Urban areas throughout the world have seen a surge in population growth in the last few years. According to the United Nations’ latest report on populations in large metropolitan cities, by 2030 at least one person out of three will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants, and by 2050 two in three people will live in cities, 68% of the world population.
That’s not really surprising, especially since the world has seen major changes in the last couple of years. What’s actually astounding is that the 20 megacities we gathered on this list house more than half a billion people. Considering there are just over 8 billion people living in the world as we speak, these statistics are pretty eye-opening.
If you’ve been to New York City or London, you might find them pretty large and filled with people. But these metropolitan areas don’t even come close to the following 20 cities we will mention shortly.
Most of these cities are located in Asia, with five of them in China, a couple in Africa, and some in South America. North America and Europe, although they are slowly growing, barely come close with their largest cities to the mega-cities on this list.
But Istanbul can be considered partly as being located in Europe and partly in Asia, so that’s as close as Europe gets on this list. A mind blowing fact, especially since London, Paris, and Rome were always considered amongst the more influential cities in the world.
Let’s see which are the 20 biggest cities in the world right now. We made the list in ascending order, from the least populous (if you could say that) to the most populous city in the world.
20. Tianjin, China – 14.239 million
The city is located in Northern China, along the coast of the Bohai Sea. Better known for their extensive seafood cuisine and artisanal work, the city is one of the nine national central cities that are part of Mainland China.
Their hand-painted woodblock prints, woven handicraft products and terra-cotta figurines are part of the city’s rich heritage. One of the leading ports in the Northern part of the country, Tianjin is also a very important manufacturing center in the country.
19. Guangzhou, China – 14.284 million
Located in the Southern province of Guangdong, Guangzhou is a city that has a rich history, dating more than 2,200 years. An important port of the country, this megacity is located on Pearl River and serves as a major transportation hub.
It is also one of the best commercial cities in Mainland China and a leading financial center in the world. Add in the fact that Guangzhou is a major center of innovation and research and you understand why so many people want to live here.
18. Manila, Philippines – 14.667 million
This global megacity is the most densely populated city in the world according to Globalization and World Cities Research Network, or GaWC. The word Manila comes from the Filipino phrase may-nila, which means “where indigo is found”.
It probably has to do with the indigo-yielding plants that grow in the area and which give out a natural dye that can be extracted. A fast growing city not only in population, but in modernization as well.
With a rich Spanish history, the city still carries its influences today, especially as far as culture and cuisine goes.
17. Kolkata, India – 15.333 million
Kolkata was formerly known as Calcutta until 2001, and it is India’s West Bengal state capital. Under the British Raj, it was India’s capital from 1773-1911 and its rich history can be felt almost anywhere today.
The cultural festivals the city hosts, along with its many art galleries and grand colonial architecture make Kolkata a popular metropolitan city in the area. This amalgamation of modern and traditional customs as well as delicious cuisine, make it an attractive city to visit and live in.
16. Buenos Aires, Argentina – 15.490 million
The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, located on the western shore of Rio de la Plata, was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish, who occupied it at the time. The city became independent in the late 19th century, when it became very prosperous.
It was a trading city from its very beginnings, and even today it is one of South America’s most important ports. Other than a booming import/export industry, the city is a major cultural center. The city that literally never sleeps, it has a very rich architecture and cultural life.
15. Istanbul, Turkey – 15.848 million
The city of Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia across the Bosphorus Strait. Throughout the centuries many empires ruled this city, and these influences can be noticed even today.
For many years it was known as Constantinople, and it was changed to Istanbul in 1930, when the Treaty of Lausanne officially established the Republic of Turkey.
A megacity that is super rich in history, its Byzantine and Ottoman architecture make it very appealing to tourists, with its cultural life and culinary experience are among the city’s main attractions.
14. Lagos, Nigeria – 15.946 million
Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city, sits off the Eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, sprawling from the Gulf of Guinea across the Lagos Lagoon, making it one of Africa’s most important ports. Africa’s major financial center, it is also Lagos State’s economic hub.
