Countries Where The Largest City Is Not The Capital City

Although the capital of the United States is Washington, D.C., it is not the country's largest city.
Although the capital of the United States is Washington, D.C., it is not the country's largest city.

A capital city is a city where a nation’s seat of government is found, and this can be a de facto or a de jure definition. In many countries around the world, a capital city is usually also the largest city in the country. However, in some countries, capital cities are not the largest cities in a country. In many of such countries, the capital cities are relatively new compared to other cities and had the seat of government transferred to them from other larger cities.

United States (Washington)

The United States has Washington, DC as its capital city despite its population size being smaller than other American cities such as New York, Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Phoenix, and Philadelphia. Washington has a population of about 682,000 people which is far less than that of the country’s largest city of New York which has a population of over 8.5 million individuals. Washington was founded in 1790 when the states of Maryland and Virginia ceded part of their respective territories for the creation of a new city. New York was originally the capital city of the United States and held that distinction from 1785 to 1790 when the title was transferred to the then second-largest city of Philadelphia which served as the nation’s capital city between 1790 and 1800. Interestingly, Washington was primarily established to serve as the capital city of the United States as the US Constitution required that the capital city could not be under the jurisdiction of any state but could solely fall under the jurisdiction of Congress.

Switzerland (Bern)

While Switzerland does not have an official capital city defined by the country’s laws, Bern is the city recognized as the de facto capital city of the country, locally referred to as a “federal city.” The political structure of Switzerland is quite interesting as the country does not have a “head of state” nor “head of government,” and hence no city has the seat of government since the country has none. The reason behind the recognition of Bern as Switzerland’s capital city is because both chambers that constitute the parliament of Switzerland are found in Bern. Despite the distinction of being the capital city of Switzerland, Bern is not the largest city in the country. The population of the city is about 138,041 persons, the fifth largest in Switzerland. Zurich holds the title of the largest city in Switzerland, with a population of about 398,000 people.

Brazil (Brasilia)

Rio de Janeiro was originally the capital city of Brazil, a title the city held between 1763 and 1960. During most of this duration, Rio de Janeiro was also the largest city in the country until that of Sao Paulo exceeded its population in 1954. The Brazil government then decided to relocate the seat of government from Rio to a more central location as a remedy to the logistical problem that faced legislators from distant administrative regions. Lucio Costa then developed Brasilia in the 1950s and inaugurated on April 21st, 1960 as the new capital city of Brazil, and presently has a population of 2,557,158 people. However, the capital city is not the largest city in the country. That distinction is held by Sao Paulo, a city that has never been the nation’s capital, which has a population of more than 11.15 million inhabitants.

Reasons To Change A Capital City

The most common reason behind the transfer of the seat of government from one city to another is a geographical alignment of a city. Countries tend to prefer having capital cities in their central regions to allow ease of access to the entire country.

Countries Where The Largest City Is Not The Capital City

RankCountryCapitalPopulationLargest cityPopulation
1 AustraliaCanberra390,706Sydney4,921,000
2 BelizeBelmopan16,400Belize City70,000
3 BeninPorto-Novo223,500Cotonou761,100
4 BoliviaSucre259,388Santa Cruz de la Sierra1,453,549
5 BrazilBrasília2,557,158São Paulo11,150,249
6 CameroonYaoundé1,430,000Douala2,000,000 +
7 CanadaOttawa812,129Toronto2,503,281
8 ChinaBeijing22,000,000Shanghai34,000,000
9 Côte d'IvoireYamoussoukro200,659Abidjan4,348,000
10 EcuadorQuito1,397,698Guayaquil2,600,000
11 Equatorial GuineaMalabo187,302Bata250,770
12 IndiaNew Delhi249,998Mumbai12,442,373
13 KazakhstanAstana743,014Almaty1,450,095
14 LiechtensteinVaduz5,109Schaan5,806
15 MaltaValletta6,000Birkirkara21,000
16 Federated States of MicronesiaPalikir5,000Weno13,000
17 MoroccoRabat627,000Casablanca4,150,000
18 MyanmarNaypyidaw925,000Yangon4,346,000
19 New ZealandWellington405,000Auckland1,495,000
20 NigeriaAbuja778,567Lagos7,937,932
21 PakistanIslamabad1,740,000Karachi24,300,000
22 PalauNgerulmud271Koror11,200
23 PhilippinesManila1,780,148Quezon City2,936,116
24 San MarinoSan Marino4,211Serravalle10,601
25 South AfricaPretoria2,345,908Johannesburg3,888,180
26 SudanKhartoum2,207,794Omdurman2,395,159
27 Sri LankaSri Jayawardenepura Kotte115,826Colombo642,163
28 SwitzerlandBern138,041Zürich397,698
29 TaiwanTaipei2,650,968New Taipei3,916,451
30 TanzaniaDodoma324,347Dar es Salaam2,497,940
31 Trinidad and TobagoPort of Spain49,000Chaguanas67,400
32 TurkeyAnkara5,150,072Istanbul14,377,018
33 United Arab EmiratesAbu Dhabi896,751Dubai2,262,000
34 United StatesWashington, D.C.672,228New York City8,550,405
35 VietnamHanoi6,500,000Ho Chi Minh City7,123,340

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