Facts about the Rhine

Facts about the Rhine

• The Rhine flows from the Alps to the North Sea. It is the European river most used by people, for lots of different things.
• The Rhine is 1,233 kilometres long.
• The source (the start of the Rhine) is in Lake Toma in Switzerland, 2,340 metres above sea level.
• The first inhabited place along the Rhine is the village of Tschamut in Switzerland.
• The catchment area of the Rhine covers about 200,000 km². It is located in Italy, Austria, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
• About 58 million people live in the catchment area, which works out at 290 per square kilometre. Not much space!
• Important rivers in the catchment area include the Aare, the Ill, the Neckar, the Main, the Moselle, the Saar, the Nahe, the Lahn, the Sieg, the Ruhr, the Lippe and the Vechte.
• The largest lakes are Lake Constance and Lake IJssel.
• More than 60 species of fish are found in the Rhine, as well as about 300 different small water-dwelling animals, more than 40 types of water plants and more than 40 species of water birds.

Tomameer (CH) (Foto: Dages)

[Translate to en:] Tomameer (CH)

Foto: Dages

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The name

The name “Rhine” originally derives from Celtic, and means “large, flowing water". The Celts come from the British Isles and Ireland, and lived in many parts of Europe centuries before Christ. The Romans adopted this meaning, and called the river “Rhenus”. The name of the Rhine is slightly different in different languages.

• German: Rhein
• Dutch: Rijn
• French: Rhin
• English: Rhine
• Swiss German: Rhy
• Romantsch: Rein
• Italian: Reno
• Luxembourgish: Rhäin
• Frisian: Ryn


Rembrandt van Rijn

The famous painter Rembrandt has the Rhine in his name. His full name is “Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn”, which means “the son of Harmen van Rijn”. His father had a mill on the banks of the Rhine, which is where he got the nickname “Van Rijn”.


There is an “underwater waterfall” in Lake Constance. This appears on the surface of the water, i.e. the top of the lake, as waves with white foam caps, called the “Rhine break”.

A little further downstream, close to the town of Schaffhausen, is one of the largest waterfalls in Europe.


Waterfalls at Schaffhausen (CH) Photo: N. Plum

Waterfalls at Schaffhausen (CH) Photo: N. Plum


Fluctuating water

Water levels in a river are not always the same. In the Alpine Rhine the water level can fluctuate by over a metre in the course of a day.

Farming and wine growing 

Half of the catchment area of the Rhine is used for farming. A lot of wine is produced alongside the Moselle. It is the largest production area in the world for a particular type of famous white wine (Riesling). You can also find many vineyards running right down to the edge of the river.

Weingarten Trier (DE) (Foto: D. van Rossum)

[Translate to en:] Weingarten Trier (DE)

Foto: D. van Rossum

Foto: ICBR

[Translate to en:] Mosel

Foto: ICBR


 A whale in the Rhine

A whale was seen in the Rhine in 1966! It was given the name “Moby Dick” and swam up the Rhine as far as Bonn in Germany before turning round and going back to the North Sea.