CNN  — 

For travelers fascinated by super metropolises, there’s no better place to visit than China.

With a population of 1.3 billion people and rising, the country unsurprisingly boasts the world’s highest number of megacities.

So what qualifies as a megacity? Most commonly, it’s defined as an urban agglomeration of 10 million or more inhabitants.

That’s the equivalent of the population of Sweden.

According to the United Nations’ data booklet, China has six of the world’s 33 megacities. The China Statistic Yearbook, however, indicates that there are at least 10 cities with more than 10 million permanent residents.

It’s worth noting that population data is tricky to produce in China. One reason is the sustained wave of migrant workers moving from rural to urban areas. Millions make the switch every year, often without securing the proper household registration, or “hukou.”

(Populations listed in this article are the most recent figures released by each provincial government.)

These cities are often some of the country’s biggest tourist destinations, too.

“Being a megacity means more business and population, which will certainly increase the exposure of the city in international media,” Mimi Li, an associate professor in China Tourism at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, tells CNN Travel.

“Cities with long history such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou benefit from positive brand image and a wealth of cultural attractions. A newly developed vibrant city may bring in business travelers, with Shenzhen as a good example.

“Now that the tourism industry has been seen as a strategic pillar in the national economy of China, we foresee a closer relationship between city development and tourism development,” says Li.

Li highlights Hangzhou and Chengdu as up-and-coming tourism hotspots in China.

“Hangzhou would mainly benefit from, in addition to the cultural resources, its vibrant business environment and innovative atmosphere,” says Li.

“Chengdu has been long perceived as a leisure city by Chinese domestic tourists. In addition, Chengdu benefits from its vast tourism resources.”

Indeed, there’s so much more to these cities than just high populations.

Covering everything from exciting tourism developments and financial prowess to geographical grandness, CNN Travel looks beyond the figures to highlight 14 humongous cities – including China’s big six listed by the UN – that boggle the mind and spark wanderlust among fans of urban spaces.


Dubbed an engineering marvel, the highly anticipated Raffles City Chongqing project is nearly complete.

Population: 30.75 million

Area: 82,300 square kilometers

With a staggering population of over 30 million people, Chongqing -- spanning 82,300 square kilometers in China’s mid-western region – is the country’s biggest city by far.

To put that into perspective, Canada has a population of 36 million and Austria comprises an area of 83,879 square kilometers.

A municipality with nine urban districts, Chongqing is referred to by some as the world’s most populous city – depending on whether you count Tokyo as Greater Tokyo Area (around 38 million people) or Tokyo Metropolis only (13 million people).

Bear in mind, others scoff at claims that this city is as big as the government claims given the outer limits of Chongqing are filled with farming and mining communities that feel more like villages than urban centers.

Nonetheless, the city is starting to appeal to travelers, too. Chongqing was named the world’s fastest-growing tourism city according to the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2017.

Chongqing is known for its tongue-numbing chili pepper hotpot – there are about 30,000 hotpot restaurants in the city – and a recently renovated Yangtze River Cableway across the river.

A number of large-scale tourism projects are planned for the next few years in Chongqing including a Six Flags theme park.


Shanghai might not be China's biggest city, but it's certainly its richest.

Population: 24.18 million

Area: 6,340 square kilometers

While Shanghai’s size and population – 6,340 square kilometers and more than 24 million people (making it the second most populous city in China) – are already impressive, nothing trumps its financial prowess.

With a GDP of more than RMB 3 trillion (or US$448 billion), Shanghai is the richest city in China.

Its residents are also the country’s biggest spenders, with the city amassing RMB 1.1 trillion (US$164.1 billion) total retail sales on consumer goods in 2017.

The Port of Shanghai has been the busiest container port in the world since 2010 – handling more than 40 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) a year.

In comparison, Singapore, ranked second, handled about seven million fewer TEUs in 2017.

Shanghai is as famous for its futuristic skyscrapers – the movie “Her” was partly shot in Shanghai – as its glamorous historical architecture in The Bund and Yuyuan Garden.


Population: 21.71 million

Area: 16,808 square kilometers

Being the political, historical and cultural heart of China, Beijing is unsurprisingly one of the country’s biggest cities.

Serving as the ancient capital in various dynasties, Beijing has been an influential epicenter of China for the past 3,000 years.

It’s home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites – the most in China, including the Forbidden City, which welcomed 17 million visitors in 2018.

The number easily rivals the number of international tourists for entire countries.

About 21 million people call Beijing home, making it the third most populous city in China.


Population: 16.33 million

Area: 12,132 square kilometers

The hometown of pandas and spicy hotpots (its biggest hotpot rival Chongqing will probably object), Chengdu is one of the biggest rising stars in China.

Chengdu has a sizable human population of more than 16 million, but its most popular residents have to be its furry black-and-white residents.

Being home to the world’s biggest panda nursery, Chengdu successfully bred 42 of the 45 surviving panda babies in 2018.

Chengdu received 210 million visitors and raked in RMB 303.8 billion ($45 billion) in tourism revenue in 2017, contributing to 34% of Sichuan province’s entire income.


Population: 16.33 million

Area: 12,132 square kilometers

Harbin is a unique Chinese megacity thanks to its supersized winter infrastructure and Russia-influenced architecture (it’s just a short distance to the border).