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The 50 Highest Cities in the World



The 50 Highest Cities in the World

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Where Are The World’s Highest Cities?

When comparing the world’s cities to one another, we often use defining characteristics—largest, greenest, most visited, highest-earning, the list goes on.

Yet elevation is often overlooked, despite the fact that thousands of cities across the globe are nestled in highlands, plateaus, and mountain ranges.

Today’s graphic looks at the top 50 highest cities worldwide, and compares their altitudes to well-known references (the differences are dizzying).

Cities in the Sky

When ranking the world’s highest cities, we specifically looked at major urban centers with a population of one million or more inhabitants, with an elevation “floor” of 1,000m.

Though you might expect less important cities to make the rankings, 22 out of the 50 highest cities are actually national capitals.

The elevation data comes from the European Commission’s database of urban centers, using Thomas Brinkhoff’s City Population dataset for updated demographics.

RankUrban CenterCountryRegionAverage Elevation (m)
#1La PazBoliviaSouth America3,869
#2QuitoEcuadorSouth America2,784
#3TolucaMexicoCentral America2,648
#4CochabambaBoliviaSouth America2,621
#5BogotaColombiaSouth America2,601
#6Addis AbabaEthiopiaEastern Africa2,361
#7Mexico CityMexicoCentral America2,316
#8XiningChinaEastern Asia2,299
#9Sana'aYemenWestern Asia2,283
#10PueblaMexicoCentral America2,176
#11KunmingChinaEastern Asia1,924
#12San Luis PotosíMexicoCentral America1,873
#13LeónMexicoCentral America1,845
#14KabulAfghanistanSouth-Central Asia1,845
#15NairobiKenyaEastern Africa1,702
#16DenverUnited StatesNorthern America1,673
#17MedellínColombiaSouth America1,651
#18JohannesburgSouth AfricaSouthern Africa1,624
#19SrinagarIndiaSouth-Central Asia1,598
#20LanzhouChinaEastern Asia1,594
#21IsfahanIranSouth-Central Asia1,587
#22GuadalajaraMexicoCentral America1,583
#23ShirazIranSouth-Central Asia1,571
#24HarareZimbabweEastern Africa1,479
#25KigaliRwandaEastern Africa1,473
#26Guatemala CityGuatemalaCentral America1,463
#27TabrizIranSouth-Central Asia1,449
#28PretoriaSouth AfricaSouthern Africa1,365
#29KermanshahIranSouth-Central Asia1,359
#30KathmanduNepalSouth-Central Asia1,353
#31UlaanbaatarMongoliaEastern Asia1,326
#32AntananarivoMadagascarEastern Africa1,271
#33LusakaZambiaEastern Africa1,257
#34LubumbashiDemocratic Republic of the CongoMiddle Africa1,252
#35TehranIranSouth-Central Asia1,239
#36KampalaUgandaEastern Africa1,187
#37GuiyangChinaEastern Asia1,185
#38BrasiliaBrazilSouth America1,184
#39Ciudad JuárezMexicoCentral America1,164
#40BeniDemocratic Republic of the CongoMiddle Africa1,149
#41TorreonMexicoCentral America1,132
#42San JoséCosta RicaCentral America1,129
#43YinchuanChinaEastern Asia1,113
#44CalgaryCanadaNorthern America1,095
#45HohhotChinaEastern Asia1,069
#46BaotouChinaEastern Asia1,061
#47DatongChinaEastern Asia1,059
#48YerevanArmeniaWestern Asia1,058
#49CaracasVenezuelaSouth America1,018
#50MashhadIranSouth-Central Asia1,011

At the top of the pantheon is Bolivia’s El Alto-La Paz metropolitan area, which houses more than two million people at an average elevation of 3,869m above sea level. That’s a city of two million people situated more than 100 meters higher than Mount Fuji in Japan.

The next four are more than 1,000m lower than El Alto-La Paz, with Ecuador’s capital Quito coming in at second place at 2,784m and Colombia’s capital Bogotá rounding out the top five at 2,601m. For reference, that’s more than 100 meters higher than the world-famous Inca citadel Machu Picchu in Peru, which sits at a height of 2,430m.

