Physical Features

EuropeEurope is one of Earth's seven continents.

Europe can be divided into four main regions. They are, from north to south, the Northern Highlands, the Great European Plain, the Central Highlands, and the Alpine Mountains.

The Northern Highlands, which include the mountains of Scandinavia and of the northern British Isles, were once overrun by huge glaciers. The glaciers left many lakes, rounded mountains, and U-shaped valleys. The highest point, Galdhöpiggen, in Norway, is more than 8,000 feet (2,400 m) above sea level.

The Great European Plain extends from southwestern France to the Ural Mountains in Russia. It includes northern France, southeastern Great Britain, most of Belgium and the Netherlands, Denmark, northern Germany, and southern Sweden. Much of Europe's population and industry, and many of the continent's major cities, are located on this plain.

The Central Highlands, extending east-west across central Europe, are moderately high and heavily wooded. Examples of these highlands are the Massif Central and the Vosges of France, the Ardennes of Belgium, the Black Forest and Taunus mountains of Germany, and the Ore and Sudeten mountains on the Czech Republic's northern border. Except in such large river valleys as those of the Rhine, Rhône, Elbe, and Danube, the Central Highlands are sparsely settled.

The Alpine Mountains extend across southern Europe from Spain to southern Russia. Among these mountains are the Sierra Nevada, Pyrenees, Alps, Pindus, Balkan, and Caucasus mountains. These are high, rugged ranges with steep slopes.


Rivers are of great economic importance in Europe because many of them provide navigation and large amounts of water power. Most European rivers are quite short. The Volga River, the continent's longest river, is 2,290 miles (3,685 km) in length, about the same length as the Mississippi River. Other large southward-flowing rivers include the Dnieper, Danube, Don, Po, Rhône, and Ebro. Among the northward-flowing rivers are the Loire, Seine, Rhine, Elbe, Oder, Vistula, Western Dvina, Northern Dvina, and Pechora.

Most of Europe's many lakes are in the north. Finland is the chief lake country—about 9 per cent of its area is water. Lakes Ladoga and Onega, in Russia, are Europe's largest lakes. Other large lakes include Lakes Vänern and Vättern, in Sweden; and Lake Balaton, in Hungary. Many of the Alpine lakes of central Europe are popular tourist attractions. Among the largest of these are Lakes Geneva and Constance, both on the Swiss border.