The Biggest Cities In Russia

Russia is the biggest country in the world, but not many people know where the 146,8 million Russians live. Of course, most people have heard of the country’s biggest city (Moscow) and the second biggest city (Saint Petersburg). But not many people will be able to tell which are the third, fourth and fifth biggest cities in Russia.

So which are the biggest cities in Russia? According to the latest data available (which is from 2018), there are officially 15 Russian cities with over one million inhabitants. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are still number 1 and 2 respectively. The third-largest city in the country is Novosibirsk.

But when people ask which city is the biggest they won’t always have population in mind. In some cases they may have territory in mind. That’s why we also offer you a list of the largest Russian cities measured in terms of territory.

And maybe all these lists and numbers don’t mean much to you. That’s why we also offer you a comparative rating of the biggest cities in Russia with the biggest cities in the US. Both by size and by population. In this way we hope to offer you a comprehensive overview.

But maybe even more interesting, at least to some of our readers, will be the comparison between the biggest cities in Russia and the biggest cities in China.

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Because at Russialounge we’ve noticed that many sites present old data to their readers we decided to give you the most recent data here:

The 30 Biggest Cities in Russia by Population

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CityNumber of inhabitants in 2018
1Moscow12 506 468
2Saint Petersburg5 351 935
3Novosibirsk1 612 833
4Yekaterinburg1 468 833
5Nizhny Novgorod1 259 013
6Kazan1 243 500
7Chelyabinsk1 202 371
8Omsk1 172 070
9Samara1 163 399
10Rostov-on-Don1 130 305
11Ufa1 120 547
12Krasnoyarsk1 090 811
13Perm1 051 583
14Voronezh1 047 549
15Volgograd1 013 533
16Krasnodar899 541
17Saratov844 858
18Tyumen768 358
19Tolyatti707 408
20Izhevsk648 213
21Barnaul632 372
22Ulyanovsk626 540
23Irkutsk623 869
24Khabarovsk618 150
25Yaroslavl608 722
26Vladivostok604 901
27Makhachkala596 356
28Tomsk574 002
29Orenburg564 773
30Kemerovo558 973

source

15 Russian cities with over a million inhabitants

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As I mentioned, there are currently 15 Russian cities with over 1 million inhabitants. But why is this important? Well, first of all 1 million is an important psychological border. It sounds like a lot. At least to me it does. But secondly, during the era of the Soviet Union it was thought that cities with over one million inhabitants have the right to get a subway. This was never a formal commitment though and whether a city would receive such an important infrastructural project or not would also largely depend on the networking that the head of the region was putting in for such a project. Nevertheless in modern Russia, acquiring the status of a city with over a million inhabitants is still something that local government tries to achieve.

The 30 Largest Cities in Russia By Area

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Obviously population is only one way to measure which cities are the biggest. Sometimes people find it more important which city occupies the largest territory. But if we look at total area instead of population, we don’t see any big surprises for Russia: the two biggest cities in terms of population are also the biggest in term of territory. There is a big gap between the number 1, Moscow and the number 2 (Saint Petersburg).

CityTotal area (km2)Total area (sq ml)
1Moscow2561,5989
2Saint Petersburg1439555.6
3Volgograd859,4331.8
4Perm799,68308.8
5Ufa707,93273.3
6Tyumen698269.5
7Ulyanovsk622,46240.3
8Orsk621239.8
9Kazan614,16237.1
10Voronezh596,51230.3
11Omsk566,9218.9
12Samara541,4209
13Chita534206.2
14Novosibirsk506,67195.6
15Chelyabinsk501,57193.7
16Makhachkala468,13180.7
17Yekaterinburg468180.7
18Bratsk428165.3
19Novokuznetsk424,27163.8
20Dzerzhinsk421,53162.6
21Nizhny Novgorod410,68158.6
22Saratov393,98152.1
23Kurgan393,03151.7
24Magnitogorsk392,35151.5
25Khabarovsk388,74150.1
26Ulan-Ude377,12145.6
27Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky362,14139.8
28Surgut353,98136.7
29Krasnoyarsk353,9136.6
30Rostov-on-Don348,5134.6

No, number 8 is not a misspelling. It’s quite funny though that the name of the 8th largest Russian city by population (Omsk) is so similar to the 8th largest city by area (Orsk).

