The 10 Largest Cities in Africa

January 17, 2024

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View of Cape Town at night

Africa is the world’s second-largest continent after Asia in both size and population. Currently, more than 1.4 billion people live across the continent’s 54 countries, with millions choosing to live in the cities, for services such as education, health, and administration (which are not as widely available in small towns and villages) as well as for the economic opportunities they offer.

But what are the largest cities in Africa? In this article, we’ll reveal the ten largest African cities according to the populations of their metropolitan areas.

1. Cairo, Egypt – 22.26 million

Mosque in Cairo
Mosque in Cairo, Egypt

With a population of 22.6 million, Egypt’s capital is the largest city in Africa and arguably Africa’s most famous.

Cairo is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, largely due to ancient landmarks like the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx of Giza, and the Valley Temple, all of which are located 11 miles southwest of the city. Tourists also come to Cairo for the Egyptian Museum — which is home to the world’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts — to visit one of the many mosques, to ride on camels through the Sahara Desert, and to shop for souvenirs at bustling bazaars.

Located on the shores of the longest river in the world — the Nile River — Cairo is also a popular river cruising destination, giving visitors the opportunity to spot exotic wildlife like crocodiles and hippos or watch an onboard belly dancing performance while sampling the local cuisine.

2. Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo – 17 million

Vehicles and motorcyles travelling on a road from Masina to Ndjili, Kinshasa
Motorcycles and tuk-tuks traveling from Masina to Ndjili, Kinshasa

Kinshasa is the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital city. It is also the second-largest city in Africa, with a population of roughly 17 million. Additionally, it is the largest French-speaking city in the world, ahead of Paris.

Known locally as “Kin” and formerly called “Léopoldville”, Kinshasa is a mix of old and new, from its towering high rises to the sprawling slums that are largely responsible for the city’s rapid expansion rate.

Like Brazzaville (the capital city of the Republic of Congo), Kinshasa is located on the banks of the second longest river in Africa — the Congo — making it a prime trading hub for oil, lumber, minerals and agricultural equipment.

Kinshasa’s financial development can be attributed to its informal economy and the large manufacturing companies and financial institutions that are located in the city.

3. Lagos, Nigeria – 16.5 million

View of waterfront in Lagos, Nigeria
View of waterfront in Lagos, Nigeria

Home to 16.5 million people, Lagos is Africa’s third-most populous city and the largest city in Nigeria.

While Lagos is no longer Nigeria’s official capital city (in 1991, it was changed to Abuja), it remains the country’s economic capital, thanks to its status as an oil-producing state and its southerly location that makes it a hub for producing and transporting items for trade.

As well as being among the top ten fastest-growing cities and urban areas in the world, Lagos is becoming a major tourist destination, offering sandy public beaches like Alpha Beach and Elegushi Beach, private beach resorts and an array of festivals celebrating everything from food and music to black heritage.

4. Luanda, Angola – 9.7 million

Night time view of Luanda, Angola
Luanda in Angola, at night

With a population of 9.7 million, Angola’s capital is the fourth-largest city in Africa and the largest Portuguese-speaking city on the continent.

Tourists come to Luanda for its historical monuments and national treasures, such as the Saint Michael Fortress, Agostinho Neto Mausoleum, and Iron Palace. One of Africa’s fastest-growing cities, it is also an attractive destination for immigrants.

Another coastal city, Luanda, is a prime trading location with an export market dominated by oil, jewels, ore, and fish.

5. Khartoum, Sudan – 6.5 million

Woman at a market stall in Khartoum, Sudan
Woman walking through a market in Khartoum, Sudan

In the 1970s, oil was discovered in Sudan, which meant the country’s capital benefitted from significant development. Today, 6.5 million people live in Khartoum, making it the fifth-largest city in Africa.

Founded in 1821 as part of Egypt, Khartoum is more than 200 years old, and its long history is reflected in its architecture. A combination of Sudanese, Turkish and British influences, buildings comprise a diverse range of shapes and materials, with new and innovative construction techniques added to the mix after Sudan gained independence in 1956.

As well as being home to the National Botanical Garden — one of the oldest botanical gardens in Africa — Khartoum boasts the largest museum in Sudan, the National Museum of Sudan.

6. Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire – 5.9 million

Market in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Adjamé Market in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

The sixth-largest city in Africa is Abidjan, which is home to 5.9 million people. Another of the city’s accolades is that it is the third-largest French-speaking country in the world.

Abidjan was the capital of the Cote d’Ivoire until 1983 when it was replaced by Yamoussoukro. However, it is still the country’s economic capital and many political institutions, government offices and embassies remain in the city.

The city’s position on the Ébrié Lagoon and the Gulf of Guinea provides significant trade, commercial and economic prospects, and it is a considerable contributor to the Ivory Coast’s economy.

With its impressive skyline, fashion culture and high standard of living, the city is sometimes referred to as the “Paris” or “Manhattan” of West Africa.

7. Alexandria, Egypt – 5.7 million

Lots of boats moored in Alexandria Port in Egypt
Boats in Alexandria Port, Egypt

Another of Egypt’s cities makes it onto the list of the 10 largest cities in Africa. With a population of 5.7 million, Alexandria is the continent’s seventh-largest city.

This ancient port city was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE, along the Mediterranean coastline, 114 miles north of Cairo. Like Cairo, Alexandria is significant in terms of trade and economic presence, due to its strategic location, as well as its natural gas and oil pipelines from the port city of Suez.

In ancient times, the city was famous for its Great Library and the Lighthouse of Alexandria, and it was once the largest city in the ancient world before being overtaken by Rome.

Today, Alexandria is a popular tourist destination, with visitors coming to the city to learn about its colorful history.

8. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – 5.7 million

Friendship Park in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Friendship Park in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s capital is the eighth-largest city in Africa. Addis Ababa has a population of 5.7 million and it is the largest East-African city.

A highly-developed city, the headquarters of international organizations like the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa can be found in Addis Ababa. The city is often referred to as the “political capital of Africa” and there are high levels of political and civic participation among its younger residents.

Addis Ababa is also known for its vibrant culture, art and fashion scene and rapid economic growth.

9. Nairobi, Kenya – 5.5 million

Skyline view of buildings in Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi city skyline

With a population of 5.5 million, Kenya’s capital city — Nairobi — takes ninth place on this list of Africa’s largest cities.

The city has been a trading center since the emergence of a small Indian bazaar in about 1900, and today it is well-connected to Mombasa, Tanzania, Lake Victoria and Uganda via road and rail. It also boasts one of Africa’s major international airports, Jomo Kenyatta.

Nairobi’s most notable landmarks are the Parliament Building and City Hall, Kenyatta International Conference Center, the law courts and the Jamia Mosque, however, Nairobi National Park is arguably the most popular tourist attraction.

10. Cape Town, South Africa – 5 million

Aerial view of Cape Town
Bird’s-eye view of Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is the tenth-most populous city in Africa, with a population of 5 million.

Situated on the continent’s southernmost tip, on the edge of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, Cape Town is a prime shipping and trade location. It is also a major seaport for South Africa’s fishing industry.

Additionally, the city is one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, thanks to its beautiful beaches, affordable restaurants and Table Mountain (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Overview: Africa’s largest cities

As you can see from this list, Africa’s largest cities vary in terms of location, infrastructure and history. But while they do all offer something slightly different, they also share some of the same qualities.

More business opportunities and better healthcare and education are just some of the reasons why more people are choosing to live in cities over rural areas. And, it’s likely that these cities will only get larger as time goes on.

Data Sources:
World Population Review: Largest Cities

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