This article has a list of cities in the United Kingdom and their populations. It also explains what cities are in the UK – they’re slightly different to cities in many other countries.
This article also answers a number of frequently asked questions, including which are the largest, smallest and oldest cities in the UK and each of its four nations.
Table of Contents
What makes a city a city in the UK?
Most countries in the world define a city as a large town or settlement – just a large urban area where lots of people live. The exact rules vary, but this basic principle applies.
In the UK though, a city only becomes a city if the monarch – the reigning queen or king – gives permission. This leads to the oddity of London being widely recognised as one of the largest cities in Europe and the world when it isn’t technically a recognised city in the UK.
Today the monarch grants city status through a royal charter. In practice, the monarch’s decision is based on the advice of the government. Places that want to become a city must apply, their bids are then reviewed by a government department (at the time of writing in 2022, this is the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) and finally a recommendation is made to the monarch.
Often competitions are held to grant city status at nationally important times – for example, a competition was held to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. Forty cities applied, and eight cities were granted city status in 2022, including two cities outside of the UK mainland on British overseas territories and Crown Dependencies.
Other recent competitions have been held in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee – where three new cities were created – in 2002 for the Golden Jubilee – where five new cities were created – and in 2000 to mark the millennium – where three new cities were created.
Does a city have to have a cathedral?
From the 16th century to the late 19th century, towns with cathedrals were recognised as cities. Henry VIII rejected the authority of the Pope in 1534, so in practice they had to be Anglican cathedrals rather than Catholic Cathedrals, or those from any other Christian denomination.
This led to places that are – today at least – quite small being recognised as cities, while other much larger places without cathedrals or a royal charter are still towns. Examples of small cities in the UK are Wells in Somerset and Bangor in Wales.
Birmingham was the first town in England to become a city without having a cathedral. Its city status was granted in 1889.
Is London a city?
London is home to almost 9 million people.
Everyone knows that, in practical terms at least, London is a city. It is home to over 9 million people, and is the largest settlement in the United Kingdom. It used to be the largest city in the world. And it is the capital of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
However, in the eyes of the law, London is not a city in the UK. It has never been granted city status of its own. Instead, London is a collection of places, including boroughs and two smaller cities. It is also a ceremonial county called Greater London and a region called, simply, London.
The two cities that are in London are:
- the confusingly named City of London, which is (1) a city, (2) a ceremonial county entirely surrounded by the ceremonial county of Greater London and (3) a local government district. The City of London is in the centre of London and houses its financial district. It has a permanent population of less than 10,000 people, making it one of England’s smallest cities.
- the city of Westminster, which is (1) a city and (2) one of London’s 32 boroughs. Also in the centre of London, Westminster is the heart of the UK’s government district, home to the House of Parliament and Downing Street. It is also a large residential area and, at the 2011 census, Westminster had a population of 219,396 people.
List of UK cities by population
This table lists every city in the UK, including its population, which country it is in, and when it was granted city status.
|16||Newcastle upon Tyne||1882||280,177||England|
|18||Brighton & Hove||2001||273,369||England|
|19||Kingston upon Hull||1897||256,406||England|
|58||Bangor, NI||2022||61,011||N Ireland|
|69||Bangor, Wales||time immemorial||18,808||Wales|
|74||City of London||time immemorial||7,375||England|
List of cities in British overseas territories and Crown Dependencies
This table lists the four recognised cities outside of the UK mainland, including two that were created in 2022 to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
They are among the smallest cities recognised by the Crown – the largest is Douglas on the Isle of Man, which was granted city status in 2022 and has a population of 27,938, the next largest is Port Stanley in the Falklands Islands, with a population of 2,460.
Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, and Jamestown, the capital of St Helena are two of the smallest recognised cities, with populations of 854 and 629 people respectively.
|1||Douglas||2022||27,938||Isle of Man|
How many cities are there in the UK?
There are 76 cities in the United Kingdom. This figure includes the 6 new cities created in the UK during the Queen’s Jubilee in May 2022.
Of these cities:
- There are 55 cities in England
- There are 8 cities in Scotland
- There are 7 cities in Wales
- There are 6 cities in Northern Ireland
There are a further four cities in British overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
What is the largest city in the UK?
The largest city in the United Kingdom is London. But, also, as we noted above, it’s not. Because London is technically not a city in the United Kingdom.
