Bounded by almost all the oceans of the world and connected to its sibling to the south, North America houses a multitude of countries, both large and small. Known far and wide for its illustrious cities, it also has nature so wondrous to behold.
However, judging by its population and size, it is quite an average continent. It falls behind Asia and Africa in terms of size, which are far greater continents, but also more populated. Speaking of the number of people there, it receives the 4th place in this continental race of ours. Europe is ahead of it by mere 150,000 people, but still ahead.
Despite these rather mediocre rankings, North America has far more metropolises than Africa or Europe! By certain estimates, it has got about 580 million people living there, which is about 7.79% of the world population. Its denizens are occupying an area of almost 25 million square kilometres. Even though it’s larger than the European continent, making it less likely to have densely populated areas, megacities sprawl here more commonly. Whether it’s due to better economic and industrial urban powerhouses or simply a matter of organization does not matter.
Since we’re going to talk about the most populated cities in North America, we won’t just focus on city cores. We’ll take into account all surrounding areas that belong to these metropolitan spheres of influence. Take a look at these twelve cities that hold such immense masses of people that smaller places can only aspire to.
Largest cities in North America by population
Mexico City, Mexico
The single most populous city in North America is quite expectedly Mexico City. The capital of the country of Mexico, its enormous metropolitan area contains 21.2 million people. Not only does this incredible figure make it the most populated city of North America, but also in the western hemisphere. Almost 9 million people live in the capital itself and they are spread across 1,485 square kilometres. Having done the math, or letting us do it for you, you’ll realise that there are 6,000 people per square kilometre.
‘City of Hope’, as some call it, is continuously sinking, much like Venice but with far more people attached. Founded next to a lovely lake called Texcoco, this city has had an amazing and rich history. Today, it is not only the richest country of Latin America but also the cultural and educational centre for many people. It’s one of the top travelling destinations, a fact hampered only by its worrying crime rate. In spite of that, throngs of tourists descend upon Mexico City each year to have the time of their lives. More and more people report that the crime has gone down in the past couple of years and that Mexico City is getting increasingly safer.
New York City, USA
The next entry on our list is the one that was probably the easiest to foresee. ‘The Big Apple’, Times Square and Manhattan are names and titles most people in the world have heard of. New York City has the largest metropolitan area of all North American cities, amounting to stunning 34,490 square kilometres. About 20.3 million people live in this combined area that includes New Jersey, the surrounding islands and places such as Bridgeport and New Haven. The capital itself has almost 8,623,000 citizens living in 1,213 square kilometres.
Read more: Weekend Getaways from NYC by Train
New York City was originally the first capital of the United States of America. It became so in 1789 but was moved to Philadelphia one year later. Being such a huge city that it is, New York is the cultural and urban centre of the US, and some extend that honour to the rest of North America. Considering its worldwide reputation and cultural significance, it would be unwise to assume anything else. Many people of different ethnic groups call it their home, making it a global metropolis, not just North American. Another proof to support that claim is the fact that it’s where the United Nations headquarters are. Also, the Statue of Liberty!
Los Angeles, USA
Where to start with this one? Let’s get the numbers out of the way first and then we’ll get to details. Los Angeles is the third largest city in North America, with the metropolitan population of 13.3 million people. The inner core is 1,302 square kilometres large, with about 4 million people living there. The total population includes counties of Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino.
The City of Los Angeles is known worldwide by its iconic abbreviation – L.A. It presides over the western part of the United States, serving as an economic and cultural centre. When you take Hollywood and its global recognition into consideration, it seems to be a cultural powerhouse of the entire Earth. Its constant representation in movies puts it on par with New York in terms of popularity. Despite its cultural significance, it is no less important industrially. It used to be one of the biggest oil producers in the early 20th century and still is one of the best, at least in the US. Among other things, this has led to the economic power it enjoys today, making it wealthier than some of the richest countries in the world.
Metropolitan area of this, one of the largest cities of North America, amounts to 9.5 million people. Known as Chicagoland, Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metropolitan area is among the largest cities in North America. While the core of Chicago, Illinois takes up ‘only’ 606 square kilometres, it still has a decent population of 2.6 million people.
Just like all the other urban centres on this list, Chicago also boasts a multitude of cultures combined in one place. Besides multiculturalism, it also exhibits high-brow culture in its many museums and art galleries. Since the incorporation of Chicago as a city in 1837, it has been a place of great importance both industrially and economically. One of the most amazing engineering feats took place here when the flow of the Chicago River was reversed, stopping its flow into Lake Michigan. It’s also home to the world’s first skyscraper built in 1885. American politics are deeply intertwined with Chicago as it hosted the first televised presidential debate in history! The list goes on and on, making the reasons for Chicago’s contemporary status more transparent.
Dallas – Fort Worth, USA
More than 7.2 million people live in Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex – and yes, metroplex is a word! It is most commonly associated with this particular instance, a metropolis complex consisting of two cities. Together, they take up a massive 24,059 square kilometres chunk of land, making it nearly as big as New York City. All that land really does allow for larger groups of people to live here, making this area one of the biggest in North America.
Dallas definitely has the lead when it comes to United States culture. Although most of the things coming from Dallas aren’t that valuable to foreigners, Americans sure know how to appreciate them. We’re, of course, talking about 7-Eleven, cheerleaders and Superbowl. Its economic history is deeply rooted in marketing and selling of products resulting in the Dallas Market Center Complex that we know today. The population of this city exploded after World War II, making Dallas one of the most populated cities in North America.
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land metropolitan area comprises a place that is much better known as Greater Houston. It boasts 6.6 million people living in an area of 26,061 square kilometres. Greater Houston has seen one of the fastest population increases in all of the United States – it grew by a quarter in just 10 years during the 90s. It is also the second biggest area in Texas, after Dallas – Forth Worth metropolitan complex. Houston, when left on its own, has got only 2.3 million people that settle 1,623 square kilometres.
