The 10 Largest Cities in the World by Population

January 7, 2024

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Tokyo, the largest city in the world by population

Earth’s population continues to grow rapidly, exceeding eight billion people as at 2024. Cities are growing all over the globe, especially in Asia and the Americas.

Cities can be defined by various factors, from the city proper (its administrative boundaries) to the urban area (continuous built-up urban landscape). For this list, weโ€™ve looked at the most populated metropolitan areas in the world, which share the same infrastructure, including transport networks and housing areas.

So, here are the largest cities in the world in 2024 by population.

1. Tokyo, Japan – 37.2 million

Busy road in Tokyo. People are crossing across a zebra crossing in front of neon-lit skyscrapers
Street in Tokyo, Japan

Could you live in an apartment that’s just 95 square feet? Most people couldn’t, but this is the reality for many residents in the largest city in the world! Tokyo has a population of 37.2 million, meaning space is at a premium. For a bit of perspective on this figure, London’s population is approximately 8.9 million, while New York’s is 7.9 million.

This huge city started life as a humble fishing village called Edo in around 3,000 BC. It became a prominent city in the early 1600s when it became the seat of the military government, the Tokugawa Shogunate. By the 18th century, Edo had a population of over one million, making it one of the world’s most populous cities. It was made the imperial capital in the late 19th century and was renamed ‘Tokyo,’ which means ‘Eastern Capital’ in Japanese.

After being devastated in the great earthquake of 1923 and suffering bomb damage during WWII, Tokyo underwent rapid reconstruction in the 1950s. Japan experienced an economic boom in this period and became the world’s second-largest economy.

Today, Tokyo is a stunning mixture of old and modern. From ancient temples to towering skyscrapers, there’s plenty to see and do in Japan’s busy capital.

2. Delhi, India – 33.8 million

Delhi, the second largest city in the world by population, as seen at dusk.
Delhi at dusk

Next on our list is Delhi, which has a population of nearly 34 million people. Although often used interchangeably, Delhi and New Delhi (India’s capital since 1947) are actually distinct entities. Delhi, known officially as the National Capital Territory of Delhi (NCT), is a city that contains the urban district of New Delhi. The historic city of Old Delhi lies in the north, while New Delhi (built in the early part of the 20th century) lies in the south.

According to legend, Delhi was named after King Raja Dhilu, who began building the city in the 1st century. Over the following centuries, Delhi earned a reputation for its rich and colorful culture. Some popular tourist attractions include the Red Fort, built in the 1600s, and the India Gate, a 137-foot tall monument commemorating the 70,000 fallen Indian soldiers of WWII.

Although Delhi is known for its lively marketplaces, tasty food, and various historical monuments, the city is also known for its poverty. Approximately 1.8 million people in Delhi (13% of the population) live in slums. Mass migration and generational poverty have led to many people living without proper housing, clean water, or basic healthcare.

There are various schemes to try and improve the housing situation in Delhi. In March 2022, the Delhi government released plans to build 16,000 flats by 2024 to house people living in the slums. This is the first part of a long-term plan to rehouse 78,000 slum-dwelling families eventually.

3. Shanghai, China – 29.8 million

Aerial view of Shanghai at night. The skyline is full of skyscrapers of varying heights and shapes
Shanghai at night

With a similar beginning to Tokyo, Shanghai began as a small fishing village before becoming one of the world’s largest seaports and China’s commercial center. At its heart, you can find the Bund, a historical waterfront area with grand Western-style buildings. Shanghai is also famous for its futuristic skyline, dominated by the 2,073-foot Shanghai Tower and the 1,404-foot Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

If it’s historic buildings you’re looking for, then the sprawling Yu Garden is worth a visit. The stunning garden was originally a private garden for the Pan Family during the Ming Dynasty in the 1500s. There’s plenty to admire, from the Grand Rockery, a 39-foot high display, to the various pavilions and halls that were once used to entertain guests.

The Nanjing Road shopping district is a melting pot of both old and new shops and stalls. This 3.4-mile-long is one of the world’s longest shopping districts and sees over one million visitors per day. It’s a shopaholic’s paradise, with approximately 600 shops, including quirky independent stalls and modern multi-story malls.

4. Dhaka, Bangladesh – 23.9 million

Dhaka skyline on a sunny day
City skyline of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s capital city has expanded into a bustling economic hub in the last century. Founded around the 1st century, Dhaka has seen an increase in size and population thanks to growing industries such as jute processing, textiles, and electronic goods.

The city’s growing industries are a major cause of Dhaka’s large population. Rural migration in the 1960s and 1970s accounted for 60% of the city’s growth. However, this fast growth has put tremendous strain on local infrastructure and has increased poverty, congestion, and unemployment.

Dhaka experienced severe damage during the war for independence in 1971. If you’re a history buff, there are still plenty of historical buildings and monuments for you to visit, however! The Ahsan Manzil Palace was built in 1859, and the converted museum now attracts visitors from all over. The unfinished Lalbagh Fort, where construction began in 1678, is also a key tourist hotspot in the city.

5. Sรฃo Paulo, Brazil – 22.8 million

Sรฃo Paulo on a sunny day
Sao Paolo, Brazil

The first non-Asian city to appear on the list, Sรฃo Paulo is the most populated city in the Americas, Southern and Western Hemisphere. Here, you can find a perfect blend of multiple different cultures and heritages. Sรฃo Paulo is home to the largest Portuguese, Italian, Arab, and Japanese communities outside their national origin countries.

While the city has a great mixture of cultures, it does suffer from overpopulation. There is a significant water supply issue, with few natural water sources in the city. Climate change and deforestation have also impacted the water supply, leading to severe droughts. Population growth and urban expansion have also reduced the low-cloud cover and created a heat-island effect. The city’s climate is consequently hotter than the surrounding areas.

