Rhine River: Characteristics, Location, Map, and Much More

Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by Hernan Gimenez

Rhine River: Characteristics, Location, Map, and Much More

Updated On January 16, 2020

The Rhine River despite being smaller compared to others is one of the most important waterways in Western Europe. Let´s make a wonderful trip through 6 different countries. Would you come?

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Rhine River

The Rhine River is one of the most important rivers in Europe, because it has become the most traveled waterway in the European Union. Its name comes from the original Celtic and its meaning is Flow. The Rhine River and the Danube River were responsible for creating the northern European border, that is, the boundary with the Roman Empire. (see article on The Danube)

When talking about the birth of the Rhine River, there are some disputes in the matter, due to the fact that according to studies conducted for this purpose, no definitive data has been obtained. It is known that its formation and birth is considered as a natural consequence of the elevation of the lands in addition to the formation of mountain ranges.

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It is said that the formation of the Alps, created a crack from north to south and this crack caused several existing bodies of water to run down. This is how the Rhine River begins as a small stream. This is determined by the observations made on the oldest sediments of the Miocene era.

Through the ages, that small stream that was the Rhine River was increasing its volume due to the waters it received from other small streams and rivers. At the era of Glaciation, the waters flowed westward into its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Calais.

Recorrido por el Río Rin vamos adelante!!

Characteristics of the Rhine River

Nestled in the European territory, the Rhine River has its birth in the region called Canton of Graubünden, in the Swiss Alps and deposits its waters at its mouth located in the North Sea. His path comprises a long route of 1,233 kilometers.

The flow of its waters leads in a north-northwest direction with its drainage on a watershed of approximately 185,000 km2. The average discharge of the Rhine River is of 2,900 m3 / sec. It receives water from other smaller rivers such as the Tamina, Rein da Medel, Neckar, Mosel, Ruhr and Lahn. Did you know that the Tamessis is the largest river in the United Kingdom?

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As the biggest source of the Rhine River, Lake Toma stands out. However the name of Rhine is also given to the area where the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein rivers meet. Beyond that confluence, is an alpine glacier valley through which the Rhine River flows. That valley is named Rhine Valley.

Thru its course the terrain becomes flatter, and the waters begin to pour into Lake Constance, to then take a turn towards the West. Thus the river arrives in the northern part of Switzerland, where it fall approximately 23 meters high form the Rhine Falls, which follow their path taking the direction towards the Sea.

When its route approaches the sea, it meets the Mosa and Escalda rivers, where the delta is formed with a large number of canals.

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What countries and cities the Rhine River runs through

The Rhine River h basin has a high population density and intense industrialization, one of the largest in the world. The navigation traffic is always so high that this river is considered the most important waterway in the world. This is why it is used mainly for commercial navigation. This is something that can’t happen in the Colorado River.

At the Mannheim Convention in 1868 the Rhine River was named as a region of international waters, from the last Basel Bridge, reaching in extension to the North Sea, giving the security of free access to the Sea to the region of Switzerland.
At the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) is founded. Now it has its location in Strasbourg, and is considered the oldest International Organization of its kind.

Interesante este crucero por el Río Rin

On its important route from its birth on the Lake to the basin at the sea, the Rhine River flows thru the countries of:

  • Switzerland.
  • Liechtenstein
  • Austria.
  • Germany.
  • France.
  • Netherlands.

Such is the case in South America with the Paraguay River. Take a look at the places it passes through.

And you can enjoy its important riverbanks in different countries through which the Rhine River passes, among others:

  • Basel
  • Mainz.
  • Düsseldorf
  • Strasbourg.
  • Colonia.
  • Vaduz
  • Arnhem
  • Rotterdam

The Rhine River has been divided into 4 main sections, which are:

  • The Upper Rhine, which runs from Lake Constance to Basel
  • The Superior Rhine, between the cities of Basel and Bingen in Germany
  • The Middle Rhine is between Birigen and Cologne / Bonn
  • The Lower Rhine, which begins in Cologne / Bonn continuing until the formation of the Delta.

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Location and Map of the Rhine River

The Rhine is one of the most important rivers in Europe, and is considered the most important waterway used by the European Union. Like this, the Orinoco River, in addition to having a lot of wealth in its bed, serves as a waterway for some countries in South America.

On the map of the Rhine River, we can appreciate its immense size. The total length of this important river is of 1233 km, being its navigable stretch of 883 km, in the areas from Basel (Switzerland) and its Delta that is located in the North Sea.

El Valle del Rin

Lake Toma is considered the official water source of the Rhine River however the official name of the river is given at the confluence area of the Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein rivers. Starting at this confluence, the Rhine River continues through an alpine glacier valley, which is called the Rhine Valley, then, little by little the terrain becomes flatter.

