Overview of European Geography

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about the geography of Europe, including the physical features, natural resources, politics, population, culture, environment, and climate. See what you've learned by testing yourself with a short quiz.

The Geography of Europe

Europe is usually described as one of the seven continents of the world. Economically, it's one of the most important, containing a larger number of developed countries than any other continent. Culturally, it's also significant - thanks to European empires of the past like the British Empire, French Empire, and Spanish Empire, their cultures are among the most well-known and influential in the world. So understanding the geography of Europe is an important part of understanding the world.

Geography is a study of the features of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, including human activities. In this lesson we are going to give an overview of the geography of Europe. That's no easy task, considering that Europe includes almost 750 million people, a land area of almost 4,000,000 square miles, and a large portion of the GDP (economy) of the world. There's a lot to learn! Now we will take a quick look at each aspect of geography.

Location, Physical Features, & Natural Resources

Europe is a land of variety. It contains huge rivers, tall mountains, and an astonishing length of coastline. In Europe you'll find hidden valleys covered with fertile soil, metals and gems to mine, oil in the North Sea, and hydro-power potential.

Mount Elbrus
Mount Elbrus

Most of the mountain ranges of Europe are really part of a single range that extends from west to east. This includes the Pyrenees, the Alps, Carpathians, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. The tallest mountains in Europe are Mount Elbrus in Russia at approximately 18,500 feet tall, and Mont Blanc in the Alps at approximately 15,800 feet tall. The two longest rivers are the Volga, which is found in Russia and is approximately 2300 miles long, and the Danube, which runs through 10 countries including Germany and Austria, and is around 1800 miles long. Europe also contains a coastline with lots of inlets and bays. The European Union, which doesn't even include all of geographical Europe has an astonishing 41,000 miles of coastline. That's significantly more coastline than Africa, even though the continent of Africa is much larger.

Danube River
Danube River

Europe comprises many countries, with many different natural resources. For example, Iceland and Norway have large populations of fish, as well as great hydropower and geothermal power potential. Countries of northern Europe often contain many minerals and metals, including gold, lead, silver, and zinc. Across Europe there are oil and natural gas reserves, most notably in the North Sea, and natural gas in Germany and nearby countries.

Politics, Population & Culture

Politically, Europe is home to a huge number of countries: 51 in all. Those countries total 750 million people, with closer to 900 million if you include the parts of Russia and Turkey that are not in geographical Europe. It is therefore probably not surprising that the politics and culture of Europe is complex, and a topic for an entire lesson all on its own.

Political Map of Europe
Political Map of Europe

Europe is made up of many political and economic alliances. The most important of these is the European Union. The European Union (EU) is a political and economic alliance between 28 of the countries of Europe. It includes the European Parliament (elected by the population of member countries), the European Council, and the European Commission among others. It allows the countries of Europe to achieve things on a wider scale, which simply would not be possible individually. There is also an economic alliance where many of the countries of Europe have a single currency called the euro. These 19 countries are collectively known as the eurozone, and their currency is regulated by the European Central Bank.

The culture of Europe is harder to define because every individual country has its own culture. Generally speaking, European culture is more laid-back when compared to the USA. There is less of a focus on work being the center of life - rather, spending time with family and enjoying good quality food and experiences is what's important to many Europeans. Europeans tend to be more society-oriented, and therefore more liberal politically. The focus is less on individualism, and more on working together as a society. There are therefore stronger social safety nets, and things like healthcare and education are considered human rights. Taxes are also higher, though much of it is hidden in the form of sales taxes. There is a more relaxed attitude to alcohol, with parents educating the children about it openly. Europeans also tend to be less patriotic than Americans, perhaps because of the history of war in the region - nationalism is often associated with fascism, and so is looked upon with more suspicion than in the US.

Environment & Climate

The climate of Europe is mostly temperate. In central Europe an oceanic climate is most common, but Eastern Europe is also home to humid continental climates. In Scandinavia and the Northeast there is subarctic climate and tundra, and in the Mediterranean and Spain you find (unsurprisingly) a Mediterranean climate.

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