A Short Description of the 10 Most Populated Cities in Russia

1 Moscow

Moscow is in a category of its own in Russia. This is the case when you look at the city’s size, its population and its wealth. No city in Russia can really stand the comparison with Moscow.

A picture I took from the Ulitsa Borodinsky Bridge in Moscow. This is a bridge across the Moscow river at Moscow’s Kiev Station. Moscow is a true metropolis.

2 Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg used to be the capital of Russia until the communists decided to move the country’s capital city back to Moscow. Saint Petersburg is huge, but not as huge as Moscow.

A picture I took of a large apartment building that is typical for the suburbs of Saint Petersburg. Many people who visit the city centre are unaware that this is actually what a large part of the city looks like.

3 Novosibirsk

Novosibirsk is the third biggest city of Russia in terms of population, but if you look at territory it only occupies the 14th place in the ranking. Of course the difference in population between the number 2 of Russia (Saint Petersburg with 5,3 million) and the number 3 (Novosibirsk with 1,6 million is very significant. This is probably the reason why many people claim that in Russia there are only 2 cities: Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Novosibirsk is a fairly young city, it was founded only in 1893 on the river Ob (which is a nice name for a river). But the city has steadily grown and during Stalin’s industrialization efforts the city became the main industrial centre of Siberia. During the 2nd world war a lot of factories in western Russia were relocated to Novosibirsk, giving a further impulse to the city’s industrial potential.

Besides industrial achievements, Novosibirsk is also known for academic achievements. On a short distance from the centre of the city, you can find Akademgorodok, the main hub for Siberian sciences.

A girl sitting on the river Ob embankment in Novosibirsk

4 Yekaterinburg

Yekaterinburg is the fourth biggest city in terms of population in Russia and the second biggest city in Siberia. It is located 1.549 km to the west of the largest city in Siberia, which is Novosibirsk. Since the furter to the east Russian land is located, the later it was colonized, it is, therefore, logical that Yekaterinburg was founded much earlier (in 1723 to be exact) than its bigger brother in the east (which was founded only in 1893).

During the reign of Catherine the Great, the Siberian route, the main road that was to connect Russia to Asia went through the city. The role of the city was envisaged to be the Russian ‘window on Asia’ (an analogy with Saint Petersburg, which was envisaged to be Russia’s ‘window to Europe’.

During communist times Yekaterinburg was renamed ‘Sverdlovsk’ , after the communist leader Yakov Sverdlovsk. The region in which Yekaterinburg is located is still called the Sverdlovsk Oblast.

Nowadays Yekaterinburg is one of the most important economical centers of Russia. The average salaries in the region are not that impressive though, as you can check in my blog post about the normal Russian salary.

5 Nizhny Novgorod

Nizhny means ‘lower’ in Russian. So, the fact that this particular Novgorod is the lower one already suggests that there is more than one Novgorod in Russia. So you’d better be careful when purchasing a bus or a train ticket. Don’t be lazy and say the city’s full name, otherwise, you might end up in the wrong place!

Nizhny Novogorod, is an old city that was founded already in 1221 by Prince Yuri II of Vladimir. During the 19th century Nizhny became an important trading center in Russia. The author Maxim Gorky is from Nizhny and during Soviet times the city bore his name: Gorky.

6 Kazan

The difference between the number 5 by population, Nizhny Novgorod and the number 6, Kazan, is not significant. These are both cities with a little over a million inhabitants.

