The 10 Largest Cities in Europe

January 3, 2024

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View of Istanbul from one side of the Galata Bridge

Europe is a melting pot of different cultures, languages and religions. Over the last few thousand years, people have gravitated to certain areas hoping to find better prospects and opportunities. The result is powerful cities that are home to millions of people around the world.

A city can be defined as many different things, such as ‘city proper’, meaning its administrative boundaries, or as an ‘urban area’, where the land is an uninterrupted built-up urban development. In this article, we’ve looked at the metropolitan areas of European cities, which are densely populated areas that share characteristics such as industries, housing and transport networks.

Check out our list down below to see which European cities have the largest populations in 2024. You might even be surprised by some of the results!

1. Istanbul, Turkey – 15.8 million

Photograph of Istanbul, looking across the river
Istanbul, Turkey

Straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is considered Europe’s most populated city. It’s transcontinental position helped it become an invaluable trade bridge between Asia and Europe for thousands of years. Due to its position on two continents, Istanbul is an amazing mix of Western and Eastern cultures.

In 1950, Istanbul had a population of just 967,000. In the following 70 years, the city has seen incredible growth and now rivals many of the larger cities in neighboring Asia. Many people flocked to the city from nearby villages, searching for jobs in the new factories. In recent years, the Turkish government has also offered financial incentives for its citizens to grow larger families.

If you love shopping, you should definitely plan a trip to the Grand Bazaar, which is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. There are plenty of places to spend your money as the Bazaar is home to 4,000 shops and over 60 streets. The beautiful Hagia Sophia, one of the city’s many mosques, also draws plenty of visitors as it’s been a religious center in the city for centuries.

2. Moscow, Russia – 12.7 million

Photograph of the bright turrets and domes of the Kremlin palace in Moscow
Kremlin in Moscow, Russia

Moscow is the center of cultural, economic, and business life in Russia. Although Russia is the largest country in the world, the population isn’t evenly distributed. Approximately 7% of the total Russian population lives in Moscow, while the western core of the country (surrounding the city) is home to a large portion of the remaining population.

It’s unknown when Moscow was first founded, but the first written mention of the city by name (then called Moskva) was in 1147. At the time, it was a convenient meeting place due to its proximity to roads and rivers. It wasn’t until the land became a Grand Duchy under the Mongol Empire that the city prospered. In the 15th century, Russia eventually rose up to overthrow the Mongols, and Moscow became the country’s capital city.

You can find the Red Square at the heart of Moscow, which boasts stunning sites such as the Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and St Basil’s Cathedral. Moscow is also a hub for the arts, so make sure to pay a visit to the legendary Bolshoi Theatre for a ballet or opera and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, which is the largest foreign art museum in the city.

3. Paris, France – 11.2 million

Paris, with the Eiffel Tower standing in the distance and the Seine running past the city in the foreground
View of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

World-renowned for its fashion, arts, and stunning architecture, Paris is beloved by tourists all around the globe. The City of Love dates back to around 259 BC when a Celtic tribe called Parisii settled on the banks of the Seine.

Of the countless popular destinations in the city, the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral draw in some of the largest crowds. You can also find plenty of quaint cafes and fascinating art galleries around the city.

Aside from the rich culture, many people choose to live in Paris because of the high wages. However, it’s worth remembering that the city is consequently more expensive than more rural areas of France.

4. London, United Kingdom – 9.6 million

Aerial view of London, with the Thames winding through the city and Tower Bridge seen in the foreground
The River Thames winding through London

Founded by the Romans around 50 AD, London takes its name from the Celtic ‘Londinios’, meaning ‘bold one’. True to its name, London has been the heart of one of Europe’s most vibrant and powerful countries for centuries.

If you’ve ever walked through London during rush hour, you can certainly get an idea of how densely populated the city is. London accounts for approximately 13% of the United Kingdom’s population, with 40% of the city’s population being foreign-born. As a result, London has the second-highest immigrant population in Europe.

There are plenty of things to see for any history buff, from the grand Houses of Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower (colloquially known as Big Ben) to the impressive Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. The city’s mundane items are even tourist attractions, including the iconic red buses and phoneboxes.

5. Madrid, Spain – 6.8 million

Madrid at dusk. The image is taken from up high and looks across a road to the rest of the city
Bird’s eye view of Madrid at sunset. A busy road runs past old multi-story buildings

As Spain’s capital, Madrid is the country’s center for finance, culture, and government. Madrid is also home to Spain’s Royal Family and the world-famous Real Madrid football club, which was founded in the city in 1902.

The city has increased steadily since becoming Spain’s capital city in the 16th century. This status has helped attract large numbers of immigrants from around the world. Latin Americans account for over 60% of Madrid’s immigrant population.

There are plenty of things to see under the hot Spanish sun, such as the grand Plaza Mayor Square, which hosts many lively events throughout the year. History and art lovers should definitely stop by Madrid’s Art Triangle, which contains three museums that feature the likes of Picasso, Goya, and Velazquez.

