Rivers are a fundamental part of our landscapes. They offer space and beauty in busy cities. They create unique habitats for wildlife. They offer hiking trails and scenic spots of natural beauty. A small but significant part of traveling can be witnessing these normalized natural features. In Europe, there are many rivers to discover.
Many rivers travel through the epic landscapes of Russia. Although some of the most famous and popular rivers are in Western Europe, many ask, what is the longest river in Eastern Europe? With the more underrated tourist attractions and cities of the east, traversing these great waterways can be a grander and more unique experience.
So we have created an extensive guide to rivers in Europe, all leading to the answer of one simple question…
What is the longest river in Europe?
As well as answering this question, we can advise you how to explore, enjoy and experience the most beautiful rivers of Europe. What they offer, the cruises you can take, sights to see, and the events, festivals and pathways that happen on their banks. You might be surprised at the impact they make on the culture of European cities and the continent as a whole.
We start with number 20 and count down through some of the most stunning natural features of Europe. Read ahead to find out more!
The 20th longest river in Europe is the Donets. As one of the most picturesque rivers in Europe, its banks are popular with hikers, campers and cyclists. It is also popular for kayakers and rafters, who enjoy the wild waters of the Donets. It gets very busy in high tourist season, as the river is accessible to beginners. Many travelers are drawn to the waters due to its beautiful scenery. Sandy beaches line clean, fresh waters, and numerous spas and health resorts provide relaxing breaks on its banks.
There are many natural landmarks throughout The Donets’ 1,503 kilometres. The National Park of Holy Mountains is one of the most stunning attractions of the Ukraine, highlighted by the beauty of the river that flows through the area.
It is the fourth longest river in the country. If you sit on the banks of the Donets in the town of Donetske, you can even see ships traversing up the water. The depth and width of the river are enough to withstand such heavy and impressive boats. Keep an eye out for the wonderful local wildlife – marmots, European otters and weasels as well as numerous birds including golden eagles and ospreys.
The 1,072 kilometres of the River Aras travels through Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Iran. It passes through some dramatic and dry landscapes. Such extreme scenery is uniquely beautiful, making this river one of the most distinguishable and interesting in Europe.
One of the most prominent rivers in the Caucasus, there are numerous landmarks along its banks. From historic monasteries to famous lakes, the Aras is a significant symbol of local history. There are some amazing natural parks, mountain ranges and wildlife scenes along the way. Aras Dam is a particularly popular sport, especially with fishermen. Home to various species including Silver Carp and Erupian Catfish, anglers gather at the dam for some big catches.
You can tour down the river at various points, to enjoy the 19th largest river in Europe. Travelling through the sharp, red-rocked valleys is an exceptional experience. The dusty landscape is a beautiful insight into the unique nature of Eastern Europe.
On its journey to the North Sea, the River Elbe passes through the Czech Republic and Germany. It is a popular travel route as tourists enjoy the natural scenery and untouched landscape of its course. As well as a tourist landmark, the river is a historical feature of Europe and has played a large role in the past of the continent.
Travelers can enjoy various river cruises on the Elbe. Passing the Giant Mountains on the Czech Republic border, through the natural scenery of Bohemia and onto the ocean landscape of Cuxhaven, the route is beautiful. Enjoying the view from the comfort of a luxury boat is appealing to many tourists.
At 1,165 kilometres long, it is also a historical backbone of Europe. Major cities including Hamburg and Berlin have used canals to access the waterway. The river became a source of trade transportation between cities. Both an aesthetic and important nature feature, the River Elbe is not the longest but is one of the most significant rivers in Europe.
Another Russian waterway, the River Vychegda stretches 1,100 kilometres from the Ural Mountains. Flowing westwards through the country, it passes historic settlements along the way. The capital of the Komi Republic is on its banks, called Syktyvkar. This city is a cultural hub of the region. It is also an industrial centre, using the river as a major transport system for timber.
From its source in the beautiful mountains through urban centres of western Russia, the river encompasses the local culture and national history of the country. Settlements rose on the banks of the Vychegda in the 14th Century and have developed over time in major town and cities. The wealth of the area came from the salt and fur industries, which used the river as transport. Salt lakes and springs surround the river basin and create stunning natural features, as well as a rich trading product.
