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The Most Important Rivers in Russia

As you’re probably aware, Russia has the largest surface area of all the countries in the world. The nation is home to an extremely diverse landscape – impressive mountains, wide valleys, and an expansive tundra. With such a surface area, it’s no surprise that bodies of water are also plentiful here. The rivers in Russia are some of the most beautiful in the world, and many Russians take pride in that fact.

Certain rivers in Russia are more important than others, for various different reasons. We’ll reveal which of the rivers play an especially important role in the Russian Federation, as well as some fun facts about the rivers themselves.

The Volga

The obvious a choice, but we cannot ignore the Volga when discussing rivers in Russia. It’s the longest river in Europe, and the Russians lovingly call it “the mother of all Russian rivers”.

Without a doubt, the Volga plays one of the most important roles of all the rivers in Russia. Some of the largest major cities lie on the banks of the Volga, including Moscow and St. Petersburg, as well as other cities like Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, and Volgograd. As a result, almost half of all Russian citizens live near the Volga.

The Volga is over 3,500 kilometres long – long enough to run across the entire USA! It starts in the Valdai Hills in northwest Russia. This is the origin for several rivers in Russia, including the Dnieper and the Daugava. After a journey across the entire country, the Volga eventually flows into the Caspian Sea.

The Volga has had an incredible influence on Russian art. This is evident in numerous Russian works, and plays a significant role in dozens of films and songs.

It is also of essential importance to tourism here. Regular ferries transport throngs of tourists to various destinations along the massive river. It’s also an excellent route for the transportation of goods.

As a result of industrialisation, the waters of the Volga are not as clear as they once were. Nevertheless, the Volga remains one of the most beautiful rivers in Russia. It definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list. The Volga Delta is home to an array of wildlife, such as beavers, otters and diverse bird species, and is another must-see attraction here.

The Lena

We’ve already mentioned how the Volga is the longest river in Europe. But of course, Russia isn’t just in Europe. Large parts of the country actually belong to Asia. Although the large majority of the population lives in the European region, over two-thirds of the country’s area is, in fact, outside of Europe.

Put simply, the Volga is the longest river in Europe, but not the longest in Russia. That title goes to the Lena, at around 4,400 kilometres long. That’s right, it’s roughly 900 kilometres longer than the “mother of all Russian rivers”.

The river’s journey begins in the Baikal Mountains, where you’ll also find Lake Baikal. Much of the river runs through the polar regions, which is why the surrounding landscape is characterised by a permafrost. After a long journey through Siberia, the Lena ends at the Laptev Sea, one of the marginal seas of the Arctic Ocean.

Given the river’s course, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Lena is covered in a thick layer of ice during the winter. It takes until June for the layer of ice on the Lena to even begin melting, well after other rivers and lakes are already defrosted. Despite this, it is an essential transport route, especially in the Russian republic of Sakha, and is also used by various cruise ships.

As soon as the ice melts, the Lena becomes a proper force of nature. The water level easily rises to around 25 meters, and a river that would otherwise be relatively inconspicuous becomes a roaring current. However, lingering ice travelling along the Lena can result in dams, which can have catastrophic effects for settlements along the river. This is how the town of Lensk was almost totally devastated by a flood in 2001. A large part of Yakutsk, the largest city in the Lena catchment area, was also underwater.

The river delta of the Lena is also particularly interesting. It stretches out over an area of three million hectares. Within the river delta, the Lena splits off into various distributary channels. When added together, those channels are around 6,500 kilometres in length. In addition, there are over 30,000 lakes in the Lena’s river delta.

The river delta provides a safe haven for various migrating birds. Many types of mammals also live here, including polar bears and arctic foxes. The landscape of the river delta is characterised by tundra, meaning it’s also home to a broad diversity of plant life, too.

The Moskva

The Moskva is the river that flows through the Russian capital of Moscow. This is where the city gets its name!

The Moskva is particularly important for tourism. It’s one of the most picturesque rivers in Europe, thanks to the many bridges in Moscow that connect its banks. The Crimean Bridge, near to Gorky Park, is an especially popular subject for photos of the city.

Most of the main sights in the city are accessible from the river. The Kremlin, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Novodevichy Convent are just some of the sightseeing spots that help lend the Moskva its charm.

In the 1930s, the man-made Moscow Canal connected the Moskva to the upper Volga. It also has always been indirectly connected to the longest river in Europe via the Oka, further to the east.

The source of the Moskva is in the Smolensk Upland. After a journey of around 500 kilometres, the Moskva ends in the Oka River. Its most famous tributaries are the Istra, Kusa, Severka and Pakhra, though the Moskva itself is also a tributary of the Oka. This doesn’t change the fact that it is one of the most beautiful rivers in Russia.

The Neva

At first sight, the Neva might not seem quite as important as other rivers in Russia, given that it is only 74 kilometres long. But its shorter length doesn’t take away from the fact that this river is a vital player in Russian tourism. Just as the Moskva is the most important river in Moscow, the Neva serves a similar role in St. Petersburg.

The city lies on the river delta of the Neva, which splits into two branches. There are plenty of bridges in the city that connect one bank to the other, creating an image of the city that has led some travellers to nickname St. Petersburg the “Venice of the North”.

The source of the Neva is Lake Ladoga, and the river ends in the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Despite its shorter length, it’s one of the largest rivers in the catchment area of the Baltic Sea and creates a habitat for several types of fish, including sturgeon, eels and salmon. For this reason, the river plays a vital role for fisheries.

Just like in Moscow, you can discover many of the sights of St. Petersburg from the river. The Winter Palace, the former residence of the Russian czars, should definitely be on your bucket list. The Peter and Paul Fortress and the Admiralty Building are also among the most popular sights in this city in western Russia and are also accessible from this river.

For the residents of St. Petersburg, the Neva can be both a blessing and a curse. While it does provide fresh drinking water for the city, the river can also sometimes be unpredictable and has flooded St. Petersburg multiple times. The last great flood, which caused massive damage to the city, took place in 1924.

Nevertheless, a walk on the banks of the Neva is something you’ll definitely want to make time for during your visit to St. Petersburg.

Rivers in Russia – Conclusion

Russia is easily one of the most exciting countries in the world. The rivers in Russia are a perfect reflection of the diversity of the nation and its landscape. Undoubtedly, one of the most famous rivers is the Volga. The catchment area of this river is home to over half the entire population of Russia. As a result of the vital importance the river had for early civilisations in Russia, the Volga has earned the name “Mother Volga” or “Mother of all Russian rivers”.

The Lena, which spends almost the entire year frozen over, stands in complete contrast to this. Nonetheless, the Lena absolutely had to feature on this list, simply because it’s even longer than the Volga. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to catch sight of this river, unless you plan on heading into the deepest parts of Siberia!

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