Transforming a city into a modern metropolis takes much more than just having a good city planner around. It’s more about having a strong economy and a proud people working day and night to help make the city grow. We have compiled what we see as the top 40 city transformations in the world! You would be surprised how small some of them started and what they have grown into today. In the world today there are 4,416 cities. A few of the cities on this list, like Fortaleza, Brazil, Seoul, South Korea, New York, and Shenzhen, China, make the list of 100 largest cities in the world. Seoul, South Korea was named the world’s first smart city back in 2014. Every one of these cities has more fun facts to be learned, and some fun information that is rumored to be true. Just keep reading to find out more!
Leading up to the year 2000, things were slowly changing. In 1999, among other things, they opened the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture headquarters. This non-profit research center focuses on introducing resource-efficient and climate-smart crops as well as figuring out areas that are affected by drought salinity and try to find a solution. This was all part of the beginning of a new era for Dubai.
Dubai has been a fast-growing city since the year 2000. It is part of the United Arab Emirates, the size of a city, the sovereignty of a country, and the wealth of a nation makes this one of the fastest-growing places in the world. This is how it looked in the year 2000, you would not believe what it looks like today.
Here we are 19 years later and counting, and look what oil money can do! The Burj Al Arab hotel located in Dubai uses enough gold to cover the Mona Lisa 46,265 times. Dubai has made an artificial island called the Palm Islands with enough sand to fill two Empire State buildings. Not surprising considering the city uses 25% of the world’s cranes.
Dubai is also famous for the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, and it has large malls that have mammoth aquariums and indoor ski slopes. The Burj Khalifa is 830 meters high and everyone can point it out on a skyline photograph. The shopping malls are luxury shopping centers, all modern architecture, and a great nightlife scene.
In the year 1900, Seoul’s first trains between there are Incheon and Chemulpo were opened. In 1901, Seoul’s first railway between there is Busan began operating. This is where things picked up. In 1906, the city’s first newspaper was established, a year later they started a sanitation association, and the year after they opened a prison. This prison is now a museum and back then it was used to imprison Korean liberation activists.
South Korea has been through a lot since the Korean War in the 1950s. In this picture from the 1900s, you can see how small and empty of a city it was. The nation of South Korea has since seen tremendous growth. You would not believe where they are today!
Today the official name of the city is the Seoul Special Metropolitan City, and as of January 2017, the population of Seoul stands at 10,197,604 residents making it the 5th most populous city in the world! Overall, South Korea has a population of 51 million people. That means that this city has 20% of South Korea’s population alone living there. Seoul Capital Area contains five UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Changdeok Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, Jongmyo Shrine, Namhansanseong and the Royal Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty.
Seoul might still be an ancient city, but since the Korean War, the citizens have built about two dozen bridges across the Han River, a river that connects the city. Some of these bridges are railroad bridges which do help roads being overcrowded by cars with one person in each. However, there are so many people living there that it is still very crowded and the traffic jams barely end.
Lithuania is a really small country, and the city of Vilnius within it is even smaller, and in the 1900s it was extremely small! The city contains one of the largest surviving medieval quarters in Europe. The “Old Town” includes buildings that are almost 2,000 years old and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
This smaller city was a bit behind with technology at the time. The city only made gas lighting available in 1864, electricity came around in 1903 and public busses came along in 1905. These technological changes made a big impact on the social aspect of the city. In 1904 the first Lithuanian-language daily newspaper was published by the Vileišis family. They called this paper “Vilniaus žinios”. This is also the city that everyone got together to discuss making Lithuania an independent country.
Today the resident population of Vilnius stands at more than half a million people who, like many other places, rely on tourism to keep the city alive and well. Tourists can enjoy beautiful cathedrals, and museums, eat great food and go on beautiful hikes around the city. Vilnius is now known for its Old Town, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. There are also nice hotels and restaurants if you are looking to travel soon.
Many people there speak English, but of course, people will appreciate it if you learn a few words to try to communicate with them on your trip. This city is also known as one of the cheapest cities in Europe. They say you can buy a pint for less than 2.50 Euros. Even if you weren’t looking to travel before, I recommend taking a look at a vacation in Vilnius.
Abu Dhabi in the 1970s looks more like a run-down Bedouin village than it does a bustling city. In the 1950s the population of the city-sized Emirate nation was only 70,000 people. In 1970 that number grew, mostly because of immigrant workers who were brought to work on rebuilding the nation into a modern one.
