Discover the 12 Largest Rivers in France

Written by Kellianne Matthews
Updated: March 28, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/NicoElNino
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The beautiful country of France is filled with interconnecting rivers. In fact, the entire country can be navigated by water. Since ancient times, these rivers provided routes of transportation and trade that helped cities grow alongside them. Not only are the rivers in France important to its economic growth, but each river contains its own unique history. The rivers in France have inspired artists and writers throughout the ages to romanticize them into stunning works of art.

So, which rivers in France are the largest? Which rivers are the most important? Which rivers are the most inspiring? Let’s look at the twelve largest rivers in France and learn more about how they have helped to build and inspire the people around them.

Rivers in France

Many rivers in France are lined with small towns and villages along their banks.

iStock.com/Sergey_Fedoskin

You could think of rivers as the “veins” of our planet, pumping water and nutrients through ecosystems. Rivers also supply fresh water to human civilizations and provide important shipping and transportation routes. As rivers flow across the landscape, they carve, create, and nourish valleys, producing lush vegetation and beautiful vistas.

Rivers in France are particularly iconic. Whether you’ve ever enjoyed a walk along the Senne in Paris or marveled at images of the Rhone through Nice, France’s rivers are the backdrops to countless films and pieces of artwork.

As we look at the largest rivers in France, we are measuring their size based on length, rather than depth or discharge amounts. Let’s take a look at the 12 largest and longest rivers in France.

12. Adour River – 208 miles (335 km)

The Adour River is the twelfth largest river in France

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Adour River
Length208 miles (335 km)
Major City Near RiverBayonne

The Adour River in southwestern France is 208 miles long. It begins in the central Pyrenees Mountains and flows into the Atlantic Ocean through the Bay of Biscay near the town of Bayonne. Although the Adour River and its tributaries are isolated from the main waterway network, it is a popular area for cruising.

11. Charente River – 225 miles (360 km)

The Charente River flows alongside villages, châteaux, churches, and vineyards

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Charente River
Length225 miles (360 km)
Major City Near RiverRochefort

The Charente River begins in the Haute-Vienne department at Chéronnac near Rochechouart. It flows for 225 miles until it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Rochefort. Francois I, King of France in the 16th century, declared that the Charente was “the most beautiful river in the kingdom.” Visitors often enjoy boating up and down the river and stopping in the historic towns and villages like Cognac, Jarnac, Saintes, and Rochefort.

10. Dordogne River – 293 miles (472 km)

group of baby swan cygnets
The Dordogne River is a Biosphere Reserve.

iStock.com/Dmitry Potashkin

Dordogne River
Length293 miles (472 km)
Major City Near RiverBordeaux

The Dordogne River is 293 miles long, making it the tenth longest river in France. This river is full of stunning views, picturesque towns, castles, and natural scenery. It is a popular place to visit and enjoy recreational activities. Visitors can go fishing, boating, rafting, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, sailing, and water-skiing.

The Dordogne River is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. It provides homes to wildlife like European sturgeons, salmon, otters, ducks, herons, kites, kingfishers, swans, cormorants, egrets, common coots, and grebes.

The Dordogne River is also one of the few rivers in the world that exhibits a tidal bore. A tidal bore is when the leading edge of a strong incoming tide forms a wave that pushes upriver and reverses the direction of the river’s natural current.

9.      Lot River – 300 miles (480 km)

The Lot River is a popular holiday destination

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Lot River
Length300 miles (480 km)
Major City Near RiverVilleneuve-sur-Lot

The Lot River is 300 miles long and is one of the longest canalized rivers in France. It begins in the Cévennes mountains in south-central France, then flows west through Quercy and into the Garonne River near Aiguillon. The Lot was once a major route for transporting coal and steel. In 1985 restoration of the Lot River began, transforming it into a cruising waterway.

Today the beauty and scenery of the Lot River make it a great holiday destination. Visitors can participate in cycling, swimming, fishing, and fine dining. There are also open-air markets and sightseeing along the medieval hilltop towns and historic châteaux.

8.      Marne River – 326 miles (525 km)

The Marne River is an eastern tributary of the Seine River

iStock.com/Leonid Andronov

Marne River
Length326 miles (525 km)
Major City Near RiverParis

The Marne River is 326 miles long, beginning in the Lagnes Plateau in northeastern France. It then flows north before bending west, where it joins the Seine River in the suburbs of Paris. During World War I two large battles took place at the Marne River: The First Battle of the Marne in September of 1914, and The Second Battle of the Marne, from July-August of 1918. The last major German offensive on the western front was defeated in the Second Battle of the Marne, leading to the Armistice of 1918.

6.      Garonne River – 357 miles (575 km)

The Garonne River flows through Spain and southwest France

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Garonne River
Length357 miles (575 km)
Major City Near RiverToulouse

The Garonne River is 357 miles long, beginning in the Central Pyrenees Mountain Range of northern Spain. It flows through southwestern France before it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The river’s name, “Garonne” comes from the Latin Garumna, which means “stony river.” The Garonne River is the most important river of southwestern France and is an important inland shipping route.

