Difference between Town and City

Updated on May 27, 2017

“London Town is one of the biggest cities in the world.” With such statements, no wonder people are confused about the difference between a town and a city. Is London a town, or a city? It cannot be a town because it is too big, right? Add to this the fact that many use the words interchangeably anyway and you have the recipe for confusion. So what is the difference between a town and a city? Find out more from this article.


A town street

A town is the smallest urban administrative unit or the largest rural administrative unit. Depending on where you look, you will find town mentioned under either urban or rural settlements. This will largely depend on the source of the writing as there are countries where towns are developed enough to be considered urban areas, whereas in other countries they are just a bit over a village.

Technically, a town probably started off as a village. However, as soon as the settlement expanded and the activities became more diverse with people finding jobs in areas other than agriculture and craftsmanship, they evolved into towns.

It is difficult to enlist the characteristics of a town since they vary from one state or country to another. For some, it is the size of the place that makes a town, while for others it is the population density. There is also the issue of service and facility diversification.

A city skyline

A city is an urban settlement with built infrastructure that covers an extended area of land. It is densely populated and structured so as to offer the best living conditions for its inhabitants: centralized heating, electricity, sewage systems, running water, and high performing communication networks. Apart from the facilities, a city offers access to a wide variety of cultural events and institutions, services, and job opportunities.

A well-developed city should have a cultural center, a business center, recreation areas, and large residential areas with small neighborhood businesses to cater directly to the needs of people living there. Depending on how big a city is, the public transportation system will be more or less diverse. For example, most of the world’s capitals, namely the biggest cities, will have all types of public transportation: subway, buses, and tramways. Smaller cities will only have one or two of the above. This can also depend on whether the infrastructure and the environment allow it.

Town vs City

So what is the difference between a town and a city?

Modern day cities have evolved from small towns. Therefore, the main difference between a town and a city is in their size. Geographically speaking, a town is smaller than a city. It also has lower population density and a smaller infrastructure. With fewer residents, there is little demand for diverse services and industries. Therefore, while a city may cater to the needs of various minority groups, a town may only have the resources to cater to the needs of the majority of the population.

As far as public administration is concerned, the resources and public funds available to either of the two depend on the resources in the area. Therefore, people from a town may depend on local industries, while people in a city have far more options.

Culturally and educationally, children living in cities have access to more resources. A town may have primary, secondary, and high schools, as well as a local college, but cities are usually large university centers. There is also a generous choice of museums, theaters, art galleries, cinemas, festivals, and cultural events held in the city. A town’s offer of cultural activity mainly depends on the interest manifested by its inhabitants and the local authorities. Also, a town may have a clinic, a couple of private practices, and a small hospital, but cities have large, specialized medical centers.

Overall, all effort of town authorities is put into offering inhabitants a quiet and comfortable life. City life, on the other hand, means more opportunities to make money and a much faster pace.

Comparison Chart

Can be registered either as an urban or a rural settlementIs an urban settlement
Is small in sizeIs large in size
Has a low population densityHas a high population density
Has a fairly developed infrastructureHas a very well-developed infrastructure
Provides the necessary facilities for its inhabitantsProvides all facilities for its inhabitants
May have some transportation facilitiesOffers access to a variety of types of public transportation
Mainly has one-family living units and public institutionsHas a combination of houses, apartment buildings, business centers, leisure centers, and public institutions
Has small medical unitsHas large, specialized medical centers
Relies on local industries for the income of its residentsRelies on a variety of jobs, mainly in services and various forms of supply