If we only count places that have formally been granted city status, then Birmingham, home to 1,092,330 people in 2011, is actually the largest official city in the UK.
What is the largest city in England?
As above, London is the largest city in England by most people’s definition.
But, officially, Birmingham is the largest officially recognised city in England, followed by Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford and Manchester.
What is the largest city in Scotland?
Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland. In 2011 its population was 593,245.
Despite being the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is only the second largest city in Scotland. It is home to 476,626 people, more than a hundred thousand people fewer than Glasgow.
Other cities in Scotland with a population larger than 100,000 people are Aberdeen (222,793) and Dundee (147,268).
What is the largest city in Wales?
Cardiff is the largest city in Wales. The capital city of Wales was home to 346,090 people at the time of the 2011 census. Cardiff is also the 10th largest city in the UK.
Other major cities in Wales are Swansea (population 239,023), Newport (145,736) and Wrexham (population 61,603).
What is the largest city in Northern Ireland?
Belfast is the largest city in Northern Ireland. Its population (333,871) is more than three times as large as Derry, the second largest city, which has a population of 107,877.
Other mid-sized cities in Northern Ireland are Bangor, home to 61,011 people and Lisburn with 45,370 residents according to the 2011 census.
What is the smallest city in the UK?
St David’s is the smallest city in the United Kingdom and Wales. Home to St David’s cathedral, the place of St David’s was first made a city in the 12th century. It lost its city status in 1886 during a local government re-organisation and only regained it in 1994 because Queen Elizabeth II requested it be reinstated as a city.
However, if we count British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, then St David’s is only the third smallest city. Hamilton, the capital of Bermuda, and Jamestown, the capital of St Helena, both have populations of fewer than 1,000 people.
What is the smallest city in England
The smallest city in England is the City of London, with a population of just 7,375 people. It is also the smallest ceremonial county in England. Located in the heart of ‘city but not technically a city’ Greater London, the City of London covers most of what was Roman Londinium.
The next smallest cities in England are Wells in Somerset, which has been a city since time immemorial, Ripon in Yorkshire and the Humber which has been a city since 1865, and Truro in Cornwall, which has been a city since 1877.
What is the smallest city in Scotland
Stirling is the smallest city in Scotland. It gained city status in 2002 and has a population of 34,790.
Other cities in Scotland with a population of under 100,000 people are Perth (population 45,770), Dunfermline (49,706) and Inverness (79,415).
All four of Scotland’s smallest cities gained city status in the 21st century.
What is the smallest city in Wales
As noted above, St David’s is the smallest city in Wales as well as the smallest city in the UK.
Wales is also home to St Asaph, the second smallest city in the UK, which was granted city status in 2012 and has a population of just 3,355 people. St Asaph is the smallest city in the United Kingdom that does not have a cathedral.
The two other cities in Wales with a population of under 100,000 people are Bangor (18,808) and Wrexham (61,603).
What is the smallest city in Northern Ireland
Armagh is the smallest of the six cities in Northern Ireland. Home to just 14,777 people it is the 72nd largest city in the United Kingdom. Armgh became a city in 1994.
Other small cities in Northern Ireland are Newry (population 29,946) and Lisburn (population 45,370).
Many of the cities in the UK have been considered cities since ‘time immemorial’. There are no written records of when they were first referred to as cities. Examples of this in England are Canterbury, York, Exeter, Wells and the City of London. Examples in Wales are Bangor and St David’s.
There are several places that claim to be the oldest settlement in Britain, including Colchester, which was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in 77AD. Colchester was only incorporated as a city in 2022 as a part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebration which makes it both one of England’s oldest cities and its youngest.
2022 new cities
Eight towns have been made cities in 2022 to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
The list includes three cities in England, plus one each in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.
For the first time, cities outside of the mainland UK, in Crown Dependencies and British overseas territories were considered, and city status was also awarded to the Isle of Man and the Falkland Islands, bringing the total number of awards to eight.
The table below lists each newly recognised city.
|58||Bangor, Northern Ireland||61,011||N Ireland|
|–||Douglas||27,938||Isle of Man,|
The cities were awarded following an honours competition which took in 38 places from across the UK. Prospective cities were required to explain their local community identity, their cultural heritage, their royal links.