The 10 Longest Rivers in Germany

January 3, 2024

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Aerial view of the Rhine river and the city of Dusseldorf

As one of Europe’s largest countries, Germany’s landscape is incredibly diverse. From soaring mountains and lush, green forests to marshy plains and terraced vineyards, it’s got everything you could ever want when it comes to beautiful scenery — and we haven’t even mentioned the country’s rivers yet.

As well as being essential in terms of industry, agriculture, and human, animal, and plant life, Germany’s rivers are culturally important. Artists, poets, and writers have been inspired by their beauty for centuries. They also act as borders between countries, attract tourists, and are used for recreational activities like boating, swimming, and fishing.

This article is a celebration of Germany’s longest rivers.

1. Rhine

Cologne Cathedral at night as seen from the river Rhine
Cologne Cathedral and the river Rhine at night
Length: 865 km (537 miles)
Flows through: Cologne, Düsseldorf, Duisburg

The longest river in Germany is the Rhine River, which flows through the country for 865 kilometers. While the river rises in Switzerland and passes through Liechtenstein, Austria, and France before entering the Netherlands and emptying in the North Sea, the majority of the river’s route is in Germany. Some of the major German cities the Rhine flows through are Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Duisburg.

Thanks to its powerful current, which aids boats carrying heavy loads between countries, the Rhine is Europe’s busiest river, and it is essential for commerce and trade in Germany. It is estimated that the river is responsible for transporting around 80 percent of Germany’s inland water commodities.

The Rhine flows through picturesque landscapes, including the Rhine Gorge, the Black Forest, and multiple castles and vineyards. Its stunning scenery has inspired artists and poets like William Turner and Friedrich Schlegel. Richard Wagner also used the Rhine River as the setting for his ‘Das Rheingold’ opera.

2. Weser

Weser river and the city of Bremen at night
Bremen on the banks of the Weser
Length: 750 km (466 miles)
Flows through: Bremerhaven, Bremen, Münden, Kassel

Beginning where the Werra and Fulda rivers meet at Hannoversch Münden and discharging into the North Sea, the Weser is Germany’s second-longest river. Along its 750-kilometer journey, it takes in the cities of Bremen, Bremerhaven, Münden, and Kassel and travels through the Saxony countryside in northwest Germany.

The scenery along the Weser River is breathtakingly beautiful, consisting of meadows, palaces, castle ruins, and historic residential buildings. The river also passes through many of the villages along the German Fairy Tale Route tourist attraction. It is thought that these villages inspired the Brothers Grimm. The river itself features in the fairy tale ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ as the place where the rats are lured to drown.

3. Elbe

Elbe river in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, Germany
Elbe river in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains
Length: 727 km (452 miles)
Flows through: Hamburg, Dresden

Stretching for 727 kilometers through Germany, the Elbe is the country’s third-longest river.

The river rises from the Giant Mountains in the Czech Republic, but 65 percent of its length lies within Germany, where it flows northeast to Cuxhaven before emptying into the North Sea.

One of Central Europe’s most significant waterways, the Elbe has acted as a border between regions since the Roman times and has been an important transport route since the Middle Ages. It also has the fourth-largest river basin in Europe, draining major German cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Dresden, and Leipzig. However, it only flows through Hamburg and Dresden.

As well as large cities, the river passes by tiny wine villages, woodlands, and wetlands. Much of it has been untouched by humans, and wildlife species like storks, cranes, and red and black kites thrive along the river’s banks.

4. Danube

Houses on the bank of the river Danube
Old houses along the Danube River in Regensburg, Bavaria
Length: 647 km (402 miles)
Flows through: Donaueschingen, Regensburg, Ingolstadt, Ulm 

The fourth-longest river in Germany is the Danube River, which flows for 647 kilometers through the country. 

The second-longest river in Europe, the Danube stretches for 2,850 kilometers in total, passing through the countries of Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova, and Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea. The river rises in Germany’s Black Forest in the town of Donaueschingen and flows through Regensburg, Ingolstadt, and Ulm before continuing its journey into Austria.

The Danube provides drinking water, hydroelectric power, and irrigation for crops, and it serves as a commercial highway between the countries it passes through.

The river draws tourists from all over the world who come to admire its stunning scenery and marvel at the medieval city of Regensburg and the Roman ruins which lie on its banks.

5. Main

Aerial view of the Main River and the city of Würzburg
Aerial view of the Main River and the city of Würzburg
Length: 525 km (326 miles)
Flows through: Frankfurt, Offenbach, Würzburg

The Main River is the fifth-longest river in Germany, flowing for 525 kilometers through the cities of Frankfurt, Offenbach, and Würzburg.

The Rhine’s longest tributary, the Main rises in northeastern Bavaria in the Fichtel Mountains and flows west before draining into the Rhine near Rüsselsheim.