The Garonne River is also home to the critically endangered European sea sturgeon. The European Sea Sturgeon can grow to be 20 feet long, 880lbs, and can live up to 100 years! This unique fish currently only breeds in the Garonne River Basin.

5.      Seine River – 485 miles (780 km)

The Seine River is the most famous river in France

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Seine River
Length485 miles (780 km)
Major City Near RiverParis

The Seine River is 485 miles long, making it the fifth-longest river in France. However, the Seine is by far the most famous river in France by name and popularity. The Seine begins in the Alps, flowing north and west through Troyes in Champagne, Paris, and Normandy, before ending in the English Channel. Much of its fame is because the Seine flows through the middle of Paris. Here it surrounds the Île de la Cité, where the famous Notre-Dame cathedral of Paris is located. It is often used as the backdrop for many books, films, and TV shows.

During the late 800’s Vikings used the Seine River to travel to Paris to attack the city. The Seine River also inspired many 19th-century Impressionist artists to use it as a subject for their paintings. Today, romantic sight-seeing boats known as “Bateau Mouches” operate along the Seine River. Visitors in Paris enjoy a beautiful view of the city aboard the Bateau Mouches.

4.      Rhône River – 505 miles (813 km)

The Rhone River has been an important trade route since the ancient Greek and Roman eras

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Rhône River
Length505 miles (813 km)
Major City Near RiverLyon

The Rhône River is 505 miles long, making it the fourth-longest river in France. However, it is the largest river in France when we measure by depth and volume. It begins in the Alps and flows south through Massif Central and Lyon. It passes through the Rhône valley and connects Vienne, Valence, Avignon, and Arles.

The Rhône valley provides a beautiful frame and backdrop for the Rhône River. The landscape is filled with olive groves, vineyards, and large fields of lavender and sunflowers. The Rhône River was immortalized in Vincent van Gogh’s 1888 painting, “The Starry Night Over the Rhone.” Van Gogh painted this while standing along the riverbank of the Rhône River.

3. Meuse River – 590 miles (950 km)

The Meuse River has many twists and turns as it flows through France, Belgium, and the Netherlands

Henryk Sadura/Shutterstock.com

Meuse River
Length589 miles (950 km)
Major City Near RiverVerdun

The Meuse River is 590 miles long. It starts in France and flows through Belgium and the Netherlands before it empties into the North Sea. The valley of the Meuse River is lined with villages, rolling hills, forests, and fields, as well as impressive crags of limestone that have become popular for rock-climbing.

The Meuse River gets its name from the Latin word Mosa, originating from the Celtic or Proto-Celtic word Mosā. This is possibly the same root as the English word “maze.” So, it could be that the name of the Meuse River is a reference to the river’s meandering twists and turns.

2.      Loire River – 634 miles (1,020 km)

The Loire River is the largest river contained within the borders of France

iStock.com/Em Campos

Loire River
Length634 miles (1,020 km)
Major City Near RiverNantes

The Loire River is unique because it is entirely contained within the borders of France. This river is 634 miles long, making it the longest river in France that stays in France. The source of the Loire River comes from the mountains around Ardèche, close to Mont Gerbier de Jonc in southeastern France. The river flows north past Orlèans, then west through Tours and Angers, ending just past Nantes before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean at the Bay of Biscay.

Along its journey across France, the Loire River passes through mountain forests and meadows filled with pine, oak, beech, and fruit trees. This lush vegetation is home to 164 species of birds (approximately 64% of the nesting bird species of France), 57 species of fish, and the highest phytoplankton diversity of any French river. The beauty of the Loire River and the Loire Valley has inspired artists and poets like Auguste Rodin, J. M. W. Turner, Jean de La Fontaine, Charles d’Orléans, Gustave Courbet, François Rabelais, and Félix Edouard Vallotton.

1.      Rhine River – 765 miles (1,230 km)

The Rhine River flows through six different countries

iStock.com/sborisov

Rhine River
Length765 miles (1,230 km)
Major City Near RiverStrasbourg

The Rhine River is 765 miles long, making it the second-longest river in Central and Western Europe (following the Danube River). This river flows through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Since the time of the Roman Empire, the Rhine River has been used as an important transport route in Europe, bringing trade and goods inland. The Rhine River is also a cultural icon for many Europeans. It is the setting for Das Rheingold, the first opera of Richard Wagner’s infamous three-part epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen (you might be familiar with a song from this epic-opera, “Ride of the Valkyries”). In Wagner’s opera, the Rhine River is where the rheinmaidens protect their hoard of gold.

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About the Author

Kellianne Matthews is a writer and editor with passion and expertise in animal behavior and ecology. She has an MA in Comparative Studies and researches human-animal studies, ecocriticism, film, and Interdisciplinary Humanities. Kellianne is unashamed to be a total research nerd and enjoys making new connections across disciplines. She loves reading, movies, her cats, and exploring the beautiful diversity of the world.

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