Thanks to this terrain its waters pour into Lake Constance, to then take a course to the west. When it reaches the North of Switzerland, the river proceeds to fall about 23 meters high, in the so-called Rhine Falls. After this falls the route continues on its way to the sea, but just before reaching to its mouth it unites with the Mosa and Escalda rivers, forming thus a natural spectacle conformed by a delta with a great amount of canals.

Rhine River Map

In the route the Rhine River makes from the Lake to the sea, its waters flow through the countries of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France and the Netherlands. Good to know that the Douro River is the third river in the Iberian Peninsula and has many interesting facts you should know.

Tributaries of the Rhine River

Since the Rhine River passes through Germany, France, Belgium and other countries, it receives as tributaries several rivers that deposit its waters from each of those countries.

The tributaries of the Rhine River in Germany are:

  • Düssel
  • Elz River
  • Eyach
  • Wolf river
  • Gutach
  • Jagst
  • Kinzig River
  • Lahn
  • Lippe River
  • Less
  • Less red
  • Moselle river
  • Nahe river
  • Neckar
  • Our River
  • Rednitz River
  • Ruhr River
  • Ruwer
  • Aabach River (Afte)
  • Regnitz River
  • Saale in Franconia
  • Saarland River
  • Sieg River
  • Sûre
  • Wupper
Medio Rin; Patrimonio de la Humanidad. Destino río Rin en Alemania

For France its tributaries are:

  • Alzette River
  • Bruche
  • Doller
  • Ill river
  • Meurthe River
  • Moselle river
  • Orb River
  • Saarland River
  • Seille river.

For Belgium its tributaries are:

  • Eisch
  • Our River
  • Sûre
  • Wiltz River.

From Switzerland its tributaries are:

  • Aar river
  • Lake Biel / Bienne
  • Birs river
  • Lake Brienz
  • Lake of the Four Cantons
  • Emme River
  • Lake of the Gruyère
  • Hallwil Lake
  • Joux Lake
  • Kander (Switzerland)
  • Limago River
  • Linth River
  • Lake Murten / Morat
  • Lake Neuchâtel.

  • Orb River
  • Reuss River
  • Saane River
  • Sarnen Lake
  • Sempach Lake
  • Sense River
  • Lake of the Sihl
  • Sihl River
  • Simme River
  • Staubbach
  • Lake of thun
  • Türlen Lake
  • Lake walen
  • Zug Lake
  • Zurich Lake

Other tributaries in addition to the rivers are some lakes such as:

  • Lake Constance
  • Samina
  • Lake of the Upper S .re.

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Cities of the Rhine River

Below you can find a list of all the cities that the Rhine River flows through, being considered as already mentioned above as the most important river artery in the world.

  • Coira from Switzerland
  • Liechtenstein Vaduz
  • Lustenau of Austria
  • Constance of Germany
  • Schaffhausen of Switzerland
  • Basel of Switzerland
  • Strasbourg of France
  • Kehl from Germany
  • Karlsruhe from Germany
  • German spiral
  • Mannheim from Germany
  • Ludwigshafen am Rhein from Germany
  • Worms of Germany
  • Mainz of Germany
  • Wiesbaden from Germany
  • Bingen from Germany
  • Germany’s Koblenz
  • Neuwied from Germany
  • Andernach from Germany
  • Bonn from Germany.

  • Colonia Germany
  • Leverkusen from Germany
  • Düsseldorf from Germany
  • Krefeld from Germany
  • Duisburg of Germany
  • Wesel from Germany
  • Emmerich am Rhein from Germany
  • Germany’s Kleve
  • Netherlands Nijmegen (Waal)
  • Tiel from the Netherlands
  • (Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, Waal)
  • Gorinchem from Netherlands (Waal)
  • Wijk bij Duurstede from Netherlands
  • (Nederrijn, Amsterdam-Rhine Canal)
  • Arnhem from the Netherlands (Nederrijn, IJssel)
  • Doetinchem from Netherlands (IJssel)
  • Zutphen from the Netherlands (IJssel)
  • Deventer of the Netherlands (IJssel)
  • Kampen from the Netherlands (IJssel)
  • Utrecht from the Netherlands
  • (Amsterdam-Rhine Canal)
  • Rotterdam from the Netherlands.
Valle del Rin de Bingen a Coblenza. Destino Alemania.

Birth, Route, and Mouth of the Rhine River

As we mentioned before, the Rhine River and the Danube River were the ones that built the border boundary of the Roman Empire.

