One of the major rivers of Europe has a waterfall on it – and, of course, this is one of the largest waterfalls in Europe. These are the magnificent Rhine Falls in Switzerland – some 23 m tall and 150 m wide.

Geological formation

Rhine Falls have formed in the upper reaches of Rhine, shortly after the river has left Untersee. Here Rhine is already a large river which could suitable for farly large ships, some 80 – 120 m wide.

It has not been flowing in this site for always – before the ice age Rhine was flowing elsewhere. Only some 14 – 17 thousand years ago (because for geologists this is almost like yesterday), after the Last Ice Age, Rhine started to flow in its current bed. At first the stream met the glacial deposits – gravel, clay, sand.

As the glacial deposits were washed away, the stream here met with a large block of hard rock – Late Jurassic limestone. Thus here the stream became somewhat wider and more shallow before leaping over this rock, forming enormous waterfall.

Rhein Falls from the air. Below, in the river - Wörth Castle, to the right from the falls - Laufen Castle
Falls from the air. Below, in the river – Wörth Castle, to the right from the falls – Laufen Castle / Sven Scharr, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0


Flow of Rhine changes throughout the year: in winter there is less water (some 250 m³/s) but in summer, as the snow and ice in Alps is melting, there is a lot more water – 600 m³/s.

Maximum flow has been registered in 1965 – 1 250 m³/s but the lowest flow – 95 m³/s – in 1921.

Only one waterfall in the mainland Europe is more powerful – Sarpsfossen in Norway which has 577 m³/s medium annual flow. Unfortunately this once spectacular waterfall is disfigured by hydropowerplant now.

Rhine Falls have formed in a sharp bend of Rhine, thus providing many impressive views on the falls.

Before the main falls in the stream have formed smaller steps, Rhine becomes shallower and wider. Some 80 – 200 m before the falls Rhine is crossed by railway bridge which was built in 1857.

Islands in Rhine Falls
Islands in Rhine Falls / Lutz Blohm, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0

Main falls have several steps over the distance of some 100 – 120 m, but by far the largest one is the last one. Total height of these steps is around 23 m.

In the middle of the falls are towering two interesting rocks – islands. One can be visited by boat and ascended to look on the fall in both sides of it. Another island has hole in it – it is a kind of natural arch. At high water one can only wonder how these islands can persist in the endless, powerful stream.

Below the falls Rhine is up to 13 m deep.

Castles and tourists

In the northern side of falls there was built a mill. Since then falls have been constantly endangered by plans to build hydropowerplant, although the tourist industry around the falls might create larger income than the powerplant.

Near the falls are two castles: Laufen Castle (1544 – 1547) is towering above the falls on the left bank of river but Wörth Castle (1348 AD) is built on a small island near the right bank of Rhine some hundreds of metres below the falls.

Around the falls has developed lively tourist industry with boat trips, guided tours, hotels, diverse local souvenirs – falls are visited by more than 1 milion tourists every year.

Often during the nights Rhine Falls are illuminated.

Rhine Falls on the map
Travelers' Map is loading...
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Location, GPS coordinates: 47.6780 N 8.6155 E
Categories: Waterfalls
Values: Geology, Visual
Rating: 4.5 out of 10 stars
Where is located? Europe, Switzerland, on the border of Schaffhausen and Zürich cantons, on Rhine river at Neuhausen am Rheinfall
Name in German: Rheinfall
Alternate names: Grosser Laufen (old)
River: Rhine
Height: 23 m
Drops: 1
Width: 150 m
Flow: 373 m³/s (medium annual), 250 m³/s in winter, 600 m³/s in summer

Landmarks of Switzerland

The gorgeous country of Switzerland is very rich both with natural and man made heritage. Here most impressive landmarks are:

  • Historical abbeys – there are several very old and once influential monasteries with immense art values. Especially rich is Abbey of St. Gall – once important centre of knowledge.
  • Urban planning monuments – here are many interesting medieval towns (Bern Old City, Murten, Stein am Rhein) but of great value are early industrial cities La Chaux-de-Fonds and Le Locle.
  • Waterfalls – some of Europe’s tallest and most spectacular waterfalls are found here. Most waterfalls here are thin streams falling over multiple cascades and flowing down along nearly vertical cliffs but one stands out – the powerful Rhine Falls, one of the widest waterfalls in Europe.

Waterfalls and rapids

Virginia Falls, Canada
Virginia Falls / Paul Gierszewski, Wikimedia Commons / public domain
Some of the most fascinating and awe inspiring natural monuments are waterfalls, or locations where a river abruptly changes its elevation.

Recommended books


The Rhine: An Eco-biography, 1815-2000

The Rhine River is Europe’s most important commercial waterway, channeling the flow of trade among Switzerland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. In this innovative study, Mark Cioc focuses on the river from the moment when the Congress of Vienna established a multinational commission charged with making the river more efficient for purposes of trade and commerce in 1815.

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