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Europe may be the most consistently populated continent on the planet but that doesn’t mean there isn’t outdoor adventure to be had. For those looking for some aquatic excitement can head to these longest rivers in Europe to find a bundle of activities from kayaking to white water rafting.
Flowing on the European side of Russia, the mighty Volga River begins south of Saint Petersburg and continues until it empties into the Caspian Sea. Officially the longest river in Europe, many Russians also claim it as their national river. Passing through major Western Russia cities like Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod, and Kazan, all of which have populations of over one million people, water sports enthusiasts can easily access the Volga. Cities like Saratov have many places for canoe rentals.
Beginning in the Swiss Alps before completing its journey north of Amsterdam in the North Sea, the Rhine officially flows through six countries in Western Europe. It may be one of the most visited rivers in the world as it travels through big cities like Cologne, Basel, and Strasbourg in the ever-popular tourist destinations of France, Germany, and Switzerland. Renting a boat to take out onto the river is one of the best things to do in Strasbourg and will even allow tourists to cross the France and Germany border, which is formed by the Rhine.
Perhaps best known as the divider of Buda and Pest in the Hungarian capital, the Danube passes through four capital cities (Budapest, Hungary, Vienna, Austria, Bratislava, Slovakia, and Belgrade, Serbia) and a number of other Hungarian cities. In its totality, the Danube is the second longest river in Europe, beginning in Germany’s Black Forest and ending near Ukraine and Romania’s coast on the Black Sea. With an incredibly diverse population of fish, the Danube offers some of the best fishing waters on the continent where fishermen can catch carp, salmon, trout, catfish, and other species. Parts of the Danube are also legendary amongst adventure kayakers.
Passing through only two countries, the Czech Republic and Germany, the Elbe is still one of the major rivers of Europe as it flows for 680 miles from its origin to the North Sea. Economically, the Elbe has played a major role for some time in being the main source of Hamburg’s port — the third busiest port in Europe. For water sports enthusiasts who find themselves in Hamburg, check out Waterski and Wakeboard Hamburg. As their name suggests, visitors can rent boats, drivers, and equipment to waterski and wakeboard.
The longest river in France, the Loire nearly cuts the country in half. One of the most picturesque rivers in the world, the central Loire Valley is well-known for its vineyards. Additionally, the shores of the Loire are lined with over a thousand ornate chateaux. These two factors have earned the Loire Valley the nickname “Garden of France”. As for water sports, tourists get a thrill out of renting kayaks or canoes so they can paddle right up to the ramparts of Chateau de Chenonceau. Meanwhile, many of the smaller rivers in the French Alps are famous for competitive kayaking.
The river formerly known as the Yaik, the Ural River makes the list as the third longest in Europe, although part of it does flow through what is officially considered Asia. It is only the 18th longest river on the Asian continent, however, Beginning in the Ural Mountains and flowing through Russia and Kazakhstan, many people consider parts of it to be the physical border of Europe and Asia. Creating extensive wetlands near its conclusion in the Caspian Sea, the Ural is a popular place for ornithologists to catch glimpses of rare birds. Overused in industries at places like iron production plants and fisheries, the Ural, at times, can have low water levels, although there are still plenty of spots for activities like standup-paddleboarding.
The longest river in the Ukraine and Belarus, the Dnieper also goes through Russian territory. The river is very special to the Ukrainian people as it is even mentioned in their national anthem. Once a mighty river with famous rapids, the Dnieper has been dammed so often and used as the fuel for hydroelectric stations so much that it is no longer free-flowing. With that said, there are many river cruises, mainly between Kiev and Odessa that are incredibly pleasant.
The only river to make the list that has a mouth on the Arctic Ocean, the Pechora is one of the wildest rivers left on Earth. Located in northwest Russia, the Pechora is easily the most sparsely populated major river on this list. Because of this, much of the Pechora maintains a healthy and authentic natural ecosystem. It is said that the Pechora is only crossed by one bridge on its 1,124 miles of river. Passionate outdoors folk can spend weeks kayaking and camping along the shores.
The following three rivers are not amongst the longest in Europe — not even close — but they have made names for themselves as havens for water sports fans around the globe.
The alpine river that extends from northeastern Italy and into Slovenia, the Soca’s bright colors have earned it the moniker “The Emerald Beauty”. With sections of rapids reaching a V classification, the highest possible for kayaking, it is a destination for expert paddlers.
Fueled by glacial melts in the Italian Dolomites, the Noce River has served as the home river of the European and World Championships of kayaking. With plenty of whitewater, kayakers need to come prepared with their best.
A gorgeous river that crosses Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Tara River is a must-see for all nature-lovers out there. Much of the Tara River carves through the Tara River Canyon, the longest canyon in Europe. It is here where some of the best whitewater rafting in the world happens.