Vychegda is one of the backbones of Western Russia, and one of the many beautiful and important natural features of Eastern Europe.
Travelling through Russia and the Ukraine at a length of 1,130 kilometres, the 16th longest waterway in Europe is the Desna River. Before connecting to the longer Dnieper River, it is its own pathway through Eastern Europe, contributing to the culture, landscape and wildlife of its massive basin. A wide and deep river, it dominates the local scenery.
Travelers can seek adventures on the Desna waters, with many opportunities to go kayaking and rafting. Wading up the river as the sun sets over the wild banks gives a special experience of Russian nature. You can find many beautiful moments along the banks. Its frozen waters in the winter are particularly picturesque.
Various major cities lie on the river, full of quintessential culture and experiences. The Russian city of Bryansk is host to classic red churches, historic city walls and other bold examples of national architecture. With many temples, monasteries and cathedrals, you can learn the religious history of the area. Alternatively, numerous museums teach about the local history. All centred on the Desna River that flows through the city.
Let’s start with one of the most well-known European rivers, the Rhine. Famous for its Alpine scenery, cultural significance, diverse landscape, and exceptional river cruises, it is an iconic feature of the continent.
With so many historic cities on its banks, travelers down the Rhine can enjoy a diverse taste of Europe while basking in luxury. River cruises offer fine dining, drinks on scenic decks and numerous relaxation activities. All while slowly drifting through some of the most beautiful nature Europe has to offer. Along the way, you can hop off and explore amazing cities like Rotterdam, Cologne, and Strasburg. Not to mention the sleepy, picturesque towns scattered in-between.
Some stops along the Rhine are truly unmissable. The epic, cultural and beautiful city of Cologne is one of them. Dominated by a gothic masterpiece, the city’s Cathedral is a dramatically impressive piece of architecture. With 533 stone steps to the top, you get incredible views over the whole city. Beer gardens, artistic hubs and European market squares all make up Cologne, as a quintessential German destination.
Lesser known places include Osterspai, Sankt Goarshausen, and Lorch. All of which offer their own unique charm. Osterspai’s hidden baroque churches, the open air theatre of Sankt Goarshausen and Lorch’s medieval narrow lanes all contribute to the subtle local atmosphere of the Rhine.
But its nature is what makes the Rhine spectacular. From its source in the heart of the Swiss Alps, it powers through the landscape past famous vineyards and inspired forests, influencing the culture and history of everywhere it passes. Fairy-tale stories base themselves on its mysterious waters. Local legends depend upon its beauty. Industrial history surrounds its transport abilities. People have followed its banks for thousands of years, developing cities and countries around this natural backbone feature of Europe.
The Elbe River is the central attraction of Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg. It dominates the city, with its busy boating patterns, bankside energy, and beautiful sunset waters. The river continues through the north of Germany. Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, the river acted as a division of East and West Germany. It continues on to the city of Dresden. An architecturally wonderful and historic city, it was almost destroyed in the war yet remains as a significant artistic, cultural hub of Germany.
River cruises take place along the charming waters. From Berlin to Prague, tourists can see the unique journey through these beautiful countries. You can enjoy the best of European cuisine from balconied cabins. Sip cocktails on the deck, or take an excursion into one of the many cute towns along the way. Truly, a cruise along the Elbe-Vltava is one of the most exceptional in Europe.
Flowing between the Czech Republic and Germany, it covers a length of 1,165 kilometers. It is the 14th longest river on the continent. With its beautiful natural features and scattering of important cultural hubs, it is one of the most favored rivers in Europe.
Another Russian river is the 13th longest in Europe, called the Vyatka River. Although it might not be the most beautiful, it is one of the most impressive. Incredibly vast plains, mysterious grey waters and dramatic old bridges. This often-barren landscape might not be visually engaging, but its land is full of rich soil perfect for the timber industry, which thrives throughout the valley.
Kirov, the capital of the district, is a traditional Russian city. The red, domed architecture is quintessential. And the often snow-packed streets make for postcard-perfect scenes. All sits upon the central Vyatka River, drawing locals to its banks as a social center. Anglers also gather, to catch the pike and perch that inhabit its waters.