Things started changing around this time which would eventually lead to the Abu Dhabi that there is today. In the 1960s, oil was discovered in the city, and they started moving their business over to America instead of working with the British. This is also around the time that they finally brought paved streets to the city. The first paved street was constructed around 1967.
Today the population of Abu Dhabi is about 2 million people. That’s pretty lovely growth because the nation was so small just 70 years ago. It goes to show you what oil money can do! Make sure to check out Abu Dhabi’s many beautiful beaches, islands, and the insanely well-done skyline.
Abu Dhabi is definitely not a cheap place to vacation, but everything is so beautiful and luxurious that it is well worth it. If you want to cut down on your overall spending during the trip you can shop outside of the malls at some of the independent shops and purchase fabric, clothes, stuff for the kitchen and different gifts to bring back for your friends.
Situated on the southeast coast of the Persian Gulf, Dubai is the most populous city of the United Arab Emirates, a cosmopolitan oasis of architecture and luxury lifestyle. Dubai is, in fact, a gleaming microcosm peacefully shared by various cultures from all corners of the world. It’s an alchemy of futuristic vision and profound traditions. Besides being the cultural hub of the Persian Gulf.
In 2005, the Dubai roads and transport authority formed. The Emirates Today newspaper began printing as well, and the famous Mall of the Emirates opened. This is the mall that has indoor skiing called Ski Dubai. In September 2005, construction workers strike. After this, the police also opened a hotline for workers to report labor issues.
Today Dubai has more than 200 skyscrapers. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the tallest building in the world with a height of 828 m (830 m to tip) and 163 floors. Burj Khalifa is also home to the world’s highest restaurant, highest mosque, highest nightclub, and most elevated observatory deck.
Did you know that Dubai comes from a word that means ‘money’? This came along because people in Dubai were believed to be rich because of the thriving trading center of the place. The actual phrase that Dubai city came from is ‘Daba Dubai’, which means ‘they came with a lot of money’. Unlike the places around Dubai, it is rich from finding oil under the ground. Their money comes from the cities ports.
Rio de Janeiro means “January River,” and that’s a very poetic name! The city has more than 200 rivers running through it. But which river does it refer to? Well, the answer is none of them. Want to learn how to “Samba?” Then you better get ready for life in the favela as most of the samba schools in Rio are located there.
The luxury hotel in the 1930s helped Rio gain the reputation it has today, the Copacabana Palace Hotel. It is known for being a beach party town, although in the past several years, it is said that this has been tarnished due to violence in the narcotics trade. However, this is still a popular vacation spot amongst the rich.
Today the city of Rio has the population of a country with a resident count of more than 16 million people! Rio is a bustling city full of things to see. Just make sure you keep your valuables close. I mean close, and don’t hesitate to join a football game on the beach!
Rio de Janeiro is now the second most populated city in Brazil. It is also one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Rio is also known for the Carnival, Samba, Bossa nova, and beaches such as Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. There is also the Christ the Redeemer statue which sits on the Corcovado Mountain. There is a cable car that can take you up and down easily.
In 1932 the population of Sydney was just over one million people. But as you can see, it was already a growing city by then! Post WW2 is where places like Sydney started to thrive thanks to the help of globalism, and immigration from around the world.
For most of the 1930s, The Great Depression had a big impact on the economy. It is said that one in three of the men bringing home the paycheck were unemployed. What did help a bit was when they constructed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which employed about 1,400 men until 1932. The Great Depression didn’t have a negative impact on having children though, and that’s how it rose up to over one million people.
Today the population of Sydney is more than 5 million people. A world-famous landmark Sydney Harbour Bridge is nicknamed ‘The Coat Hanger.’ It is the tallest steel arch bridge and the widest long-span bridge in the world. The architect for the Syndey Opera House only won £5,000 for the design of the world-renowned building.
There are over 451,000 businesses that are based in Sydney. The time zone here is the closest to American business hours, so most of the businesses have made their way over. Did you know that 38.2% of people in Sydney speak a language other than English at home? Some of those languages include Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Greek.
Even with the large population, Sydney was ranked the fifth safest city in the world in 2019 by ‘The Independent’. There is a law in place that you cannot enter a club or bar in the inner-city after 1:30 AM, and the last call is at 3:00 AM.
