The Largest River In The World

The largest river in the world is either the Amazon River or Nile River, depending on how you measure it. The Nile River is the longest on Earth while the Amazon River discharges the most amount of water per second in the world.

The phrase largest river is actually pretty subjective; it could mean the longest river, which could be the Amazon River or the Nile River. The Earth is about 70% covered in water, and a good portion of that includes rivers and tributaries. To learn all about the largest river in the world, check out this guide.

I think the kind of landscape that you grew up in, it lives with you. I don’t think it’s true of people who’ve grown up in cities so much; you may love a building, but I don’t think that you can love it in the way that you love a tree or a river or the colour of the earth; it’s a different kind of love. – Arundhati Roy

The Largest River In The World: Amazon River?

Rivers are an integral part of society today but were even more important historically. Rivers allowed people to trade to communities that weren’t connected to the ocean, and major cities began popping up around rivers. If you were to look at a map and look at the capitals of countries, as well as major cities, you will notice most of them are located near water. For example, the Mississippi River was not only the boundary between the west and the eastern parts of the newly founded country, it also allowed the states farther north to be able to trade with the southern states. Nowadays, the Mississippi is still an important fixture for trade and it also serves as state boundaries.

Here are some important cities that were built on a river for trade:

  • Alexandria, Egypt – Nile River
  • Brussels, Belgium – Senne River
  • Cairo, Egypt – Nile River
  • Delhi, India – Yamuna River
  • Jakarta, Indonesia – Liwung River
  • Kiev, Ukraine – Dnieper River
  • London, England – Thames River
  • Moscow, Russia – Moskva River
  • Rome, Italy – Tiber River

What Is The World’s Largest River?

You may have noticed above that we said above the “largest” could be either the Amazon or the Nile rivers. These two rivers are truly massive, the Nile is 4,258 miles long and the Amazon is 4,345 miles long. They are very similar in length so there is often a dispute about which river is the longest. If we look at the largest river by discharge, then the Amazon River “wins” that title by discharging 209,000 cubic meters per second.

Here are the top 10 “largest” rivers in the world:

Top Ten Largest Rivers In The World
NameMiles LongDischarge (m/s)Drainage
1. Amazon4,345209,000Atlantic Ocean
2. Nile4,2582,800Mediterranean
3. Yangtze3,91731,900East China Sea
4.Mississippi3,90216,200Gulf of Mexico
5. Yenisei3,44519,600Kara Sea
6.Yellow3,39519,600Bohol Sea
7. Ob3,36412,800Gulf of Ob
8. Parana3,03018,000Rio de la Plata
9. Congo2,92241,800Atlantic Ocean
10. Amur2,76311,400Sea of Okhotsk

What Is The Deal With The Length of the Nile and Amazon?

The debate about which river is the longest has gone on for quite some time. Both rivers are massive and it is quite difficult to measure the length of these two rivers since they are so dang long. Oddly enough scientists have labeled the longest river as an interpretation since no one can actually agree about the lengths of the rivers. In 2001 there was a study done that measured the length of the Nile River at 4,157 miles long and the Amazon River at 4,345 miles long. If you go by that study, then the Amazon is the longest river, but not everyone is on board with that study.

So, with that in mind, most people consider these two massive rivers as tied for the longest river in the world. It honestly just depends on your “interpretation” of the data.

Let’s go over the two largest rivers in the world:

All About The Amazon River

The Amazon River has the largest discharge of any river and is essentially “tied” with the Nile River for being the longest river on Earth. Every year the Amazon floods the rainforest due to heavy rain, and some parts of the Amazon can raise 30 feet from the rain.

Many people make their living off the Amazon River (Images licensed under CC0 via Pixabay)

The Amazon is located primarily in Brazil and its tributaries spread out through other countries (most are major rivers). Surrounding the Amazon is a massive rainforest that is home to thousands of animal species, many of which have yet to be discovered. The source of the river was not clear until a study in 2014 named the Rio Mantaro (a somewhat long river in Peru) as the source of the Amazon. The Amazon Basin, where the river meets the Atlantic, is the largest basin in the world, taking up over 2.5 million square miles of coastline.

Longest Tributaries of the Amazon River
1Madeira2,020 miles
2Purus1,995 miles
3Japura1,750 miles
4Tocantins1,640 miles
5Araguala1,632 miles
6Jurua1,500 miles
7Rio Negro1,400 miles
8Tapajos1,238 miles
9Xingu1,230 miles
10Ucayali River1,200 miles

The Nile River

The Nile delta and river. Image source: NASA Earth Observatory

The Nile River is oftentimes regarded as the longest river on Earth, but as we mentioned before, that is being disputed.

“The Nile, forever new and old, among the living and the dead, its mighty, mystic stream has rolled.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The Nile actually flows north to drain into the Mediterranean Sea. The Nile Basin is massive and connects to 10 different countries. The Nile has 3 major tributaries: the Blue Nile, the Atbara, and finally the White Nile. Historically, and even still to this day, the Nile is a major source of transportation and trade throughout Africa. Growing crops and cultivating along the Nile is (and was) a massive part of living along the river since it provided a water source in the middle of many countries.

Tributaries of the Nile River
1Atbara RiverBlue Nile tributary
2Bahr el GhazalHigh amount of water discharge
3Sobat RiverHigh amount of water discharge
4Yellow Nile
5Blue NileMajor tributary
6Achwa River
7Adar River
8White NileMajor tributary

The Nile’s source comes from its different tributaries that connect to this massive river on different points. For instance, the Blue Nile comes from Ethiopia whereas the White Nile joins the Nile in Sudan.

The names of the Blue Nile and White Nile come from the different coloring of the river based on sand and clay. So the Blue Nile is quite literally blue and the White Nile is a whiter color. What do you think about the world’s largest rivers? Which is your favorite?