaking peoples once fought in the streets to keep the rights to speak their language. The eastern half of the country is known as Wallonia; most people speak French here. As travellers leave the coast and move through Flanders they will come to the Central Plateau where Brussels, the capital of Belgium sits. This area is famous for its rich farmland. Travellers will want to add the following important cities to their Belgian itinerary: Charleroi, Liege, and Namur; these are situated near the picturesque Meuse River. Of course, before leaving the lowland region, be sure to visit Antwerp that sits on the Schelde River; this busy port is a leading diamond-trade centre.

Bruges canal photo
A canal in Bruges

A visit to Belgium should invariably include the historic city of Bruges, the capital of West Flanders. The old section of this popular Belgian city includes medieval architecture and canals that are of great interest to many travellers. Ghent is the capital of East Flanders and is historically famous for its textile industries. Belgium lace is considered renowned the world over. Liege, which is in Wallonia, is famous for its eleventh century churches.

This hilly, forested and least-populated part of Belgium is known as the Ardennes. There are many German-speaking peoples in this area which is famous for its sports and lovely scenery. The popular tourist town of Spa is known the world over for its mineral waters and mud baths; even the ancient Romans are known to have benefited from the healing waters of this area. Travellers to Belgium may also wish to plan stops in the lovely villages of Arlon and Durbuy in the Ardennes region.

Finally, many visitors come to Belgium to revisit its infamous battlefields of the World War I. In 1914, Germany invaded Belgium despite its neutrality and some of the fiercest battles were fought on its soil. The city of Ypres was essentially levelled, and much of Flanders witnessed the horrors of that war. Nearly 80,000 Belgians were killed. Out of remembrance for the British, French and Americans killed there, many monuments to those who fought bravely for Belgium can be found in the fields there.

Consequently, many who visit Belgium will find many historic sites of interest. The cities retain much of this old-world charm despite much modernisation. When visiting the country, be prepared for great beer and pastries as well as a people who are intensely proud of their great nation.