Major Capitals & Cities of the World

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn about the largest and most important cities in the world - both capital cities, and non-capitals. Test yourself to see if you can match the capital to the country and answer questions about them.

Trends in Urban Living

Cities are the center of human life. This is becoming more and more true as time goes on. As of 2015, 51% of the world's population lives in urban areas, and this percentage is much higher in western countries. In the United States, for example, 81% of the population lives in urban areas. Both of those percentages go up every year. It would seem, therefore, that a general understanding of the world's major capitals and cities is warranted.

The Largest Capital Cities in the World

The five largest capital cities in the world are Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow, Seoul, and Jakarta; the largest western capital city is London.


Beijing is the capital of China, and has an estimated population of 21 million people as of 2014. This makes it the 5th largest city in the world, and the largest capital. It's one of the oldest cities in the world, having been established at least 3,000 years ago. The city is controlled directly by the national government, and is considered to be the nation's political, educational, and cultural center. It has been the heart of China for eight centuries - longer than almost every capital in the world. A significant problem facing Beijing today is its poor air quality thanks to coal burning. Smog warnings are common.

Tiananmen in Beijing
Tiananmen in Beijing


Tokyo is the capital of Japan, and has a population of over 13 million people in the city proper (2011). It is the largest city in Japan, and is home to both the Japanese government and the emperor. It is a hub for the world's economy, and up until 2012 was home to more global Fortune 500 companies than any other city: 51 in all. (Beijing has since overtaken Tokyo and achieved 52 as of 2014, while Tokyo has slipped back into the 40s.) It's also one of the more pleasant cities to visit, and is rated highly in terms of friendliness, cleanliness, public transportation, nightlife, and shopping. But as a result, it's also one of the most expensive cities to live in worldwide.

The Tokyo Skyline
The Tokyo Skyline


Moscow is the capital of Russia and has a population of 12 million people according to a 2015 estimate. It's the largest city in Europe (not counting Istanbul or Turkey), and it is a major political, cultural, and economic center. It has particularly interesting architecture, since it has both modern skyscrapers - including the tallest freestanding structure in Europe - and historic buildings like the Kremlin, St Basil's Cathedral, and Red Square. The city is at least 850 years old.

St Basil Cathedral in Moscow


Seoul is the capital of South Korea, and has a population of 10 million people (2014). It's home to a full five UNESCO World Heritage sites, including Changdeok Palace and Hwaseong Fortress. It's also one of the most visited cities in the world, and an important center of modern culture and technology. It hosts more art openings per square mile than any city, and is considered to be the seventh most sustainable city in the world.


Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and has a population of around 10 million people in 2014. It's a supremely old city, existing at least since the 4th century. Today it's one of the most rapidly growing cities in the world. Unlike most of the other cities, relatively few international tourists visit Jakarta.


London is the capital of the United Kingdom, and in 2015 reached a population of 8.6 million people. It's one of the major financial centers of the world, containing the headquarters of many of the world's largest banks. It's also one of the most popular tourist cities in Europe, and home to the British Royal Family, whose residences and artifacts are of great interest to visitors.

Largest Overall Cities in the World

Not all large cities are capitals. Most notable of these are Shanghai in China (24 million people in 2014), Karachi in Pakistan (23.7 million people in 2014), and Istanbul in Turkey (14 million people in 2014). In fact, London is only the 22nd largest city proper in the world when non-capitals are included, though it is the second largest city in the western world (second only barely to New York) as of 2014.

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