The 10 Longest Rivers in the World

December 22, 2023

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Aerial view of a meandering river

Although rivers only account for 2% of the world’s liquid surface water, they play a pivotal role on planet Earth.

Whether deep or shallow, slow moving or fast flowing, millions of people around the world depend on rivers for fresh drinking water, navigation, irrigation and their livelihoods. Rivers are also biodiversity hotspots supporting thousands of species of fish, animals and other wildlife.

But what are the longest rivers in the world? Keep reading to find out.

1. The Nile River

A view of the Nile river at sunrise
Sunrise on the River Nile
Length: 6,650 km
Location: North Africa
Flows through: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, the Republic of the Sudan, Egypt

It is a widely known fact that the Nile is the longest river in the world. Stretching for 6,650 kilometers, it is the equivalent of 65,000 football pitches!

Flowing from south to north, the Nile River begins in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and ends in Egypt, where it feeds into the Mediterranean Sea. It travels through eleven countries in total; the other nine being Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan and the Republic of the Sudan.

The world’s longest waterway is extremely important in terms of transportation, and as a source of water, with more than 300 million people living in the countries it runs through. 

The river is also essential for wildlife, with a variety of species using it as a source of water, including elephants, buffaloes, wildebeests and gazelles. Plus, it is home to the much-feared Nile crocodile, as well as the hippopotamus.

2. The Amazon River

Birds-eye view of the Amazon River flowing through a rainforest
Birds-eye view of the Amazon River flowing through a rainforest
Length: 6,400 km
Location: South America
Flows through: Peru, Columbia, Brazil

South America’s Amazon River comes a close second, measuring 6,400 kilometers in length — although it is the world’s biggest river in terms of volume.

Starting in Peru, the Amazon River flows through Colombia and Brazil before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.

The second-longest river in the world is a vital lifesource for the rainforest that surrounds it. One of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth, the Amazon Rainforest is home to more than three million species that rely on the river to stay alive.

The river itself is also extremely biodiverse, containing more than 2,500 species of fish, endangered Amazon river dolphins, otters, manatees, anacondas and various other species of reptiles.

3. The Yangtze River

Boats cruising through the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China
Boats cruising through the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China
Length: 6,300 km
Location: China
Flows through: Tibet, Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Jiangsu and Shanghai

Measuring 6,300 km in length, the Yangtze River in China is the world’s third-longest river and the longest river in Asia. It is also the world’s longest river that runs through just one country.

It travels through several of China’s regions beginning in Tibet and passing through Qinghai, Sichuan, Yunnan, Chongqing, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Anhui and Jiangsu, all the way to Shanghai, where it drains into the East China Sea. 

The Yangtze River creates a vast range of natural ecosystems as it journeys from west to east, providing habitats for many different species, including the giant panda, snow leopard and Yangtze finless porpoise.

Not only that, but the river is of paramount importance to people, with around a third of the population of China living on its banks.

4. The Mississippi River System

Birds-eye view of the Mississippi River at sunset in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Birds-eye view of the Mississippi River at sunset in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Length: 6,270 km
Location: United States
Flows through: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana

On its own, the Mississippi River is just 3,766 kilometers long, but when combined with the Missouri and Jefferson Rivers, it is the fourth-longest river system in the world. 

The Mississippi River flows from Minnesota to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico, while the Jefferson River flows through Montana and joins with the Missouri River, which ends in Missouri. The Mississippi-Missouri-Jefferson River system was formed when it was realised that the Jefferson River was the Mississippi River’s farthest source.

A haven for wildlife, this river system boasts a wide range of diverse habitats, from wet forests and marshes to sandy beaches and stretches of open water.

5. The Yenisei River System

Snow covering the banks of the Yenisei River in Russia
Snow covering the banks of the Yenisei River in Russia
Length: 5,539 km
Location: Russia
Flows through: Tuva, Khakassia, Krasnoyarsk Krai

The fifth-longest river in the world is the Yenisei River System, which measures 5,539 kilometers long and runs through the Russian federal subjects of Tuva, Khakassia and Krasnoyarsk Krai before emptying into the Arctic Ocean.

This river system comprises the Selenge River, the Angara River and the Yenisei River. While the river system itself is not particularly deep, the Selenge River flows into Lake Baikal, which is not only the deepest but the oldest lake in the world.

Excluding Lake Baikal, the Yenisei is home to 55 native fish species, with its banks providing habitat for the largest reindeer herd in the world, the Taimyr. Additionally, a diverse range of other wildlife and flora can be found in the Yenisey Valley, including Siberian pine and larch trees.

The Yenisei River System is a source of transportation, food and power to more than a million people. However, it is thought to be contaminated by radioactive discharge from a bomb-making facility in the secret city of Krasnoyarsk-26, now known as Zheleznogorsk.