It’s notable just how mountainous Latin America is. Of the 10 highest cities, three are in Mexico’s many mountainous regions and four of the top five are adjacent to the Andes Mountains.

Asia and the Americas Tower Above

Though it might be expected that countries would have their population centers close to sea level, many instead have followed in the footsteps of past civilizations by building in higher regions.

In addition to many capitals in South America, that list of major cities includes Mexico City, easily the largest on the list as the world’s 8th largest metropolis, Addis Ababa, the capital and largest city in Ethiopia, Tehran, the capital of Iran and most populous city in Western Asia, and Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.

The countries with the most high cities were China and Mexico, with eight each. China specifically had the most high metropolises in Asia, and many of the world’s highest settlements, though most of its major cities lie outside the Tibetan and Mongolian Plateaus.

Regional Breakdown of Top 50 Highest Cities
Central America10
Eastern Asia9
South-Central Asia9
South America7
Eastern Africa7
Middle Africa2
Southern Africa2
Western Asia2
Northern America2

As the table above highlights, while wide mountainous regions are concentrated in much of Asia, Latin America, and Africa, the Western world is largely located close to the water.

The West Sits Below

The U.S. and Canada each only had one city each crack the top 50 list: the Rocky Mountain-adjacent cities of Denver and Calgary.

Meanwhile, despite the European Alps stretching across eight countries and both Australia and New Zealand having many mountains tall enough to crack the list, both Europe and Oceania had no major city situated more than 1,000m above sea level.

But though most of humanity remains concentrated near sea level, it is impressive to remember that hundreds of millions of people live in cities higher than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s highest tower.

In fact, studies have shown that living at higher altitudes has associated health benefits, including better cardiovascular health and lower incidence of stroke and cancer.

Regardless if future trends push more people thousands of meters into the sky, humanity has proven that it can prosper.

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Visualized: Air Quality and Pollution in 50 Capital Cities

This visual compares air quality in 50 capital cities around the world by average PM2.5 concentrations in 2022.



A chart comparing air quality in 50 capital cities around the world by average PM2.5 concentrations in 2022.

Comparing Air Quality and Pollution in 50 Capital Cities

We know bad air quality when we breathe it in—but how does it measure and compare across different cities?

To assess air quality, agencies measure the amount of particulate matter in an area to arrive at a number the resident population is breathing in over a period of time.

ℹ️ Airborne particulate matter (PM) is a complex mix of solids and aerosols and is defined by diameter for regulatory purposes. Particles with a diameter of 10 microns or less (PM10) are inhalable and can induce adverse health effects.

In this case, Planet Anomaly visualized the concentration of PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) in 50 select capital cities across the globe, using data from IQAir’s 2022 World Air Quality Report.

The report applied population-based adjustments to standardize its results and calculated an annual average of the data. If a city exceeded the WHO safety guideline of 5 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m³) for annual average PM2.5 levels, it implied potential health risks for its residents.

Ranked: Capital Cities With the Best and Worst Air Quality

At the top of the list with the best air quality, Canberra, the capital of Australia, had an average PM2.5 level of 2.8 μg/m³ in 2022. Vehicle emissions and dust storms are the few sources of air pollutants in the city.

However, while Canberra did well in 2022, it had some of the worst air quality in 2020 when bushfire smoke blackened the skies.

Here’s the full list of all 116 capital cities measured by IQAir’s report, ranked by air quality from best to worst.

