The 35 Largest Cities in the World

A busy street crossing in Tokyo, Japan.

How is a city defined? According to the United Nations, the population of the world’s largest cities can either be calculated as part of a metropolitan area, a city proper, or an urban area. While a “metropolitan area” defines a city based on the habits of its demographic population, a “city proper” is based on closely defined administrative boundaries. An “urban area”, however, defines a city’s area using many factors such as administrative boundaries, population density, economies, or even just the appearance of urban characteristics. In this article, we will be focusing on the world’s five biggest cities in terms of urban area.

The World's Top Five Largest Cities 

1. Guangzhou, China - 48,600,000 

With an urban area population nearly reaching 50 million, the city of Guangzhou, China, is the largest city in the world in terms of population. Guangzhou is a major urban center located in Guangdong, in Southern China. Although Guangzhou has a history reaching back thousands of years, its major development accelerated in the late 20th and early 21st century. The communities of Foshan, Zhongshan, and Shenzhen are included in the city's urban area. 

2. Tokyo, Japan - 39,800,000 

Tokyo is the capital of Japan, as well as the country’s largest city. It is also the second-largest city in the world in terms of urban area, with a population of over 36,923,000 residents. Previously known as Edo, the city is also one of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Although Tokyo is commonly referred to as a city, it is governed as a metropolitan prefecture. Tokyo has a $2.5 trillion economy making it the 3rd on the Global Cities Index and 1st on the Global Economic Power Index. Tokyo is a major industrial, administrative, educational financial and cultural center of Japan as well as East Asia as a whole.

3. Shanghai, China - 31,000,000

Shanghai, China, is also the third-largest urban area in the world, with a population of over 30 million. Shanghai is a global center for finance and is home to one of the world's most important ports. Other things that Shanghai is famous for include its historic neighborhoods, futuristic sprawling skyline, and lively city quarters. 

4. Jakarta, Indonesia - 28,900,000 

Jakarta is the fourth-largest urban area in the world. The city is the capital city as well as the largest city in Indonesia. It has a population of 30,075,310. This population is projected to go up to 35.6 million in 2030. The city is the economic, political and cultural center of Indonesia. Rapid urban growth has been a major challenge to the city and has led to overpopulation, congestion, gridlock traffic, and ecological breakdown.

5. Delhi, India - 27,200,000 

The city of Delhi is the capital of India, the second-most populated country in the world. It is estimated that India will overtake China as the world's most populated nation in the coming years. Delhi is considered to be a Heritage City by UNESCO. 

What Makes a City Grow? 

There are several factors that can contribute to a city's growth. Some of the major motivational factors that draw people to cities are job opportunities, culture, family, friends, and a better standard of living. While just over half of the world's population lives in cities today, the UN suspects that the number will grow substantially in the next coming decades. Many of the world's fastest growing cities are in Asia and Africa. 

The 35 Largest Cities in the World

RankUrban AreaCountryPopulation (Est.)
7SeoulSouth Korea24,800,000
10Mexico CityMexico22,300,000
11New York CityUnited States22,200,000
12São PauloBrazil21,900,000
16Los AngelesUnited States17,700,000
22Buenos AiresArgentina16,000,000
24LondonUnited Kingdom14,500,000
26JohannesburgSouth Africa13,100,000
27Rio de JaneiroBrazil12,700,000
30KinshasaDemocratic Republic of the Congo10,900,000

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