Where Kazan may not be able to distinguish itself in terms of numbers of inhabitants, it certainly is a city with a character of its own. You see, Kazan is a city with a very rich history. It used to be an important city within the golden horde. What is the golden horde you may ask? The golden horde was a huge empire ruled by Mongol conquerors of western, nowadays Russian, territory. The Mongol tribes used to have shamanistic beliefs, but at a later point they adopted islam. Nowadays, the Tartarstan region, of which Kazan is the capital has an estimated 38% muslim population.

7 Chelyabinsk

In their summer hit from 2016, drinking in Saint Petersburg (v Pitere pit’) the Saint Petersburg based rock group Leningrad sang that in Chelyabinks the best thing to is to get high. Admittedly, this was merely a funny comparison, in different Russian cities it was supposedly best to take the local drug of choice, but in Saint Petersburg it’s best to drink. Here is the clip.

A great clip

People from Chelyabinsk however didn’t take the joke very well. They took offense.

Chelyabinsk is famous as a worker’s city. It’s a big industrial centre and the most important city in the Southern Ural region. Because of the omnipresence of heavy industry in and around the city, the air in the city is logically not of very good quality.

With the development of Russia’s railways, Chelyabinsk’s strategic location on the road to Siberia made people call the city ‘the gate to Siberia’.

8 Omsk

Omsk is often confused with the city of Tomsk (ranking 28th by population in Russia), admittedly by myself too. But when you realise that Omsk has twice the population of Tomsk you realise this is not fair to Omsk. Maybe because Tomsk has got the extra letter, people assume that it’s also the bigger city, but that’s not the case.

Omsk was founded in 1716 and owes its name to the river Om (Омь). Close to this place the Om confluences into the larger Irtysh river.

During the lifetime of Peter the Great many resources were spend in the hope to find gold at this place, at the crossing of the 2 rivers, but without the desired result.

Omsk has a real land climate. In winter the temperature can reach -40 degrees (both Celsius and Fahrenheit) and in summer temperature can go up to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

9 Samara

Many years ago I was staying at a hostel in Moscow and I remember a guy from Samara passionately arguing that the most beautiful Russian girls are from Samara. Later I had the chance to visit Samara myself and I must say the girls there are very beautiful indeed. But I don’t know whether they are the most beautiful.

Like some other large Russian cities, like for example Volgograd, Samara was built alongside the Volga river. In length the city stretches out along this river for 31 miles (50 km), it has a width of about 12.4 miles (20 km). Quite a solid size, so it’s not surprising that Samara also ranks number 12 in the rating of largest Russian cities by area.

10 Rostov-on-Don

Rostov-on-Don, in Russian music and semi-criminal jargon also known as Rostov-papa, which means Rostov-dad. Probably Rostov was called the dad, because criminal youth from Rostov didn’t have good relations with Odessa. And the nickname for Odessa is Odessa-mama, meaning Odessa the man. Using the argument of the righteousness of patriarchy, the people from Rostov would they were more important than Odessa, since they represented the male role.

Rostov-on-Don is a southern city in Russia, at the crosspoint of the Caucasus mountains with the East European Plain. The Don river runs through the city and to that river the city owes part of its name. The part of its name the city owes to the Russian saint Dmitry Rostov.

In summer it’s great to take a boat trip on the Don River, supposedly. I haven’t been to Rostov myself yet, but would love to go and write an article about the city.

A Comparison of the Biggest Cities in the USA and Russia by Population

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I think it’s interesting to make a comparison between the biggest cities in the biggest country in the world (Russia) and the biggest economy in the world (the USA). When you look at the table it seems like the biggest cities in the US and Russia are very similar in size.