RankCityCountryRegion2022 Average
PM2.5 Concentration
1Canberra🇦🇺 AustraliaOceania2.8
2Hamilton🇧🇲 BermudaNorth America3.0
3Reykjavik🇮🇸 IcelandEurope3.3
4San Juan🇵🇷 Puerto RicoNorth America3.3
5Noumea🇳🇨 New CaledoniaOceania3.5
6Saint George’s🇬🇩 GrenadaCentral America3.8
7Tallinn🇪🇪 EstoniaEurope4.8
8Port of Spain🇹🇹 Trinidad & TobagoCentral America5.0
9Helsinki🇫🇮 FinlandEurope5.5
10Cape Town🇿🇦 South AfricaAfrica6.7
11Ottawa🇨🇦 CanadaNorth America6.8
12Stockholm🇸🇪 SwedenEurope6.8
13Oslo🇳🇴 NorwayEurope6.9
14Paramaribo🇸🇷 SurinameSouth America7.0
15Dublin🇮🇪 IrelandEurope7.1
16La Paz🇧🇴 BoliviaSouth America7.3
17Lisbon🇵🇹 PortugalEurope7.5
18San Jose🇨🇷 Costa RicaCentral America7.9
19Phnom Penh🇰🇭 CambodiaAsia8.3
20Vaduz🇱🇮 LiechtensteinEurope8.3
21Copenhagen🇩🇰 DenmarkEurope8.7
22Luanda🇦🇴 AngolaAfrica8.8
23Managua🇳🇮 NicaraguaCentral America8.9
24Panama🇵🇦 PanamaCentral America9.0
25Tokyo🇯🇵 JapanAsia9.2
26Madrid🇪🇸 SpainEurope9.5
27Kyiv🇺🇦 UkraineEurope9.5
28London🇬🇧 UKEurope9.6
29Washington🇺🇸 U.S.North America9.8
30Taipei🇹🇼 TaiwanAsia9.9
31Amsterdam🇳🇱 NetherlandsEurope10.1
32Tegucigalpa🇭🇳 HondurasCentral America10.2
33Vienna🇦🇹 AustriaEurope10.5
34Bern🇨🇭 SwitzerlandEurope10.5
35Brussels🇧🇪 BelgiumEurope10.6
36Moscow🇷🇺 RussiaEurope10.8
37Budapest🇭🇺 HungaryEurope11.2
38Montevideo🇺🇾 UruguaySouth America11.3
39Nairobi🇰🇪 KenyaAfrica11.5
40Podgorica🇲🇪 MontenegroEurope11.8
41Prague🇨🇿 Czech RepublicEurope11.9
42Berlin🇩🇪 GermanyEurope12.6
43Rome🇮🇹 ItalyEurope12.6
44Paris🇫🇷 FranceEurope12.7
45Georgetown🇬🇾 GuyanaSouth America12.7
46Singapore🇸🇬 SingaporeAsia13.3
47San Salvador🇸🇻 El SalvadorCentral America13.4
48Bratislava🇸🇰 SlovakiaEurope13.4
49Pristina🇽🇰 KosovoEurope13.7
50Ankara🇹🇷 TürkiyeAsia14.0
51Buenos Aires🇦🇷 ArgentinaSouth America14.2
52Hong Kong🇭🇰 Hong Kong SARAsia14.4
53Tirana🇦🇱 AlbaniaEurope14.5
54Vilnius🇱🇹 LithuaniaEurope14.5
55Metro Manila🇵🇭 PhilippinesAsia14.6
56Bogota🇨🇴 ColombiaSouth America15.1
57Warsaw🇵🇱 PolandEurope15.3
58Kinshasa🇨🇩 DRCAfrica15.5
59Ljubljana🇸🇮 SloveniaEurope16.2
60Tbilisi🇬🇪 GeorgiaEurope16.3
61Nicosia🇨🇾 CyprusEurope16.4
62Bucharest🇷🇴 RomaniaEurope17.1
63Kuala Lumpur🇲🇾 MalaysiaAsia17.6
64Algiers🇩🇿 AlgeriaAfrica17.8
65Bangkok🇹🇭 ThailandAsia18.0
66Seoul🇰🇷 South KoreaAsia18.3
67Guatemala City🇬🇹 GuatemalaCentral America18.5
68Baku🇦🇿 AzerbaijanAsia18.9
69Sofia🇧🇬 BulgariaEurope19.1
70Athens🇬🇷 GreeceEurope19.2
71Tel Aviv-Yafo🇮🇱 IsraelMiddle East19.5
72Dakar🇸🇳 SenegalAfrica20.4
73Colombo🇱🇰 Sri LankaAsia20.9
74Astana🇰🇿 KazakhstanAsia21.4
75Ashgabat🇹🇲 TurkmenistanAsia21.6
76Mexico City🇲🇽 MexicoNorth America22.1
77Belgrade🇷🇸 SerbiaEurope22.1
78Zagreb🇭🇷 CroatiaEurope22.4
79Abidjan🇨🇮 Ivory CoastAfrica22.5
80Chisinau🇲🇩 MoldovaEurope22.6
81Antananarivo🇲🇬 MadagascarAfrica23.7
82Yangon🇲🇲 MyanmarAsia24.3
83Lusaka🇿🇲 ZambiaAfrica24.6
84Lima🇵🇪 PeruSouth America25.6
85Santiago🇨🇱 ChileSouth America25.8
86Skopje🇲🇰 North MacedoniaEurope26.6
87Vientiane🇱🇦 LaosAsia27.6
88Bishkek🇰🇬 KyrgyzstanAsia29.0
89Beijing🇨🇳 ChinaAsia29.8
90Accra🇬🇭 GhanaAfrica30.1
91Ulaanbaatar🇲🇳 MongoliaAsia30.6
92Addis Ababa🇪🇹 EthiopiaAfrica31.3
93Yerevan🇦🇲 ArmeniaAsia31.4
94Sarajevo🇧🇦 Bosnia HerzegovinaEurope32.4
95Tashkent🇺🇿 UzbekistanAsia33.5
96Tehran🇮🇷 IranAsia36.1
97Jakarta🇮🇩 IndonesiaAsia36.2
98Kampala🇺🇬 UgandaAfrica39.6
99Hanoi🇻🇳 VietnamAsia40.1
100Islamabad🇵🇰 PakistanAsia40.6
101Kathmandu🇳🇵 NepalAsia40.7
102Doha🇶🇦 QatarMiddle East41.8
103Kigali🇷🇼 RwandaAfrica44.0
104Khartoum🇸🇩 SudanAfrica44.6
105Riyadh🇸🇦 Saudi ArabiaMiddle East46.2
106Abuja🇳🇬 NigeriaAfrica46.5
107Cairo🇪🇬 EgyptAfrica47.4
108Dushanbe🇹🇯 TajikistanAsia47.7
109Abu Dhabi🇦🇪 UAEMiddle East48.0
110Kuwait City🇰🇼 KuwaitMiddle East57.5
111Ougadougou🇧🇫 Burkina FasoAfrica63.0
112Dhaka🇧🇩 BangladeshAsia65.8
113Manama🇧🇭 BahrainMiddle East66.6
114Baghdad🇮🇶 IraqAsia86.7
115New Delhi🇮🇳 IndiaAsia89.1
116N’Djamena🇹🇩 ChadAfrica89.7

