An independent city is a city that does not form part of another general-purpose local government entity.

Independent cities should not be confused with city-states (such as Singapore), which are fully sovereign cities that are not part of any other nation-state.

North America[]

United States[]

In the United States, an independent city is a city that does not belong to any particular county. Because counties have historically been a strong institution in local government in most of the United States, independent cities are relatively rare outside of Virginia (see below), whose state constitution makes them a special case. The U.S. Census Bureau uses counties as its base unit for presentation of statistical information, and treats independent cities as county equivalents for those purposes. Independent cities should not be confused with consolidated city-counties, such as Denver, Colorado, the City and County of San Francisco, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, nor with the Alaskan equivalent, the combined city and borough, such as Sitka.


Of the 42 independent cities in the United States,[1] 39 are in Virginia. The three that are not in Virginia are Baltimore, Maryland; St. Louis, Missouri; and Carson City, Nevada.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, all municipalities incorporated as "cities" have also been "independent cities," also called "free cities," since 1871. Other municipalities, even though they may be more populous than some existing independent cities, are incorporated as "towns", and as such form part of a county. An independent city in Virginia may serve as the county seat of an adjacent county, even though the city by definition is not part of that county.

Several Virginia counties, whose origins go back to the original eight shires of Virginia formed in 1634 during the colonial period, have the word city in their names; however, politically they are counties. Examples are Charles City County and James City County. These names originated with earlier "incorporations" created in 1619 by the Virginia Company as Charles Citiie [sic] and James Citiie [sic]. The Virginia Company lost its charter in 1624, and Virginia became a royal colony.

Arlington County[]

Arlington County, commonly referred to as just "Arlington," is not an independent city. However, it is often referenced, popularly, as a city because it is geographically small and dense; is fully urbanized; is close in size to other independent cities in the state; has no other city or town within its borders; and through a quirk of Virginia history, maintains its own highway infrastructure like independent cities (but not like nearly every other Virginia county). It consists solely of much of the land ceded by Virginia to the Federal Government to form Washington, D.C. in the late 18th century, and retroceded to Virginia in 1846.

Former cities[]

See also: Lost counties, cities, and towns of Virginia.

Former independent cities now extinct that were long extant in Virginia include:

Two other independent cities existed only for a short time:

Other states[]

Some states have created independent cities in order to cater for the special requirements of governing their largest cities and/or capitals:

Other entities similar to independent cities[]

An independent city is not the same as:

  • A "Federated" City-County multi-tiered type of government such as applies between Miami and Miami-Dade County
  • The City of New York, which is a sui generis jurisdiction: the city is made up of five boroughs, each of which is territorially conterminous with a county.
  • Washington, D.C., which, like the capitals of many other countries (see below), has a special status. It is not part of any state; instead, it comprises the entirety of the District of Columbia, which, in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. When founded, the District was in fact divided into two counties and two independent cities. Alexandria County (which now forms Arlington County and a portion of the independent city of Alexandria) was given back to Virginia in 1846, while the three remaining entities (the City of Washington, Georgetown City and Washington County) were merged into a consolidated government by an act of Congress in 1871 and Georgetown was formally abolished as a city entity by another act in 1895. Congress has established a home rule government for the city, although city laws can be overridden by Congress. This is fairly rare, and so in practice the city operates much like other independent cities in the United States, although technically, it does not meet the legal definition of one.
  • Cities and towns in New England traditionally have very strong governments while counties have correspondingly less importance. Today, most counties in southern New England (Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts) have almost no governmental institutions or roles associated with them (aside from serving as a basis for court districts). Somewhat like the ceremonial counties of England, counties in southern New England still have a nominal existence, and so no city or town in those three states is truly separate from a county.


In the Canadian province of Ontario, the same type of city is referred to as a single-tier municipality (there are also separated municipalities). In Quebec they are often called separated cities, as they are not Regional County Municipalities. Cities and towns in Alberta are not part of rural municipalities such as counties. In New Brunswick, all county government was abolished in 1967, therefore, in theory, all cities, townships, and settlements in New Brunswick could be considered independent cities.



In Austria, a similar concept is the Statutarstadt.


See also: List of German urban districts.

In Germany, different states have either the Stadtkreis ("Urban County") or Kreisfreie Stadt (literally, "County-Free City").

Examples of German independent cities are:

Additionally, the German City-states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg function as federal states. The City-state of Bremen is comprised solely of the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven (which was originally founded as an ocean port for the city of Bremen).


