Europe, the second smallest continent, is densely populated and divided into many different countries which reflect the enormously varied physical, ethnic, cultural and economic nature of the area.
The boundaries of Europe owe as much to history and political considerations as they do to geography. Hence Russia, although a part of the European continent, is generally regarded politically as a separate entity, bordering southwards and eastwards with the countries of Asia. However, geographers usually draw the line dividing Europe from Asia down the Ural Mountains and then westwards and southwards to the Caspian and Black Seas. Since the collapse of communism, Russia’s former East European allies are now politically, as well as geographically, being regarded as more truly a part of Europe.
Europe has some very fertile land but the continent is too small and densely populated to be self-supporting in food. It does, however, have the greatest concentration of industry of all the continents. The largest cities are Paris and Moscow, both with over eight millión inhabitants, followed by London, St Petersburg and Berlin. The western countries of Europe are among the richest countries in the world.
There is a great variety of landscapes within Europe with a lot of climate variation as a result. The highest peaks are in the Alps while north of these the land is flatter until the far north where Norway and Sweden make up the cold, mountainous Scandinavian Peninsula. Areas in the far south, such as the mountains and plateaus of Spam and the many islands that go to make up Greece, are much hotter and drier with limited rainfall.
Europe has so much to offer the traveller, from its many beautiful and varied locations with their own flora and fauna, to its exciting modern cities and many different cultures, to places steeped in history.
The Alps stretch from eastern France through northern Italy, Southern Germany, Switzerland, Lichtenstein to Austria and northern Slovenia. The highest peak is Mont Blanc (4,785 metres or 15,700 feet), which straddles the bordér between Italy and France. Other famous peaks include the towering Matterhorn (4,477 metres or 14,688 feet) and the Eiger (3,970 metres or 13,025 feet). The Alps have always been a barrier to commumcation although important natural passes, such as the Brenner Pass, provide vitai road and rail links.
The Pyrenees straddle the border and form a natural barrier between France and Spain. They stretch for roughly 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the territory of the Basque people in the west to the Mediterranean coast. Some of the peaks rise to 1,524 metres or 5,000 feet in height, the greatest being Pico de Aneto (3,404 metres or 11,169 feet).
The Pyrenees are physically beautiful, culturally varied and a great deal less developed than the Alps. The whole range is a marvellous country for walkers, especially in the Central region around the Parc National des Pyrenees with its 3000-metre peaks, streams and forests, flowers and wildlife, and some 350 kilometres or 217 miles of marked routes. The hiking season is from mid-June to September.
Major rivers in Europe
Beginning in the Black Forest region of Germany, it flows across central Europe and the countries of Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Yugoslavia. It then forms the border between Romania and Bulgaria, turning north across Romania to eventually end in the Black Sea.
It's (1,771 miles) (2,850 km) in length, and one of the most significant commercial waterways on the continent.
Rising in the southwestern part of the Russian Federation, it flows generally south through Belarus, then southeast through Ukraine, ending in the Black Sea. Overall it's (1,420 miles) (2,285 km) in length.
Beginning it the southwestern Russian Federation, to the south of Moscow, it flows southeasterly towards the Volga, then turns abruptly west, ending in the Sea of Azov. Overall it's (1,224 miles) (1,969 km) in length.
Rising in the Czech Republic, the Elbe River then flows north through Germany, ending in the North Sea near Cuxhaven. It's (724 miles) (1,165 km) in length.
Recognized as the longest river in France, the navigable Loire begins in the foothills of the Massif Central, then flows north and west across the heartland of France, finally ending in the Bay of Biscay. It's (634 miles) (1,020 km) in length.
Rising in the rugged mountains of the eastern Czech Republic, it flows west and north through south-central Poland, eventually emptying into the Baltic Sea. It's (567 miles) (912 km) in length.
Italy's longest river begins in the upper reaches of the Alps, flowing west to east across northern Italy, ending in the Adriatic Sea. It's (405 miles) (652 km) in length.
Forming in the mountains of southeastern Switzerland, this legendary river flows west, forming Switzerland's northeastern border with Germany, then runs directly north through western Germany forming part of that country's border with France, then finally dissecting the Netherlands and ending in the North Sea.
Numerous tributaries and branches run in all directions, and in overall length is (820 miles) (1,319 km).
Begin high in the Swiss Alps, this fast moving river flows into the eastern end of Lake Geneva, then south through south-eastern France, emptying into the Mediterranean Sea.
Small branches run in all directions, and in overall length, it's (300 miles) (485 km).
Rising in northwestern Ireland, it flows south through a series of lakes, then turns west to eventually empty into the Atlantic Ocean. It's 230 miles (370 km) in length.
The Tagus River rises in the central highlands of Spain, flowing southwest across Portugal, then south to Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean. It's 626 miles (1,007 km) in length.
The Volga is the largest river in European Russia in terms of length, discharge, and watershed. It flows through central Russia, and is widely viewed as the national river of Russia. It's 3,692 km (2,294 mi) long.