Hamilton, Bermuda (3.8 μg/m³) and Reykjavik, Iceland (3.3 μg/m³) rank second and third respectively, followed by three more capitals on island nations. In fact, nine of the top 10 capitals are situated directly on a coastline and take advantage of ocean breezes that can act as air filters.

Ranked 8th, the Port of Spain (capital of Trinidad & Tobago) is the last city whose air quality is considered safe (5.0 μg/m³) by the WHO.

From a broader perspective, fewer than 10% of all countries have air quality that meets safety guidelines.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the list with the worst air quality, Chad’s capital city N’Djamena, recorded a PM2.5 concentration of nearly 90 μg/m³ per day in 2022—almost 18x the recommended WHO safety guideline.

Air Quality Correlates With Countries’ Income Levels

Perhaps the most striking feature of the rankings is how air quality worsens with countries that are in the low and middle-income categories and improves in high income countries.

As an example, compare the distribution of the ranks of capital cities in Asia (generally lower and middle income countries) versus capitals in Europe (general high income countries).

Air Quality RanksCities in AsiaCities in Europe
Top 203.33%20.51%

The majority of European capital cities are ranked 20–60 versus Asian capitals which are mostly ranked 60–100.

Lower and middle income countries have larger structural economic concerns and many of them are still in the process of transitioning away from polluting materials that affect air quality.

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