Some of France’s 51 rivers have familiar names. The Loire, the Seine, and the Rhône, for example. Others include the Garonne and the Dordogne, both near Bordeaux.


Here’s a snapshot of 5 French rivers


Why might you want to know about French rivers? Well, rivers add beauty and interest to the towns and cities you visit. Rivers also add a LOT of options for a different kind of vacation in France. With over 5,000 miles of rivers, there’s plenty to do! And don’t forget smaller streams, tributaries, and canals. Check your tourist bureau for more watery ideas!


Think of the following

  • Dancing at twilight on the riverbanks of the Loire River while visiting Tours.
  • Taking a barge cruise on a canal in southern France.
  • Enjoying the immense Loire River as you castle-hop and vineyard-hop through the Loire Valley.
  • Renting a self-drive boat and creating your own family cruise along one of the French canals or on the Seine.
  • Taking an organized cruise along the Seine as you start in Normandy and end up in Paris. Or taking a dinner cruise during a Paris visit.
  • Enjoying a cruise on the Rhone (Provence) or the Rhine (Alsace.)
  • Not to mention all the canoeing, kayaking, and paddling opportunities!


The Lowdown on 5 French Rivers

The Loire River is the longest river in France, over 600 miles long. It begins in the south, flows north, and makes a left turn around Orléans. It then scoops through the famed Loire River Valley for about 70 miles then finishes in the Atlantic. As you tour the Loire Valley, you’ll often have this majestic river in your sights.


The Rhine is over 700 miles long and flows through 6 countries. It creates the border between Germany and France in the region of Alsace. One of its tributaries, the Ill River, flows through Strasbourg. You can see the highlights of the city from the water.



The Seine River, nearly 500 miles long, is one most people recognize because it flows through Paris. The river begins near Dijon, flows northwest through Paris, Rouen, and Le Havre, and ends at the English Channel in Normandy. According to the Paris Tourist Bureau, this river is over 14,000 years old!


The Rhône is associated with Provence but actually begins in Geneva, Switzerland. French cities on the Rhone include Lyon in southeast France. In Provence, Valence, Avignon, and Arles sit on its banks. Its average depth is only three feet, and there are 14 locks between Lyon and the Mediterranean Sea. When it finally arrives in Arles, it branches into two smaller rivers which end in La Camargue. It often has a beautiful greenish color, having left much of the silt behind in Switzerland.


Moving on to the southwest of France, you’ll find the Garonne River, just over 300 miles long, forming a cleft in the coastline near Bordeaux. The river begins in the Spanish Pyrenees mountains and flows upward toward the Atlantic coast of France. This river looks yellowish brown, not because it’s dirty, but due to the erosion of the banks and sediments, primarily clay, and some pollution. Despite the unappealing color of the river, it’s made a significant contribution to growing grapes for world-famous wines!


What can you do on French Rivers?

The Loire: Some of the Loire is too shallow for boats, while other areas are fine. If you’re on your own, learn ahead of time.  Otherwise, take a short boat ride and let someone else navigate! From land, you’ll be able to see the river all over the splendid Loire Valley. (And go dancing on its banks in Tours!)

The Seine: Many cruise companies offer multi-day trips on the Seine. At the other end of the time spectrum is a dinner cruise on one of the Paris cruise boats. You can also rent a self-drive boat from various companies for your own private cruise.

The Rhône: Take a multi-day cruise from Lyon to Avignon along the Rhone. Or arrange your own self-drive tour on this river too!

The Garonne: Although you find this river in Bordeaux, part of it crosses the Canal du Midi in Toulouse. This canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, is a popular canal for barge cruises. It also meets the Dordogne, near Bordeaux. You can rent a small boat and visit the villages in the lovely region of Dordogne.

The Rhine: You can also take a cruise along this famed river in the east of France. Skim along the border of Germany, take in the Christmas markets of Alsace, or simply enjoy the Vosges mountains from a distance as you float along.

Often, smaller rivers will give better opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, and short visits, for example, in the Calanques of Cassis or the Gorge du Verdon. There’s a lot to do from the water in France!


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Banner photo is Lyon, Paris Seine, then the River Ill in Strasbourg, taken by K. B. Oliver