9 Biggest Cities in Europe by Population, and Some Historical Fun Facts

Europe is a large continent that is culturally, geographically, and even ethnically diverse. There are over 200 languages spoken throughout Europe which shows the rich cultural history of the place. Even before the era of nation-states, Europe was already a plan of many great civilizations and cultures, and different cities flourished.

In this quick and fun article, we’re about to dive headfirst into a journey through 9 of the largest cities in Europe by population. We’ll explore their fascinating past, and the reason for their prominence. All the figures quoted are provided by Statista for the year 2023. Let’s dive right in!

Giants Straddling Continents

Numbers #1 and #2 on this list are occupied by two cities that are geographically not in Europe entirely, instead straddling both Europe and Asia.

1.   Istanbul, Turkey (Population: 15,900,000)

Istanbul is perched on the Bosphorus Strait, directly bridging Asia and Europe. The city that has been in existence for more than two millennia boasts a rich Byzantine and Ottoman legacy. After the taking over of Constantinople by the Ottomans, the rebuilding process after years of war began. Churches were converted to mosques, and the sultans also built fountains, palaces, and other architectural marvels. This was the grand period of Istanbul under the Ottomans.

After World War 1, people started migrating towards the city that now had roads, sewerage, and even street cars and railroads. The population grew nearly 10-fold as large numbers moved from rural areas to Istanbul in search of economic opportunities.

While technically not entirely in Europe, its cultural and historical influence earns it a spot on this list.

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2.   Moscow, Russia (Population: 12,680,000)

Moscow is not only the capital of Russia, but the center of its political, industrial, educational, and economic power. A truly amazing fact about Moscow is its metro stations that aren’t just train stops. Instead, these are nearly opulent underground palaces.

In Moscow, the contrast between Communism and Capitalism is quite clear. You’ll get a mix of Western-style supermarkets, hotels, and casinos lying in sharp contrast with apartment buildings from the ’50s.

Though geographically located in Asia, its European cultural and political ties are undeniable.

True European Powerhouses

These next three are some of the most important cities in Europe, both economically and culturally.

3.   Paris, France (Population: 11,208,000)

Known by its sobriquet the “city of lights”, Paris is undeniably one of the most important cities in European history. The city has been occupied for thousands of years, offering opportunities for business and commerce, study, culture, and entertainment.

France being a highly centralized society for millennia took Paris as a symbol of this organisation. The city proper is defined by the River Seine, and is one of the most densely populated in Europe. Paris is home to numerous world-famous buildings and monuments such as the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe.

4.   London, UK (Population: 9,648,000)

The capital of the UK and Britain for centuries, London is one of the oldest and most cosmopolitan of all European cities, located on the banks of the River Thames. London is considered a true metropolis seeing as the city lacks an overall form and has many core districts.

London boasts over 8.6 million trees, learning itself the nickname “Greenwich Mean Time forest”.

5.   Madrid, Spain (Population: 6,751,000)

Madrid is the economic, cultural, and political center of Spain, but is quite unlike many other cities on this list. Madrid isn’t located along a major river unlike other major European cities on this list such as London, Moscow, or Paris.

Up until the 18th century the city’s infrastructure was constantly being demolished and rebuilt to create more open space. Thus, you’ll find many areas of the city cramped and filled with small streets compared to other parts boasting massive cathedrals, palaces, and museums.

Cultural Gems and Economic Hubs

The following European cities are cultural and economic powerhouses.

6.   Barcelona, Spain (Population: 5,687,000)

Barcelona is a major cultural center offering a unique blend of art, culture, and a cosmopolitan vibe. It is also one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, located right between scenic mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.

The city has been made even more significant by numerous works of Catalan Architect Antonio Gaudi, the most famous of which is the Sagrada Familia. Barcelona also boasts over 70 beaches, thus attracting a large number of tourists.

7.   Rome, Italy (Population: 4,316,000)

Perhaps no city on this list screams more imperialistically European than Rome, once the seat of the Roman Republic and the Holy Roman Empire. Rome, the “Eternal City” remains the pinnacle of ancient European political and intellectual achievement.

This city whispers tales of emperors, gladiators, and a civilization that shaped the world. Rome has over 900 churches, earning it the nickname “City of Churches” and reflecting its deep religious history.

8.   Berlin, Germany (Population: 3,574,000)

Berlin was once the long-term capital of the Kingdom of Prussia until it was heavily bombarded during World War 2. The city was then divided by a wall nearly 166 km until the collapse of communism in Germany in 1990.

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Berlin combines a modern Western look with a Baroque style reminiscent of the Brandenburg era, with castles, beautiful squares, and grandiose architecture. Berlin is now a symbol of resilience, perseverance, and progress.

9.   Milan, Italy (Population: 3,155,000)

Last on this list is Milan, the fashion capital of the world, and also the largest financial and industrial center in Italy. Milan pulsates a dynamic mix of modern trends and historical treasures, with French Gothic and Neoclassical architecture. Some iconic buildings located here include the Pirelli building, the Velasca Tower, and the iconic La Scala opera house.

Conclusion

These nine fascinating cities are just the start of the European experience. These cities are etched in history and time, with iconic buildings, figures, and stories that offer a glimpse into their fascinating past.

If you’re planning a trip to Europe or have this on your bucket list, these 9 great cities are a superb place to begin your rendezvous. It’s time to choose your European adventure!