Longest River in the World 2024

When evaluating the world’s longest rivers, it is thoughtful to consider the philosophy that all rivers seek to abide by. The truth is, rivers don’t want to be long. None of the world’s longest rivers take any pride in being as long as they are. A river wants to find the path of least resistance down a slope to a larger body of water, and if presented the opportunity, a river will cut itself off to optimize its flow. So even though the following rivers are being lauded for their haphazard accomplishments, in some ways we can view these rivers as the least successful egresses in the world.

Rivers are composed of the conjunction of smaller tributaries and streams that come together along the path to the delta, where the river meets a large body of open water. Since every major river has countless tributaries of varying length and width, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes a tributary, and what is simply the river itself. Typically, however, when two rivers meet, the wider river retains its name while the thinner is relegated to tributary status. It can be tricky to find precisely where a river begins, so any estimate of a river’s true length is a bit subjective or lacking full information, but scientists have gotten pretty close in their estimations.

There has been a long-running rivalry between the Nile and the Amazon over which is the world’s longest river. The Nile (4,132) usually prevails in any discussion of length, edging out the Amazon (4,086) by a mere 46 miles. However, the Amazon has an undeniable claim to the “largest” river in the world. It makes up for its slight lack of length by outputting the greatest volume of water. This metric is known as discharge. Discharge measures the amount of water a river expels every second.

The Amazon discharges a remarkable 209,000 cubic meters of water per second. That’s enough to fill 80 Olympic swimming pools. The Congo river is a far second, discharging a respectable, but comparatively unremarkable 41,200 cubic meters per second. The Congo river is also the world’s deepest river, with some regions reaching 750 feet in depth.

The Amazon and Congo rivers empty into the opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, straddling the Equator, just 6 degrees of latitude apart from one another. Surprisingly the Nile doesn’t even crack the top 90 in terms of discharge, outputting only 2,800 cubic meters per second, barely one Olympic swimming pool.

The Nile-Amazon debate has the tendency to upstage some of the other major rivers in the world and their remarkable qualities. For example, the Yangtze river in China is the longest river in the world to be entirely contained within one country, with the Mississippi / Missouri in a relatively close second.

The Ganga (Ganges) river basin is the most populous in the world. While the Ganga is just 1,680 miles long, its river basin is home to over 400 million people. The Ganga is also considered to be the holiest river in the world, although this notion is highly subjective. In spite of being one of the world’s most polluted bodies of water, over 70 million Hindus bathe in the Ganga during festival season to rinse away their sins.

The Yellow river is the world’s muddiest river. Each year, it displaces 1.6 billion tons of sediment. It’s unrelenting erosive activity has granted it the nickname, “China’s Sorrow”. The Yellow river has flooded at least 1,600 times in the last 2,000 years and the Yellow River Flood in 1931 is regarded as one of the most devastating natural disasters in history with casualty estimates up to 4 million.

With a little bit of added perspective, the list of the world’s longest rivers is as follows:

  • Nile (4,132) Africa
  • Amazon (4,086) South America
  • Yangtze (3,915) Asia
  • Mississippi / Missouri (3,902) North America
  • Yenisei (3,445) Asia
  • Yellow (3,395) Asia
  • Ob (3,364) Asia
  • Parana (3,030) South America
  • Congo (2,922) Africa
  • Amur (2,763) Asia