Ancient castles, medieval villages, and charming cottages line the banks of the river, which flows mostly through the picturesque region of Franconia.

6. Saale

Saaleck Castle on the Saale River
Saaleck Castle on the Saale River
Length: 413 km (257 miles)
Flows through: Jena, Naumburg, Halle, Bernburg

A tributary of the River Elbe, the Saale rises in Bavaria’s Fichtelgebirge Mountain Range and winds north through the states of Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt before joining the Elbe just above the town of Barby. Some of the major cities the river passes through are Jena, Naumburg, Halle, and Bernburg. 

Wheat, barley, and sugar beets are grown on the fertile land around the river’s lower course, while the river’s upper course has two large dams, which supply hydroelectric power and attract tourists. 

The landscape around the Saale is picturesque, consisting of tree-covered hills, vineyards, valleys, and historic castles.

7. Spree

Oberbaum Bridge over the Spree River in Berlin, Germany at night.
Oberbaum Bridge over the Spree River in Berlin
Length: 400 km (249 miles)
Flows through: Cottbus, Fürstenwalde, Köpenick, Berlin

The seventh-longest river in Germany is the Spree, which stretches for 400 kilometers through the cities of Cottbus, Fürstenwalde, Köpenick, and Berlin.

It flows north from its source in the Czech Republic’s Lusatian mountains, eventually reaching Berlin’s city center to join the River Havel in Spandau. Interestingly, the Spree is the Havel’s primary tributary, but it is actually much longer than the river it feeds into.

Some other interesting facts about the Spree River are that as it passes through Germany, it forms a marshy wooded area called “Spreewald” — which is home to 18,000 species of flora and fauna — an island located in its waters is home to some of Germany’s most famous museums, and it plays host to a floating public swimming pool.

8. Neckar

The Neckar River
Neckar River between Mundelsheim and Hessigheim
Length: 367 km (228 miles)
Flows through: Rottenburg, Tübingen, Esslingen, Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg, Heilbronn, Heidelberg

At 367 kilometers, the Neckar River is the eighth-longest river in Germany. 

One of the Rhine’s main tributaries, it passes through the cities of Rottenburg, Tübingen, Esslingen, Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg, Heilbronn, and Heidelberg where it joins the Rhine at Heidelberg castle — a popular tourist attraction.

Like many of the other rivers on this list, the Neckar was developed for industry during the 19th and 20th centuries, but it is also appreciated for its natural beauty. The river’s varying landscape includes vineyards and orchards, hills and valleys, and meadows and woodlands.

9. Ems

Ems River, Warendorf, at sunset
Ems River, Warendorf, at sunset
Length: 362 km (225 miles)
Flows through: Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock, Rheda-Wiedenbrück, Gütersloh, Rheine, Papenburg, Emden, Delfzijl

Germany’s ninth longest river is the Ems, which flows through the northwestern part of the country for 362 kilometers.

Forming the Netherlands-Germany border, it originates in the Teutoburger Forest in North Rhine-Westphalia and runs through Lower Saxony before draining into the North Sea by the Dutch city of Delfzijl.

Three cycle routes run alongside and across the Ems, allowing cyclists to admire the river’s scenic countryside consisting of forests and castles, as well as the vibrant towns and cities it passes through.

10. Havel

Winter landscape on the Havel River
Winter landscape on the Havel River
Length: 343 km (213 miles)
Flows through: Fürstenberg, Berlin, Potsdam, Havelberg

Rounding off the list of the ten longest rivers in Germany is the Havel, which runs through the country for 343 kilometers.

The Havel begins in the Mecklenburg Lake District, between Lake Müritz and the city of Neubrandenburg. It then flows south to become one of the Elbe’s major tributaries, passing through the towns of Zehdenick, Oranienburg, Werder, Ketzin, Brandenburg, Premnitz, and Rathenow and the cities of Fürstenberg, Berlin, Potsdam, and Havelberg.

The majority of the Havel is navigable, and it provides a vital link between East and West Germany and other European nations.

Overview: Germany’s longest rivers

RankRiverFlows throughLength (km)Length (mi)
1RhineCologne, Düsseldorf, Duisburg865537
2WeserBremerhaven, Bremen, Münden, Kassel750466
3ElbeHamburg, Dresden727452
4DanubeDonaueschingen, Regensburg, Ingolstadt, Ulm647402
5MainFrankfurt, Offenbach, Würzburg525326
6SaaleJena, Naumburg, Halle, Bernburg413257
7SpreeCottbus, Fürstenwalde, Köpenick, Berlin400249
8NeckarRottenburg, Tübingen, Esslingen, Stuttgart, Ludwigsburg, Heilbronn, Heidelberg367228
9EmsSchloß Holte-Stukenbrock, Rheda-Wiedenbrück, Gütersloh, Rheine, Papenburg, Emden, Delfzijl362225
10HavelFürstenberg, Berlin, Potsdam, Havelberg343213
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