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What are the Longest Rivers in the World?

Spanning continents, the world's longest rivers are marvels of nature's persistence and power. The Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze lead the pack, each with unique ecosystems and historical significance. Their lengths tell tales of ancient civilizations and modern challenges. How do these mighty waters shape the lives they touch? Join us on a journey along the banks of these flowing giants.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

There are a number of long rivers in the world, but it can be unexpectedly difficult to determine the length of a river. Since many rivers join together in river systems, it isn't always easy to say where one individual river begins. In many cases, the river's length is measured from the headwaters that are farthest from the river's mouth; in some instances, this means that the "source" of the river is on a tributary that is known by a different name than that of the main river.

Of the longest rivers in the world, one goes through ten countries. The Nile travels through Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. Other rivers, like the Mississippi, go through only one country.

A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, one of the longest in the world.
A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, one of the longest in the world.

While the Amazon is usually considered to be the second longest river, it carries more water than any other river. The second and third longest rivers in the Amazon system, the Madeira and the Purus, respectively, are also some of the longest rivers in the world, as are two major portions of the Mississippi-Missouri system.

Australia doesn't have an individual river in the top 20. The longest river in Australia is the Murray River at about 1,475 miles (2,375 km). When combined with other rivers in the Murray-Darling River system, however, the length grows to at least 2,094 miles (3,369 km), putting it on the top 20 list.

Of the top 20 longest rivers in the world, only one is in Europe, while three are in Africa. The next longest river in Europe, after the Volga, is the Danube, at about 1,771 miles (2,850 km). Nearly half of the 20 longest rivers are in Asia.

The Longest Rivers in the World and their Approximate Lengths
RankRiverLocationlength in mi (km)
1NileAfrica4,132 (6,650)
2AmazonSouth America3,980 (6,405)
3Chang Jiang (Yangtze)Asia3,915 (6,300)
4Mississippi-MissouriNorth America3,870 (6,228)
5YeniseiAsia3,434 (5,526)
6Huang He (Yellow)Asia3,395 (5,464)
7Ob-IrtyshAsia3,354 (5,398)
8Zaire (Congo)Africa2,914 (4,690)
9Heilong (Amur)Asia2,744 (4,416)
10LenaAsia2,734 (4,400)
11MackenzieNorth America2,635 (4,241)
12MekongAsia2,600 (4,184)
13NigerAfrica2,590 (4,168)
14ParanaSouth America2,485 (3,999)
15VolgaEurope2,266 (3,647)
16Shatt al-Arab-EuphratesAsia2,236 (3,598)
17PurusSouth America2,100 (3,380)
18Murray-DarlingAustralia2,094 (3,369)
19MadeiraSouth America2,013 (3,240)
20YukonNorth America1,980 (3,186)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the longest river in the world?

The Mississippi River, which passes St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the world's longest rivers.
The Mississippi River, which passes St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the world's longest rivers.

The Nile River holds the title as the longest river in the world, stretching approximately 6,650 kilometers (4,130 miles) across northeastern Africa. It flows through eleven countries before emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile has been a cradle of civilization for thousands of years, providing fertile lands and water resources that have sustained societies along its banks.

How does the Amazon River compare in length to the Nile?

Most of the longest rivers in the world are located in Asia.
Most of the longest rivers in the world are located in Asia.

The Amazon River, often cited as the second-longest river in the world, has a length of about 6,400 kilometers (3,980 miles). However, some studies suggest that the Amazon might be longer than the Nile when considering certain tributaries. Despite this debate, the Amazon is undeniably the largest river by discharge volume, with an average discharge of about 209,000 cubic meters per second, dwarfing the Nile's flow.

What are the top five longest rivers in the world?

Of the top 20 longest rivers in the world, three are in Africa.
Of the top 20 longest rivers in the world, three are in Africa.

According to the Cultural World website, the top five longest rivers in the world are the Nile (6,650 km), the Amazon (6,400 km), the Yangtze (6,300 km), the Mississippi-Missouri River System (6,275 km), and the Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider River System (5,539 km). These rivers span across different continents and play vital roles in the ecosystems and human societies they traverse.

Which continent has the most rivers in the top ten longest rivers list?

Only one of the twenty world's longest rivers is in Europe.
Only one of the twenty world's longest rivers is in Europe.

Asia has the most rivers listed among the top ten longest rivers in the world. This includes the Yangtze, Yenisei-Angara-Selenge-Ider, Yellow River (Huang He), Ob-Irtysh, and the Mekong. These rivers are essential to the continent's diverse ecosystems and are integral to the economies, cultures, and livelihoods of millions of people in Asia.

What role do the longest rivers in the world play in their respective regions?

