You expect big cities to have busy streets, lots of businesses and crowds. Lots of crowds. But when you dig a little deeper, this stereotype isn't always accurate. It seems the largest towns aren't always the most crowded cities in the country.
Finding the most crowded cities
It all comes down to population density, which looks at the number of people living per square mile. The higher that number, the more crowded a city actually is.
We looked at every city with at least 10 square feet of land, and a population of over 50,000. We then divided that number by each city's land area to find the population density. It may come as no surprise that New York City appears on our list. But some of the other most crowded cities might surprise you.
10. Berkeley, CA
- Residents per square mile: 11,591
- Total Population: 121,363
Once a hub for hippies, Berkeley today offers an inviting vibe that's all-inclusive. There's plenty of culture, art, entertainment and education. It also doesn't hurt that the weather is almost always amenable to spending time outside.
Situated across the bay from San Francisco, this crowded city still manages an intimate feel. Home to the University of California Berkeley, it attracts plenty of college students, who maintain the city's vibrant and eclectic scene.
With plenty of diverse and distinct neighborhoods, you'll have options when picking the perfect place to live in Berkeley. Expect a one-bedroom to average out at $2,044 per month, in rent.
9. Newark, NJ
- Residents per square mile: 11,658
- Total Population: 282,011
With only a 15 minute commute into New York City (on public transportation), Newark is an affordable alternative to living in The Big Apple. You have easy access without the high rent costs.
Its proximity to the "big city" isn't all Newark has going for it. The city holds its own as both a college town and a thriving community. Big industries in the area include finance, law and healthcare. There's also opportunity in academia, with Rutgers University – Newark and the New Jersey Institute of Technology within city limits.
Residents love to come together to celebrate everything from nature to culture to the arts, and there is an endless list of things to see.
Living in Newark means paying about $2,143 on average for a one-bedroom apartment.
- Residents per square mile: 11,812
- Total Population: 1,584,064
History, art and a modern vibe commingle in the streets of Philadelphia. With such a rich story, living here puts you in the same space as our Founding Fathers without trapping you in the past. A welcoming city for young professionals and families alike, the City of Brotherly Love offers up plenty of green space and no shortage of restaurants and bars. You can devote an entire day to exploring the piers along the Delaware River, snap a picture in front of the Liberty Bell or run up Rocky's famous stairs.
Living in Philly isn't as expensive as you'd think. A one-bedroom apartment will cost you $2,152 per month, on average.
7. Chicago, IL
- Residents per square mile: 11,835
- Total Population: 2,693,976
Whether you call the city home or live out in the suburbs, Chicago has plenty of neighborhoods worth exploring. Living in the Windy City means plenty to see and do. Walk along the Chicago River in the heart of the city or stick to the shops on Michigan Avenue. Shoot into the burbs and check out Northwestern University's campus. Sit in the stands in the iconic Wrigley Field and enjoy a true Chicago Dog
Chicago offers so much activity that you'll never run out of places to go. Although it's easy to keep busy, the city offers a more laid-back feel than other large urban centers, you just have to prepare for the snow (and the cold.)
With over 70 different communities to live in, and excellent public transportation, you'll easily find an affordable place to call home, but expect rent to average out at $2,232 for a one-bedroom apartment.
- Residents per square mile: 12,186
- Total Population: 332,318
One of Orange County's many attractive and appealing cities, Santa Ana, is a community with heart. Sitting beside the Santa Ana River, watery views are different than those closer to the coast, but none of the locals are complaining. With an artsy downtown area, Santa Ana pays homage to the past while honoring today. Museums sit beside funky art galleries and relaxing sidewalk cafes.
For a truly unique sight, take the whole family to the Discovery Cube Orange County. This structure is the most recognizable in the city as it's a tall black cube made entirely of solar panels.
5. Miami, FL
- Residents per square mile: 13,046
- Total Population: 467,963
The beach, the bars, the clubs — what's not in Miami to entice you to call it home. Even if it's a little compact, the neon lights and vibrant vibe make living here worthwhile. With a variety of neighborhoods, where you live will impact what you pay in rent, but on average, a one-bedroom will set you back $2,497 each month.
A big draw for young professionals, Miami offers job opportunities in a variety of industries, including tourism, finance and media and telecommunications.
When not at work, there are always the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean. With 248 sunny days each year, on average, every day is a beach day.
4. Boston, MA
- Residents per square mile: 14,345
- Total population: 692,600
Boston is a huge college town and home to cultural institutions, top-notch universities and cutting-edge tech companies.
