Belgium tourist information
Tourism in Belgium is one of Belgium's industries, and its accessibility from elsewhere in Europe still makes it a popular tourist destination. The tourist industry generates 2.8% of Belgium's Gross Domestic Product and employs 3.3% of the working population (142,000 people). 6.7 million people travelled to Belgium in 2005. Two thirds of them come from the larger nearby countries - France, The Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany.
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In 1993, 2% of the total workforce was employed in tourism, less than in many neighbouring countries. Much of the tourism industry is located either at the heavily developed coastline or in the Ardennes. Brussels and the Flemish cities of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp attract many cultural tourists.
Belgium ranked 21st on the World Economic Forum's 2007 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, lower than all the neighbouring countries. Although the country scored highly for 'natural and cultural resources', it was ranked only 114th in the world for both 'price competitiveness' and 'availability of qualified labor'. In recent years the number of international tourists has stayed relatively stable, but the income they generate has increased to 9.863 billion US Dollars in 2005.
Belgium shares borders with France (620 km), Germany (167 km), Luxembourg (148 km) and the Netherlands (450 km). Its total area, including surface water area, is 33,990 square kilometres; land area alone is 30,528 km2. It lies between latitudes 49Â° and 53Â° N, and longitudes 2Â° and 7Â° E.
Belgium has three main geographical regions: the coastal plain in the north-west and the central plateau both belong to the Anglo-Belgian Basin; the Ardennes uplands in the south-east are part of the Hercynian orogenic belt. The Paris Basin reaches a small fourth area at Belgium's southernmost tip, Belgian Lorraine.
The coastal plain consists mainly of sand dunes and polders. Further inland lies a smooth, slowly rising landscape irrigated by numerous waterways, with fertile valleys and the northeastern sandy plain of the Campine (Kempen). The thickly forested hills and plateaus of the Ardennes are more rugged and rocky with caves and small gorges. Extending westward into France, this area is eastwardly connected to the Eifel in Germany by the High Fens plateau, on which the Signal de Botrange forms the country's highest point at 694 metres (2,277 ft).
The climate is maritime temperate with significant precipitation in all seasons (KĂ¶ppen climate classification: Cfb), as is the case with all areas adjacent to the North Sea, including The Netherlands and much of the United Kingdom. The average temperature is lowest in January at 3 Â°C (37.4 Â°F) and highest in July at 18 Â°C (64.4 Â°F). The average precipitation per month varies between 54 millimetres (2.1 in) for February or April, to 78 mm (3.1 in) for July. Averages for the years 2000 to 2006 show daily temperature minimums of 7 Â°C (44.6 Â°F) and maximums of 14 Â°C (57.2 Â°F) and monthly rainfall of 74 mm (2.9 in); these are about 1 Â°C and nearly 10 millimetres above last century's normal values, respectively.
Phytogeographically, Belgium is shared between the Atlantic European and Central European provinces of the Circumboreal Region within the Boreal Kingdom. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the territory of Belgium belongs to the ecoregion of Atlantic mixed forests. Because of its high population density, its location in the centre of Western Europe and inadequate political effort, Belgium faces serious environmental problems. A 2003 report suggested Belgian natural waters (rivers and groundwater) to have the lowest water quality of the 122 countries studied. In the 2006 pilot Environmental Performance Index, Belgium scored 75.9% for overall environmental performance and was ranked lowest of the EU member countries, though it was only 39th of 133 countries.
Despite its political and linguistic divisions, the region corresponding to today's Belgium has seen the flourishing of major artistic movements that have had tremendous influence on European art and culture. Nowadays, to a certain extent, cultural life is concentrated within each language Community, and a variety of barriers have made a shared cultural sphere less pronounced. Since the 1970s, there are no bilingual universities in the country except the Royal Military Academy and the Antwerp Maritime Academy, no common media and no single large cultural or scientific organisation in which both main communities are represented. The forces that once held the Belgians togetherâ€”Roman Catholicism and economic and political opposition to the Dutchâ€”are no longer strong.
Contributions to painting and architecture have been especially rich. The Mosan art, the Early Netherlandish, the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting and major examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture are milestones in the history of art. While the 15th century's art in the Low Countries is dominated by the religious paintings of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, the 16th century is characterized by a broader panel of styles such as Peter Breughel's landscape paintings and Lambert Lombard's representation of the antique. Though the Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck flourished in the early 17th century in the Southern Netherlands, it gradually declined thereafter.
During the 19th and 20th centuries many original romantic, expressionist and surrealist Belgian painters emerged, including James Ensor and other artists belonging to the Les XX group, Constant Permeke, Paul Delvaux and RenĂ© Magritte. The avant-garde CoBrA movement appeared in the 1950s, while the sculptor Panamarenko remains a remarkable figure in contemporary art. The multidisciplinary artist Jan Fabre and the painter Luc Tuymans are other internationally renowned figures on the contemporary art scene. Belgian contributions to architecture also continued into the 19th and 20th centuries, including the work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, who were major initiators of the Art Nouveau style.
The vocal music of the Franco-Flemish School developed in the southern part of the Low Countries and was an important contribution to Renaissance culture. In the 19th and 20th centuries, there was an emergence of major violinists, such as Henri Vieuxtemps, EugĂ¨ne YsaĂże and Arthur Grumiaux, while Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1846. The composer CĂ©sar Franck was born in LiĂ¨ge in 1822. Contemporary music in Belgium is also of repute. Jazz musician Toots Thielemans and singer Jacques Brel have achieved global fame. In rock/pop music, Telex, Front 242, K's Choice, Hooverphonic, Zap Mama, Soulwax and dEUS are well known. In the heavy metal scene, bands like Machiavel, Channel Zero and Enthroned have a worldwide fan-base.
Belgium has produced several well-known authors, including the poet Emile Verhaeren and novelists Hendrik Conscience, Georges Simenon, Suzanne Lilar and AmĂ©lie Nothomb. The poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1911. The Adventures of Tintin by HergĂ© is the best known of Franco-Belgian comics, but many other major authors, including Peyo (The Smurfs), AndrĂ© Franquin (Gaston Lagaffe), Edgar P. Jacobs and Willy Vandersteen brought the Belgian cartoon strip industry a worldwide fame.
Belgian cinema has brought a number of mainly Flemish novels to life on-screen.[nb 6] Other Belgian directors include AndrĂ© Delvaux, Stijn Coninx, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne; well-known actors include Jan Decleir and Marie Gillain; and successful films include Man Bites Dog and The Alzheimer Affair. In the 1980s, Antwerp's Royal Academy of Fine Arts produced important fashion trendsetters, known as the Antwerp Six.
Many highly ranked Belgian restaurants can be found in the most influential restaurant guides, such as the Michelin Guide. Belgium is famous for beer, chocolate, waffles and french fries. Contrary to their name, french fries also originated in Belgium. The national dishes are "steak and fries with salad", and "mussels with fries".
Brands of Belgian chocolate and pralines, like CĂ´te d'Or, Guylian, Neuhaus, Leonidas, CornĂ© and Galler are famous, as well as independent producers such as Burie and Del Rey in Antwerp and Mary's in Brussels. Belgium produces over 500 varieties of beer. The Trappist beer of the Abbey of Westvleteren has repeatedly been rated the world's best beer. The biggest brewer in the world by volume is Anheuser-Busch InBev, based in Leuven.