What It’s Like in the Most Populated Cities in the World
The largest cities in the world, in terms of sheer population size, are also some of the best vacation spots. After all, they’re rife with locals who can provide fresh and varied cultural perspectives and (of course) travel tips.
According to the United Nations, “cities” can be defined in numerous ways, one being the “city proper”, which demarcates a city by its legal and “administrative boundaries,” like the government.
If you want to take the “urban agglomeration” or “metropolitan area” approach to finding the largest cities on Earth, you’ll need to expand the boundary lines of a city further. Take into consideration the surrounding urban area as a whole, linked by factors like commuting patterns, which account for the millions of people who might work and study in the city.
New York City, for example: its population totals on this list, which was culled from UN data, include the five boroughs and surrounding large cities, like Newark, New Jersey.
Shanghai, ranked at No. 3, is the only true “city proper” in the top 10, while five other Asian cities dominate the bunch with populations that sometimes span hundreds of miles. Spend five minutes in buzzing Tokyo, and you’ll find out what it’s like to share space with its 38 million residents.
From top-rated restaurants to world-famous landmarks and attractions — and sure, unparalleled traffic jams — these metros are home to as many discoveries as they are people. Read on.
No. 10 New York-Newark, USA
New York City “proper” boasts a measly 8.6 million people, but a whopping 18.6 million inhabit the New York metropolitan area, which includes counties in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Listen to the natives, who passionately advise the avoidance of Times Square and instead vouch for a food tour of Brooklyn or Queens, a stroll along the High Line, or an art crawl of Manhattan’s tiny art galleries.
No. 9 Cairo, Egypt
More than 19 million Cairo inhabitants live in the shadows cast by the last standing of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — the Great Pyramids of Giza. They’re accessible in only 45 minutes by car from the city center. Escape the crowded streets, teeming with street vendors, to sail the Nile by way of felucca.
No. 8 Osaka, Japan
Perhaps Osaka’s 20.3 million friendly locals will soon be joined by expats (the city took the top spot for trending family destinations in a recent survey conducted by Airbnb, based on arrivals). Osaka is known as Japan’s culinary star, with some of the best grub found within the neon-laden Dōtonbori district, including unmatched sushi and sashimi, and traditional takoyaki: octopus-filled balls of batter, crisped to perfection.
No. 7 Mexico City, Mexico
Living in Mexico City, the 21.2 million residents and visitors alike have plenty of options: 40,000 restaurants to be exact. Even so, any local would tell you to run straight to the street food. The population is reflected in the city’s notorious traffic, which just might be the worst in the world, according to actual GPS data.
No. 6 Beijing, China
Beijing boasts a few superlatives in addition to its mammoth population of 21.2 million: the Forbidden City is the largest palace in the world and Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world. And that’s to say nothing of The Great Wall of China. Must-visit art districts solidify the city’s role as China’s cultural hub.
No. 5 São Paulo, Brazil
Move over, Rio. São Paulo’s diverse populace of 21.3 million agree that what the metropolis lacks in natural beauty — there’s no beach in sight — it makes up for in arts and culture, food, nightlife, and shopping. Paulistanos (those born in the municipality of São Paulo) escape the hustle and bustle to Ibirapuera Park to catch musical performances or relax with a good book.
No. 4 Mumbai, India
Why do some 21.4 million inhabitants call Mumbai home? It could have something to do with its affordability (it’s one of the cheapest places to live in the world). For a peek into local culture, visit the Ferry Wharf and watch fishermen auction off their catch. Those seeking serenity should head to Sanjay Gandhi National Park to walk with 172 rare species of butterflies.
No. 3 Shanghai, China
Often compared to New York, China’s largest city is also its shopping capital—Nanjing Road, at 3.5 miles long, is the world’s longest shopping district. Shanghai houses a cool 24.5 million residents, and they’re a passionate crew. Weeks before the newest Disney park, Shanghai Disney even opened, a million people paid it a visit. Walk along The Bund for a glimpse into historic colonial Shanghai with its 50 plus architecturally distinct buildings, and some of the best skyline views the city has to offer.
No. 2 Delhi, India
Though its 18,000 parks make it surprisingly verdant for a city squeezing in 26.5 million, India’s capital might be overshadowed by vibrant Mumbai, and the picture-perfect beaches of Goa. But Delhi’s immense population brings with it great diversity, both in Delhi’s languages as well as its ethnicities, and the range of experiences available to visitors across Old Delhi and New Delhi.
No. 1 Tokyo, Japan
Two words: subway pushers. A populace of 38.1 million demands that railway operators employ oshiya to literally push and cram rush hour commuters into subway cars. The most populated city in the world does have its sanctuaries: beautiful gardens full of flowering trees, like Shinjuku Gyoen, and religious sites such as the must-visit Senso-Ji, the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. Pro-tip: ask a local for his or her favorite sushi joint and order the omakase, a meal made up of small dishes, chosen by the chef.