With a length of 1,314 kilometers, its northern sections often freeze in the winter. Traversing a wild and diverse area of Russia, the river is a strong and sturdy landmark of the country.
We start with the Dniester River. It runs through eastern Europe, beginning and ending in the Ukraine. At a length of 1,362 kilometers, it is the 10th largest river on the continent. Some of the most beautiful areas of the country are found along this river. The Dniester Canyon is a national park surrounding it, and a wonderful place to experience the Ukrainian wilderness. Made up of steep forested slopes, scattered with waterfalls, hidden caves, and rare rock formations, it is a waterside paradise.
Be sure to check out the skydiving opportunities! It’s a popular destination for those wanting a truly unique perspective of the Dniester River. The canyon even hosts national and international skydiving competitions every year.
Next up is Russia’s Belaya River – the 11th longest in Europe. It starts to flow in the Ural Mountains and travels 1,430 kilometers to the Kama River by Neftekamsk. Traveling north to south through the country, it goes through many towns on its route. One is Birsk, a small town in the southwest. Another is Beloretsk, an old industrial iron town. Another city and the most significant is Ufa.
A major city of western Russia, it celebrates the Belaya River by building gardens and the park surrounding it. Ufa is possibly the best place in which to appreciate the river in all its glory. Whether by taking a boat ride on its waters, sipping coffee in a waterside café, or relaxing on its grassy banks, it’s easy to appreciate the beauty of the Belaya River in the city of Ufa.
Also flowing throughout Russia is the 10th largest in Europe – the Oka River. From source to mouth it stretches over 1,500 kilometers. Its banks are full of landmarks. The Oka River passes monasteries and mosques, ancient kremlins and old ruins. If you were to travel down this river, you would get good, rounded concept of Russian culture. One particularly enticing feature on the river is the Shukhov Tower – a unique 25-metre high transmission tower.
The Oka River acts as a striking feature of various Russian towns and cities. One of its tributaries, Moskva, runs through the capital city of Moscow. And it is itself a tributary of the longest river in Europe…Keep reading to find out more!
The 9th longest river in Europe, its name relates the Cyrus the Great, a ruler who formed the largest Empire in history around 600BC. The potential and majesty of the Kura River match its namesake, powering through Eastern Europe at a length of 1,515 kilometers. It covers Tukey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, traveling from the Greater Caucasus Mountains to the Caspian Sea.
Originally celebrated by farmers of the Kura Valley 4,500 years ago, locals still praise the power of the river for its production of hydroelectric energy. People initially harnessed the flat banks for agriculture, but many great civilizations fell under natural disasters and flooding. Modern times created a number of power stations to utilize its power, rather than run from it. Either way, the Kura River has played a major role in history, dominating the land just as Cyrus the Great did.
The 8th largest river in Europe is formed by a measure of the North Dvina River and its eastern tributary, the Vychegda River. It has a strong waterway history, giving insight into past Russian life. A sprinkling of major cities sits on its banks. And its mouth into the White Sea offers spectacular snowscapes in the north of the country. Larger than Poland and passing through epic scenery, the Northern Dvina- Vychegda River is one of the most breathtaking in Europe.
With cold, northern Russian routes, melted snow makes up the majority of the river. Seeping through sloping plains, the snow creates a strong current that drives through coniferous forests and open meadows, leaving impressive sights like Lake Kubena in its wake. It was a key transport hub of Eastern Russia, used by hunters, fur sellers, and adventurers.
Travelling along its 1,774 kilometers, you can see crumbling monasteries and forgotten towns. These landmarks reveal the raw and rural history of Russia’s hidden local culture.
And the 7th longest river in Europe? The Kamadeva River in Russia. Sensing a pattern here? Covering a length of 1,805 kilometers, this river also runs through central Russia. Beginning in the Udmurt Republic, it loses its independence when joining with other major waterways. It also travels through some beautiful cities. Yelabuga and Perm are some of the best places to witness the Kamadeva River. It is often frozen in the winter months and surrounded by a beautiful white snow landscape.
The river also has a number of reservoirs, for example in Chaykovsky. More than just picturesque, the Kamadeva River is functional. Votkinsk Hydroelectric Station utilizes its natural forces, and the River provides hydroelectric power for its surrounding area.