6. The Yellow River

View of the Yellow River at sunset
View of the Yellow River at sunset
Length: 5,464 km
Location: China
Flows through: Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan, Shandong

Running 5,464 kilometers from China’s Bayankala Mountains and feeding into the Bohai Sea, the Yellow River is the sixth longest in the world.

As it travels from west to east, it passes through nine of China’s provinces: Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, Ningxia, Inner Mongolia, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Henan and Shandong.

Also called the Huang He or Huang River, this great river is known as the “Mother River of China”, as it is the place where Chinese civilization started.

The Yellow River’s importance and relevance continue today, being home to around 160 different species of fish and having several major hydroelectric dams and power plants built across it.

7. The Ob River

Ob River running through Novosibirsk
Ob River running through Novosibirsk
Length: 5,410 km
Location: Russia
Flows through: Siberia

Also known as the Ob-Irtysh River, the Ob is the world’s seventh-largest river, stretching 5,410 kilometers. 

Originating in the Atlas Mountains, the Ob River runs from southwest to northwest Siberia, taking in the Russian federal subjects of Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets and emptying into the Arctic Ocean.

Novosibirsk — the largest city in Siberia and the third-largest in Russia — is located along the banks of the Ob River and the world-renowned Trans-Siberian Railway crosses the river here.

As well as being a major source of fishing, the river provides drinking water, irrigation and power via several power plants like Novosibirskaya GES.

8. The Rio de la Plata River system

Aerial satellite view of the Rio de la Plata River
Aerial satellite view of the Rio de la Plata River
Length: 4,880 km
Location: South America
Flows through: Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina

Not only is the Río de la Plata the eighth-longest river in the world, it is the widest river in the world, with a maximum width of 220 kilometers.

Although the Río de la Plata itself is only 290 kilometers long, the river system includes the Parana River and the Rio Grande River. Running for 4,880 kilometers, the river system starts in Brazil at the confluence of the Rio Grande and flows south through Paraguay. From here it joins the Uruguay River, and ends in Argentina, where it empties into the South Atlantic Ocean. 

There are several major cities situated on the edges of the Rio de la Plata River, most notably, the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires.

Containing both fresh water from the Uruguay and Parana rivers and saltwater from the ocean, the Rio de la Plata is an estuary, which means it is home to a variety of species, such as La Plata dolphins and green, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles.

9. The Congo River

Barge on the Congo River, near the city of Kisangani
Barge on the Congo River, near the city of Kisangani
Length: 4,700 km
Location: Central Africa
Flows through: Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, Angola

Following the world’s widest river is the Congo River, which is the world’s deepest, with depths of more than 720 feet in some spots. Another of this river’s accolades is that it is the only river to cross the equator twice.

The ninth-longest river in the world, the Congo River is 4,700 kilometers long, flowing through Zambia, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo and Angola.

The Congo’s source is generally agreed to be the Chambeshi River, and after passing through the nine countries listed above, it drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

More than 700 types of fish can be found in the Congo River, nearly 500 of which are native species.

10. The Amur River

Aerial View of Amur River in Far East Khabarovsk, Russia
Aerial View of Amur River in Far East Khabarovsk, Russia
Length: 4,444 km
Location: The Far East
Flows through: Russia, China

Taking the tenth spot on the longest rivers in the world list is the Amur River, which runs for 4,444 kilometers along the border between Russia and China. It begins in the hills in the western part of Northeast China, where the Shilka and Argun rivers meet and flow east and south until it empties into the Sea of Okhotsk, the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Tartary.

In China, the river is known as the Heilong Jiang, which translates to “black dragon river”, but in Russia, it is called the Amur.

The Amur River is home to the Amur softshell turtle and Indian lotus, and it is thought to contain at least 123 species of fish, including the predatory Amur pike, carp, yellow cheek and northern snakehead, as well as the Kaluga, which can grow to more than 18 feet in length.

Overview: World’s longest rivers

RankRiver systemContinentLength (km)Length (miles)Outflow
1Nile RiverAfrica6,6504,132Mediterranean
2Amazon RiverSouth America6,4003,977Atlantic Ocean
3Yangtze RiverAsia6,3003,915East China Sea
4Mississippi River systemNorth America6,2703,896Gulf of Mexico
5Yenisei River systemAsia5,5393,442Kara Sea
6Yellow RiverAsia5,4643,395Bohai Sea
7Ob RiverAsia5,4103,362Gulf of Orb
8Rio de la Plata River systemSouth America4,8803,032Atlantic Ocean
9Congo RiverAfrica4,7002,920Atlantic Ocean
10Amur RiverAsia4,4442,761Sea of Okhotsk
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