Urban centers have been proliferating across the world as large populations settle in cities to take advantage of better economic opportunities, modern infrastructure, and other amenities. Asian cities have particularly recorded outstanding growth, and most of the largest cities are currently situated on the continent such as Shanghai, Beijing, Dhaka, Tokyo, Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi, and Guangzhou. The data provided here comes from the United Nations 2020 Population Projections which are based on the 2018 UN World Cities Report. This research provides comprehensive data insights and is compiled by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.
When it comes to defining a city there are three basic methods according to the UN World Cities Report. These include city propers, metropolitan areas, and urban agglomerations. The population metrics for each of these definitions can be vastly different as they cover inconsistent land areas.
For example, city propers are made up of the area of land which is controlled by some form of local government administration. This often excludes suburbs which can skew this number greatly. In addition, the differing governmental practices of various countries can result in some level of disparity.
Metropolitan areas, on the other hand, focus more on the labor market of the territory. As such this data point includes the area under the preview of the local government but also takes into account smaller communities that exist adjacently. In short, this number includes the city itself and it’s suburbs since many people living in those areas are commuters into the city for work.
Lastly, urban agglomerations have the most broadly defined boundaries. This type of city is delineated by what is considered “urban”. However, the meaning of this word is ever-evolving and differs across the world. It can depend on a number of characteristics such as political boundaries, the economy, a minimum population size, infrastructure, or population density.
In its 2018 report, the United Nations sought to provide the most accurate population estimates for the world’s largest cities. As such, they had to utilize each of these definitions for different areas. With that in mind, this list primarily consists of cities defined by metropolitan areas although Beijing is considered an urban agglomeration and Shanghai noted as a city proper.
10. Osaka, Japan - Population: 19,281,000
Osaka is the second largest city in Japan by urban population. Thanks to its scenic position by the ocean, Osaka is a favourite among both domestic and international travelers alike. Other nearby tourist attractions include Universal Studios Japan. Once a major economic hotspot, Osaka's role has transitioned more to being that of a financial hub.
9. Dhaka, Bangladesh - Population: 19,578,000
The city now known as Dhaka has been a prominent commercial center since the 17th century and has been the capital of several empires and countries before becoming the capital of the newly independent Bangladesh in 1971. With a population of 19.6 million people, it is the largest city in Bangladesh and one of the major cities of South Asia. The city's population has grown tremendously over the past several decades emerging as a megacity by the 21st century. It is the major financial, political, and cultural center of the region.
8. Beijing, China - Population: 19,618,000
Beijing is the capital of China, and it sits on the North China plain in the country's north-central region. The city, also called Peking, has an eventful history from being one of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China to foreign occupation as well as civil war in the 20th century. Beijing established itself as an industrial sector in the aftermath of the Communist Revolution of 1949. Automobiles, textiles, petrochemicals, aerospace equipment, and semiconductors are some of the products produced by the city's industrial sector. Beijing is home to over 20 million residents. As a cultural center, Beijing boasts of seven World Heritage Sites listed by UNESCO.
7. Mumbai, India - Population: 19,980,000
Mumbai lies on the western coast of the Indian Subcontinent, and has approximately 20 million inhabitants. Mumbai developed around a fort established by the British in the 17th century. Its natural harbor facilitated its growth, and by the 18th century, Mumbai was home to a thriving manufacturing sector. The largest population of billionaires and millionaires for any Indian City reside in Mumbai. Mumbai hosts such important financial institutions as the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Reserve Bank of India. As an art center, Mumbai hosts the Bollywood industry as well as the Marathi cinema industry.
6. Cairo, Egypt - Population: 20,076,000
Cairo is the capital and largest city of Egypt, as well as the most populated urban area in Africa as well as the Arab World. The city is on the legendary Nile River and has a very hot desert climate. Cairo is also within close proximity of one of the most treasured Ancient Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramids of Giza. There is a strong tourism potential in Cairo that has not been unlocked due to overcrowding and other urban issues.
5. Mexico City, Mexico - Population: 21,581,000
Mexico City is the largest city in North America, and the fifth largest city in the world according to the United Nations. Humans, notably the Aztec people, have lived in the area that is now Mexico City for thousands of years. A city of extremes, the city is known for its colorful and unique architecture, beautiful churches and squares, vibrant cultural life, and, unfortunately, hit levels of pollution. One reason for this is that the city is surrounded by mountains, which traps air inside.
4. São Paulo, Brazil - Population: 21,650,000
São Paulo is the largest city in Brazil. It is a massive, sprawling city full of skyscrapers, with over 21 million people living within its urban area. Its residents, who are known as paulistanos, benefit from thousands of restaurants across the city as well as a thriving arts life. São Paulo has the affectionate alternate name of Sampa, and it is the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere.
3. Shanghai, China - Population: 25,582,000
Shanghai's population of 25.6 million makes it the biggest city in China, and the third largest in Asia as well as the world. Shanghai strategically lies in the Yangtze River Delta and the city's port is ranked as the world's busiest having handled 37 million TEUs in 2016. Qinglong Town, founded in 746, preceded Shanghai and it grew as a trading port in Imperial China. Shanghai's economic potential made it a center of conflict in the 19th century as the British and French fought to control the city. The Japanese also invaded Shanghai during the 2nd World War. Shanghai is an economic and trading hub in modern day China, and it has reported double-digit growth since 1992 excluding the global recession of 2008 and 2009. Shanghai's top three service sectors are real estate, financial services, and retail while manufacturing accounts for about 40% of the total output. Shanghai hosts numerous industrial zones such as the Shanghai Hongqiao Economic and Technological Development Zone. Shanghai attracts populations of local immigrants as well as foreign settlers from Japan, the US, and Korea.
2. Delhi, India - Population: 28,514,000
Delhi is the largest city in India by population, with 28.5 million residents. It is a bustling, vibrant city that is always moving. Confusingly, the city of Delhi emcompasses New Delhi, which is the caoital city of India. According to the United Nations, Delhi is the world's second largest urban area. Delhi is a city of extremes: it is also one of India's most polluted cities, and one of its richest.
1. Tokyo, Japan - Population: 37,468,000
Tokyo lies on the eastern coast of Honshu, the largest of the four islands that make up Japan. The city is the Japanese capital and one of Japan's forty-seven prefectures. The city was initially called Edo but was renamed in 1868 when the Japanese imperial family relocated there from Kyoto. Tokyo's metropolis has an estimated 13,617,445 residents. Tokyo is home to fifty-one of the Fortune Global 500 firms, and it is ranked 4th in the Global Cities Index. The inhabitants of Tokyo are almost all Japanese with communities of Chinese and Koreans. Tokyo is home to headquarters of large corporations and financial institutions while the manufacturing sector is mainly concentrated in Yokohama, Chiba, and Kawasaki.
What's the Biggest City in the World?
Shanghai is the most populated city in the world with a total population of 24.1 million people. After Shanghai, the largest cities are Beijing, Karachi, Istanbul, and Dhaka.
The World's Largest Cities
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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