Taking up most of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain is a link between Europe and Africa. And its unique geographical location is largely responsible for its remarkably diverse landscape. From vast forests to its abundance of mountain ranges, nearly 5,000 miles of coastline and its central plateau, it’s a country filled with natural wonders. And one of Spain’s greatest treasures is its network of rivers.
In this article, we’ll explore the rivers in Spain and particularly Spain’s longest rivers. While some are located within Spanish borders, many cross into other countries such as Portugal and France. We’ll look at their routes and roles and explore their histories. And we’re starting with the biggest river in Spain, the Tagus.
1. River Tagus: The Largest River in Spain
Length: 626 miles
The River Tagus is the biggest river in Spain as well as the largest river in the entire Iberian Peninsula. It originates in the Montes Universales mountain range in Aragon and flows mostly westward for around 626 miles, the first 507 miles or so in Spain. Along the way, it passes through major cities, including Aranjuez and Toledo. It then enters Portugal, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean in Lisbon. Its drainage basin covers an area of approximately 31,000 square miles.
As well as ranking among Spain’s longest rivers, the Tagus is a busy waterway. It provides water for irrigation, hydroelectric power, and drinking water for both Spain and Portugal. It’s also a popular destination for fishing, boating, and swimming.
One of the most famous monuments along the Tagus is the ancient Alcántara Bridge. Originally built by the Romans in around the 2nd century AD, it includes an arch honouring the Emperor Trajan.
Length: 580 miles
The Ebro is not the largest river in Spain, but is the longest exclusively within its borders. From its source in the Cantabrian Mountains to its delta on the Mediterranean Sea, it travels some 580 miles, its basin covering a surface area of almost 31,000 square miles, roughly the size of the Czech Republic.
The Ebro is an important waterway for Spain and is used for irrigation, hydroelectric power generation, and navigation. The river is also a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and boating. The Ebro was also the site of one of the largest battles of the Spanish Civil War.
3. Douro River
Length: 557 miles
With a total length of 557 miles, 355 miles of which is in Spain, the Douro River is one of the country’s most important waterways. It’s third on the list of the longest rivers of Spain, after the Tagus and the Ebro. It rises in the municipality of Duruelo de la Sierra in the province of Soria. This is the first of five provinces in the autonomous commune of Castile and León through which it travels westwards. The river forms a 70-mile stretch of Spain’s border with Portugal before crossing into the latter. There, it flows through northern Portugal, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Foz do Douro.
4. River Guadiana
Length: 508 miles
The fourth entry on the list of the longest rivers in Spain, the Guadiana measures a total of 508 miles and has a basin encompassing over 26,000 square miles. Some 360 miles of this is within Spain and 87 miles is in Portugal. The remainder traces the border between the two before emptying into the Gulf of Cádiz in the Atlantic Ocean. Over 80 percent of the river basin is also in Portugal.
One of the major rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, the Guadiana is important for both irrigation and hydroelectric power generation. It’s also a popular tourist destination, with carp fishing offering a particular draw. Where it passes through the city of Merida, the river is crossed by one of the country’s longest Roman bridges.
5. Guadalquivir River
Length: 408 miles
The Guadalquivir River is the fifth entry on this list of the longest rivers of Spain and the second longest exclusively within Spanish territory. It flows through the cities of Cordoba and Seville and, like the Guadiana, empties into the Atlantic Ocean at the Gulf of Cádiz. One of the most important aspects of the Guadalquivir is its immense irrigation capabilities. From source to mouth, it provides water for some of Andalucia’s most fertile plains.
The Longest Rivers of Spain
It’s clear that the longest rivers in Spain are multitasking marvels. From providing drinking water to producing power and irrigating farmland, Spain’s longest rivers are crucial to the land, wildlife and communities which surround them.