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The 10 largest cities in the world

The world population is growing: but in which cities do most people actually live? Tokyo, Delhi or Mexico City: these 10 largest cities in the world are where most of the people live.

City as far as the eye can see: this is Tokyo.

Photo: panthermedia.net/jovannig

The largest cities in the world usually no longer only have the attribute "big city". The city boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred and metropolitan regions, which include the city center, various suburbs and rural districts, are emerging. The vast majority are already around with around 76% of the world population in urban areas home. A trend that, according to studies by the Joint Research Center of the European Union, will continue in the future and make metropolises ever larger. The number of megacities is also increasing, the number of which has more than doubled since 1975. By the year 2030, the number is expected to increase from currently around 500 to over 700 cities.

Breaking down large cities or metropolitan areas to a specific number in order to be able to place them in a ranking is sometimes difficult. For example, there are cities with a high population density in a small area, while some regions are larger than Switzerland and yet have a small population. That's why we have them 10 largest cities in the world not only sorted according to the number of inhabitants, but also took the area into account. For comparison, you will also find the largest cities in Europe and Germany in tabular form.

The largest cities in the world: These are the most populous metropolitan regions

placeCity / metropolitan areacountrypopulationArea (km²)
1Tokyo YokohamaJapan37.977.0008.230
7Sao PauloBrazil22.046.0003.116
8Seoul IncheonSouth Korea21.794.0002.768
9Mexico CityMexico20.996.0002.386
10Guangzhou FoshanChina20.902.0004.342

10. Guangzhou-Foshan (China)

The Guangzhou-Foshan metropolitan area in the Chinese Pearl River Delta comes in last and 10th place in our ranking of the largest cities in the world. The population is around 20.9 million in an area of ​​4,324 km². In contrast to other large cities in the area, the city center and the suburbs close to the city are also growing here, and not just the city outward. The population density in Guangzhou-Foshan is around 4,800 inhabitants / km². A value that is primarily due to the vertical development of living space. Due to the diverse industry as well as the proximity to the South China Sea and the associated large port facilities, the region bears the name "Factory of the World".

Night scene of Guangzhou. 10th place in our ranking.

Photo: panthermedia.net/tsuguliev

9. Mexico City (Mexico)

In the metropolitan area around Mexico City, almost 21 million people currently live on 2,386 km². The population density is a high 8,800 inhabitants / km², which creates several difficulties. 9th place in the ranking struggles with some environmental problems, such as heavy air pollution, poor drinking water supply and significant deficiencies in waste disposal. The geographical location at an average altitude of 2,310 meters above sea level and the surrounding mountain ranges favor the formation of smog from traffic emissions. Mexico City is also located in an earthquake-affected region and regularly experiences tremors and tremors with a magnitude of up to 8.0 on the moment-magnitude scale.

Mexico City with the cathedral and the huge flag in the center.

Photo: panthermedia.net/dubassy

8.Seoul-Incheon (South Korea)

The metropolitan region around the South Korean capital is home to around 21.8 million inhabitants on 2,768 km², which results in a population density of 7873 per square kilometer. Almost half of all South Koreans live in this region, which is constantly growing. Sudogwon refers to the entire region around the cities of Seoul, Incheon, the province of Gyeonggi-do and some suburbs. Because of this concentration, the region forms the economic and political center of the state. The increasing development is causing housing prices to rise, as a result of which several satellite cities have been expanded and new ones planned in order to provide sufficient living space. Thanks to the well-developed local transport, various facilities such as the airport are also being relocated to the surrounding area in order to relieve the city centers.

8th place for Seoul-Incheon in South Korea.

Photo: panthermedia.net/gutarphotoghaphy (YAYMicro)

7. Sao Paolo (Brazil)

Brazil's largest city, although not the capital, is currently (as of 2020) home to around 22.04 million people. The metropolis extends over 3,116 km² and thus forms the largest industrial conurbation in Latin America with a population density of around 7,000 inhabitants / km². It is also the largest city outside of the Asian continent and ranks 7th in the largest metropolis in the world. Sao Paolo owes this size not only to being the cultural, economic and financial center of the country. An extremely high volume of traffic and the steadily growing industry have led to massive environmental pollution over the course of time.

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Sao Paolo skyline.

Photo: panthermedia.net/thiagogleite

6. Shanghai (China)

The sixth place in our ranking was given to the metropolis of Shanghai in eastern China. Approximately 22.1 million people live in the region on an area of ​​4,068 km². The population density is a moderate 5,440 inhabitants per square kilometer. The name Shanghai means something like "out to sea". The area of ​​the city is also being permanently expanded along the same route, namely by landfilling in the Yangtze. The direct location by the sea ensures brisk shipping traffic and also gives the metropolis the space for the largest container port in the world, which the largest ships in the world head for. However, a city of this size has to contend with still unsolved problems. Shipping, overpopulation and heavy industry all contribute to environmental problems such as smog, water pollution and noise pollution.

The metropolis of Shanghai in the east of China.

