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Climate and Weather

Belgium - Climate and Weather

Belgium is a small, densely populated country located in North West Europe. Its population of 11 million people live within a land mass of 30,528 square kilometres (11,787 square miles), which is roughly equivalent to the land mass of the US State of Maine (population 1.33 million people) or 13% of the UK. It is divided into three regions and ten provinces.

It is a legal requirement that every individual carries identity documentation with them at all times.

The capital of Belgium is the City of Brussels. The Brussels-Capital region encapsulates 19 authorities including the City of Brussels, and is what is usually meant when the term Brussels is used. The Brussels-Capital region is home to more than a million residents. Other major cities in Belgium include Antwerp, Ghent and Bruges.

Belgium’s location with France to the South, Germany to the East, Luxembourg to the Southeast and the Netherlands to the North led to its capital city, Brussels, becoming the de facto head of the European Union (EU). The EU does not have an official capital, but the European Quarter of Brussels hosts the official seats of the European Commission, Council of the European Union and European Council. Parliamentary Committees and Political Group meetings for the European Parliament are held in Brussels.

However, not all EU business takes place in Belgium. Many of the administrative staff of the EU institutions are based in Luxembourg along with some of the European Institutions. The French city of Strasbourg is legally required to host the European Parliament for twelve sessions each year, with each session lasting approximately four days; the monthly move of several thousand MEPs, officials and translators plus thousands of trunks of official paperwork controversially costs £150 million each year.

The maritime temperate climate in Belgium is similar to that in England, with four distinct seasons, mild winters, cool summers and plenty of rain throughout the year. Mornings will usually be colder than later in the day. As with many other Northern European countries, it is difficult to predict when spring and summer weather will appear, and the weather one week can give no prediction of weather for the following week. Easter can bring sun and heatwaves, but can also bring cold windy weather. Even the long summer days, usually a pleasant 25-30°C (77-86°F) with daylight ending about 10.30pm, often bring rain showers. April and May are the driest months of the year, July and December are the rainiest months of the year; overall Belgium has 750mm to 1000mm of annual rainfall which is more than the UK. The winters will vary in temperature; they may fall as low as -5°C (23°F) in some far inland rural areas, but Brussels rarely sees temperatures of less than 1°C (33°F). With such mild winters, snow may appear briefly but it does not arrive every winter nor does it last more than a few days.

Because of the country’s small land mass, the climate across Belgium is fairly similar without huge regional variations. However, there are some differences determined by the altitude and the distance from the sea. The Ardennes region is the coldest and wettest in the country, because it is at the highest altitude and is furthest inland, so is most affected by the continental climate. At the coast, the climate is slightly warmer and drier, with a more consistent temperature level.

Given the variation of weather, it is best to have a wardrobe based on layers. T-shirts, long sleeved shirts and a light jumper with long sleeved trousers will be sufficient for most of the year. Once the hot weather arrives sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen will be essential.

Protection from the rain is necessary so an umbrella is useful throughout the year. A light raincoat with a hood will be useful, with a heavier coat needed from late October to the beginning of March, during which time a scarf and gloves should also be kept handy. In particularly cold weather a warm hat will be appreciated, as will a thicker pair of socks.

For general walking around town a pair of comfortable shoes with a good grip will be useful, especially if visiting a cobbled street in a historic area. In the coldest weather a pair of walking boots with good grip will prevent falls on small patches of ice; Wellington boots are not warm enough and do not usually have a strong enough grip for walking on streets. However, at work or at a restaurant a smart pair of shoes would normally be worn.

At work, many men wear a jacket rather than a suit. Some companies will have a more relaxed dress culture which means jeans may be acceptable. Many women wear trouser suits.

It is illegal for anyone, including temporary residents and visitors, to wear clothing that hides the face largely or completely in public places. This includes, but is not restricted to, parks, public transport, and on the street. The law makes no exceptions for religious headwear which covers the face, such as burka and the nikab. The penalty for ignoring this law is a fine of €137.50 and / or detention for up to seven days.

Belgium is a relatively classless society in comparison to many other countries so whilst clothing should be clean, comfortable and suit your body shape it is not important to meet a social group’s set style. Clothing, if still clean in appearance and fresh in smell, will often be worn two days in a row. Clothing items and shoes are not purchased in great quantity to be easily disposable. Black is a very popular colour to wear. For those looking for designer labels, Antwerp in particular is known for its collection of avant garde designer clothes shops all within easy walking distance of each other.

In swimming pools, bikinis are usually acceptable, as are swimming costumes. For men, any shorts that are designed for swimming are usually acceptable. However, some locations are unhappy with baggy shorts, so it is worth checking with the facility about their rules.

On the beach any form of swimwear is acceptable, although all private areas of the body should be covered. Naturists can visit the beach at Bredene or one of the seven naturist campsites in Belgium.

If you arrive in Belgium without the correct clothing, most cities will have a good range of clothing shops. However, by law shops are only allowed to have sales twice a year, in January and July. This protects smaller clothing businesses, but does mean you can expect to pay full price outside of the sales period which is known as “soldes periode”.

Belgium does not often experience severe weather episodes, although it is subject to frequent storms and gales which cause minor damage and inconvenience. The key risk to life and property by weather or environmental incident is flooding, so the national and regional government organisations in Belgium invest significant resources in flood defence and response networks. There are large low lying areas near the coast and several major rivers running through the Belgian landscape. These include the Scheldt, the largest river in Belgium which enters near Tournai and meets the sea in Antwerp; and the Sambre and Meuse in the north of the country. In June 2016 several days of heavy rain across Europe caused severe flooding and led to the loss of three lives in Belgium. A similar death toll had been experienced previously during Belgium’s 2010 floods, following a month’s rainfall in two days, which at the time officials described as the ‘worst flooding for 50 years’. Climate change experts warn that these catastrophic events are likely to become more frequent.

Belgium has suffered more than a thousand small earthquakes since the 1980s, and once every few years a handful of residents feel the ground move from earthquakes whose epicentre are hundreds of miles away such as in the UK. However, no large scale damage has ever been recorded and no associated deaths have been identified, so earthquake events are of interest rather than concern.

The residents of Belgium make heavy use of their cars. A mix of tax incentives which encourages company car uptake, a desire to live the suburban dream surrounded by family and friends, and a lack of efficient transport to commute suburban workers to and from the city centre, cheap city centre parking, along with road systems which force drivers to enter city and towns throughout their journey, means Belgian drivers sit in traffic jams that make Brussels and Antwerp the most congested roads in Europe and North America. More worryingly, despite many safety measures and road safety campaigns which have led to reduced numbers of deaths from car accidents, the death rate is still well above many other western European levels. Pedestrians and motorcyclists have been identified as the most vulnerable group. Anyone visiting and living in Belgium should be aware that jaywalking is illegal and if seen may result in police questioning, so always cross at a pedestrian crossing when the pedestrian lights flash green.

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