The Loire

The rivers of France

Main rivers and other waterways - the connoisseur's guide to France
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Main rivers  in France Main canals  in France

The principal rivers of France and other waterways

Gites in France
Photo above: the mighty Loire.

 The French have two words for a "river"; a substantial river that flows to the sea is known as "un fleuve", and all other rivers - including all rivers that are tributaries of other rivers - are known of as "une rivière". Most of the French départements (counties), such as the Saône et Loire,  are named after one or two rivers flowing through them. There are thousands of rivers in France; the table below lists only the main or best-known of them - notably those that have given their name to a département. The second table lists the main navigable canals in France.
    Below you will find summary details of the main river basins in France.

Column 1 lists the great  "fleuves" of France; column 2 shows their main tributaries, and column 3 lists significant rivers that are direct or indirect tributaries of the rivers in column 2.
Many of the rivers in columns 1 and 2 are navigable over a considerable part of their length. Click here for details of navigable rivers and river cruises in France

River / flowing into: Main tributaries Indirect tributaries
Somme (263 km) -

Seine (776 km ) - Flows through Paris Eure
Oise - (302 km) Rises in Belgium Aisne
Marne - (514 km) connected to the Saone and the Rhine by canals.
Yonne - Connected to the Loire by the Canal du Nivernais, and to the Saône by the Canal de Bourgogne.

Vilaine (218 km)

Loire (1012 km ) the longest river completely in France. Rises in the Ardèche. Flows through Orleans, Tours and Nantes.
See regional guide for the Pays de la Loire and Centre regions
Vienne (363 km) Creuse, Gartempe
Maine Mayenne, Sarthe (313 km), Loir.
Cher (396 km)
Indre (271 km)
Allier (421 km) Sioule, Allagnon
Sèvre Niortaise (158 km)

Charente (381 km): 

Gironde The name of the long estuary which is technically the mouth of the river Garonne. Connected to the Mediterranean by the Canal des Deux Mers (Canal du Midi). Garonne (575 km) Lot (481 km), Tarn, Ariège, Truyère
Dordogne (483 km) Cère, Vézère, Corrèze
Adour (309 km) Gave de Pau
Aude (224 km)

Hérault (148 km)

Rhone (812 km)  Rises in Switzerland; enters France next to Geneva. Flows through Lyon Durance
Saone - (473 km) the longest tributary of the Rhone. Connected by "Freycinet" gauge canals to the Rhine (via the Saone, the Doubs), to the Loire, to the Seine, to the Marne, and to the Meuse Doubs (453 km) - passes in and out of Switzerland; Ognon
Rhin (Rhine) (1325 km)  Rises in Switzerland; Marks the eastern border of Alsace. Flows through Germany and Holland.
German: Rhein; English Rhine.
Moselle : Rises in France, flows through Luxembourg and Germany
Ill  (the ill)
Meuse (950 km) Rises in France, flows through Belgium and Holland.
(Dutch & German: Maas)

Escaut (430 km)
(English: Scheldt, Dutch Schelde)



It is possible to travel through France, from river basin to river basin, using a network of canals, mostly dating from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. The north-east of France has a particularly dense network of canals linking the regional cities and rivers.

Name Length Route
Canal du Midi  240 km From the Mediteranean to Toulouse - the world's oldest long-distance commercial canal - opened in 1681; southern part of the Canal des Deux Mers
Canal de Garonne 193 km From Toulouse to the Gironde . Northern part of the Canal des Deux Mers
Canal du Rhin au Rhone 324 km From near Strasbourg to St Symphorien (on the Saône). The total length includes over 100 km of the River Doubs.
Canal de la Marne au Rhin 312 km From Vitry le François (on the Marne) to Strasbourg. Includes the remarkable inclined plane of St. Louis Artzwiller, lifting boats up a height of 44 metres (replacing 17 locks).
Canal de la Marne à la Saône 224 Km From Vitry le François (on the Marne) to Maxilly sur Saône
Canal des Ardennes 88 km From the river Aisne to the river Meuse
Canal de la Loire 196 km From Digoin (on the Loire) to Briare (on the Loire), along the valley of the Loire
Canal du Centre 112 km From Digoin (on the Loire) to Chalon sur Saône
Canal de Bourgogne 242 km From Migennes (on the Yonne) to St. Jean de Losne, (on the Saône)
Canal de Briare 54 km From Buges (on the Loing -> Seine), to Briare (on the Loire)

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