The Longest Rivers in France

January 16, 2024

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Aerial view of the Seine River

France is world-renowned for its beautiful architecture, delicious food, and stunning scenery. One of the most important parts of France’s landscape is its rivers. They are used for transport and recreational activities such as angling and boating.

The country has over 500 rivers, which are divided into two categories. ‘Fleuves’ are rivers that flow into the sea (or a lake), while ‘rivi猫res’ flow into another river.

In this guide, we’ve looked at France’s longest rivers. The list only includes rivers that flow through French territory. For this reason, the Rhine River has been excluded (otherwise, it would have been the longest river on this list).

Continue reading to find out which ten rivers made the list!

1. Loire – 1,006 km (625 miles)

The town of Blois by the Loire River in the Loire Valley in France.
The town of Blois by the Loire River in France.

France’s longest river is the Loire, which stretches over one thousand kilometers from Massif Central in south-central France to the Atlantic Ocean. Despite its length, the Loire River has an extreme flow structure, making it one of France’s least navigable rivers. The river is only navigable from Saint-Nazaire to Bouchemaine near Angers in western France (just over 100 km/62 miles).

This is the only river in Western Europe that has never had canals built in it. As a result, the Loire is often called ‘the last wild river in Europe’. Meanwhile, the Loire River Valley is often called the ‘Garden of France’, due to the hundreds of ch芒teaux that line the banks. These manor houses have varying architecture, ranging from the medieval to the late Renaissance period.

Since 2000, the Loire Valley has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was inscribed under the Living Cultural Landscapes category due to its architectural heritage, outstanding cultural landscape, and many cultural monuments.

The Loire drains 117,054 km虏 (45,195 mi虏 ), over a fifth of France’s land. However, the river has an average discharge of 835.3 m3/s (29,500 cu ft/s), half that of the Rh么ne (third on the list).

2. Seine – 776 km (482 miles)

Seine River at night
Seine River crossing through Paris at night

Flowing through the heart of Paris, the Seine is one of the most famous rivers in France (and the world!). The river starts in Burgundy in east-central France before flowing 776 km (482 miles) to the English Channel.

The Seine River was the main reason Paris was established over two thousand years ago. A Celtic group of fishermen settled on the river banks, forming the foundation of Europe’s third-largest city. Today, the Seine basin has a population of over 16.5 million people. The river has a drainage area of approximately 75,976 km虏.

Historically, the Seine was very shallow. In the 1800s, a series of locks were introduced to raise the water level. The river now has an average depth of around 9.5 meters (31 feet) in Paris. Thermal, nuclear, and electric power stations draw water from the river. Half the water used in Paris is also drawn from the Seine, as is three-quarters of the river used between Rouen and Le Havre in Normandy.

3. Rh么ne – 544 km (338 miles)

The Rh么ne River and the city of Lyon
The Rh么ne River, Lyon

The Rh么ne River flows 814 km (506 miles) from its source at the Rh么ne Glacier in the Swiss Alps to the Mediterranean Sea. 544 km (338 miles) of the river flows through France, making it the country’s third-longest river.

The Rh么ne River connects the cities of Avignon, Valence, Arles, Vienne, and Lyon to Fos-sur-Mer, Marseille, and S猫te in southern France. Before the creation of railroads and highways, the Rh么ne River was a major trading route through France. However, the river suffers from fierce currents, shallow sections, floods, and droughts throughout the year, which makes navigation difficult.

The most populous city in the Rh么ne Valley is Lyon, the capital of the Auvergne-Rh么ne-Alpes region in southeast-central France. Here, the Sa么ne, the largest tributary of the Rh么ne, joins the main trunk of the river.

4. Garonne – 329 miles (529 km)

The Garonne River and the Saint Joseph Chapel and the Saint Pierre bridge
Saint Joseph Chapel and the Saint Pierre bridge lit up over the Garonne River

The Garonne is France’s fourth-longest river, with a length of 529 km (329 miles). It begins in Aran Valley in the Spanish Pyrenees and flows out into the Atlantic Ocean. The river’s total length is 602 km (374 miles) if you include the Gironde estuary, which connects the river with the sea.

This river is famous for its tidal bore, which is a river phenomenon that forms waves on the river banks. The strong tide pushes up the river against the current. The Garonne’s tidal bore attracts surfers and jet skiers, particularly around the Cambes village and further upstream.

Seagoing vessels can travel via the Garonne as far as the port of Bordeaux in southwestern France. The river plays an important part in inland shipping as a result. It helps transport goods from agricultural areas in the south of France to the Atlantic Ocean.

5. Marne – 514 km (319 miles)

The Marne River flowing through Gournay-sur-Marne
Gournay-sur-Marne, France

Next on the list is the Marne River, which measures 514 km (319 miles). It’s an eastern tributary of the Seine River, beginning in the Langres plateau in northeastern France. Until the 19th century, the Marne was a navigable free-flowing river.

