Where are the biggest cities in Europe?

Europe is made up of 44 countries and more than 800 cities. From London to Lagos, they all have different stories and, above all, different sizes.

Which cities are the biggest? Some data might surprise our readers, but one thing is certain: London is the largest city in Europe. Where is it? Some cities have smaller boundaries than others, so the subdivision criteria vary accordingly. For example, Paris is the third most populated urban area in Europe, but since its administrative boundaries are restricted, the French capital falls into a lower position than it should.

City Monitor will attempt to answer these questions below, dividing cities into different categories.

Is it one of the biggest cities in Europe? Sitting by the Thames, watching London grow. (Photo by poyja/Shutterstock)

Within the city walls

To begin with, there is an obvious option: how cities define themselves. At the level of the administrative boundaries of each city, a hierarchy becomes clearer.

To avoid getting lost in the details of each individual census, national statistics office or city population office, here is the list of European cities by population within city limits at press time.

  1. London, UK: 9,002,500
  2. Berlin, Germany: 3,664,000
  3. Madrid, Spain: 3,305,400
  4. Kyiv, Ukraine: 2,920,873
  5. Rome, Italy: 2,844,750
  6. Bucharest, Romania: 2,161,347
  7. Paris, France: 2,139,907
  8. Vienna, Austria: 1,930,000
  9. Warsaw, Poland: 1,860,000
  10. Hamburg, Germany: 1,850,000

[Read more: Where are the largest cities in Britain?]

On the other hand, if you expand the network and start talking about “urban agglomerations” – basically, the cities and the things around them that also function as part of the city – we get a very different picture.

Near the city walls

There are all sorts of caveats and rules that go into these measurements, from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which published its 2015 population estimates in its World Urbanization Prospects tome.

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The central idea is that excluding rivers, parks, roads and industrial areas, urban agglomerations are built-up areas where houses are not more than 200 m apart. But the definition does not extend as far as the satellite towns: thus, the suburban belt of London, with its stretches of the evil green belt as a dividing line, does not count, but the suburbs of Paris, very close and making part of Paris proper, account .

And the results of this measurement are, of course, quite different:

  1. Paris, France: 10,843,285
  2. London, UK: 10,313,307
  3. Madrid, Spain: 6,229,254
  4. Berlin, Germany: 6,000,000
  5. Barcelona, ​​Spain: 5,258,319
  6. Rome, Italy: 3,717,956
  7. Milan, Italy: 3,098,974
  8. Athens, Greece: 3,051,899
  9. Lisbon, Portugal: 2,884,297
  10. Manchester, UK: 2,645,598

There is also a variant version of this definition: one that includes areas that are generally built-up but not specifically centered on any particular city. Demography The 2022 figures are produced on this basis, and it gives a similar picture, but with a very different precursor:

  1. Moscow, Russia: 17,000,000
  2. Lagos, Portugal: 16,000,000
  3. Istanbul, Turkey: 15,500,000
  4. London, UK: 12,000,000
  5. Paris, France: 11,000,000

Emotionally attached to the city walls

But for anyone who grew up near a big place but not really in the big place, and got tired of explaining to visiting Americans exactly what and where Hemel Hempstead was, there’s another handy definition that produces a picture of the metropolitan area, or functional urban region.

These figures of Eurostatthe statistical branch of the European Union, offers this point of view:

  1. London area, UK: 14,031,830
  2. Paris region, France: 12,005,077
  3. Madrid Region, Spain: 6,378,297
  4. Region of Barcelona, ​​Spain: 5,445,616
  5. Ruhr area, Germany: 5,045,784
  6. Berlin, Germany: 5,005,216
  7. Milan area, Italy: 4,267,946
  8. Athens, Greece: 3,863,763
  9. Region of Rome, Italy: 3,700,000
  10. Warsaw Region, Poland: 3,304,641

So it’s settled, right? It’s London, or Paris, or maybe the Ruhr.

Except no. Because Europe itself is not so simple, as we will discover.

Whose Europe is it anyway?

There is the EU, the Schengen area, the customs union, the EEA, the continent, and then the delicate question of Europe itself.

Thus, this list included European Turkey, gave Istanbul the benefit of the doubt, and extended Europe to the Ural Mountains in Russia. And then the size rankings change again:

According to the city limits (first definition), this is what things look like:

  1. Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey: 15,840,900
  2. Moscow, Russia: 12,632,400
  3. London, UK: 9,002,500
  4. St. Petersburg, Russia: 5,376,700
  5. Berlin, Germany: 3,664,000

But as before, this definition of the city isn’t particularly helpful – as it diverts continental giant Paris to the relegation zone only because the administrative area of ​​the arrondissements is tiny.

With so many fluctuating numbers based on so many different definitions, it’s probably more useful to conclude by dividing European cities into three broad classes. Let’s call them megacities, very large cities and fairly large cities.

In the megalopolis category, we obtain approximately:

  1. Moscow, Russia: 17.9 million
  2. Istanbul, Turkey: 14.8 million
  3. London, UK: 14 million
  4. Paris, France: 12 million
  5. Ruhr area, Germany: 11.1 million
  6. Madrid, Spain: 6.4 million
  7. Barcelona, ​​Spain: 5.5 million
  8. Berlin, Germany: 5.0 million
  9. St. Petersburg, Russia: 4.8 million
  10. Milan, Italy: 4.2 million

And then the rest. Rome, Athens, Warsaw, Lisbon, Manchester, Bucharest, Vienna, etc., happily mingling with two to four million people.

The more you know.

bonus item

If your obsession with the city is beyond entry-level, a little lesson on megalopolises (megalopolises?). Popularized in the early 20th century, the term applies to a chain of towns that are somehow close to each other and can be said to work as a roughly cohesive whole – the typical example being the north coast- eastern United States, with its spots in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

In Europe, for some reason, it has become a banana fight.

According to 2017 data, the “green banana” comes third, with around 40 million people spread across the cities of Gdansk, Warsaw and Katowice in Poland; Ostrava, Prague, Olomouc and Brno in the Czech Republic; Vienna in Austria; Bratislava and Zilina in Slovakia; Budapest and Gyor in Hungary; Ljubljana in Slovenia; Zagreb in Croatia; and Trieste in Italy.

In second place we have the Golden Banana, with around 45 million. The color comes, in theory, from the lush sands of the western Mediterranean, with the megalopolis defined as comprising Turin and Genoa in Italy; Lyon, Nice, Toulon, Marseille, Nîmes, Montpellier, Narbonne, Perpignan and Toulouse in France; Monaco in Monaco (obviously); Andorra la Vella in Andorra; and Manresa, Girona, Vic, Barcelona, ​​Tarragona, Catellón de la Plana, Sagunt, Valencia, Alicante, Murcia and Cartagena in Spain.

But supreme among Europe’s transnational megacities comes the mighty Blue Banana. This mythological elision of cities is home to 130 million people and includes (deep breath) Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and London in the UK; Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium; Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht in the Netherlands; Luxembourg to Luxembourg; Cologne, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, Wuppertal, Frankfurt, Munich, Stuttgart and Nuremberg in Germany; Strasbourg and Lille in France; Zurich and Basel in Switzerland; and Turin, Milan and Genoa in Italy.

[Read more: Where are the largest cities in the US?]

This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.

Joan J. Holland