In Norway, Oslo is both a municipality (kommune) and a county (fylke) within itself.


See also: Powiat.

In Poland, many of the biggest cities comprise their own city counties (formally "cities with county rights"). They are suitably marked on the list of counties in Poland.


See also: List of towns in Hungary

In Hungary 23 of the cities are "cities with county rights", these cities have equal rights with the 19 counties of Hungary.

The British Isles[]

Some cities in the United Kingdom have unitary authority status, and could be considered to be independent cities. In the UK, however, "city" has no inherent status; city status depends on a grant from the monarch and merely confers on the place so designated the right to call itself a city. The standard for such a right was once thought to depend on whether the entity had a cathedral. As is now made clear by the Department for Constitutional Affairs [2], there are no formal criteria such as this for the city to apply for, and be granted city status in the UK. There are 66 cities in the UK - 50 in England, five in Wales, six in Scotland and five in Northern Ireland.

County borough referred to a borough or a city independent of county council control in England and Wales from 1889 to 1974 with the term continuing in use in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Wales re-introduced the term in 1994 for use with certain unitary authorities.


Taiwan (Republic of China)[]

Under the administrative division system of the Republic of China, some cities are directly administered by the Executive Yuan, some are administered by provinces (the province of Taiwan is nominal), and some are subordinate to counties. The centrally-administered and province-administered ones are like independent cities under this definition.

People's Republic of China[]

In mainland China under the administration of People's Republic of China, the Cities of Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing are centrally-administered province-level regions, and they do not belong to any particular province. Additionally, there are several vice provincial cities that are nominally under provinces but are in reality independent of any provinces.

Within some provinces, there are some cities that are directly under provinces, bypassing an administrative level (prefectures and prefecture-level cities).

Hong Kong and Macau are two Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China which have high degree autonomy except acts of state like diplomatic relations and national defence.

Korea (Republic of Korea)[]

In addition to its nine provinces, South Korea has a total of seven province-level "metropolitan cities." By far the largest among these in terms of population is the capital, Seoul, called a teuk-byul-shi (특별시; literally, "specially distinguished market", to mean special city), which is home to more than 20% of the entire population of the country. The remaining six independent cities are called gwang-yuhk-shi (광역시; literally, "large territory market", to mean large city). These include Busan, Daegu, Daejeon, Incheon, Gwangju, and Ulsan.

Historically, these independent cities have been carved from the province that surrounds them. Consequently, they typically share a strong regional and cultural identity with the adjoining province(s). This is particularly true of Gwangju, which is at the center of the southwestern Jeolla region, and Daegu, which was carved from North Gyeongsang Province in the southeast. Similarly, Busan and Ulsan are both heavily associated with South Gyeongsang Province, while Daejeon is heavily associated with the Chungcheong provinces. Seoul and Incheon are said to make up the "capital region," along with the densely populated Gyeonggi Province that almost completely encompasses them.

One interesting relic of the newer independent cities is that, in some cases, the government administrative buildings (docheong) of the provinces they were once a part of are still located within city boundaries, meaning that these provinces have capitols that are not within their borders.

In 2006, the ruling party floated a proposal to completely eliminate all current province and independent-city borders. This plan would divide the entire republic into fifty or sixty city- or county-level administrations, similar to the system in Japan. The plan was intended to help reduce regional discrimination and animosity by eliminating provincial identity.


Main article: Cities of the Philippines#Independent cities

Many major cities in the Philippines are independent cities, classified as either "highly urbanized" or "independent component" cities. These cities do not share their tax revenues with any province, and are administratively and legally not part of any province, although many still group them as components of the provinces to which they previously belonged for convenience and reduced complexity. There are 37 of them, with 16 being located in Metro Manila, 8 in the rest of the Luzon island group, 6 in the Visayas and 7 in Mindanao.

National capitals[]

A number of countries have made their national capitals into separate entities. For example Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, is outside of the country's system of counties, as is the capital of Romania, Bucharest. Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, is not within any of the 50 states. London is actually composed of the City of London and county of Greater London, which is divided into a number of boroughs. The German capital, Berlin, is a Federal State with the same level of autonomy as much larger states, such as Bavaria. Brussels, the capital of Belgium, is a separate region (the Brussels-Capital Region), independent of both Flanders and Wallonia, despite being entirely surrounded by Flanders (of which it is also the regional capital) and sharing a common language with Wallonia (French).

Federal capitals[]

In countries with a federal structure, the federal capital is often separate from other jurisdictions in the country, and frequently has a unique system of government.

Examples include:

See also[]


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