The world’s rivers are a vital part of the global ecosystem. They water the earth’s surface, giving life to living things and in modern times serve as major highways for transport and industry as they travel downstream into seas and oceans.
The world’s largest rivers, running their mighty course, divide countries and have fed and shaped civilizations for millennia.
Sadly, many of the mighty rivers of today are under attack through pollution, deforestation, damming, and other man-made problems.
There is some dispute about the length of many of the world’s longest rivers. This is because rivers often have several thousand tributaries, and it can be hard to say which one is actually furthest from the mouth of the river, especially as these change seasonally.
It can also be hard to say where the mouth of the river exactly is, as many have large estuaries which open up miles before they actually reach the sea.
Below we list the ten longest rivers in the world going by current best estimates and consensus.
10 Amur River
Length: 2,763 miles
The Amur flows across the Far East regions of Russia, formed as a blending of the Argun and Shilka Rivers, then flowing to the Tartar Strait at the Pacific Ocean. It is the largest undammed river in the world.
For 1,000 miles, the river forms a natural boundary between Russia and China. The river flows through six Russian regions: the Khabarovsk Territory, Nanaisky, Amursky, Komsomolsky, Ulchsky and Nikolaevsky.
The areas around the Amur River are home to 95 percent of the world’s Oriental white storks, as well as cranes, over 100 fish species, and the endangered Amur Leopard. The fish species include passing salmon, grass carp, black carp, skygazer, big head fish, snakehead, taimen, mirrow carp, sturgeon, and kaluga.
The river is navigable only from May to November, before it freezes over. The Amur River was home to ancient peoples in both Russia and China.
9 Congo River
Length: 2,922 miles
Location: Central/West Africa
The Congo River was formerly called the Zaire River because it begins at Lake Mweru in Zambia, then flows 3,000 miles through the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola, before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Congo River is the deepest known river, with a depth of around 750ft in places, and consists of three main sections: the upper, middle, and lower Congo. Along its course there are more than two dozen magnificent waterfalls, and thousands of islands, with many more than ten miles across.
Animal inhabitants include the endangered clawless otter, manatees, a variety of unique fish not found anywhere else, crocodiles, tortoises, water snakes, and various other reptiles.
8 Parana River
Length: 3,030 miles
Location: South America
The Parana River is South America’s second largest river. It runs into the Rio De La Plata on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Through its tributaries, it divides the Brazilian regions of North East and North Central Goias.
It plays a vital role for the civilisations that live along its banks. The Parana flows in a southerly direction, and forms a series of beautiful waterfalls its route.
The Itaipu dam was constructed in 1984 near the town of Ciudad del Este, where the river is cut off, forming a large reservoir, which spreads upstream along the Brazilian border.
The major cities along the Parana River include Corrientes, Parana, Posadas, Rosario, and Santa Fe.
There are several small islands located within the Parana and it is rich in varied species of fish. But as well as those used for food, some more fierce inhabitants include piranhas, the long, poisonous spined Bagram fish, crocodiles, and snakes.
7 Ob River
Length: 3,364 miles
The Ob River is the longest river in Russia and the second largest in Asia.
The Ob is a confluence of the Katun and the Altai Biya, with lots of twists and turns. Its tributaries are called Sandy, Anouilh, Charysh, Aley, Chumysh, Yin, Biya, and Katun.
The river is the main traffic artery of Western Siberia and it is navigable from Siberia to the mouth of the Tom river. In the north, the Ob flows into the Kara Sea, forming a bay called the Ob Bay.
The Ob River is rich in about 50 species and subspecies of fish, with around half of them used for commercial purposes. Major fish species include the sturgeon, salmon, whitefish, the broad whitefish, peled, pike, ide, burbot, dace, roach, crucian carp, and the perch.
6 Yellow River
Length: 3,395 miles
The Yellow River (Huang He) is considered the cradle of Chinese civilization and holds a spiritual place in society.
Its ancient beginnings are verified by Neolithic Era, Bronze Age, and Iron Age relics that having been discovered. It is the second longest river in China, after the Yangtze.
Its origins begin in the Kunlun Mountains in the northwestern part of Qinghai Province. It flows through nine different provinces and lowland farming regions, with a culmination at the Bohai Sea.
