The Longest Rivers in Germany

Located in the heart of Europe, Germany's longest rivers tend to be of international importance. Want to know more? Read on.

Travel and Exploration
31 January 2023

Set in the heart of Europe, Germany borders nine other countries and has one of the largest landmasses on the continent. Within its borders, Germany’s diverse landscape ranges from mountains to plains, and includes its famous forests. The rivers of Germany flow throughout the country, providing everything from drinking water and recreational benefits to commercial routes.

In this article, we’re looking at the longest rivers of Germany. However, with its central location within Europe, many of the largest rivers in Germany are shared with its neighbours. This raises the issue of whether one is considering the largest rivers exclusively within Germany, the largest overall rivers that run through Germany, or the largest length of a river within its borders. So let’s set sail, starting with what is arguably the biggest river in Germany, the Rhine.

River Rhine

River Rhine (Photo: Dennis Fischer Photography via Getty Images)

Total Length: 760 miles

It begins in Switzerland and ends in the Netherlands, but around 540 miles of the Rhine’s 760-mile route is within Germany. Indeed, the Rhine is often considered the largest river in Germany, as well as one of the longest in Western Europe. Rising in the Swiss Alps, it traces the Swiss-German border before crossing into Germany. Here it establishes itself as a vital commercial route, passing through several major cities including Cologne, Düsseldorf and Duisburg, before entering the Netherlands and emptying into the North Sea. Said to be responsible for up to 80 percent of Germany’s inland water commodities transportation, it carries coal, iron ore and fertilisers, as well as car parts and other materials.

That’s not to say that what’s often called Germany’s longest river is all business. The Rhine flows through some of the most picturesque scenery in Europe, including the Black Forest and the UNESCO-protected Rhine Gorge. Its banks are filled with castles and vineyards, while cruises on the Rhine take advantage of its route passing through some of the region’s most popular cities.

River Elbe

River Elbe (Photo: Westend61 via Getty Images)

Total Length: 680 miles

A major transport route since the Middle Ages, the Elbe remains one of Central Europe’s most important waterways. The river originates in the Czech Republic, rising from the Giant Mountains. However, more than 65 percent of its length is within Germany, where it flows northeast to the North Sea.

With a length of approximately 680 miles, it’s usually cited as the second largest river in Germany. What’s more, its catchment, which spans over 57,000 square miles, is one of Europe’s largest. More than 24 million people live in the Elbe River Basin and it drains major cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Prague, Dresden and Leipzig. As for which cities it travels through, these include Hamburg and Dresden.

River Danube

The Danube River (Photo: Walter Geiersperger via Getty Images)

Total Length: 1,770 miles

It only travels within Germany for around 363 miles, but as one of the continent’s major rivers, the imposing Danube is certainly worth a mention, especially as its source is within German borders. Rising in the Black Forest, it passes through the cities of Regensburg, Ingolstadt, and Ulm before leaving at the Austrian border. With a total length of 1,770 miles it is one of the longest rivers in Germany if judging by total overall length of the river, and almost 10,000 people live in the German part of its basin.

In all, the Danube travels through or touches ten European countries, including Austria, Hungary, Croatia, and Romania. The Danube is a vital waterway for the countries it traverses. It provides irrigation for crops, drinking water for cities, and hydroelectric power for homes and businesses.

River Main

Main River (Photo: pic4you via Getty Images)

Total Length: 326 miles

So far, the entries on this list of the longest rivers of Germany have been international ones. This is where that all changes. The Main is the next biggest river in Germany, and the longest to flow wholly within the country’s borders. Measuring 326 miles in length from its source in the Fichtel Mountains of northeast Bavaria, it eventually empties into the Rhine.

The Longest Rivers of Germany

The Danube River (Photo: Istvan Kadar Photography via Getty Images)

As we’ve seen, Germany is home to some of Europe’s most well-known rivers, including the Rhine, Danube, and Elbe. As some of the longest rivers in Germany, they play an important role in the country’s economy, culture, and history. They’re also vital waterways throughout Europe.


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