The capital of Belgium isn't exactly the most popular capital in Europe. It's a bit gritty, the sights are rather spread out, and it takes some time to warm up to it. But it does have a rich history and plays an important role in Belgium, Europe, and the world.
Here are some interesting facts about Brussels to get you started.
29 Interesting facts about Brussels, Belgium
1. The official symbol of Brussels is a yellow iris, which is a native flower in the region. This yellow flower is depicted on the blue flag for the Brussels-Capital Region. The City of Brussels flag, however, is red and green with an image of St Michael (the Patron Saint of Brussels) slaying the devil.
2. Brussels is home to over 80 interesting museums. There are museums ranging in focus from the sewage network, to celebrity underwear, to the history of street lights – if that’s your thing!
3. The airport in Brussels is the largest sales outlet for chocolate in the world! It exports roughly 800 tonnes annually. That’s one big suitcase.
4. There are 138 restaurants per square mile in Brussels! It’s a city famous for its food, and there are around 1,800 restaurants in total. There’s even a gourmet restaurant on a tram where you can have a 6 or 7-course meal while exploring the streets of the capital. Check these places where you can have typical Belgian food.
5. Now for some climate-based facts. The people of Brussels put up with an average of 132 days of rain per year! The average temperature of the city is 10.3°C.
6. Bizarrely, one of Belgium’s most beloved statues is that of a little urinating boy (a good example of Brussels’ sense of humor!). “Manneken Pis” is a 61 cm / 24 in bronze sculpture and can be found in the heart of the city, dating back to 1618 or 1619. However, the statue is so frequently stolen or dressed up that the real one had to be replaced by a replica. You can find the original in the Museum of the City of Brussels.
7. The Royal Palace of Brussels is similar looking to the famous Buckingham Palace in London. However, did you know that it is 50% longer?
8. It’s not the only one! There are also towns called Brussels elsewhere in the world – two in America and two in Canada.
9. A whopping 27% of the population of the city is foreign, making it one of the world’s most international cities.
10. There are three official languages spoken in Brussels – French, Dutch, and a small amount of German. French is the most widely spoken in the city, being the first language of around 80% of the population.
11. The humble potato chip originated here. Now misleadingly called french fries, people first began frying potatoes in Belgium in the late 1600s. Today, there are fries on the menu at nearly all Brussels restaurants, and there’s even a fry museum! Some people (mostly students) swear by the local dish called “mitraillette” – a sandwich with fries.
12. Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels on May 4th, 1929.
13. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart (also known as the Koekelberg Basilica) in Brussels is the fifth biggest church in the world. It is also the third-largest cathedral in the country and the single biggest building of the Art Deco style in the whole world.
14. Brussels is not just the capital of Belgium, but the de facto capital of Europe too. Being the headquarters of the European Union, it houses approximately 40,000 representatives from all over the continent.
15. Brussels has a car-free Sunday once a year every September. From 9.30 am until 7 pm, the main streets of the city are closed to motorized vehicles. Pedestrians roam free and public art, pop-up shops, and many community activities take place.
16. One of the lesser-known but interesting facts about Brussels, Belgium is that the Brontë sisters came to the city to study between 1842 and 1843. Charlotte and Emily Brontë were pupils at Pensionnat Heger, a girls’ school that no longer exists but you can find a brass plaque on the former building which is now the Palais des Beaux-Arts.
17. The Grote Markt, the city’s Grand Place is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s also the best location to blend in with the Belgians and watch the world go by.
18. The City of Brussels has a LOT of people. There is currently an average of 14,200 people per square mile / 5,500 per square kilometer. The total population is around 180 thousand people and 1.2 million in the Brussels-Capital Region.
19. Let’s keep the interesting statistical facts about Brussels going, shall we! Did you know there are an almighty 874 hairdressers in the city and 647 pharmacies at the last count? It’s pretty much impossible to walk down a street in the Belgium capital without seeing at least one of these services.
20. Built in the late 19th century, the Justice Palace of Brussels (Palais de Justice) still remains the most important court building in Belgium. It’s also absolutely huge at 26,000 square meters / 280,000 square feet. When it was built, it was the largest building in the world, and today it is still one of the biggest and most impressive edifices in Europe.
21. Whatever you feel about the Brussels sprout, the people of the city of Brussels loved them back in the 16th century! There’s debate as to whether this is where they actually got their name but it’s widely accepted that they were originally grown by Belgians.
22. Brussels is a proud trader of over 800 brands of beer.
23. Over the years, the city has lured in many historic figures of renown, including Victor Hugo, Karl Marx, Paul Verlaine, Alexandre Dumas, Charles Baudelaire, Auguste Rodin, and many more.
24. The oldest shopping arcades in Europe are located in Brussels – the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. The center opened back in 1847 and was the heart of luxury and elegance, attracting all the big names of the time to its theaters, cafes, restaurants, and many shops.
25. Belgian waffles are beloved the world over. These rectangular, doughy local delicacies are everywhere in Brussels, where they originated.
26. One of the most striking buildings in Brussels is the Atomium. It was built in 1958 for the World Expo and it is shaped to look like a cell of an iron crystal magnified by 165 billion.
27. Brussels was founded in 979 AD, but facts suggest that people have settled on this spot since around 580 AD.
28. As well as the European Union, Brussels is home to the headquarters of several different worldwide organizations, like NATO. Because of this, there are more journalists and ambassadors in Brussels than in Washington D.C!
29. If you’re interested in facts about dinosaurs – you need to come to Brussels. The Museum of Natural Sciences houses Europe’s largest hall dedicated to dinosaurs, with over 37 million species in its collection.
Want to plan a trip to the capital now? Find out where to stay in Brussels depending on your interests.
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