10 longest rivers in the world

Top 10 Longest Rivers in the World

Rivers are flowing bodies of water which flow from higher to lower ground. Every river always starts at a source and ends at a so-called mouth. The mouth is usually located at another body of water such as an ocean, a sea, a lake or another river in which the river flows into. Sometimes rivers will, however, just flow into the ground and dry up there. Rivers have historically been extremely important for both nature and human civilization as rivers make life away from sea shores possible. Even today most cities which are not located at a sea or ocean, are usually built around or at a river. The 10 longest rivers in the world are all longer than 4,000 kilometers / 2,500 miles.

Note: For this ranking, rivers are being counted individually and not wholly as their river system. The Mississippi-Missouri river system in the United States for example is the fourth-longest river system in the world, but individually neither river of the system makes the Top 10 of longest rivers in the world.

The 10 Longest Rivers in the World

the 10 longest rivers in the world

1. Nile

nile river - longest river in the world
The Nile River in Egypt

The Nile is the longest river in the world. It has a total length of at least 6,695 km / 4,160 miles. It should be noted, however, that many consider the Nile to be even longer. The dispute stems from the fact that the source of the Nile is disputed. Some consider Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest and the world’s third-largest lake, to be the source of the Nile. But Lake Victoria itself has multiple feeder rivers which could be the original source of the Nile, making the world’s longest river even longer. The Nile is, in any case, of huge importance to Northeastern Africa. It is in the Nile basin where many ancient African civilizations evolved. The Nile still flows through some of the oldest cities in human history such as Egypt’s capital Cairo or Luxor, the ninth-oldest city still inhabited.

In total, the Nile flows through 10 countries (Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan and finally Egypt), a record the Nile shares only with the Danube river in Europe. While the source of the Nile is disputed, its mouth in the Nile Delta in Northern Egypt, not far from the likewise ancient-old city of Alexandria, is well known. The Nile flows into the Mediterranean Sea.

2. Amazon River

amazon river - second longest river in the world
The Amazon river flowing through a typical Amazon forest landscape

With a length of at least 6,575 km / 4,086 miles, the Amazon River in South America is the second-longest river in the world. While the source of the Amazon River is also a topic of controversy, it is now generally accepted as the Mantaro River in the Junin Department of Central Peru. While the Amazon River (likely) is “only” the second longest river on Earth, it is by far our planet’s largest. The Amazon River alone carries around 20% or 1/5 of the planet’s freshwater river flow. The Amazon River and its surrounding Amazon rainforest, is also a true treasure of biodiversity. In fact, it is the most biodiverse region in the world. An estimated 360 billion trees of around 16,000 known species can be found in the Amazon river basin.

The Amazon rover flows through Peru, Colombia and then mostly Brazil. Its mouth is located in Amapa State on Brazil’s Northeastern coast, where the river ultimately flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

3. Yangtze River

third of the top 10 longest rivers in the world - yangtze
The Yangtze flowing through the Qutang Gorge

The Yangtze River is the third longest river on Earth. And it is without a doubt among the world’s most picturesque rivers. The Yangtze measures 6,236 km / 3875 miles, making it the longest river in all of Asia. The river originates in the Tanggula Mountains of Tibet and flows eastwards through many of China’s largest cities and many of China’s most spectacular natural landscapes such as the Three Gorges in the municipality of Chongqing in central China. The Yangtze’s mouth is located between Shanghai, the most populous city in the world, and the Chinese province of Jiangsu, where it flows into the East China Sea. In China the river is known as “Chang Jiang” which literally translates to “Long River”. Quite a fitting name indeed.

The Yangtze exclusively flows through China. It is therefore also the world’s longest single-country river.

4. Yellow River

yellow river lanzhou city 4th of the top 10 longest rivers in the world
The Yellow River flowing through the city of Lanzhou, China

The fourth longest of the Top 10 longest rivers in the world is also entirely located within China. The Yellow River is 5,778 km / 3,590 miles long. Its source can be found in the Bayan Har Mountains in the Northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai. The Yellow River (Huang He in Chinese) got its name for its yellowish appearance. This is due to the unusual high amount of slit the river carries. The Yellow River has historically been an upmost important river for China since China’s entire ancient history was built around the Yellow River basin. The river, however, has also been known for the many devastating floods it caused throughout China’s long history. The Yellow River flows through many of China’s largest cities, most notably through Lanzhou. The river’s mouth is located in the city of Dongying, Shandong. Here, the river flows into the Yellow Sea, its namesake.

Like the Yangtze, the Yellow River, as already mentioned, flows exclusively through China.

5. Parana River

The Parana River (left), at the confluence with the Iguazu River at the Hito Tres Fronteras, which marks the border between Argentina, Brazil (left shore) and Paraguay (right shore), Source: Phillip Capper / CC BY 2.0

The Top 5 of the Top 10 longest rivers in the world is completed by the Parana River. With a length of 4,880 km / 3,030 miles the South American river is considerably smaller than the Amazon, but nevertheless still plays a major role on the continent. Not only does it provide important economical value, but it is also politically relevant. Large portions of the river represent the borders between the countries of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. The river’s source is the Paranaiba River in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. The Parana River then flows through Paraguay and Argentina before reaching its mouth. Here the rivers forms a border between Argentina and Uruguay. The mouth is located between Argentina’s Buenos Aires province and Uruguay’s Colonia Department to be more precise. Here, the Parana River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

The river therefore flows through 4 countries, one more than the Amazon river even.

6. Congo River

The Congo River flowing through the main Congo River Valley

7. Mekong River

The Mekong River flowing between the Nong Khai Province of Thailand & Vientiane Prefecture, Laos. The river forms the biggest part of the border between Thailand & Laos.

8. Lena River

The Lena River near the Siberian city of Yakutsk, Russia.
Source: James St. John / CC BY 2.0

9. Irtysh River

The Irtysh River flowing through the city of Omsk, Russia
Source: Ninara / CC BY 2.0

10. Niger River

The Niger River near Niamey, Niger
Source: USGS

The 10 Longest Rivers in the World

Top 10 Longest Rivers in the World:
6,695 km / 4,160 mi
6,575 km / 4,086 mi
6,236 km / 3875 mi
5,778 km / 3,590 mi
4,880 km / 3,030 mi
4,374 km / 2,718 mi
4,350 km / 2,703 mi
4,294 km / 2,668 mi
4,248 km / 2,640 mi
4,180 km / 2,597 mi

Note: There is an almost century-long battle going on between South Americans and Africans. The South Americans claim the Amazon River to be longer than the Nile and point to unpublished and not scientifically confirmed research that seems to confirm their claim. In the vast majority of scientific publications, however, the Nile River is being confirmed as the world’s longest river, so this Top 10 longest rivers ranking is also based on these numbers.

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