When it comes to the world’s largest cities, the general idea is that the biggest cities by surface automatically include the largest population, but some of you may be surprised to find out that things are a little bit more complicated than that. Today we’re going to present a top 25 regarding the world’s largest cities proper by population in 2021, and just in case you don’t know what a city proper is, we’re going to shed some light on the matter. A city proper is characterized by a certain region within a big city that usually features its own boundaries and its own unique form of government, but there are numerous cases when a city proper actually extends much further beyond the boundaries of a simple city and encompasses neighboring villages or other localities.
- 25. Moscow, Russia (12,593,000)
- 24. Bangalore, India (12,765,000)
- 23. Lahore, Pakistan (13,095,000)
- 22. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (13,544,000)
- 21. Guangzhou Guangdong, China (13,635,000)
- 20. Tianjin, China (13,794,000)
- 19. Manila, Philippines (14,159,000)
- 18. Lagos, Nigeria (14,862,000)
- 17. Kinshasa, Republic of Congo (14,970,000)
- 16. Calcutta, India (14,974,000)
- 15. Buenos Aires, Argentina (15,258,000)
- 14. Istanbul, Turkey (15,415,000)
- 13. Chongqing, China (16,382,000)
- 12. Karachi, Pakistan (16,459,000)
- 11. New York City, United States (18,823,000)
- 10. Osaka, Japan (19,111,000)
- 9. Mumbai, India (20,668,000)
- 8. Beijing, China (20,897,000)
- 7. Cairo, Egipt (21,323,000)
- 6. Dhaka, Bangladesh (21,741,000)
- 5. Mexico City, Mexico (21,919,000)
- 4. Sao Paulo, Brazil (22,237,000)
- 3. Shanghai, China (27,796,000)
- 2. Delhi, India (31,181,000)
- 1. Tokyo, Japan (37,340,000)
25. Moscow, Russia (12,593,000)
The Federal City of Moscow contains a total of 12 so-called okrugs that are divided in turn into several districts. In 2012, Moscow’s Federal City received the addition of 3 new towns called Shcherbinka, Moskovsky, and Troitsk as well as several parts of the Podolsky Districts, Naro-Fominsky, and Leninsky areas. With a population of 12.5 million, Russia’s capital is a thriving economic hub that houses one of the largest conglomerates of billionaires in the world according to Forbes.
24. Bangalore, India (12,765,000)
Known as the “Silicon Valley of India” for its key role in the nation’s information technology and as the “Garden City of India”, Bangalore has a population of more than 12 and a half million. Being one of the most populated cities in India, the Bangalore population is divided into two districts named the Bangalore Urban District where the majority of the population is located, and the second is the Bangalore Rural District. This city is also home to some of the most professional institutions such as the Indian Institute of Science, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, and the National Centre for Biological Sciences.
23. Lahore, Pakistan (13,095,000)
The capital of the Punjab province in Pakistan is called Lahore, and it is currently the largest populated city in the world that has a native Punjabi population: 6.3 million. As with many other important cities in Pakistan, Lahore is a so-called City District that is divided into 9 different towns. These towns are called Nishtar Town, Iqbal Town, Samanabad Town, Gulberg Town, Data Ganj Bakhsh Town, Aziz Bhatti Town, Wagah Town, Shalimar Town, and Ravi Town.
Lahore is often regarded as a cultural haven of Pakistan since it houses numerous art collections, outstanding cuisine, festivals as well as filmmaking studios. As you would expect, religion is a very important part of the lives of Lahore’s citizens, which is why the city boasts many mosques, shrines, and temples.
22. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (13,544,000)
Located right on the shores of Guanabara Bay, at the foot of the mountains, Rio de Janeiro is Brazil’s second-largest city. Established as the country’s capital from 1763 to 1960, Rio is also one of the most visited cities in the southern hemisphere due to its stunning white sand beaches surrounded by granite mountains.
