Europe is a continent full of allure and mystery. It borders Asia to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The diverse cultural attractions of Europe draw millions of tourists every year. The physical geography of Europe adds a further element of interest -- the continent is home to impressive mountain ranges, tranquil plains and warm seas.
The central uplands of Europe -- the heart of the continent -- stretch from eastern France to the Czech Republic and border the Alpine System to the south. Because of the abundance of coal, this region was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Generally the region consists of hills, forests and river valleys. Major rivers, including the Rhine, meander through Germany's uplands; in France, the uplands run all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.
North European Lowland
The lowlands are the largest and most diverse of the physical regions in Europe. Stretching from Russia to the Atlantic coast in France, the lowlands are the home for most of the continent's agriculture. The best wine-growing regions are in the lowlands, as well as many navigable rivers. The lowlands are the most densely populated areas of Europe. Large urban centers including Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam are all found in Europe's lowlands region.
A popular vacation and recreation destination for millions, the Alps are a picturesque mountain range stretching from eastern France through Switzerland, Austria and Italy. The mountain range then turns southeast and terminates more or less in Albania. The highest point in the Alps is Mont Blanc in France, which rises to an impressive 15,771 feet. The French and Swiss Alps are noted for their strikingly jagged summits, while farther southeast, the contours become less severe.
The Mediterranean Sea
Stretching along the whole southern extent of Europe, the Mediterranean Sea divides Europe and Africa. The only way for water to cycle in and out of the Mediterranean is through the Strait of Gibraltar, a narrow channel at the southern tip of Spain. Some estimate that more than a century is required for a complete recycling of Mediterranean water. The relative stagnancy of the water combined with evaporation creates a sea that is quite salty. There is generally less marine life in the Mediterranean Sea than might be expected.
The North Sea
The North Sea, as its name suggests, laps against the northern shores of Europe, eastern Britain and the southernmost extremities of Scandinavia. The English Channel lies at its southern end and the Baltic Sea branches off it to the east. It flows back into the Atlantic Ocean and Norwegian Sea to the north. A canal bisects a narrow stretch of Germany south of Denmark, connecting the North and Baltic seas and saving travel time. The North Sea is dotted with oil platforms and is notorious for stormy, unpredictable weather.
The British Isles
Only a few miles separate the British Isles from France, but geographically and culturally they are very distinct places. Britain is one of the most historically rich countries in Europe, with evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years. The fact that Britain is an island nation has always kept it somewhat insulated from the course of events on mainland Europe. The land is generally hilly, with most forested areas long since cleared for agricultural uses. Farther north, in Scotland, the land becomes more rugged and unforgiving.
In the northernmost area of Europe, you will find the Scandinavian peninsula. The countries of Norway and Sweden occupy the peninsula, though some include Finland, Iceland and the North Sea islands within the general definition of Scandinavia. A quarter of the region is actually north of the Arctic Circle, but more than 90 percent of the people make their home south of that line. During the last Ice Age, Scandinavia was completely covered in thick glacial ice. Since the ice retreated, parts of the land have been steadily rising, essentially "bouncing back" from the immense weight that rested on them.