On the Southern side, it is best known for a busy nightlife, and its numerous boutiques and beaches make it a popular tourist attraction. On the Northern side, the city’s main attraction is the National Museum of Lagos, where craftworks and cultural artifacts are displayed.
13. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo – 16.316 million
Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, has seen a surge in its population since the government widened the city’s boundaries. With a very young population, more than half of the city’s inhabitants are under 22 years old.
That makes the city very vibrant and busy, but also not very rich. The city’s poor infrastructure leads to high rates of unemployment and a whole lot of other social problems.
One of the world’s fastest growing megacities, it was once a site of trading villages where fishing was its main occupation.
12. Karachi, Pakistan – 17.236 million
Situated on the southern tip of the country along the Arabian Sea coast, Karachi is the largest and most populous city in Pakistan. The capital of the province of Sindh, it was once the capital city of the country.
Today, it serves as a mega transportation hub in the area and it is home to Pakistan’s two largest seaports. The Ports of Bin Qasim and Karachi are the busiest in the area, as well as the busiest airports. It is a major financial center, and one of the country’s premier industrial hubs.
11. Chongqing, China – 17.341 million
Sprawling between the Jialing and the Yangtze rivers, Chongqing is located in southwestern China. One of the country’s largest cities, it houses the Great Hall of the People Complex, which stands above the People’s Square.
Very rich in history, with more than 3,000 years worth, another very important architectural structure is the three Gorges Museum. The museum features lots of ancient art as well as artifacts from the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.
10. Osaka, Japan – 19.013 million
The most populous city in Osaka Prefecture, Osaka is located in the Kansai region of Honshu of Japan. The capital city of the region is a large commercial city, and one of the largest ports of the area.
Known best for a bustling nightlife, hearty street food, as well as modern architecture, Osaka has a bit to offer for everyone. Its main historical landmark is the 16th century Osaka Castle, which has seen several restorations throughout the centuries.
Among Japan’s oldest Shinto Shrines is Sumiyoshi-taisha, which sits in a park where cherry-blossoms and plum trees are picture perfect.
9. Mumbai, India – 21.297 million
Formerly called Bombay, Mumbai is one of the most densely populated megacities located on India’s West coast. The iconic Gateway of India stone arch sits on the Mumbai harbor waterfront, a structure that was built in 1924 by the British Raj.
Also considered the heart of the Bollywood industry, Mumbai is a famous city that is very rich in history. Nearby the Elephanta Island, ancient cave temples dedicated to the Hindu God of Shiva are located offshore.
With a mix of strikingly modern high rises and iconic old-world architecture, the charming city is a popular cultural hub.
8. Beijing, China – 21.766 million
With a history that stretches back 3 millenia, Beijing is China’s sprawling capital city. Best known for its ancient sites such as the Imperial palace that dates back to the Qing and Ming dynasties, the city also boasts some modern architecture.
The Grand Forbidden City Complex, along with the nearby Tiananmen Square pedestrian plaza is where the National Museum of China is located. That is also where the site of Mao Zedong’s mausoleum displays a large collection of cultural artifacts visitors can admire.
7. Cairo, Egypt – 22.183 million
Set on the Nile River, and the site where some of the most famous structures in the world are located, Cairo is Egypt’s sprawling capital megacity. In the heart of the city is the vast Egyptian Museum, located in Tahrir Square.
That is where the gilded King Tutankhamum artifacts and a vast array of antiquities are housed among the many royal mummies.The Cairo tower, one of the city’s tallest structures is perched on Gezira Island, more specifically the Zamalek district.
Their cuisine is a foodie’s paradise, and its rich history are the city’s main attractions.
6. Mexico City, Mexico – 22.281 million
The capital of Mexico, Mexico City is the largest megacity of North America. Located in the Valley of Mexico, this large Spanish-speaking conglomerate is the second largest urban agglomeration in the Western hemisphere.