Houston, Texas is quite an amazing city really. It has got a very rich culinary scene, prompting more people than anywhere else in the United States to eat out. Whether it’s fast food joints or classy, modern restaurants – Houston has it all. Above that, there are some of the largest and most advanced hospitals in the world. Much like other cities on this list, it blends different cultures and brings them all together. A proof to that claim is that Houston was the first city in the US to have a Hindu Mandir!
Greater Toronto Area is home to at least 6.4 million people living in a metropolis that encompasses Halton, Peel, York and Durham. Together, they take up 7,124 square kilometres of land, while individually, Toronto covers only 630 square kilometres. It is the capital of the most populous province of Ontario and subsequently the most populous city in Canada. The city itself has got a population of 2.7 million people.
Toronto is the seat of Toronto Stock Exchange which serves as headquarters of five largest banks in Canada. Moreover, it is the seat of culture, inviting people to come and visit its rich tapestry of art. All major broadcast networks are in Toronto, doing their best to showcase the city’s various cultural offerings. These include a great selection of movies, music and large numbers of art galleries. Much like in Houston, the culinary scene of Toronto is nothing short of incredible. There are so many restaurants and bars that it’s quite natural to get lost in all the options.
Washington metropolitan area is almost the same size as that of Toronto. Today, it has got about 6.3 million people covering the area of 14,412 square kilometres. Washington area is the sixth largest metropolis of the United States and eighth largest and among the most populated cities in North America.
Besides being the modern capital of the United States, Washington is also one of the most popular tourist destinations. There is quite a lot to be seen and even more to be done in Washington D.C: take a ride on a ferry and visit one of the many islands surrounding it, see its glorious waterfalls, volcanoes and mountain peaks.
Read more: Best Christmas Places to Visit in the USA
You can also visit the great political and historical monuments of the US, as you’re literally at the heart of the establishment! If we’re judging cities by population then Washington is of no relevance to us. However, if we’re discussing its cultural and societal merits, it simply begs a visit.
With 6.1 million people and more than enough territory at its disposal, Philly, as it’s colloquially called, made it on our list of largest cities in North America by population. Even though Philadelphia itself harbours about 1.7 million people, its metropolitan area is significantly larger.
Philly has got quite a lot to its name – United States Marine Corps was founded here, the first zoo and even the Philadelphia Mint. Moreover, its historical importance is not to be shunned. The city has amazing 67 historical heritage sites that really show how cultured and important Philly is. One of the places that hold great importance in the history of the United States is Independence Hall where the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence have both been signed. It doesn’t come as a surprise then that this is also the city where the first US flag came to be.
The largest metropolitan area in Florida goes by a couple of names – call it Miami metro, Greater Miami Area or even South Florida. It encompasses 15,890 square kilometres and about the same number of people as in Philly call it home – 6.1 million.
What’s interesting about Miami is that it is the only city in the US founded by a woman – Julia Tuttle. It also boasts the highest quality nightlife and some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. A good follow up to that piece of information is that tan lotion was invented in this city for obvious purposes. Lovely, deep waters hide many shipwrecks so diving is also a big thing here. There are many art and culture centres just so you know, lest you think that Miami is all about beaches and zero culture! When everything else fails, tourists can go on one of the luxurious cruise ships and enjoy themselves.
About 5.8 million people live in Metro Atlanta, or as it’s otherwise recognised by the US government as Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell area. Metro Atlanta, Georgia covers 21,694 square kilometres, which comes close to the size of the state of Massachusetts.
Have you ever wondered why the symbol of this spectacular city is a phoenix? The reason for that is because it has risen from the ashes and established itself as one of the biggest cities in the United States. General Sherman burned it to the ground, almost completely destroying it. Only a couple of hundred buildings remained, making it the only city in the United States to be destroyed during a war. Atlanta is also renowned in the world of sports, even hosting Olympics in 1996.
If you decided to travel around the United States by plane, you’ll soon find out that Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is the busiest one in the world. The terminal needed to be continuously expanded in order to successfully manage all the traffic. Today, it’s bigger than 40 football fields! The reason for all this air traffic is Atlanta’s proximity to every other airport in the US.
The last entry on our list and also the twelveth most populated city in this region of the world is Guadalajara in Mexico. Its metropolitan area now includes a bit over 5 million people, which is significantly less than other megalopolises of North America. It is definitely not even possible to compare it to Mexico City, but it’s large and highly populated nonetheless.
The city of Guadalajara has come a long way, considering the fact that it was founded by a cruel, unforgiving tyrant. Not only has the city moved away from its past, but it has also become the Silicon Valley of Mexico. The startup culture has really taken of these, attracting talent (and investors) from all over the country. Don’t worry if the technology is not your cup of tea! There is also more than little culture to be had in this adorable Mexican city. You might get an opportunity to take part in the International Film Festival. You may also look forward to one of the biggest book fairs that peddle books written in Spanish. Obviously, there is much more to learn about Guadalajara, it’s one of the undiscovered gemstones of Mexico.
There are many other great cities and metropolitan areas in North America. However, they don’t come close or compare to any others on this list and they’re also less influential. Moreover, they are not as populated, making them less valuable for this particular compilation of cities. Nonetheless, they deserve a spot in honourable mentions:
- Boston population: 4.7 million
- San Francisco population: 4.6 million
- Phoenix population: 4.5 million
- Inland Empire population: 4.4 million
- Monterrey population: 4.4 million
- Detroit population: 4.3 million
- Montreal population: 4 million
- Seattle population: 3.7 million