The city, which has almost 700,000 people (and 150,000 coeds), is known for Red Sox Nation, big city living and confusing roads. Boston is home to one of the oldest and best public transportation systems in the country with a designated commuter rail that typically runs on time.
The cost of living in Boston is infamously expensive. It's more pricey to live in Boston than Chicago or L.A. The average cost of rent in Boston is $3,461.
But, living in Boston means you'll experience modern life in a booming metro area, balanced by a historic perspective into our nation's history.
- Residents per square mile: 17,720
- Total Population: 262,075
Living just outside New York City has its perks, and most of them are in Jersey City. Not only is the location great, but public transportation also makes it so you might not even need a car. You can pick between the rapid transit system, light rail, buses or even the ferry.
The city has no shortage of quaint and authentic places to enjoy with friends. Rivaling what's in NYC, you'll find boutiques, wine bars, breweries and restaurants. Weekly farmer's markets get you outside when the weather is right as well.
Another gem within Jersey City is Lincoln Park. With over 273 acres, this outdoor space offers visitors play areas, historic monuments, natural features and recreational amenities.
Living among all this activity and green space — that's within viewing distance of NYC — means paying for it. A one-bedroom apartment averages around $2,742 per month.
- Residents per square mile: 18,808
- Total Population: 881,549
Another city many visualize as crowded, with its winding streets and steep hills is San Francisco. But, living here means nothing is ever that far away. From work to shopping, restaurants to nightlife, this West Coast town really has it all.
While it's up there with certain East Coast cities when it comes to renting — one-bedroom averages out to $3,560 per month — its laid-back vibe and proximity to the ocean make it a great place to live.
1. New York, NY
- Residents per square mile: 27,547
- Total Population: 8,336,817
Although expensive, Manhattan is the kind of place every young person should experience living in at least once. Life in New York isn't easy, but it is thrilling. The average price of rent in New York City is nearly $3,800 for a one-bedroom apartment.
NYC is a vital hub for media, finance, tech and real estate, with more billionaires living in New York than any other city in the world.
The 50 most crowded cities in the U.S.
If you're curious to know what other cities made the list, here's a comprehensive list of the 50 most crowded cities in the U.S.
|Rank||City||Population||Land Area (Square Miles)||Population Density|
|1||New York, NY||8,336,817||302.64||27,546.98|
|2||San Francisco, CA||881,549||46.87||18,808.38|
|3||Jersey City, NJ||262,075||14.79||17,719.74|
|6||Santa Ana, CA||332,318||27.27||12,186.21|
|17||Garden Grove, CA||171,644||17.94||9,567.67|
|19||Long Beach, CA||462,628||50.29||9,199.20|
|26||San Mateo, CA||104,430||12.13||8,609.23|
|27||Los Angeles, CA||3,979,576||468.67||8,491.21|
|30||Buena Park, CA||81,788||10.52||7,774.52|
|33||New Rochelle, NY||78,557||10.35||7,590.05|
|35||Huntington Beach, CA||199,223||26.75||7,447.59|
|38||Costa Mesa, CA||113,003||15.65||7,220.64|
|40||El Cajon, CA||102,708||14.43||7,117.67|
|41||Santa Clara, CA||130,365||18.41||7,081.21|
|45||New Haven, CT||130,250||18.68||6,972.70|
|48||Mountain View, CA||82,739||12||6,894.92|
The least crowded cities in America
In compiling data around the most crowded cities in the U.S., we also gathered the cities that remain on the roomier side. Here's our list of the least crowded cities in America.
|Rank||City||Population||Land Area (Square Miles)||Population Density|
|4||Carson City, NV||55,916||144.66||386.53|
|6||Casa Grande, AZ||58,632||109.67||534.62|
|9||Port Arthur, TX||54,280||76.9||705.85|
|10||North Port, FL||70,724||99.58||710.22|
To find the most crowded cities in America, we looked at all cities with a population over 50,000 in the U.S. and at least 10 square miles of land area. We divided each city's population by its land area to determine the population density, or the number of people per square mile. Population figures and land area come from the U.S. Census Bureau. The cities with the highest population density are the most crowded cities in the U.S.
Rent prices are based on a rolling weighted average from Apartment Guide and Rent.com's multifamily rental property inventory of one-bedroom apartments. We pulled our data in March 2021, and it goes back for one year. Our team uses a weighted average formula that more accurately represents price availability for each individual unit type and reduces the influence of seasonality on rent prices in specific markets.
The rent information included in this article is used for illustrative purposes only. The data contained herein do not constitute financial advice or a pricing guarantee for any apartment.