The city prides itself on having the second-largest municipal GDP in the country and a population of 13 million and a half who live in the four divided areas of the city. The area of the historic center (“Centro”) includes most of the tourist attractions such as Candelaria Church, the Municipal Theater, while the Souther area amazes you with the most famous beaches such as Copacabana, Leblon, Arpoador, and Ipanema. The Northern area is home to the city’s middle class and the Maracanã Stadium, which is one of the largest stadiums in the world with a capacity of 120.000 people. The last area is the Western one that represents 50% of the city’s surface and which is in turn divided into 2 areas named Barra da Tijuca and Campo Grande, both attracting the richest people in town.
21. Guangzhou Guangdong, China (13,635,000)
The capital of the Guangdong province of China is called Guangzhou, and it can be found on the banks of the Pearl River. As the largest city in Southern China and China’s third-largest city, Guangzhou enjoys widespread economical and cultural significance. With a population of 13,6 million citizens in 2021, the city is divided into a total of 10 districts and 2 separate county cities. Massive in scale, Guangzhou includes 38 towns as well as 131 sub-districts.
20. Tianjin, China (13,794,000)
The metropolis called Tianjin can be found in the northern part of China and houses about 13,7 million people. Tianjin is a direct-controlled municipality that is split between 13 districts and 3 counties, all under the administration of China’s central government. As the fourth-largest city in China by population, Tianjin is divided into 2 main cores, out of which the one that is in close proximity to the Hai River comprises most of the urban population. The other core is called Binhai and is located on the Bohai Sea coast.
19. Manila, Philippines (14,159,000)
The city of Manila is situated in the middle of the Luzon island and is divided into six political districts. Declared as being the world’s most densely populated city in 2019, Manila is both the capital and the financial and economic center of the Philippines. Highly urbanized, the city has developed a lot due to its strategic location and the huge port used since history in business involving silk and spices.
Metro Manila is the metropolitan area of the city that also includes two of the largest and wealthiest districts called Quezon City and Makati Central Business District. Manila is not only a very dense city but also a very modern one due to the cultural mix of Spanish, American, Chinese influences.
18. Lagos, Nigeria (14,862,000)
The city of Lagos houses the highest population in Nigeria, and it is currently one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. There are an estimated 14,8 million people currently residing in Lagos, and even though a numerous population usually equals a thriving economy, the rate at which the city is growing could cause some serious sustainability concerns.
Metropolitan Lagos includes 16 Local Government Areas out of the 20 that comprise the Lagos State. Even though Lagos used to be the capital of Nigeria at some point, it was eventually replaced by Abuja in 1991.
17. Kinshasa, Republic of Congo (14,970,000)
Founded in 1881 by the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley, Kinshasa was initially named Leopoldville in the honor of King Leopold II of Belgium, a name that was used until 1966. Capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the city is located along the Congo River, which has helped it to be a perfect place for fishing and trade in the past. But now, due to the population explosion, it is one of the world’s fastest-growing megacities, expecting to hit a population of about 35 million by 2050 and of 83 million by 2100.
Despite being called a megacity, Kinshasa is a relatively poor city having a percentage of over 90% of the population living in rural areas whilst the most densely populated area is 59 square miles (150 square km).
16. Calcutta, India (14,974,000)
Calcutta is the capital of West Bengal that plays an important economic role, being the main financial and commercial center of Northeast India. Situated on the Hooghly River, the city is the oldest operational port in India with an economy based on port activities since historical times.
Being known for having one of the highest population densities in the world with some areas being absolutely intolerable, the city is divided into three different areas: northern, central, and southern side. The oldest part of the city is the northern area where 19th-century architecture dominates.
15. Buenos Aires, Argentina (15,258,000)
Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and a huge metropolis with a population of over 15 million that loves music, dancing, and football (soccer). Most of the population came from Europe, emigrating to Buenos Aires in the late 19th century by boat. That is why this vibrant city has strong European influences evident through the architecture of the city and the culture of the locals.
The city is divided into 48 neighborhoods, each displaying its own features, personality, museums, restaurants, stores, and cafes. These neighborhoods are also grouped into districts, one of the largest districts being Palermo. Located near the Atlantic Ocean, Buenos Aires boasts one of the most important and busiest ports in the country. The port connects Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay and places it at the top of the wealthiest in the country.