Photo: panthermedia.net/Imaginechina (Luxx)

5. Manila (Philippines)

23.088 million inhabitants on an area of ​​only 1,873 km² ensure a correspondingly high population density (12,300 inhabitants / km²) in the metropolitan region of Manila in 5th place. The Philippine capital is the economic, political and cultural center of the country and coined the term " Hyper-Urbanization ". But not every development is positive. During the industrialization of the Philippines in the 1960s, property prices in the city rose, so that many new buildings were built in flood-prone areas. Since sea levels rise particularly quickly in this area of ​​the world and tropical storms are a constant threat, much of Manila is flooded several times a year. As if that weren't enough, the entire Manila Bay is continuously sinking, so that many residents could become homeless in just a few years.

Manila business district.

Photo: panthermedia.net/fazon1

4. Mumbai (India)

The Indian metropolitan region of Mumbai comes in fourth in our ranking with 23.355 million inhabitants. The special thing about this metropolitan area is the very high population density. The city covers only 944 square kilometers, so that there are almost 25,000 inhabitants per square kilometer. Housing is scarce and expensive, which means that large parts of the urban population live in slums. There are plans to promote social housing, but there are no concrete measures that benefit the population. For example, since 2007 Mumbai has been offering Asia's largest slum for sale, leaving investors to do the job. In addition, there are a number of environmental problems such as air and water pollution. The annual monsoons lead to floods, which repeatedly flush garbage into the sewer system, so that drinking water and wastewater mix.

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Mumbai is in 4th place in the ranking.

Photo: panthermedia.net/ Alexandra Lande

Top 3 largest cities in the world

3. Delhi (India)

With 29.6 million inhabitants, India's capital region Delhi ranks third. The metropolis extends to 2,232 square kilometers and has a population density of around 13,000 / km². According to forecasts by the UN, the metropolitan area is expected to grow to 38.9 million inhabitants by 2030. As in all metropolises in India, the social inequality can also be clearly seen here. Around 20% of the inner-city population lives in slums. While Delhi is growing steadily, public transport and the motorway network are already overwhelmingly overwhelmed. Traffic jams are the order of the day and often envelop the city in smog. In order to reduce emissions, public transport and taxis are already running on natural gas.

View of Delhi from Jama Masjid in India.

Photo: panthermedia.net/DonyaNedomam

2. Jakarta (Indonesia)

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia and its suburbs, ranks second among the largest cities in the world. 34.54 million inhabitants cavort here on 3,540 square kilometers, which results in a population density of 9,750 inhabitants / km². The average speed of around 5-10 km / h on Jakarta's streets reflects the city's traffic problem. But this is one of the lesser evils. The coastal city of Jakarta holds the record of the fastest sinking cities in the world, with a rate of up to 25 centimeters per year. The reason for this is the extraction of water from numerous illegal wells, as only just under every second household is connected to the water network. Huge walls are already being built on the coast, but the Indonesian government sees a permanent solution in the complete relocation of the metropolis and the establishment of a new capital on the island of Borneo.

Jakarta skyline.

Photo: panthermedia.net/h9images

1. Biggest cities in the world: Tokyo-Yokohama (Japan) in 1st place

Tokyo-Yokohama is the largest city in the world.

Photo: panthermedia.net/sepavone

Number 1 in the ranking of the world's largest cities goes to the Japanese capital Tokyo and the Tokyo-Yokohama metropolitan area. 37.98 million inhabitants share an area of ​​8,230 square kilometers here. The population density is a comparatively low number of 4,600 inhabitants / km². Nevertheless, the region will not be able to hold onto its first place in the long term, as Tokyo is suffering from a decline in population. Around 500,000 people emigrated between 2016 and 2018, and the UN estimates that this number will rise to 900,000 by 2030. A typical problem in large cities is the rigid traffic planning, since roads are difficult to relocate and expand on built-up areas. Tokyo, on the other hand, rebuilt large parts of the city after an earthquake disaster, a major fire and the extensive destruction of buildings in World War II, adapting the infrastructure to the cars and trams, which keeps the traffic chaos within limits. In Tokyo Bay is also the port of Yokohama, one of the largest on the Asian continent with a volume of over 37,000 ships per year. Despite everything, the metropolitan region is located in a geologically active area in which several tectonic plates meet. This regularly causes smaller earthquakes, which, however, usually only cause minor damage.

Also read: Working in Japan

The largest cities in the world: this is how Europe fares in comparison

In Europe, cities and metropolitan areas are orders of magnitude smaller. Even here the cities are subject to continuous population growth, but by no means to the same extent as on the Asian continent. The reasons for this could be the more even distribution of the population in this country and lower birth rates.

placeCity / metropolitan areacountrypopulationArea (km²)
3LondonGreat Britain10.979.0001.739

These are the largest cities in Germany

In a Europe-wide comparison, the Federal Republic also plays in the upper areas of the rankings and has seven megacities. While German cities are growing, rural and structurally weak regions are affected by severe population decline.

placeCity / metropolitan areafederal statepopulationArea (km²)
1Essen-DüsseldorfNorth Rhine-Westphalia6.125.0002.684
3Cologne-BonnNorth Rhine-Westphalia2.085.000779
4HamburgFree and Hanseatic City of Hamburg1.976.000764
9HanoverLower Saxony710.000285


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A contribution by:

  • Silvia chicken

    Silvia Hühn is a freelance editor with a technical focus. Among other things, she writes about the records in the world.