Russian cityPopulationAmerican CityPopulation
1Moscow12 506 468New York City8 398 748
2Saint Petersburg5 351 935 Los Angeles3 990 456
3Novosibirsk1 612 833 Chicago 2 705 994
4Yekaterinburg1 468 833 Houston2 325 502
5Nizhny Novgorod1 259 013 Phoenix1 660 272
6Kazan1 243 500 Philadelphia1 584 138
7Chelyabinsk1 202 371 San Antonio1 532 233
8Omsk1 172 070 San Diego1 425 976
9Samara1 163 399 Dallas1 345 047
10Rostov-on-Don1 130 305 San Jose1 030 119
11Ufa1 120 547 Austin964 254
12Krasnoyarsk1 090 811 Jacksonville903 889
13Perm1 051 583 Fort Worth 895 008
14Voronezh1 047 549 Columbus892 533
15Volgograd1 013 533 San Francisco883 305
16Krasnodar899 541 Charlotte 872 498
17Saratov844 858 Indianapolis867 125
18Tyumen768 358 Seattle744 955
19Tolyatti707 408Denver716 492
20Izhevsk648 213 Washington702 455

A Comparison of the Biggest Cities in the USA and Russia by Area

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When you compare the biggest cities by area in Russia and the USA you see a different dynamic. Whereas in Russia a lot of the biggest cities by population reappear in the list of biggest cities by area, in the US this dynamic is different. In fact to be honest, I was quite surprised about this.

Russian cityTotal area (sq ml)American cityTotal area (sq ml)
1Moscow989
(2 651,5 km2)
Sitka (Alaska)4,811.4
(12 461 km2)
2Saint Petersburg555.6
(1 439 km2)
Juneau (Alaska)3,253.9
(8,428 km2)
3Volgograd331.8
(859,4 km2)
Wrangell (Alaska) 3,462.1
(8,967 km2)
4Perm308.8
(799,68 km2)
Anchorage (Alaska) 1,961.0
(5 079 km2)
5Ufa273.3
(707,93 km2)
Jacksonville874.6
(2 265 km2)
6Tyumen269.5
(698 km2)
Anaconda (Montana)741.2
(1 920 km2)
7Ulyanovsk240.3
(621 km2)
Butte (Montana)716.8
(1 857 km2)
8Orsk239.8
(621 km2)
Houston627.5
(1 625 km2)
9Kazan237.1
(614,16 km2)

Oklahoma City

620.8
(1 608 km2)
10Voronezh230.3
(596,5 km2)
Phoenix517.9
(1 341 km2)

A Comparison Between the Biggest Cities in Russia and the Biggest Cities in China by Population

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So, at least in terms of population of their cities, the US and Russia are quite similar. What happens, however when you compare the biggest cities by population in Russia with the cities in China? Within a glance it becomes obvious that Russian cities (and also US cities) are dwarfed by the sheer size of the biggest cities in China.

Probably these huge cities in China are not so good for living though. I’ve been to China for the last time over a decade ago and already then I found the cities to be ‘too much’. And that is coming from a person who loves big cities for all they have to offer. source

Russian cityPopulationChinese CityPopulation
1Moscow12 506 468Shanghai26 317 104
2Saint Petersburg5 351 935 Beijing21 542 000
3Novosibirsk1 612 833 Guangzhou14 904 400
4Yekaterinburg1 468 833 Shenzhen10 358 381
5Nizhny Novgorod1 259 013 Tianjin 9 583 277
6Kazan1 243 500 Wuhan7 541 527
7Chelyabinsk1 202 371 Dongguan7 271 322
8Omsk1 172 070 Chengdu7,112,045
9Samara1 163 399 Foshan6 771 895
10Rostov-on-Don1 130 305 Chongqing6 263 790

Conclusion

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I hope this blog post gave you a good understanding of what the biggest cities in Russia are. In some ways these numbers don’t tell so much though. Sometimes in Russia a city of a couple of hundred thousand inhabitants has very little infrastructure. And the infrastructure in a bigger city might only be comparable to the infrastructure in a smaller sized European city.

But of course numbers do tell us something. Especially when we compare the number of inhabitants in the biggest Chinese cities with those in the biggest Russian cities. Here the numbers do speak for themselves. Which Russian cities mentioned in this article have you visited? Leave a comment below.

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