Shops in the city have long opening hours, with many businesses staying open for most of the day. Some shops will open from 10am to 2pm, close for a few hours, and reopen from 5pm to 10pm when it’s cooler.

6. Barcelona, Spain – 5.7 million

Aerial view of Barcelona, showing the block layout of the buildings and streets with the cathedral
Aerial view of dividing roads and rows of buildings in Barcelona

Famous for its stunning beaches, beautiful architecture, and busy nightlife, it’s little wonder that Barcelona is such a popular place to live. Football fans will also know the city for its exceptional football club, which has won countless trophies since it was founded in 1899.

Dating back to the Roman Empire, Barcelona has a diverse mixture of different buildings and monuments from various centuries. Some of the remains from Roman-era buildings are still visible throughout the city, as are medieval constructions such as the famous Barcelona Cathedral, which was built between 1298 and 1417.

62% of Barcelona’s population was born in the northeastern Catalonia region of Spain. A further 24% of the city’s population comes from elsewhere in Spain, while just 17% are immigrants.

7. Saint Petersburg, Russia – 5.6 million

Matthew the Apostle on the roof of Saint Isaac's Cathedral in Saint Petersburg
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in Saint Petersburg

Russia’s unofficial capital of culture, Saint Petersburg, was founded by Tsar Peter I in the 17th century as the country’s ‘window on Europe’. The tsar envisioned that the city would lead to better trade with Europe, a continent he was fascinated with. He gave his new capital city a Germanic name and commissioned a Swiss Italian architect to develop it.

Following the First World War, the capital was shifted to Moscow, and Saint Petersburg underwent various changes under the country’s changing leadership. To this day, Saint Petersburg remains an important center for Russia’s economy, culture, and tourism.

One unusual aspect of the city is its White Nights. This phenomenon occurs in the summer (usually between 11 June to 2 July) when the sun never truly sets. This is a popular time for tourists to visit and enjoy midnight walks in near broad daylight.

8. Rome, Italy – 4.3 million

Aerial view of the Colosseum of Rome at the center of the city amongst thousands of buildings and green spaces
Colosseum of Rome

World-renowned for its amazing architecture, fashion, and food, Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and the world. It’s been densely populated for thousands of years, from when it served as the center of the Roman empire up to the present day when it’s still one of the world’s cultural hubs.

Rome is one of the most affordable European cities, with average rent costing €1,242 ($1,342.27). In comparison, Paris is the most expensive European city in terms of rent, with an average cost of €2,535 ($2,739.65). This, along with the city’s rich culture, is likely the main attraction for people who settle in Rome.

Only about 9.5% of the city’s population is non-Italian. Of this group, half are of European descent, predominately Romanian, Ukrainian, Polish, and Albanian.

9. Berlin, Germany – 3.6 million

Image of Berlin, looking across the bridge and river to the red-roofed buildings on the other bank
Berlin at sunset

First founded in 1237, the great city of Berlin started life as a small town full of merchants, hunters, and fishermen. Through multiple wars, plagues, and economic crises in the following centuries, Berlin has emerged as one of Europe’s most important capitals. Berlin’s history has helped to shape Europe and is now a leading economic powerhouse in the world.

Berlin has excellent healthcare and transport services that offer many immigrants the chance at a better quality of life. A large portion (approximately 46%) of those moving to the city are aged between 18 and 30. These youngsters are likely attracted by the good working conditions and pay that Germany is known for.

Some of Berlin’s signature attractions include the Brandenburg Gate (built in 1788), the Reichstag Building, and the remains of the Berlin Wall.

10. Milan, Italy – 3.1 million

Aerial view of Milan's skyline behind a forest of green trees
City skyline of Milan

The ancient city of Milan was founded by the Celts in approximately 400 BC, before the Romans conquered it some 200 years later. In the following centuries, Milan was involved in several political struggles, conflicts and suffered severe pandemics. The city experienced a loss of around 80,000 people (over half the city’s population) during the Great Plague of Milan in 1629.

However, despite the many hardships the city has faced, Milan has emerged as the financial capital of Italy and one of the country’s commercial and industrial centers. Along with New York City, London, and Paris, Milan is one of the world’s fashion capitals and has a major influence on the global fashion scene.

In recent years, Milan has seen a declining population, largely due to the financial crisis in the 1990s, the city’s decreasing textile and steel industries, and low birth rates. Despite this, Milan remains the second largest city in Italy and is one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations.

Overview: Europe’s largest cities

Europe’s largest city is Istanbul in Turkey, with a huge population of 15.8 million people. Istanbul has seen incredible growth in the last century, growing from under 1 million in 1950. The second largest city is Moscow in Russia, which has a population of 12.7 million. Many of these cities started life as humble fishing or trade villages that have taken centuries to evolve into the European giants that they are today.

Data Sources:
World Population Review: Largest Cities

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