The Rhine River has its birth in the Swiss Alps, in a place called Canton of Graubünden, this occurs at the confluence of the so-called Anterior Rhine and Posterior Rhine. Its length is 1233 km.

It is responsible for demarking the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and Switzerland and Austria, all this before the waters are carried out to Lake Constance, part of the Germany.

After this it passes through Basel, where it proceeds to form the border between the countries of France and Germany. From there it enters the Ruhr Region, which is very famous due to its industrial activities.

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At that point it finally enters the Netherlands and continues until it flows into the North Sea, where it forms a beautiful delta with the Meuse River.

Rhine River in France

At the border between France and Germany there have been a large number of problems in the past. One of them was in 1840, when the Rhine crisis arose and continued, thanks to the position of Thiers, French Prime Minister, who began to expose the problems about the border.

A nationalist song whose title was “the guard along the Rhine” was composed during the Franco-Prussian war. That song became almost a second national anthem for Germany’s thru the war times.

In the song a call is made to defend the Rhine River against France. Its fame and popularity continued through the First World War, naming France as a Rhine River Colony of Germany.

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After the end of World War I, a treaty was made known as the Treaty of Versailles. In that treaty it was specified that Rhineland should be demilitarized indefinitely. The Rhineland is constituted as the territory between the French border and the Rhine River. It is settled 50 kilometers east of the river.

Through a plebiscite the integration was pronounced so that the Rhineland would be occupied by Allied troops for 15 years. After that, the Allied troops would withdraw from the Rhineland in 1930.

The aforementioned clause was the beginning of the bitterness for Germany and has been considered as one of the causes for the World War II. Since the return of the occupation and militarization of the Rhineland by German Nazi troops, Hitler used it to gain popularity.

The two cities that rest on the banks of the Rhine River in France are:

  • Strasbourg
  • Basel


It is located in a historical and cultural region of Alsace. Strasbourg is a city of France and the capital of the Lower Rhine Department, and as of January 1st 2016 it has become the administrative region of the Greater East.

By 2009 it had a population of 1,175,393 inhabitants and its influence extends to the nearby towns in Germany and it has become the 9th largest city in population of France.

Given its location, since ancient times this city has been a very important center of communication. It has the second most important port which rests in the waters of the Rhine River part of which makes this river the busiest river way in the world.

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It has a University City with a student population of over 58,000 this in addition to a large number of national schools. This makes it the largest third grade studies city in France.

Commercially it has a great importance as well as at a cultural level. It is a very well developed city since it has a great amount of recreation places like theaters, libraries, orchestras and operas nationwide famous. This city is compared to the capital of the country thanks to the high level of its cultural institutions.

It is considered the number two banking city in France, with a stock exchange in operation and 8 bank branches. In the industry sector its activities are in great operation so much so that it is considered the most dynamic city in the region given the GDP per capita.

In addition to that, the Strasbourg Historic Center has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1988, turning the city into a great tourist attraction. It is considered as the 8th most important congress organizing city after Paris and before Barcelona.

Estrasburgo Francia

Rhine River in Switzerland

The most important Swiss city on the banks of the Rhine River is Basel which is located on the border with France and Germany. It is the third most populous city in the country and the second as Switzerland’s largest urban city according to 2003 data.

Located in the northwestern part of Switzerland, on the banks of the Rhine River, Basel has boundaries with both Germany and France. Its cultural influence extends to the German region to the city of Baden and into France to the city of Alsace; this union is known with the name of Rgio TriRhena.

The Bank for International Settlements and the International Handball Federation are based in Basel and the Rhine River is considered a secret emblem of the city. During the summer season, all life in Basel revolves around the banks of the river. Sun lovers, visitors, students and even business people gather at the banks to enjoy the climate.

In the summer the river activities are considered the most ideal to cool off. People swim in its shores and take pleasant boat trips getting a great enjoyment of what could be said is a little piece of the Mediterranean.

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Basel has almost 40 museums, which is considered a great amount per capita for a country. Some of these museums have a very high international reputation such as the Basel Museum of Art, the Museum of Cultures, among others. This city also offers various small theaters and galleries that are visited by numerous tourists a year.

The city also enjoys the musical productions of the Symphony Orchestra and the Basel Chamber Orchestra as well as very important Musical Theater Companies that perform in several international productions. It also has great scenarios that offer a large assortment of classic and contemporary performances.

Basel is also known as a green city. It has botanical gardens; a variety of parks and the wonderful and beautiful shore of the Rhine River, all of these green spaces turn the city into a perfect place to spend some days enjoying its natural beauty.