The Yellow River contains over 30 branches and endless streams. The middle section of the Yellow River flows through the Loess Plateau region, where it deposits tons of rich sediments. It is in fact the most sediment-rich river in the world.
Environmental agencies and organizations are presently working to keep the Yellow River from becoming irreversibly harmed through the proliferation of factory wastes and chemicals being dumped into its waters.
5 Yenisei River
Length: 3,445 miles
The Yenisei River begins in the north of Mongolia, flowing into the Yenisei Gulf and empties into the Kara Sea as part of the Arctic Ocean in central Siberia.
The upper sections of the Yenisei River passes through rural areas and the middle section is controlled by the Sayano-Shushenskaya and the Krasnoyarskaya HPP hydroelectric dams.
It is naturally blocked by ice for more than half the year, but explosives are used to keep the water moving.
The Yenisei has formed three large tributaries, known as the Angara, the Selenga, and the Ider — and is home to a variety of rare native birds. The Dudinka sea port is located at the mouth of the river.
4 Mississippi River
Length: 3,902 miles
Origin: North America
The Mississippi River’s drainage basin covers 31 states and two Canadian provinces. It is the third longest river system in the world, running from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
At its source at Lake Itasca, the Mississippi River’s elevation is 1,475 above sea level. The deepest section is in New Orleans where it is 200 feet deep.
The Mississippi River is between 20-30 feet wide at Lake Itasca while near Alton, Illinois, at the Missouri River line, the widest area is around 1 mile across. Its only waterfall is St. Anthony Falls, which divides Minneapolis and St. Paul.
It is believed that the history of the Upper Mississippi River began with receding glaciers during the last Ice Age.
The Mississippi River is a great habitat and a biologically diversified environment. Actual river inhabitants include over 45 species of reptiles, amphibians and 40 species of mussels and invertebrates, as well as plenty of fish.
3 Yangtze River
Length: 3,917 miles
The Yangtze River originates from the Tanggula Range in the Qinghai Province of western China. It begins its flowing descent in the Bayan Har Mountains, and its final destination is through Nanjing and Shanghai.
Along its course it passes through 10 provinces and naturally formed three gorgeous gorges along its route, called Qutang Gorge, Wu Gorge, and Xiling Gorge.
Sadly, the three gorges were partially flooded to create the hydroelectric Three Gorges Dam, which was completed in 2012. It is the world’s largest power station by capacity and was also built to help reduce flooding along the Yangtze.
The river’s animal inhabitants include a variety of unique fish and the famous Yangtze River Dolphin.
2 Amazon River
Length: 3,976 miles
Location: South America (mainly Brazil)
The mighty Amazon River carries more water than any other river in the world. It flows across northern Brazil before entering the Atlantic Ocean near Belem.
From its Brazil and Guiana basin beginnings, its head-streams rise high in the Andes, then descend northward, turning east to join and form the Amazon. The Amazon River has more than 1,100 tributaries.
In the dry seasons, it flows at a speed of about 1.66 miles per hour, but in the rainy season this increases to about 3.1 miles per hour.
Along its tributaries, life consists of over 3,000 known fish species, anacondas, piranhas, river dolphins, sting rays, river turtles, alligators, manatees, water buffalo, bull shark, and innumerable other species which are yet to be discovered.
The Amazon began ten to eleven million years ago, however it wasn’t until the Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries began mapping its tributaries and rivers that the river became well known.
1 Nile River
Length: 4,132 miles
Origin: Central/Northern Africa
The Nile received its name from the Greeks, who called it Neilos. It is mostly associated with Egypt, but it has its beginnings in central Africa, covering Kenya, Eritrea, Congo, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
There are two main tributaries, the White Nile, which starts at Lake Victoria — the largest fresh water lake in the world — and the Blue Nile, which begins in Lake Tana in Northern Ethiopia.
The Aswan High Dam was built in 1970 downstream of where they converge to control water levels, with the river suffering from flooding between June and September.
The Nile is filled by perennial tropical rains, but it loses half of its waters as it meanders across a huge variety of landscapes before reaching its mouth in the Mediterranean. It flows through several populous areas including Cairo, Khartoum, and Alexandria.
Animals that call the Nile their home include crocodiles, turtles, hippos, and various fish species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.