Interested in finding out about the longest rivers in the world? We’ve got you covered with an overview and write up of 10 of the world’s longest and largest rivers.
There are a couple of key factors to consider when trying to identify the longest river in the world, namely:
- The source (where the river starts)
- The location of the river mouth (where the river ejects, effectively where the river end and the sea/ocean/estuary begins)
Because there is not always a clearcut answer to these 2 points, the length of a river is only ever approximations (and, indeed, can change over time). Add to this are the facts that there may not be one true course of a river (with its many tributaries and channels), measuring a river through a lake can be complex, seasons and annual changes can impact both rivers and lakes, and a river length will change depending on whether you measure the center or an edge.
You can see that these points mean it is virtually impossible to get a universally agreed exact measurement of length for every – or any – river.
Until recently it was generally accepted that the Nile held the title of the longest river, but in recent years some studies have added the adjoining Para estuary and tidal canal to the length of the Amazon River, and suggest it is thus longer than the Nile. Most people still agree that the Nile is the longest river in the world, but there is now an element of doubt!
So, with these caveats in mind, here is our take on the 10 longest rivers in the world:
Nile River – 6,650 km
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Egypt, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan
The Nile – known as ‘the father of African rivers’ is the longest river in Africa – and the world (though disputed, as mentioned above). It flows northwards through 11 countries from Central to Northeast Africa, draining into the Mediterranean Sea at a rate of 2,800 cubic meters per second.
The Nile River actually has two sources – the White Nile and the Blue Nile.
The year-round availability of water from the Nile combined with the warm tropical and subtropical temperatures along its course means that the river is able to support intensive cultivation along its banks. The river is also a significant waterway for transport – especially during flood season when roads are often out of action for long periods.
Amazon River – 6,575 km
Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana
The second longest river in the world is the Amazon River, which starts high in the Andes mountains in Eastern South America, runs through the world’s largest rainforest taking in seven countries along the way, and discharges into the Southern Atlantic Ocean.
While it may not be the longest river on the planet, it’s without challenge the world’s largest river, with a width of up to 190 kilometers in place during the rainy season, and dumping an estimated 209,000 cubic meters of water into the Atlantic Ocean every second. That is a huge amount of water!
Yangtze River – 6,300 km
Third on this list is China’s Yangtze – the longest river in Asia, and the longest to flow completely in just one country. In China, the Yangtze is called Chang Jiang (“Long River”), but is also known as Da Jiang (“Great River”) and simply Jiang (“River”).
From its source on the Tibetan Plateau to its mouth on the East China Sea, the river runs 6,300 kilometers through China, with more than three-quarters of its length winding through mountains. The Yangtze is the main waterway in China, with one-third of China’s population living in the Yangtze basin.
Mississipi River – 5,970 km
When measured from its traditional source at Lake Itasca the Mississippi River has a length of 3,730 kilometers, but measured from Brower’s Spring in Montana – the Mississippi’s most distant source from the sea – the river is actually 5,970 km long. This officially makes the Mississippi River the fourth-longest river in the world.
The river and its floodplain is home to a diverse range of wildlife, some 260 species of fish, 40% of the USA’s migratory waterfowl, and over 145 species of amphibians and reptiles.
Yenisei River – 5,539 km
The Yenisey is the fifth-longest river in the world, and the largest river to drain into the Arctic. With its source in Mongolia, the Yenisey drains a large part of central Siberia as it flows northwards to the Kara Sea.
Many nomadic tribes – such as the Ket and Yugh people – have lived along the banks of the river since records began, and the Yenisey hosts the Taimyr, the largest reindeer herd in the world, for their winter grazing.
The Yenisey sadly suffers from pollution caused by radioactive discharge from a plutonium factory in what is now the city of Zheleznogorsk.
Yellow River – 5,464 km
China’s second-longest river, and the sixth-longest in the world, the Yellow River is an estimated 5,464 kilometers in length. The river has its source in the mountains of Western Cina’s Qinghai province and flows eastwards to the Bohai Sea.
The Yellow River basin was the birthplace of ancient Chinese civilization, and for a long time the most prosperous region of the country. Over the centuries there have been a number of large-scale natural disasters along the river, with some floods records as killing more than one million people and large shifts in the river course. Modern dams have all but removed serious flooding of the river.
Ob Irtysh River – 5,410 km
Russia, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia
The Ob River is the largest in Russia, located in Western Siberia, which merges with the Irtysh River from Kazakhstan to become the Orb Irtysh. The Ob basin stretches across much of Western Siberia, covering semi-desert, grassland, forests, and plains.
The river is frozen for half of each year, and through the rest of the year is heavily used for the transportation of people and goods.
Rio de la Plata – 4,880 km
Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay
The Río de la Plata itself is only 290 kilometers long, but as part of the river system that includes the Paraná and the Rio Grande, this certainly is one of the longest rivers in the world at 4,880 kilometers long. Not only that, but the Rio de la Plata is officially the widest river in the world reaching 220 kilometers wide in places.
As it runs through South America its shoreline is the most densely populated part of both Uruguay and Argentina, and includes the capital cities of Montevideo and Buenos Aires respectively.
Congo River – 4,700 km
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Angola, Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Cameroon, Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda
Perhaps Africa’s most mysterious river, and certainly it’s second-longest (after the Nile) the Congo River winds its way – in part – through impenetrable virgin rainforest.
Given the global deforestation of the rainforests, the whole Congo River and basin region is considered critical to the ecological health of the world. Crossing the equator twice on its journey from the southern DRC to the Atlantic Ocean, the Congo River is a water source to forest-dwelling species as diverse as forest elephant, gorilla, lion, hyena, antelope, and over 600 species of fish.
Amur River – 4,444 km
Russia, China, Mongolia
The Amur River forms much of the border between Russia’s Far East and Northeast China, winding eastwards for 2,824 kilometers. Including its source river Argun, it is 4,440 km long in total. The Amur is known in China as Heilong Jiang, which means “Black Dragon River”.
The river is fed principally by the monsoon rains that fall in summer and autumn, leading to annual flooding from May to October, and home to around 100 species of fish including 20 species of indigenous carp, Siberian salmon, and Chinese perch.
Table of world’s longest river systems
Drainage area (km2)
Flow at mouth (m3 per second)
|Amazon River||6,575||7,050,000||209,000||South America||Atlantic Ocean|
|Yangtze River||6,300||180,000||30,166||Asia||East China Sea|
|Mississippi River||6,275||2,980,000||16,792||North America||Gulf of Mexico|
|Yenisei River||5,539||2,580,000||18,050||Asia||Kara Sea|
|Yellow River||5,464||745,000||2,571||Asia||Bohai Sea|
|Ob-Irtysh River||5,410||2,990,000||12,475||Asia||Gulf of Orb|
|Rio de la Plata||4,880||2,582,672||22,000||South America||Atlantic Ocean|
|Congo River||4,700||3,680,000||41,800||Africa||Atlantic Ocean|
|Amur River||4,444||1,855,000||11,400||Asia||Sea of Okhotsk|
And that’s our take on the longest rivers in the world. Have you visited any of these stunning waterways? Let us know in the comments section below!