One of the major tourist attractions occurs every June. The city comes alive with rainbows and glitter for South America’s largest Gay Pride Parade. Three to five million attendees attend the city-wide event yearly, while thousands walk the 2.6-mile-long route. It’s one of the world’s largest LGBT events and well worth a visit!

6. Cairo, Egypt – 22.6 million

View of the Mosque of Rifai in Cairo
Mosque of Rifai and Sultan Hassan in Cairo

Cairo: home to the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx… and over 22 million people! Most people think of the ancient Egyptians when they hear Cairo mentioned, but the city is just as alive and bustling as it was thousands of years ago.

Modern Cairo was founded around 969 AD, although there was a city in the area from around 2,000 BC. Over the following centuries, Cairo was controlled by various empires, from the Byzantine to the Ottoman. Egypt declared its independence from the United Kingdom in 1922, after which Cairo became the largest city in the Islamic world and Africa.

Around the 1st century, Romans built the Babylon Fortress in the 1st century, which still remains the oldest structure in modern Cairo. The city has earned the nickname ‘the city of a thousand minarets’ due to its vast number of mosques. This includes the Al-Azhar Mosque, which was built between 970 and 972 AD.

7. Mexico City, Mexico – 22.5 million

Busy street in Mexico City, Mexico
Busy street in Mexico City, Mexico

From the Aztecs to Frida Kahlo, Mexico City is world-renowned for its vibrant history and culture. Its rapid population growth is just as remarkable: in the last 120 years, Mexico City has grown from 345,000 in 1900 to over 22 million in 2024. However, the city has struggled to keep up with its growing population, and the limited housing means many people live in shanty towns.

Did you know that Mexico City is sinking? Due to a phenomenon called subsidence, where too much water is drawn up from underground, and the ground on top is too compact, Mexico City could eventually sink up to 65 feet. Mexico City was built over a lake in the 14th century, which was slowly drained for domestic and commercial use. It’s left the ground beneath dry and cracked, which cannot handle the many heavy buildings on top.

If you want to enjoy Mexico City while you still can, then you’re in for a treat. It has over 140 museums, one of the highest volumes in any city in the world! The Frida Kahlo Museum, the National Museum of Anthropology, and the Soumaya Museum are just a few sites that thousands of tourists visit every year. Mexico City is also famous for its many art galleries, Aztec architecture, and spicy cuisine.

8. Beijing, China – 22.1 million

Beijing's skyline at night.
Beijing skyline at night

China’s capital was first founded over 3,000 years ago, around 800 years before China’s first emperor! From the 11th to the early part of the 20th century, Beijing was home to 34 emperors. The city even contained a walled ‘Forbidden City’ at its center, which was only accessible by the emperor and a few select government members and imperial family members. Luckily, the Forbidden City has since been opened up to the world and is a popular tourist attraction.

During the socialist era between 1949 and 1979, most Beijing residents lived and worked within the same building. There were few reasons for people to travel to other areas of the city. Not many houses were built in the 1960s and 1970s in a bid to discourage migration to the city. However, following the Cultural Revolution at the end of the 1970s, many people flocked to the city which put a strain on the housing market. This demand led to a building surge, and skyscrapers began to pop up all over the city.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Beijing, from visiting the Great Wall to seeing the beautiful Temple of Heaven and the Summer Palace. Don’t worry about paying for taxis to get around, though โ€” you can easily zip in and around the city on a bike. Beijing is often considered one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world.

9. Mumbai, India – 21.6 million

A slum in Mumbai, India
Mumbai, India

Known as the City of Dreams, Mumbai is full of opportunities and thriving industries. Along with its status as a financial hub, Mumbai is also home to Bollywood, India’s popular film industry. It’s little wonder that so many people have decided to live in this intoxicating city.

Originally a group of seven islands inhabited by fishermen, Mumbai was taken under Portuguese control in 1534. It was named ‘Bom Bahia’, meaning ‘the good bay’ in Portuguese. The city was gifted to the English monarch King Charles II in 1661 when he wed his Portuguese bride Catherine of Braganza. Bombay, as it became known, remained under British rule until India declared independence in 1947. Bombay was renamed Mumbai (after the goddess Mumbadev) in 1996.

Mumbai is filled to the brim with amazing food, historic buildings, and lively street markets. Take a tour of the city in a rickshaw or gorge on the delicious curries in the famous Crawford Market. If you’re looking for a luxury hotel, then the Mumbai Taj is for you. Complete with nine restaurants, traditional Indian therapies, and five-star accommodation, you’re sure to feel like royalty!

Despite Mumbai’s beauty, the city also suffers the downsides of overpopulation. There are roughly 2,400 slums in and around the city, where approximately 55% of the population live. Many slum houses don’t have access to running water, electricity, or sanitation.

10. Osaka, Japan – 19 million

View of a canal in Osaka at night
Osaka at night

This port city’s history can be traced back to the 5th century AD, and throughout the following years, it served as an economic powerhouse in Japan. The city even became the country’s capital city in 645 AD under the emperor Kotoku. While this status only lasted a short time, Osaka remained a center for trade between Japan and the rest of the world.

Rent in the city is much cheaper than in cities such as Tokyo, which makes it a desirable place to live. You can rent an apartment for around ๏ฟฅ55,636 in Osaka, whilst rent is an average of ๏ฟฅ81,001 in Japan’s capital.

Osaka is home to one of the world’s largest aquariums, Kaiyukan, which has over 29,000 animals and 420 different species. Other popular tourist attractions include Osaka Castle, the Shitennoji Temple, and Umeda Sky Building Floating Garden Observatory.

Data Sources:
World Population Review: Largest Cities

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