The 20 Largest Cities in the World
The world’s population is growing. For United Nations World Population Day, we take a look at where.
11. Karachi, Pakistan
Current population: 15,741,406 million people
One-fifth of Pakistan’s urban population resides in Pakistan’s once-capital “megacity,” according to a report by the World Bank. While the number of its residents has soared—up 2.2 percent since 2018—its quality of life has been plummeting, with violent crime, inequality, and financial instability all contributing to developmental challenges. Karachi is also one of the world’s densest cities; it has 24,000 people living per square kilometer. If crowds this big make you uncomfortable, check out the best places to move in in the U.S. before they get too crowded.
10. Osaka, Japan
Current population: 19,222,665 million people
The number of people living in Japan’s food-centric and third-largest metropolitan area is actually decreasing—it’s dropped by .3 percent since 2018. But nearly 20,000 humans squeezed into the broader Kansai region (which includes the city of Osaka) of 27,000 kilometers makes for some tight living quarters. And in fact, 7 percent of Japan’s total population lives within an even smaller space in this region, in the city of Osaka proper and its 42 municipalities.
9. Beijing, China
Current population: 20,035,455 million people
China’s second-largest municipality has almost as many residents as the entire country of Australia. And it’s population has not only been rising at a steady clip since 1975; it’s projected to keep on rising all the way through 2035, according to the UN World Urbanization Prospects report. One of the serious downsides to such a large population in an urban area: Beijing has some of the worst air for breathing, thanks to nearby polluting coal plants and to car traffic—measuring 52 microns per cubic meter, as reported by Reuters. It’s also running out of water.
8. Mumbai, India
Current population: 20,185,064 million people
India’s second-largest metropolitan area has its largest in-city population, with over 13 million at last official census count in 2011, according to National Geographic. Its trains alone carry 6 million people a day, a figure that puts almost every other busy city to shame. Mumbai’s population has surged in the past 20 years—and has in fact doubled since 1991—as migrants from rural areas move to town looking for work. The practical realities of this flux are grim: reports World Population Review, 41 percent of residents in Mumbai and its surrounding regions live in slums.
7. Dhaka, Bangladesh
Current population: 20,283,552 million people
Business Insider called Dhaka the most crowded city in the world in 2018, with over 23,000 people per square kilometer and an incredible 2,000 people per day moving into Bangladesh’s capital city. The reason for the influx: pure and simple desperation, as climate change-exasperated natural disasters wreak havoc on their home towns and villages. Not surprisingly then, one-quarter of Bangladeshis live below the poverty line, with an estimated 3 million people living in slums of Dhaka alone, says Business Insider.
6. Cairo, Egypt
Current population: 20,484,965 million people
Egypt’s capital city has been settled at least since the 4th century due to its important location on the Nile River. After plagues in the Middle Ages and city-destroying riots in the 1950s, it’s since been growing at a rapid clip, according to ThoughtCo. Even its core city population is staggeringly high—12 million as tallied by World Population Review. Alexandria, the second-largest city in Egypt, is a mere 30 percent of Cairo’s size. By contrast, check out the smallest country in the world.
5. Mexico City, Mexico
Current population: 21,671,908 million people
An economic powerhouse (it’s ranked 18th in the world for “strong economic clout,” according to WorldsCapitalCities.com), Mexico City is also one of the most populous and densest in the world. In fact, 20 percent of the entire population of Mexico lives in Mexico City, writes World Population Review. Unsurprisingly, surges in growth—an almost 3 percent hike since 2018—have meant that the city has had a hard time keeping up with necessary services for its residents, like housing.
4. Sao Paulo, Brazil
Tacio Philip Sansonovski/shutterstock
Current population: 21,846,507 million people
The most populous city in the Americas, with over 11 million people living in the city itself, is a sophisticated, ethnically diverse world cultural center that is also, oddly, according to Forbes, home to 26 billionaires. It’s also a city of immigrants—”81% of students said they were descendants of foreign immigrants,” writes World Population Review of a recent survey by the University of Sao Paulo. Although the metropolitan area continues to grow—it’s projected to reach 23 million by 2030—it’s actually dropped in rank in the last few years.
3. Shanghai, China
Current population: 26,317,104 million people
Shanghai is the largest city proper in the world, and one of the fastest developing for 20 years, seeing “double-digit growth nearly every year since 1992, with the exception of the global recession of 2008-2009,” says World Population Review. And it’s still growing, even though the pace of that growth is slowing. Experts predict its greater metropolitan regions will hit 50 million residents by 2050, which is sure to exacerbate all the problems that come with dense cities, like insufficient infrastructure and pollution. Shanghai is unlikely to make the United Nations’ list of “good” countries—those making a positive contribution to the world—anytime soon. If the list included small towns, these popular and charming American towns would hopefully make the list.
2. Delhi, India
Current population: 29,399,141 million people
Delhi, India’s capital and the center of its government, is second in population and first in air pollution. It packs over 11,000 people into each of its 1484 square kilometers. And it’s growing faster than almost anyplace else on Earth. “In 2001 alone,” reports World Population Review, “its population increased by 215,000 due to natural growth and 285,000 through migration.” Its numbers increased this year by 3.25 percent over 2018 but it’s still on track to hit a population of over 43 million by 2035. The capital isn’t providing incentives like these American towns that’ll pay you to move there.