The Topography of Europe

June 09, 2018

The Topography of Europe

Europe is sometimes described as the peninsula of the supercontinent of Eurasia. We don't often think of Europe as a peninsula, maybe because of its size or maybe because several commonly used map projections distort size so much that landmasses appear distorted and we lose perspective.  

The map below is maybe not the most aesthetic but it does illustrate why Europe is sometimes referred to as a peninsula. 

Quick facts about Europe

Largest Urban Area
Moscow, Russia (16.2 million people)

Highest Elevation
Mount Elbrus, Russia (5,642 meters/18,510 feet)

Largest Watershed
Volga River (1.38 million square km/532,821 square miles)

Population Density
188 people per square kilometer 

In terms of topography Europe can be divided into four major geographic regions for the purp, running from north to south: Western Uplands, North European Plain, Central Uplands, and Alpine Mountains. 

Western Uplands


The Western uplands define the physical landscape of Scandinavia(Norway, Sweden, and Denmark), Finland, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, the Brittany region of France, Spain, and Portugal. The physical geography of these countries is defined by the effects of glaciation. These features typically found in these landscapes include marshlands, lakes, and fjords. In very general terms the landscape in these regions also tend to have rounded, smooth appearance this is the result of glaciation and the relatively hard underlying rock. This is, of course, a very general observation and may only be apparent when making a comparison to the rocky mountains in North America or the Southern Alps in New Zealand.


North European Plain.

The North European Plain stretches from the southern United Kingdom east towards Russia. It includes parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Poland, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), and Belarus. 

In General, the elevation across this area is below 152 meters (500 feet). Low elevations and undulating landscape have proven to be excellent for farming and this area supports a wide variety of seasonal crops. The agricultural development in this area plus the advantages that this the landscape creates in terms of transport climate is probably the reason that this area remains the most densely populated region of Europe.

Central Uplands

The Central Uplands stretch east-west across central Europe and encompass the western region of France and Belgium, the south of Germany, the Czech Republic, and parts of northern Switzerland and Austria. 

This area is heavily forested and sparsely populated except for regions surrounding some of the major rivers.


Alpine Mountains

The Alpine Mountains include ranges in the Italian and Balkan peninsulas, northern Spain, and southern France. The region includes the mountains of the Alps, Pyrenees, Apennines, Dinaric Alps, Balkans, and the Carpathians. 

High elevations, rugged plateaus, and steeply sloping land define the region. Europes highest peak, Mount Elbrus (5,642 meters/18,510 feet), is in the Caucasus mountains of Russia. The Alpine region also includes active volcanoes, such as Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius in Italy. 



 This map depicts the elevation of Europe. Dark green for lower elevations and dark brown for darker elevations. 


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