The Amazon is the second-longest river in the world, second only to the Nile.
The Amazon is the second-longest river in the world, second only to the Nile.

The longest rivers in the world are crucial for their regions' agriculture, transportation, and economy. They provide water for irrigation, drinking, and sanitation; serve as major trade and transport routes; and support rich biodiversity within their ecosystems. Rivers like the Nile, Amazon, and Yangtze have also been central to the development of ancient civilizations and continue to influence the cultural heritage of the regions they flow through.

For more detailed information on the lengths and significance of the world's longest rivers, you can visit the Cultural World website at https://www.culturalworld.org/what-are-the-longest-rivers-in-the-world.htm.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to CulturalWorld about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to CulturalWorld about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

Izzy78

@TreeMan - I absolutely agree with that statement and it is quite amazing how some people will debate such a relatively simple topic.

I like to know unusual aspects about rivers, like the fact that the Nile is probably the only river on this list that flows from south to north instead of from north to south.

The Nile starts in the south central part of Africa and because of the geography of the land, flows upward into the Mediterranean Sea around Alexandria.

There is also a lot of history about this river, such as how farmers relied on the Spring flooding of the Nile to put nutrients in the ground to produce a growing season. Damming up the river with the Aswan Dam ended this and hurt a lot of farmers.

There is also and instance of this happening with the Yangtze River as people were forced off their lands due tot he flooding of the dam and many ecosystems were destroyed.

These types of facts interest me and I am wondering if anyone knows any more facts similar to these with other famous rivers?

TreeMan

@matthewc23 - I have to agree with you on that. I remember being in class in grade school and there being a debate about which river is longer, because the Amazon has so many different outlets and this debate was hotly contested, with the majority of class liking the Nile because it was relatively straight up and down.

I wonder if it comes down to the fact that on a map a straight up and down river will look longer than one that winds and bends.

I do not really know why people become defensive about this type of topic that is relatively simple, but for some reason it does happen and I prefer to learn simple facts about the rivers and their importance and not just debate about which one holds the world record for length.

matthewc23

@jcraig - You are correct and I agree with you with the fact concerning the Nile being relatively straight, but this is unusual for most rivers.

The Amazon is part of a river basin as it includes a lot of branching in the river itself, but that should not dilute the fact that it is one of the world's longest rivers.

Rivers are naturally formed over time and their shape is always in regards to the land area around them. The Mississippi River as well as the Nile are on relatively flat ground and do not wind and bend so much, so that is why they have their basic shape.

Other rivers loop around mountains and other terrain that make it seem as long as the other rivers. Also the branching off points allow for the river to be longer, but are still connected to the main river and are simply caused by the terrain that the river is going through.

I find it a little unfair that some people take away from the length of these rivers for the simple fact that the geography causes them to bend the way they do.

jcraig

I find this list of the top ten longest rivers int he world quite interesting as the Nile, which is the longest river in the world, seems to be one oft he few relatively straight rivers on this list.

Most of the rivers that are included on this list have a lot of point that branch off and are really part of the larger river basin, but still count as being part of the same river.

A great example of this would be the Amazon River and it really winds and bends and branches off across the river basin while the Nile simply is relatively straight.

anon72657

what about the yantze river? and is the murray darling and the murray river the same?

anon71779

Top 10 longest rivers of the world

1. Nile 7,088 km

2. Amazon 6,575 km

3. Yangtze 6,236 km

4. Mississippi-Missouri 6,084 km

5. Yenisy 5,816 km

6. Yellow 5,778 km

7. Ob-Irtysh 5,525 km

8. Amur(Heilongjiang) 5,498 km

9. Congo(Zaire) 5,118 km

10.Mekong(Lancangjiang) 4,909 km

anon63124

what about the Murry darling river in australia?

somerset

Danube is 2780 km long and it runs through nine countries, from the Black Forest to the Black Sea. It is the second largest river in Europe.

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    • A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, one of the longest in the world.
      By: Harvey Barrison
      A ship going through a lock at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, one of the longest in the world.
    • The Mississippi River, which passes St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the world's longest rivers.
      By: Marty Haas
      The Mississippi River, which passes St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the world's longest rivers.
    • Most of the longest rivers in the world are located in Asia.
      By: Ekler
      Most of the longest rivers in the world are located in Asia.
    • Of the top 20 longest rivers in the world, three are in Africa.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      Of the top 20 longest rivers in the world, three are in Africa.
    • Only one of the twenty world's longest rivers is in Europe.
      By: ilynx_v
      Only one of the twenty world's longest rivers is in Europe.
    • The Amazon is the second-longest river in the world, second only to the Nile.
      By: alelina
      The Amazon is the second-longest river in the world, second only to the Nile.