14. Istanbul, Turkey (15,415,000)
Even though many people still confuse Istanbul as being the capital of Turkey, that title goes to the second-largest city in the country: Ankara. Be that as it may, Istanbul is still regarded as the country’s main economic, historical and cultural center, more so since it flaunts a rich historical heritage, a very numerous population (15,4 million) as well as a massive occupied area of 2,063 square miles.
Istanbul spans 2 continents and is divided by the Bosphorus waterway. The city is split into 39 districts since 2009, and each of these districts features its own number of neighborhoods.
13. Chongqing, China (16,382,000)
Chongqing is a port city located in the western part of China. As large as Austria, the city is known as one of the largest proper cities in the world, with a rich history of over 3,000 years. Being one of the cities benefiting from the Go West strategy, Chongqing is one of China’s financial centers along with Beijing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. In 2016, the city produced more than 3 million cars, 8 million motorcycles, and 15% of all Chinese mobile phone production, throwing it all the way to China’s largest manufacturer.
Chongqing is divided into 26 districts and has many famous tourist attractions such as the Three Gorges Museum, Chongqing Art Gallery, Ciqikou Ancient Town, Raffles City, as well as some absolutely extraordinary landscapes due to its proximity to the Yangtze River.
12. Karachi, Pakistan (16,459,000)
Karachi is undoubtedly one of the most important cities of Pakistan, not only because it is the capital of the Sindh province, but also because it is the most populous city in the country as well as a major financial hub. Karachi has a population of 12.9 million and is undoubtedly the single largest city in the world that is linked to the Muslim faith.
Since 2011, the city of Karachi is divided into 5 distinct city districts called Karachi East, Karachi West, Karachi Central, Karachi South, and Malir, all of them forming the Karachi Division presently. The military has a strong presence within the city as well, since Karachi contains a total of six military cantonments.
11. New York City, United States (18,823,000)
With an extremely strong global reputation, New York City is one of the most populous cities and most densely populated cities in the United States boasting a population density of 27,000 per square mile. New York City has a population of emigrants from over 180 countries which gives it a great diversity in over 800 languages.
The city, once owned and named by the Dutch New Amsterdam, is a true symbol of modernity through its architecture and the multitude of skyscrapers. Furthermore, it also has one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world and is divided into 5 boroughs called Brooklyn (Kings County), Queens (Queens County), Manhattan (New York County), the Bronx (Bronx County), and Staten Island (Richmond County) who merges in 1898 to form the city we know today. Being the home of the renowned Wall Street, New York City is at the same time a city that has the ability to launch global trends in a multitude of fields as well as one of the most important centers of business, commerce, transportation and advertising in the United States.
10. Osaka, Japan (19,111,000)
With a population of over 19 million and a density of 5,2752.3 persons per 1 sq. km, Osaka is one of the country’s financial centers but also the third most populous city in Japan after Tokyo and Yokohama. Home to companies such as Panasonic, Sharp, and Sanyo, Osaka is a metropolis specializing in the textile, ferrous, and electronic equipment industries.
Known as “Venice of Japan”, this multicultural city is located near Lake Yoda in Osaka Bay and has an incredible transportation network that offers both land and sea access. Osaka City is divided into two different areas: the downtown that is named Kita and represents the business districts of the city, and uptown called Minami, where all the restaurants, cafes, bars, and tourist attractions can be found.
9. Mumbai, India (20,668,000)
The capital city of the Indian state Maharashtra is called Mumbai, but some of you probably know it by its former name: Bombay. This incredible city has the highest population in India (20,6 million), and if we were to count its neighboring cities of Thane and Navi Mumbai, we would sum up the world’s most populous urban areas.
The governing body of Mumbai is called a Municipal Corporation called Brihanmumbai, which is in charge of numerous structural and civic issues concerning this huge city. The corporation is led by a Municipal Commissioner that benefits from full executive powers regarding legislation.