Natale a Basilea - Christmas in Basel

Contamination of the Rhine River

Pollution has spread thru Europe to one of the areas with the greatest fishing activity, and even when it seems to be temporary, it generates concern. The contamination of the Rhine River will have a high cost for the countries bordering the river. And even though a large cleaning operation has been taking place for many years most of that work has being reduced to nothing.

One of the most damaging events was the accident at the chemical plant in Basel that happened even when important security measures had been taken. But the lack of information given to the other countries that share the river flow kept them ignorant to the risks they were facing. This meant that the damages were hidden until the river fish started to die.

This incident took place in 1986 November 1st when a fire started in the area of agrochemical deposits of the company Sandoz Laboratories. This fire created a cloud with a high chemical toxicity level.

14 people were transferred to hospital for having been in direct contact with those toxic gases. When putting out the fire, the water that was used flowed to the Rhine transferring a large amount of toxic chemicals to the river, which completely contaminated it.

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That resulted in the dead of more than 500,000 fish and a large number of eels. The company after the protests of the affected towns granted 10 million francs to a recovery fund for the Rhine River. In addition, the company funded the investigations taken place to know the damage to the ecosystem caused by the accident, and had to make a payment for 45 million francs to Switzerland, Germany, Holland and France.

The Rhine River recovery project was immediately implemented. The governments that were affected also made an important contribution of 60 million of euros and the necessary work was carried out to decontaminate and recover the health of the river water.

These cleaning and recovery tasks took 20 years to be completed. By 2006, the waters were already in potability conditions. However, there still are some heavy metals that the recovery project is still working to eliminate in its entirety. This accident was given the name of the ‘Schweizerhalle’ environmental catastrophe.

It was found that heavy metals such as zinc, copper and cadmium, as well as some pesticides and nitrogen continue to contaminate the Rhine River on its way to the sea.

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It has also been reported that the reason for the presence of these heavy metals in the water is due to the many refrigeration facilities and high air temperatures coupled with the wastewater pouring into the river from the nearby cities and towns.

Another type of contaminants that add to the problem is the presence of substances similar to hormones, such as birth control pills, that are proved to have caused several effects in fish such as genetic mutations and malformations.

Cistern Accident with Sulfuric Acid on the Rhine River

In the year 2011 it was known that a ship slipped sulfuric acid into the Rhine River when it sank in Lorely. In the accident 2 men were rescued from the wreckage and they indicated that a small amount of acid had already been filtered to the water.

The ship was an oil tanker that carried 2,400 tons of sulfuric acid, which is a very aggressive substance that can damage everything in the course of the river bed. Other two sailors who traveled in the ship remain missing.

Given the initial conclusions, a small amount of hazardous chemicals was pour into the waters of the Rhine. However, the spokesman for the Rhineland Ministry of Environment, Palatinate in Mainz, said the environment would not be compromised.

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The Rhine River contaminated by Microplastics

On December 8, 2015, students of Marine Biology at the University of Guadalajara concluded that the Rhine River has one of the highest microplastics contamination levels in the world. The study was carried out on several rivers and of all of them the Rhine presented four times more contamination than the average.

The report was presented by researchers from the University of Basel, and the concentration of plastics on the surface of one of the largest rivers in Europe was evaluated. These results were published in the Scientific Report.

Patricia Holm was the biologist of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Basel who reported that the state of concentration of microplastics in the Rhine River is among the highest in the world, giving as an example those of Lake Erie in the United States and the Rhone River, near Geneva.

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There are more than 191 million plastic particles floating daily on the Rhine River that end up in the North Sea, that’s just taking into account the ones in the surface.

Approximately 25 to 30 kilos a day is the amount of plastic provided by the current of Rhine River into the sea which adds up to a total of approximately 10 tons per year.

All that large amount of microplastics unfortunately could be ingested by aquatic animals, birds, etc. causing harmful and negative effects on their health as well as on the environment.

From all this came the urgent need to create awareness to the importance of the preservation of the environment, since the rest of the life on this planet, including ours, depends on it.

Even though there are those responsible for decontaminating the waters and studying the environment to look for clean energies in order to keep us as a specie others are doing the contrary and continue to contaminate the spaces that gives us life.

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The Lorely Legend

As in all rivers, there is always a legend that talks about creatures that live on their banks and their waters and the Rhine River, is no exception. This river has a beautiful legend, The Legend of Lorely.

Alemania-La Leyenda de Loreley-Rio Rin-Producciones Vicari.(Juan Franco Lazzarini)


Below you can watch a very interesting video about the history and curiosities of the Rhine River.

Alemania-Rio Rin-Historia-Producciones Vicari.(Juan Franco Lazzarini)
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