France’s oldest canal, the Canal de Cornillon in Meaux, was built in the Marne in 1235. The Marne River was a popular route during the heyday of canal transportation as it connected the Seine with rivers in the East, such as the Rhine, the Meuse, and the Moselle.

The river is perhaps most famous for two major battles in the First World War (both named after the river). The Second Battle of the Marne in 1918 was the last major German offensive on the Western Front during the Great War.

6. Lot – 485 km (301 miles)

Landscape view on the Lot River, France
Lot River in Aquitaine, France

Not only is the Lot the sixth longest river in France, but it is also one of the longest canalized rivers in France. Around 75 locks and weirs were built on the river during the 17th century. The Lower and Central Rivers Lot have 17 locks, while the upper sections have three.

The river was decommissioned in 1926, and the locks were abandoned. In 1980, five local government bodies founded the Association Am茅nagement Vall茅e du Lot. It aimed to improve the economic and environmental well-being of the Lot Valley and continue the valley’s tourist and hydraulic development. Thanks to the association’s work, the locks in the river were gradually restored and reopened. Nowadays, the river is a popular tourist attraction and travel route.

The Lot River flows through southern France. Some of the towns on its route include Loz猫re, Cantal, and Aveyron.

7. Dordogne – 483 km (300 miles)

The town of Bergerac on the Dordogne River in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region of France
The town of Bergerac on the Dordogne River

Along with the Garonne, the Dordogne is one of the few rivers in the world that has a tidal bore. The river is popular amongst anglers, thanks to the large populations of grayling, trout, and zander.

The river is navigable for 180 km (112 miles) of its course. Due to its low volume of commercial traffic, it’s a popular spot for canoeing and kayaking. Many visitors also participate in stand-up paddling, water skiing, and sailing.

The Dordogne River begins on the Puy de Sancy, the highest mountain in the Massif Central. It flows through towns such as Le Mont-Dore and La Bourboule. After nearly 500 km, it reaches the Gironde estuary, which flows out into the Atlantic Ocean.

8. Sa么ne – 473 km (294 miles)

Bridge in Vieux-Lyon (old Lyon) over the Sa么ne River
Bridge in Vieux-Lyon (old Lyon) over the Sa么ne River

From its source in Viom茅nil in northeastern France, the Sa么ne River flows 473 km (294 miles) before reaching the Rh么ne River in Lyons. The river has often served as the boundary between the east and west of France. In the Second World War, the Sa么ne formed the boundary between Occupied and Vichy France.

The Sa么ne is generally considered a calm river. It lazily flows through the beautiful French countryside, past meadows of grazing cattle, and through quaint Burgundian towns. The river flows through towns such as St-Jean-de-Losne, Seurre, and Verdun-sur-le-Doubs.

With a watershed of 30,000 square kilometers (12,000 sq mi), the Sa么ne has the largest watershed of any French river that doesn’t flow directly into the sea.

9. Meuse – 463 km (288 miles)

River Meuse in Verdun
City gate and bridge over river Meuse in Verdun

The Meuse River is often hailed as one of the most navigable rivers in Europe. It originates in France before flowing 925 km (575 miles) through Belgium and the Netherlands. The section through France measures 463 km (288 miles). Once the Meuse reaches the Netherlands, it flows out into the North Sea.

The river is canalized through France and Belgium. There are 59 locks across its length. The northern section of the river, which runs from the Belgian border to the Canal de la Marne au Rhin at Troussey in northeastern France, is called Canal de la Meuse.

10. Doubs – 430 km (270 miles)

Aerial view of the Doubs River
Doubs river on the border of Switzerland and France

Finally, we have the Doubs River, which flows 430 km (270 miles) through France. It originates in Mouthe in the Jura mountains in Eastern France until it meets the Sa么ne at Verdun-sur-le-Doubs. The beautiful river flows through several cities, such as Besan莽on and Montb茅liard in eastern France.

The Doubs River has been used for electricity generation for several decades. One of the most important hydroelectric stations is the Dam of Ch芒telot, which stands 74 meters (243 feet) high. Aside from electricity generation, the Doubs River is also a popular tourist spot. The source of the river is famous for its stunning waterfalls and picturesque streams.

The Saut du Doubs waterfall on the French-Swiss border is one of the most beautiful spots in France. Water cascades down a 27 meters (86 feet) cliffside and provides a brilliant photo opportunity. It can be reached by foot or boat.

Overview: France’s longest rivers

RankRiverLength (km)Length (miles)
1Loire1,006625
2Seine776482
3Rhone544338
4Garonne329529
5Marne514319
6Lot485301
7Dordogne483300
8Saone473294
9Meuse463288
10Doubs430270

The longest river in France is the Loire, which measures 1,006 kilometers (625 miles). It flows from the mountainous Massif Central region in south-central France to the Atlantic Ocean. The second-longest river is the Seine, which famously flows through Paris. It measures approximately 776 kilometers (482 miles) and provides water to half of the city.

Some of France’s longest rivers flow into other countries. This includes the likes of the Rh么ne, which begins in the Swiss Alps, and the Meuse, which runs through five different countries.

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