River flooding is among the most destructive of natural hazards globally, causing widespread loss of life, damage to infrastructure and economic deprivation. Societies are currently under increasing threat from such floods, predominantly from increasing exposure of people and assets in flood‐prone areas, but also as a result of changes in flood magnitude, frequency, and timing. Accurate flood hazard and risk assessment are therefore crucial for the sustainable development of societies worldwide. With a paucity of hydrological measurements, evidence from the field offers the only insight into truly extreme events and their variability in space and time. Historical, botanical, and geological archives have increasingly been recognized as valuable sources of extreme flood event information. These different archives are here reviewed with a particular focus on the recording mechanisms of flood information, the historical development of the methodological approaches and the type of information that those archives can provide. These studies provide a wealthy dataset of hundreds of historical and palaeoflood series, whose analysis reveals a noticeable dominance of records in Europe. After describing the diversity of flood information provided by this dataset, we identify how these records have improved and could further improve flood hazard assessments and, thereby, flood management and mitigation plans.