The world’s population has reached another milestone. There are now an estimated 8 billion people inhabiting this Big Blue Marble and that’s with our global population growing at its slowest rate since 1950. The majority of the world’s population — 56.2 percent — live in an urban area, and by 2030 that number is expected to increase to 70 percent of the world’s population.
Among these ever more populous urban environments are “megacities,” the most populated cities in the world. According to the United Nations, a megacity has a population of 10 million or more. Currently, there are fewer than 37 megacities in the world, with that number expected to rise to 41 by the year 2030.
So, here are the largest cities in the world by population, according to WorldAtlas, from Tokyo, the largest, to another Japanese city, Osaka, the 10th-largest:
1. Tokyo, Japan
Topping the list of world city populations is Tokyo. With a population of 37,274,000, it has become the most densely populated city in the world. Although home to an astounding number of citizens, Tokyo’s population growth has slowed during recent years with recorded declines ranging from a 0.09 percent drop from 2018 to 2019 to a 0.18 percent drop from 2021 to 2022. Experts point to an aging population paired with low birth rates as two of the reasons behind the slowed growth; another reason may be that the Japanese government implemented tax incentives for Japanese companies to move from Tokyo to less-populated prefectures and offered subsidies for citizen-employees to relocate along with them.
2. Delhi, India
Delhi, India, has a population of 32,065,760. This second-place ranking among the globe’s biggest cities, however, may be short-lived. Some population growth estimates forecast that Delhi’s population will reach a potential 56.4 million people by the year 2028. Delhi is home to several attractions that have each been designated as a World Heritage Site, including Red Fort Complex, named for its red-tinted limestone walls.
3. Shanghai, China
Shanghai, China, has a population of 28,516,904 and is forecast to enter a period of significant population growth over the next few years. Since 2018, Shanghai has recorded year-over-year population growth ranging from 2.59 percent to 2.87 percent. This means Shanghai is on track not only to secure its future ranking among the world’s top three most-populated cities, but to eventually vie for one of the top two spots. Located in east central China, Shanghai is a commercial powerhouse that is home to one of the world’s largest seaports.
4. Dhaka, Bangladesh
With 22,478,116 people living in Dhaka, Bangladesh, it is skyrocketing through the rankings of the world’s most populous cities. It’s also one of the most densely populated cities in the world. As recently as 2018, Dhaka was at No. 7, but after several years of rapid population growth (more than 3 percent), Dhaka has reached the No. 4 spot on this list. Dhaka is located at the center of Bangladesh, which borders the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. The city serves as the country’s administrative and economic powerhouse. Bangladesh has been the site of intense growth since it became an independent country in 1971, and the population is expected to continue to soar.
5. São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo, Brazil, has a population of 22,429,800 people. São Paulo comes in at No. 5 on this list of the world’s most populous cities, and takes the top spot among Brazil’s 110 urban areas. The city is located in southeastern Brazil where it is surrounded by valleys and foothills. It is known for being the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere and has gained a global reputation as a commercial and industrial center. In 2007, São Paulo officials banned outdoor billboards and banners in a move intended to preserve the city’s scenic views. Although the ban was initially met with resistance, just a few years later the ban was praised for its effects — chief among them the highlighting of previously overlooked architecture, including such buildings as the Municipal Theater of São Paulo.
6. Mexico City, Mexico
The population of Mexico City has grown more than 540 percent since 1950, and is now an estimated 22,085,140 people. Mexico City may be the sixth most populous city in the world, but it has another claim to fame that is far less welcome: Mexico City is sinking. During the 1900s, the capital city sank an estimated 29 to 36 feet (9 to 11 meters) because it sits atop an underground aquifer that is being continually depleted. Even after a 1958 ban on drilling new wells into the aquifer, the clay soil under Mexico City compressed at steady rates. Today, some sections of the city are sinking up to 19 inches (50 centimeters) a year.
7. Cairo, Egypt
Cairo, Egypt, has reached a new peak population with 21,750,020 people. While Cairo may be the world’s seventh ranked city for population, the city — and all of Egypt — is forecast to achieve rapid economic growth through 2030, according to Harvard University researchers. Cairo is home to the Pyramids of Giza and is part of a region rife with historical archeological finds, including the recent discovery of mummies with gold-plated tongues. The mummies with golden tongues are estimated to be from 300 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. and were discovered at the Quweisna necropolis in the Nile delta about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of Cairo.
8. Beijing, China
Since 1975, the population in Beijing, China, has been rising — and is expected to continue to grow through at least 2035, according to a United Nations report. There are 21,333,332 people now living in Beijing, which is home to one of the largest and most well-preserved architectural complexes of antiquity, known as The Forbidden City. The former imperial palace was first occupied in 1420 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site that serves as a cultural museum. The Forbidden City is a 178-acre (72-hectare) complex that, among other significant characteristics, exhibits the traditional Chinese practice of feng shui.
9. Mumbai, India
At last count, Mumbai, India, was home to 20,961,472 people — a number forecast to grow well into the future. Mumbai is sometimes known by its old name, Bombay, or by its relatively new nickname, the City of Dreams. Mumbai earned the City of Dreams moniker for becoming the center of Bollywood, the name given to the Indian film industry. Bollywood produces more than 1,000 films per year. Mumbai also is the economic hub for India’s jewelry production.
10. Osaka, Japan
With a population of 19,059,856 people, Osaka, Japan, comes in at No. 10 on our list of the world’s most populated cities. Osaka’s population growth, however, is expected to decrease year-over-year through 2035. The decline is largely to be attributed to residents moving from the city to outlying suburban areas. Osaka is known as a foodie paradise, in large part because of its high concentration of Michelin star-rated restaurants. Osaka is also an important urban agglomeration for Japanese culture and is home to Osaka Castle, one of the oldest landmarks in the country.
Now That’s Interesting
What is the largest city in the world by square miles or square kilometers? New York City spans a whopping 5,395 square miles, or 8,683 square kilometers, and is still densely populated. An estimated 2,050 people inhabit every square mile (1.6 kilometers).