Responsible for many fast growing industries, Mexico City is one of the most important economic hubs in Latin America. Its rich history makes it home to many art galleries and museums, with its indigenous people’s influence still a predominant part of the city today.
5. Dhaka, Bangladesh – 23.210 million
Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is located in southern Asia. The fifth largest megacity in the world, it isn’t as popular as some of the other more well-known metropolitan cities. And that is not because it lacks history.
This largest Bengali-speaking city in the world is formerly known as Dacca. Set beside the Buriganga river, the city dates back to the 17th century. Today, many of the original mosques and palaces that were built then are still standing.
The center of the culture and trade, the National Parliament house represents the fast growing modern metropolis Dhaka is becoming.
4. São Paulo, Brazil – 24.490 million
Sao Paulo is the busiest conglomerate located in South America. The biggest city in Brazil is a vibrant financial center and it houses numerous cultural institutions, that’s why it also has a rich architectural tradition.
Its many structures range in style from colonial to neo-Gothic. The curvy Edificio Copan is designed by modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer, and it contrasts with the 1929 Martinelli skyscraper.
Patio do Colegio, the church where Jesuits priests founded the city dating back to 1554, can still be seen today. That is what makes the city so charming: its perfect blend of tradition and modernism.
3. Delhi, India – 32.941 million
This massive metropolitan area located in the northern part of the country, Delhi is the third largest city in the world. The capital of India is where the national government is housed.
Home to many powerful people such as the Mughals and the Pandavas, New Delhi still has great historical significance today. Famous for great food and lively marketplaces, the city has numerous historical monuments that make great tourist attractions.
One of the most famous symbols of India is the Mughal Red Fort, which dates back to the 1600s.
2. Shanghai, China – 34.341 million
A global financial hub, Shanghai is China’s largest city. Located on the central coast, the city has many important structures that attract millions of people yearly.
For example, some of its most notable historical landmarks are Yu Garden, with its traditional pavilions, The Bund, a famous waterfront promenade lined with colonial-era buildings, and the City God Temple.
That’s the older part of the city; across the Huangpu River, the Oriental Pearl TV tower, with very distinctive pink spheres and Shanghai Tower, are among the new constructions that make up the Pudong district’s futuristic skyline.
1. Tokyo, Japan – 37.194 million
We end this tour with the largest megacity in the world, Tokyo, the capital of Japan. Tokyo is not only the most populous cavity in the world, it is also a leading global tech hub. This vibrant city is a lively place to move in, and it is home to one of the best transportation systems in the world. But in Tokyo, you actually get the best of both worlds.
You can visit historic temples and neo-lit skyscrapers that are within walking distance from each other. The Meiji Shinto Shrine, known for surrounding woods and its towering gate, is an opulent structure in the city.
There are also numerous museums, art galleries, as well as large public gardens. And the job market is thriving as well, that’s why Tokyo is also among the world’s most expensive cities.
- 20. Tianjin, China – 14.239 million
- 19. Guangzhou, China – 14.284 million
- 18. Manila, Philippines – 14.667 million
- 17. Kolkata, India – 15.333 million
- 16. Buenos Aires, Argentina – 15.490 million
- 15. Istanbul, Turkey – 15.848 million
- 14. Lagos, Nigeria – 15.946 million
- 13. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo – 16.316 million
- 12. Karachi, Pakistan – 17.236 million
- 11. Chongqing, China – 17.341 million
- 10. Osaka, Japan – 19.013 million
- 9. Mumbai, India – 21.297 million
- 8. Beijing, China – 21.766 million
- 7. Cairo, Egypt – 22.183 million
- 6. Mexico City, Mexico – 22.281 million
- 5. Dhaka, Bangladesh – 23.210 million
- 4. São Paulo, Brazil – 24.490 million
- 3. Delhi, India – 32.941 million
- 2. Shanghai, China – 34.341 million
- 1. Tokyo, Japan – 37.194 million