8. Beijing, China (20,897,000)
As you would expect, the capital city of China is absolutely massive and houses a huge number of citizens: 20,8 million. This directly controlled municipality is fractured into 14 districts, 137 sub-districts, and 2 counties, and even though Beijing is the capital city of one of the most populous countries in the world, the city itself is not the most populous in the country, since that place is currently taken by Shanghai. However, Beijing’s rich historical heritage that stretches back to 3000 years and the fact that it served as the political seat of China for nearly 8 centuries earned it a reputation as a beautiful, thriving, and highly significant metropolis.
7. Cairo, Egipt (21,323,000)
Developed in 969 AD during the Fatimid dynasty, Cairo is not only the capital of Egypt but also one of the most important political and historical centers receiving the status of World Heritage in 1979. Cairo is the largest city in the Middle East and surprisingly the city is constantly expanding. 6th of October City, west of Cairo, and New Cairo are just some of the urban areas that have been built to facilitate population growth, but new plans reveal that many more residential areas will be built in the near future.
With a rich history and a unique style that perfectly combines modernity with ancient times, Cairo boasts the most famous tourist attraction such as the Egyptian Museum, Al-Azhar Mosque, Coptic Cairo, Sultan Hassan Mosque, National Museum of Egyptian Civilizations, and Pyramids of Giza.
6. Dhaka, Bangladesh (21,741,000)
Situated just north of the Buriganga River, Dhaka is the capital of Bangladesh and one of the largest metropolises in South Asia, a status received in 1978. Also called “The City of Mosques”, Dhaka has a population of almost 22 million and records one of the highest population increase among Asian cities reaching 4.2% per year.
The city continues to be a strong financial, cultural and political center of Bangladesh and is also an industrial metropolis specializing in the paper, glass, and food industries.
5. Mexico City, Mexico (21,919,000)
Mexico City boasts a population of 21,9 million citizens, which means that it is undoubtedly one of the largest cities in the world. The city proper of Mexico City is defined by its Federal District, which was founded officially at the heart of the city in 1824. The Federal District was expanded greatly by President Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1858 so that it would cover a total area of 660 square miles, but the area was slightly downsized to 571 square miles between 1898 and 1902.
4. Sao Paulo, Brazil (22,237,000)
The largest city proper in the entire southern hemisphere is São Paulo – Brazil’s largest city. Named in honor of the famous Saint Paul, this city is a very important hub for culture, economy, art, and entertainment. The population of São Paulo is 22,2 million citizens, all living within the city’s 31 subprefectures. In turn, these subprefectures are divided into 96 districts, some of which feature multiple neighborhoods.
The sub-prefectures of São Paulo are very similar to New York City boroughs, and they are supposed to bring financial stability and independence for local forms of government within the city.
3. Shanghai, China (27,796,000)
Finally, the world’s largest city proper by population is Shanghai, which also happens to be the largest city in China by population. With 23 million citizens, this city is a very important financial center globally and boasts the busiest container port in the world. As far as its administration is concerned, Shanghai was fractured into 17 county-level divisions that comprise just 1 real county and 16 districts.
The Huangpu District includes the main administration offices as well as the city hall. The city is so large that it doesn’t actually have a well-defined central area, but due to its administrative importance, Huangpu is often regarded as the core of this immense city.
2. Delhi, India (31,181,000)
The National Capital Territory of India, Delhi, is undoubtedly the largest city in the world by area, but it is also one of the most populous cities in the world presently. In 2011, Delhi flaunted a population of 31,1 million citizens, which is why it was and is still considered as one of the most populous cities on the Globe. Flaunting a rich historical heritage, Delhi had numerous owners and was rebuilt and fractured several times across the centuries, and so its modern version actually comprises the remains of other smaller cities. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is divided into 3 parts, each overseeing different districts of Delhi. These divisions are called North Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation, and East Delhi Municipal Corporation.
1. Tokyo, Japan (37,340,000)
The famous capital of Japan, Tokyo, flaunts a population of 37,3 million citizens, but most of the population is concentrated within something called the 23 Special Wards. These wards comprise the former City of Tokyo, which was dissolved in 1943 in order to become an intricate part of today’s beautiful Tokyo Metropolis. The way these distinct municipalities function is similar to the boroughs of London that we described earlier, but they are not in any way administrated by special forms of government aside from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The 23 Special Wards occupy 240 square miles of space.