Photo of French rivers

To understand the rivers of France it is useful to first have a little knowledge of the geography of the country.

Essentially France is mountainous along its eastern border with (from north to south) the mountains of the Vosges, Jura and Alpes, with further mountains in south-central France (Massif central) and along the southern border with Spain (the Pyrenees)

The principal rivers largely reflect this geography, and flow from the mountains towards the sea - usually flowing north and west towards the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel except for the Rhone which flows south to the Mediterranean.

Map of the rivers of France

map showing rivers of France

Note: mountain ranges are marked in red

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Rhone River

Information: 812 kilometres long, flows into the Mediterranean

The Rhone follows almost the whole length of south-eastern France from north to south. It passes by the major industrial centre of Lyon, eventually reaching the Mediterranean in western Provence - hence the 'Bouches-du-Rhone' (mouth of the Rhone) department. To the north there are major canals joining the Rhone to the French-German Rhine river.

The rivers Saone, Isere, Durance and Ain are all tributaries of the Rhone river.

Seine River

Information: 776 kilometres long, flows into the English Channel

The Seine passes from north-west to south-east across northern France and is the river that passes through Paris. See also Seine in Paris.

The principal tributaries of the Seine river include the Aube, Yonne, Marne, Oise and Eure rivers.

Loire River

Information: 1012 kilometres long, flows into the Atlantic Ocean

The Loire River passes east to west just south of Paris. The river is notably UNESCO listed in the Loire Valley, a popular region because of the large number of impressive Renaissance castles along the river. See also Loire Valley.

The Allier river (421 kilometres long) is a notable tributary of the Loire, and the Cher, Sarthe, Creuse, Vienne and Loir rivers are also all tributaries of the Loire further downstream.

See also rivers of the western Loire and a tour of the Creuse Valley

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Garonne River

Information: 645 kilometres long, flows into the Gironde Estuary then the Atlantic Ocean

The Garonne passes from west to east across south-western France, entering the Atlantic at Bordeaux and is the main exit for streams and rivers in the Pyrenees to the south.

The Tarn and the Lot rivers are among the tributaries of the Garonne. See the guide to the Lower Lot Valley for the Lot River between Figeac and Cahors, Upper Lot Valley for the Lot river in the Massif Central, and also the Dropt river in the northern Dordogne and Gironde.

Dordogne River

Information: 483 kilometres long, flows into the Gironde Estuary then the Atlantic Ocean

The River Dordogne passes west to east across south-western France to the north of the Garonne, and also enters the Atlantic at Bordeaux. See a detailed article that follows the entire course of the Dordogne river

The Dordogne has numerous small subsidiaries but few are well known or more than 50 kilometres long except the Vézère which is very popular because of the scenery and the numerous prehistoric sites in the region. The valley is now listed as a UNESCO heritage site: see Vézère valley for details.

Rhine River

Information: 1325 kilometres long, of which only 188 kilometres is in France, flows into the North Sea

The Rhine river follows the north-eastern border between France and Germany.

Other rivers

Although it is only about 60 kilometres long before reaching the Mediterranean, the Roya river in south-east France that is partly across the border in Italy was pleasant to explore: see along the Roya Valley.

The Tet river in the eastern Pyrenees that flows into the Mediterranean near Perpignan also passes several places of interest: see along the Tet river.