Only 4 kilometers longer than Kamadeva, the 6th longest river in Europe is the Pechora River. Guess where? Again – Russia. This time, we are in the northwest of the country. The landscape is dramatically different and dramatically beautiful. For a sense of perspective, its basin is about the same size as the entire country of Finland. It’s pretty big. Indeed, at some points, watching the sunset over this river, you could be convinced you were watching it over a sea.
The literal name of the Pechora River means “forest dweller.” The river basin is covered in trees, making the scenery of its banks truly spectacular. Kayaking through its steep, wooded valleys is a popular past time in this part of Russia. It travels 1,809 kilometers through some of the most magnificent natural beauty Russia has to offer.
Measuring 1,870 kilometers is the 5th longest river in Europe – the Don River. Often stretching out in a straight line into the distance, it travels between the basins of two other major rivers. For the best views of this waterway, head to the city of Rostov on Don.
As a major city, Rostov is a cultural hub of Russia. Theatres, museums, and libraries scatter its streets. It is particularly renowned for its collection of impressive Orthodox churches. But the greatest attraction of the city? The banks of the Don River. Lookouts, bridges, and pathways allow visitors to the city to fully appreciate the beauty of this river.
The 4th longest river in Europe is still in Russia, but also passes through the neighboring countries of Belarus and Ukraine. It travels 2,201 kilometers, starting from a source near to the city of Smolensk and ending in the Black Sea. It is another well-used waterway, both for Ukrainian trade and hydroelectric power stations.
That’s not to say it is without its fair share of natural beauty. It is the home of a range of wildlife. The Quagga mussel, now found around the world, originated in these waters. The rapids of the Dnieper River are similarly famous. The rough waters have been legendary for centuries. The Greeks wrote about the difficult journey through them, and various kingdoms have been built on the banks of this river over the years.
A waterway of 2,428 kilometers, the Ural River is the 3rd longest river in Europe. It originates deep within the Ural Mountains of Russia and ends at the Caspian Sea. As well as Russia, the river travels through Kazakhstan, making it Eurasian. Its long journey finished in a sea bordered by five different countries. Indeed, the Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world.
The Ural River has created a beautiful environment of wetlands. These wetlands are full of interesting and unique wildlife. Visitors to its banks can witness some of the most diverse habitats in the world. It is a truly captivating environment to explore.
Eurasian Spoonbill birds. Northern mole voles. Great gerbils. Marbled polecat. All these magnificent animals can be found by the Ural River.
The second longest river in Europe is one of the few to not pass through Russia at all. Instead, it travels between a range of western, southern and eastern countries. At 2,860 kilometers, the Danube River is the 2nd longest in Europe.
Once a key role in the protection of the Roman Empire, the Danube River flows through 10 different European countries. Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, Ukraine. Travellers in Europe will probably see this river at some point. In fact, it passes through more countries than any other river globally. In four of those countries, it goes through the capital city. Undoubtedly, the Danube River is a key landmark of Europe and recurring feature of its city landscapes.
Originating in Germany and ending in the Black Sea, the Danube River is the most traveled river in the world.
There’s a reason most the longest rivers in Europe are in Russia – many of them are tributaries of the Volga. At a grand distance of 3,530 kilometers, the longest river in Europe is the Volga River. It is the national waterway of Russia and a defining feature of the country. Throughout Russian history, the river has held a deep cultural meaning. In traditional folklore, it is often referred to as Mother Volga.
It passes through twenty different major cities. It even makes up part of the city landscape of the capital, Moscow. The Volga River also contains some of the largest reservoirs in the world. It has been a constant natural feature of the country. The river was used during wars throughout history. It was used to help settle and develop towns into cities. Visitors to Europe should be sure to see this ancient and iconic symbol of Russian heritage.
Have you witnessed any of the longest rivers in Europe? Kayaked in their rapids or walked along their city promenades? Which are your favorites? Let us know!
I was wondering why almost of the rivers pass through Russia until I got to the Volga river. This is a very educative article, I ‘ve never witnessed any of the aforementioned rivers, I didn’t even know about some of them until now.