With Milton Keynes, Colchester and Doncaster all being granted city status during the Queen’s 2022 Jubilee celebrations, there are now 55 cities in England. Here’s everything you need to know.

How many cities are in England? Make a quick Google search and you’ll find multiple answers, ranging from 51 right through to 76. That’s an annoyingly large margin of error to have to consider, so I’ve gone through, listed every city in my home country, and answered the question as categorically and as accurately as I can.

There are in fact, 55 cities in England, and the discrepancies you’ll find come from the fact that some counts haven’t been updated since new cities were added in recent years (including Southend-on-Sea in early 2022 and three more cities during the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations in 2022). Leaving these four new cities off the list gives you 51, while some websites also seem to equate England with the wider entity which is the United Kingdom. When you include England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are 76 cities, but that doesn’t answer the question of how many cities there are specifically in England.

I grew up in a small town near Milton Keynes, so I was quite excited when MK became the latest addition to England’s list of cities. With that in mind, I decided to delve into the question of England’s cities and explain not only how many there are, but how other towns can gain the coveted city status themselves.

How many cities are in England?

There are 55 cities in England. This updated count includes historic cities with longstanding city status, such as Manchester or Bristol, as well as more recent additions, such as Southend-on-Sea, which was granted city status in 2022 as a tribute to local MP Sir David Amess, and Colchester, Doncaster and Milton Keynes, which were all granted city status in 2022 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

As you can see, the number of cities in England can change when new city status is granted, which is why you’ll find many inaccurate counts on the internet!

A map of England (dark green) within the United Kingdom (light green). Map from Wikipedia.

Read more: How Many Counties in England? Everything You Need to Know.

List of cities in England

Here’s a list of the 55 English cities, in alphabetical order:

  1. Bath
  2. Birmingham
  3. Bradford
  4. Brighton & Hove
  5. Bristol
  6. Cambridge
  7. Canterbury
  8. Carlisle
  9. Chelmsford
  10. Chester
  11. Chichester
  12. Colchester
  13. Coventry
  14. Derby
  15. Doncaster
  16. Durham
  17. Ely
  18. Exeter
  19. Gloucester
  20. Hereford
  21. Kingston upon Hull
  22. Lancaster
  23. Leeds
  24. Leicester
  25. Lichfield
  26. Lincoln
  27. Liverpool
  28. City of London
  29. Manchester
  30. Milton Keynes
  31. Newcastle upon Tyne
  32. Norwich
  33. Nottingham
  34. Oxford
  35. Peterborough
  36. Plymouth
  37. Portsmouth
  38. Preston
  39. Ripon
  40. Salford
  41. Salisbury
  42. Sheffield
  43. Southampton
  44. Southend-on-Sea
  45. St Albans
  46. Stoke-on-Trent
  47. Sunderland
  48. Truro
  49. Wakefield
  50. Wells
  51. Westminster
  52. Winchester
  53. Wolverhampton
  54. Worcester
  55. York

Read more: Is England a Country? Everything You Need to Know.

What is a city in England?

In England, the designation of ‘city’ carries a distinct status that can differ from the general understanding of a city as a large or significant urban area that you might find internationally. Historically, city status was predominantly associated with the presence of a cathedral, typically an Anglican cathedral, which was a loose rule established in the early medieval period. This criterion led to some smaller settlements, such as Ely and Salisbury, being designated as cities while larger, more economically significant towns did not receive the status.

The historical link between cathedrals and city status can be traced back to Henry VIII’s reign. Following the dissolution of the monasteries and the establishment of the Church of England, Henry VIII created new dioceses to ensure administrative control and religious conformity. The towns that became the seats of these new dioceses were granted city status, reinforcing the cathedral-city relationship.

However, the cathedral criterion was never a formalised law, and over time, exceptions began to emerge. The first major change occurred in the late 19th century when Birmingham, a large and significant industrial town without a cathedral, was granted city status in 1889. This marked the beginning of a gradual shift in the criteria for city status.

In the 20th century, the process became more formalised and detached from the presence of a cathedral. City status began to be granted as a form of civic honour, often in conjunction with significant national events or anniversaries. For example, several towns were granted city status as part of the Millennium celebrations in 2000 and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees in 2002 and 2012, respectively.

Today, the process of a town becoming a city in England is through a formal application to the monarch, and it’s now usually prompted by a competition organised by the government. These competitions are infrequent and often coincide with significant national or royal events, such as we had when 38 cities in the United Kingdom applied in 2021 as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations in 2022. Towns aspiring for city status submit applications outlining their merits, which may include historical significance, regional importance, cultural assets, and other civic achievements.

Bristol Cathedral, Bristol, England. Photo by V2F on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Counties in the UK (United Kingdom)?

The newest cities in England

The newest cities in England are Southend-on-Sea, Colchester, Doncaster and Milton Keynes. Southend-on-Sea was granted city status in 2022 after the murder of local MP Sir David Amess, while Colchester, Doncaster and Milton Keynes were granted city status later in the same year as part of the celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. This event marked Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th year on the throne, and the granting of city status was one of the ways the United Kingdom commemorated this historic milestone.

