Canals flow through many parts of Belgium, such as this canal in the town of Ghent.
Photograph by Kotomiti_okuma, Dreamstime
Small towns with dominant castles are a common sight in Belgium, such as this castle in Antwerp.
Photograph by Mira Agron, Dreamstime
Belgian chocolate is known around the world and is one of the country's primary food exports.
Photograph by Alexsalcedo, Dreamstime
The Grand Palace is a square in the center of Brussels, the capital of Belgium, surrounded by buildings that date mainly from the 17th century.
Photograph by Horia Vlad Bogdan, Dreamstime
Belgium consists primarily of low-lying lands.
Photograph by Richard Semik, Dreamstime
Map of Belgium
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAPS
OFFICIAL NAME: Kingdom of Belgium
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Federal parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy
OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: Dutch, French, and German
AREA: 11,787 square miles (30,528 square kilometers)
Map of Belgium
Belgium primarily lies close to sea level, though the country does reach 2,277 feet (694 metres) at a point known as Botrange, which lies within the Ardennes plateau.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Belgium is one of the most heavily populated countries in Europe and most people live in urban areas.
Belgium is divided into three communities based on language: In the north are the Flemings, who speak Flemish (Dutch), in the south are the Walloons, who speak French, and in the city of Liège there is a small German-speaking population.
Different communities in Belgium have different customs. The typical Flemish greeting involves a quick handshake, whereas Walloons greet with a light kiss on the cheek. Walloons also tend to eat their dinner later in the evening than the Flemish. However, talking while chewing gum or while keeping hands in one's pockets are considered rude across communities.
Art, music, and architecture play a big role in Belgian life and history. The comic strip is highly regarded, with "Tintin" and "The Smurfs" both originating in the country. Sports are also popular in Belgium, with soccer being the most-played sport.
Waffles, moules frites (mussles served with french fries), and chocolate are three of the most popular Belgian foods.
While most of Belgium was covered by deciduous forest 2,000 years ago, human activity has reduced both plant and animal life in the region.
Today, the most common tree is oak and most animals can be found in the Ardennes, which consists of a mix of deciduous and coniferous forest. Animals commonly found in the Ardennes include wild boars, deer, wildcats, and pheasants.
Elsewhere in Belgium, several bird species can be found, such as sandpipers and snipes, along with muskrats and hamsters.
Photograph by Scanrail, Dreamstime
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
A constitutional monarchy, the government in Belgium is led by a prime minister who is appointed by a monarch and approved by a parliament. All citizens over age 18 must vote in national elections that occur at least once every four years, casting votes among a number of parties divided by French and Flemish.
Belgium is one of the most industrialized countries in Europe, with industries including metal manufacturing, food production, and construction.
The capital city, Brussels, is considered a center of the world economy and diplomacy, with headquarters of the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and other organizations located in the city.
Belgium declared its independence from the Netherlands in 1830. Germany occupied Belgium early in World War I. After five years, the Treaty of Versailles brought independence back to Belgium. However, Germany would occupy the region once again during World War II. Germany was driven from Belgium with the help of American and British forces.
In 1958, Belgium formed an economic agreement, known as the Benelux Economic Union, with neighboring Netherlands and Luxembourg to promote free trade in the region. In 1993, Belgium's constitution was rewritten to officially recognize the country's three administrative regions of Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels.