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The continent of Europe
Satellite image of Europe by night

Europe is traditionally reckoned as one of seven continents. Physiographically, however, it is the northwestern peninsula of the larger landmass known as Eurasia (or Afro-Eurasia): Asia occupies the eastern bulk of this continuous landmass (save the Suez Canal separating Asia and Africa) and all share a common continental shelf. Europe's eastern frontier is delineated by the Ural Mountains in Russia. The south-east boundary with Asia is not universally defined. Most commonly the Ural or, alternatively, the Emba River serve as possible boundaries. The boundary continues to the Caspian Sea, the crest of the Caucasus Mountains or, alternatively, the Kura River in the Caucasus, and on to the Black Sea; the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles conclude the Asian boundary. The Mediterranean Sea to the south separates Europe from Africa. The western boundary is the Atlantic Ocean; Iceland, though on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and nearer to Greenland (North America) than mainland Europe, is generally included in Europe for cultural reasons. There is ongoing debate on where the geographical centre of Europe is. (See Transcontinental nation for a more detailed description of the boundary between Asia and Europe).



The coast of Europe is heavily indented with bays and gulfs, as here in Greece.

The idea of a European "continent" is not universally held. Some geographical texts refer to a Eurasian Continent, or to a European subcontinent, given that Europe is not surrounded by sea and is, in any case, much more a cultural than a geographically definable area.

In terms of shape, Europe is a collection of connected peninsulas. The two largest of these are "mainland" Europe and Scandinavia to the north, divided from each other by the Baltic Sea. Three smaller peninsulas—Iberia, Italy and the Balkans—emerge from the southern margin of the mainland into the Mediterranean Sea, which separates Europe from Africa. Eastward, mainland Europe widens much like the mouth of a funnel, until the boundary with Asia is reached at the Ural Mountains.

Land relief in Europe shows great variation within relatively small areas. The southern regions are mountainous, while moving north the terrain descends from the high Alps, Pyrenees and Carpathians, through hilly uplands, into broad, low northern plains, which are vast in the east. An arc of uplands also exists along the northwestern seaboard, beginning in the western British Isles and continuing along the mountainous, fjord-cut spine of Norway.

This description is simplified. Sub-regions such as Iberia and Italy contain their own complex features, as does mainland Europe itself, where the relief contains many plateaus, river valleys and basins that complicate the general trend. Iceland and the British Isles[1] are special cases. The former is a land unto itself in the northern ocean which is counted as part of Europe, while the latter are upland areas that were once joined to the mainland until rising sea levels cut them off.

The few generalizations that can be made about the relief of Europe make it less than surprising that the continent's many separate regions provided homes for many separate nations throughout history.


Europe's most significant feature is the dichotomy between highland and mountainous Southern Europe and a vast, partially underwater, northern plain ranging from England in the west to Ural Mountains in the east. These two halves are separated by the mountain chains of Pyrenees and Alps/Carpathians. The northern plains are delimited in the west by the Scandinavian Mountains and the mountainous parts of the British Isles. Major shallow water bodies submerging parts of the northern plains are the Celtic Sea, the North Sea, the Baltic Sea complex, and the Barents Sea.

The northern plain contains the old geological continent of Baltica, and so may be regarded as the "main continent", while peripheral highlands and mountainous regions in south and west constitute fragments from various other geological continents.


The Volga, the longest river in Europe, in Ulyanovsk, Russia.
The Danube, Europe's second longest river, in Budapest, Hungary.

Important rivers of Europe, with approximate length:

  1. Volga -   3,690 km (2,293 mi)
  2. Danube - 2,860 km (1,777 mi)
  3. Ural   -    2,428 km (1,509 mi)
  4. Dnieper - 2,290 km (1,423 mi)
  5. Don   -     1,950 km (1,212 mi)
  6. Pechora - 1,809 km (1,124 mi)
  7. Kama -  1,805 km (1,122 mi)
  8. Oka   -   1,500 km (932 mi)
  9. Belaya - 1,430 km (889 mi)
10. Tisza   -   1,358 km (844 mi)
11. Dniester - 1,352 km (840 mi)
12. Rhine   -   1,320 km (820 mi)
13. Elbe   -   1,091 km (678 mi)
14. Vistula - 1,047 km (651 mi)
15. Tagus   - 1,038 km (645 mi)
16. Daugava - 1,020 km (634 mi)
17. Loire - 1,012 km (629 mi)
18. Ebro - 960 km (597 mi)
19. Nemunas - 937 km (582 mi)
20. Sava - 933 km (580 mi)
21. Oder - 854 km (531 mi)
22. Rhône - 815 km (506 mi)
23. Seine  - 776 km (482 mi)
24. Po (river) - 682 km (424 mi)
25. Glomma - 604 km (375 mi)
26. Maritsa - 480 km (298 mi)
27. Vardar - 388 km (241 mi)
28. Shannon River - 386 km (240 mi)

Lakes and inland seas

Major islands

Iceland, Faroe Islands, Great Britain, Ireland, the rest of the British Isles, part of the Azores, Madeira, Balearic Islands, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Ionian Islands, Crete, Aegean Islands, Åland Islands, Gotland, Saaremaa, Canary Islands, Cyprus, Svalbard, Hinnøya, Senja, Zealand, Fyn and North Jutlandic Island.

See also List of European islands by area and List of European islands by population

Plains and lowlands

Mountain ranges

Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.
Mount Olympus, legendary abode of the Greek gods.
Maja Jezercë in Albania at 2,694m high is the highest peak of the Dinaric Alps

Some of Europe's major mountain ranges are:

Land area in different classes of European mountainous terrain (classification from UNEP-WCMC):

>= 4500m 3500- 4500m 2500- 3500m 1500- 2500m & slope>=2° 1000- 1500m & slope >=5°
or local elevation range >300m
300-1000m & local elevation range >300m Mountainous TOTAL Europe TOTAL
1 km2 225 km2 497886 km2 145838 km2 345255 km2 1222104 km2 2211308 km2 10180000 km2
0.00% 0.00% 4.89% 1.43% 3.39% 12.00% 21.72% 100.00%

Temperature and precipitation

The high mountainous areas of Europe are colder and have higher precipitation than lower areas, as is true of mountainous areas in general. Europe has less precipitation in the east than in central and Western Europe. The temperature difference between summer and winter gradually increases from coastal northwest Europe to southeast inland Europe, ranging from Ireland, with a temperature difference of only 10 °C from the warmest to the coldest month, to the area north of the Caspian Sea, with a temperature difference of 40 °C. January average range from 18°C in Tenerife, Spain to -20°C in northeastern part of European Russia.

Western Europe and parts of Central Europe generally fall into the temperate maritime climate (Cfb), the southern part is mostly a Mediterranean climate (mostly Csa, smaller area with Csb), the north-central part and east into central Russia is mostly a humid continental climate (Dfb) and the northern part of the continent is a subarctic climate (Dfc). In the extreme northern part (northernmost Russia; Svalbard), bordering the Arctic Ocean, is tundra climate (Et). Mountain ranges, such as the Alps and the Carpathian mountains, have a highland climate with large variations according to altitude and latitude.

Landlocked countries


  1. Liechtenstein is doubly landlocked.
  2. Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Kosovo, Hungary, Serbia, and Macedonia constitute a contiguous landlocked agglomeration of nine countries in Central Europe and the Balkans, stretching from Geneva all the way to Greece.
  3. All other landlocked countries (Luxembourg, Andorra, Vatican, San Marino, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan) are "standalone" landlocked countries, not bordering any other such European one (the emphasis is necessary, since Kazakhstan borders Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, thus forming a vast landlocked expanse in Central Asia)

Countries consisting solely of islands or parts of islands

Countries bordering or spanning another continent

Eurasia Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece (some Aegean islands)
Europe-Africa Spain (Ceuta, Melilla and Canary Islands), Italy (Lampedusa and Lampione), Portugal (Madeira), France (Réunion)
Europe-South America France (French Guiana)
Europe-North and Central America Portugal (Western part of the Azores), France (Guadeloupe, Saint Barthélemy and Martinique), the Netherlands (Netherlands Antilles)

Countries that share a name with their capital

Countries whose capital is not their largest city

Country Capital Largest City
Liechtenstein Vaduz Schaan
Malta Valetta Birkirkara
San Marino San Marino Serravalle
Switzerland Bern Zürich
Turkey Ankara Istanbul

Note: Italy's capital, Rome, is the country's largest city if only the municipality (comune) is considered. According to some definitions of urban zone and metropolitan areas, Milan's and Naples' metropolitan areas are larger than Rome's.

List of countries by the number of other countries they border

Map of European countries by number of neighbouring countries.
14 Russia (Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea)
10 France
9 Germany
8 Austria, Serbia, Turkey
7 Hungary, Poland, Ukraine
6 Italy
5 Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Switzerland, Belarus, Spain, Kazakhstan, Slovakia, Macedonia
4 Belgium, Greece, Albania, Montenegro, Slovenia, The Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kosovo
3 Finland, Norway, Luxembourg, Bosnia and Herzegovina
2 Sweden, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Estonia, Moldova, Netherlands
1 Denmark, Ireland, United Kingdom, Monaco, Portugal, Vatican City, San Marino, Gibraltar
0 Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey (dependencies of the British Crown), Faroe Islands (dependency of Denmark), Iceland, Malta,

Note: includes borders of overseas departments, for example: France's overseas departments and collectivities also share land borders with Brazil and Suriname (bordering French Guiana), and the Netherlands (bordering Saint-Martin).

Geography by country

See also


  1. ^ The term British Isles is controversial in relation to Ireland where its use is objected by the government of the Republic of Ireland and many of its citizens. (See British Isles naming dispute).



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