  • Colchester: Known as Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester has a rich history dating back to Roman times. It was a significant Roman settlement and has numerous historic landmarks.
  • Doncaster: With a history encompassing Roman routes, a rich railway heritage, and significant architectural landmarks, Doncaster has long been a notable town in South Yorkshire.
  • Milton Keynes: A more modern town, Milton Keynes is known for its unique town planning and modernist architecture. It was established in 1967 as a new town and has since grown rapidly.
  • Southend-on-Sea: This seaside resort town in Essex, famous for having the world’s longest pleasure pier, has been a popular tourist destination since the Victorian era.
One of the straight roads that Milton Keynes is so famous for! Photo by Magda Vrabetz on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities in Scotland? Everything You Need to Know.

Is London a city?

London, the capital, is indeed a city, but confusingly, there are two distinct cities within the Greater London Area:

  • The City of London: Often referred to as the ‘Square Mile‘, the City of London is the historic core from which modern London grew. It has its own governance and boundaries, distinct from the wider city. The City of London is a major business and financial centre, and despite its small geographical size of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 square kilometres), it has a significant impact on the global economy.
  • Greater London: When most people refer to London, they are usually speaking of Greater London, which is a larger area encompassing 32 boroughs plus the City of London. Greater London is the top-level administrative subdivision covering the entire urban area of London. It has a mayor and an elected assembly, and it covers a much larger area than the City of London.

To further confuse matters, London is also home to the ‘City of Westminster’. Westminster is a significant area within Greater London, known for its political and historical importance, but it is not a city in its own right. Rather, it is one of the 32 boroughs of Greater London and has a unique status due to the following reasons:

  • Governmental and Royal Significance: Westminster is home to many of the most important institutions of the UK government, including the Houses of Parliament and the famous Big Ben (the nickname for the Great Bell of the Clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster). It also houses Downing Street, where the Prime Minister’s official residence is located, and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.
  • Royal Residences: The area includes several royal residences and parks, including Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the UK monarch.
  • Historical and Cultural Landmarks: Westminster Abbey, a site of significant cultural and religious importance, is located here. The area also includes many other historic and cultural landmarks.
  • City Status Confusion: The confusion about Westminster being a city might arise from the fact that it contains the ‘City of Westminster,’ which is a city in the ceremonial sense. However, this is an administrative designation, and the City of Westminster is still technically a London borough.
A view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Photo by Aswin Mahesh on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities in Wales? Everything You Need to Know.

What are the largest and smallest cities in England?

In England, the largest and smallest cities can be defined in terms of area or population. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Largest City by Area: The largest city in England by area is London. The Greater London area covers approximately 1,572 square kilometres (607 square miles). London, as the capital city, is not only the largest city in England but also in the United Kingdom.
  • Largest City by Population: By population, London again stands as the largest city, with a population of over 8 million people. It’s a major global city with significant influence in commerce, finance, media, arts, and more.
  • Smallest City by Area: The smallest city by area is likely to be the City of London, also known as the ‘Square Mile’. It is a city and county within London itself, covering just 2.9 square kilometres (1.12 square miles). However, it’s important to note that the City of London is distinct from the much larger Greater London.
  • Smallest City by Population: The smallest city in England by population is either Wells in Somerset or the City of London. Wells has a population of around 12,000, whereas the residential population of the City of London is much lower, but it’s a major financial district, so the daytime working population is much higher.
View of Wells Cathedral from Vicar’s Close in Wells, Somerset. Photo by Amber Maxwell Boydell on Unsplash.

Read more: How Many Cities Are in Northern Ireland? Everything You Need to Know.

How many cities are in the United Kingdom?

Taking into account England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom has 76 cities in total. This count is distributed among the four countries that make up the UK as follows:

  • England: 55 cities
  • Scotland: 8 cities
  • Wales: 7 cities
  • Northern Ireland: 6 cities

The number of cities in the UK, as in England, can change if new city status is granted. City status in the UK is an honorary designation given by the monarch and doesn’t necessarily depend on the size or population of the town. It’s often awarded on special occasions or to recognise significant civic contributions.

Read more: What is the United Kingdom? Everything You Need to Know.

FAQ: How many cities are in England?

Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘How many cities are in England?’:

Q1. How many cities are there in England?

England has 55 cities in total.

Q2. What qualifies a town to become a city in England?

City status in England is a prestigious honour granted by the monarch, typically on special occasions or anniversaries. There’s no fixed criterion like size or population; rather, historical significance, regional importance, and cultural factors are considered.

Q3. Which are the newest cities in England?

The newest cities, granted city status in 2022, are Colchester, Doncaster, Milton Keynes, and Southend-on-Sea.

Q4. Is London considered a city?

Yes, London is a city. It comprises the City of London, often called the ‘Square Mile,’ and the wider area of Greater London.

Q5. What is the largest city in England?

London is the largest city in both area and population.

Q6. Which is the smallest city in England?

The City of London is the smallest by area, while Wells in Somerset is often cited as the smallest by population.

Q7. Can the number of cities in England change?

Yes, new cities can be created if towns are granted city status by the monarch. This is usually done to mark significant national events.

Q8. What is the historic significance of having a cathedral in city status?

Historically, having a cathedral was a key factor in gaining city status, reflecting the town’s importance. However, this is no longer a requirement.

Q9. Are there any cities within London?

Yes, the City of London is within the greater area of London but is distinct in its governance and historic significance.

Q10. How does city status in England benefit a town?

City status is mainly ceremonial and brings prestige and a sense of pride. It can also potentially attract more tourism and investment.

Read more: How Many Cities in the United Kingdom? Everything You Need to Know.