In the 1960s the population of the city of Shenzen was only a few thousand strong! Today the city has more than 12 million residents and counting! Shenzhen was initially a small market town of just 30,000 people on the route of the Kowloon–Canton Railway. Later in 1979 Shenzhen was transformed to city status and in 1980 it was designated as China’s first Special Economic Zone
Throughout the 1950s to the 1970s, Shenzhen took in a lot of refugees who were trying to escape to Hong Kong. They ended up with anywhere from 100,000 to 560,000 refugees living in the county. In 1978, State Council approved and put into effect renaming Bao’an County to Shenzhen. The city is split up into six districts.
Today it is the world’s largest manufacturing hub and the wealthiest city in China. It has the highest per capita GDP in China in comparison to other cities in China its average income is more than 50 percent higher than that of Beijing and Shanghai.
In 2017, Shenzhen became more popular than Shanghai for the Chinese population. The average age there is now 32.1 years old, and it is one of the youngest cities in China. It is also said to have better air quality than the other cities around China, and it is smaller than other cities which makes it easier for citizens to commute. Just like almost every other country, the prices of the areas have been increasing at crazy levels.
Fortaleza is the fifth-biggest city in Brazil, Fortaleza has a history which dates back to the year 1500 AD. It was at the beginning of February in that year that Spanish explorer Vicente Yánez Pinzón landed on the shores of Mucuripe, giving this new land the name ‘Santa Maria de la Consolacion.’
While they were going through a drought around the time, the city also published their paper Tribuna do Ceará. They built the Fortaleza International Airport terminal in 1966 and they opened the famous Castelão. This is the famous football stadium that can seat almost 64,000. This stadium is owned by the Brazilian government. A lot more has gone on throughout the years, but it has led to Fortaleza being what it is today.
Today Fortaleza is famous for its urban beaches and the beautiful Praia do Futuro beach is a must-visit. The beach is located just ten minutes away from the popular Beira Mar Avenue; however, we recommend that you catch a taxi here as it’s a little out of the way.
While it’s beautiful, they say that a lot of the neighborhoods are not safe, especially at night. This is partly due to the Brazil prison riots of 2017. Fortaleza ranked ninth in the world with its intentional murder rate. While the tourist attractions are secured and have barriers around them, you can see that the majority of the city lives in poverty and fewer people sit around and hang out in the streets at night.
The year 1988 was a crazy year for Bangkok, one that you just don’t forget. In April, a flight carrying 112 passengers and some crew members was hijacked and people were held hostage for sixteen days. There were also three members of the Kuwaiti Royal Family on board. The hijacked flight was taken to three different continents before ending up in Algiers. Kuwait tried to send people to negotiate with them, but two hostages were killed before it was over on April 20th.
Bangkok’s nightlife scene at Khaosan Road and Patpong, Grand Palace and Buddhist temples such as Wat Arun and Wat Pho, have made the city a major tourism hub with MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index who declare it the most visited city for travel and leisure! But it’s not so easy to tell here. Wait until you see the next picture!
Bangkok is fondly referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to its active nightlife scene as well as having as many canals as Venice in Italy. It is also called ‘City of Angles’ due to its fascination with city planning.
It is also known for having the craziest traffic jams. The city consists of eight million people living there. A great way to go around and see the city is by riding the Sky Train. It is probably the only way to get around without losing your patience. Most of the time you are high above traffic looking below at a great view of the city. The sky train also takes you to all of the major places that you would want to see. What more could you ask for on a trip?
In October 1862, the Athens revolted against King Otto and Queen Amalia. The king and queen were off trying to strengthen their relationship with Peloponnese people. The revolution started a few days later, and the king and queen were brought back and placed under special protection. In the end, King Otto and his queen left Greece and went to live in exile. The king did not think leaving would be a permanent solution, but it was.
The population of Athens in the 1800s was less than half a million people, this would start to grow post world war two as the city enjoyed a 3 percent growth average from 1955 to 1965 per five-year period. Today there is a slight drop in the population that stands at 3,154,152 people.
Around 17.5 million people visit Greece each year – more than the country’s population. To accommodate the influx, Greece has one of the highest numbers of international airports for any country, the most significant being in Athens. Did you know that Athens also has 148 theatrical stages?
Athens is the most populated city in Greece. They recently held the 2004 Olympic Games which brought in a lot of tourists. You can find statues or busts throughout the city. There is a statue of Theseus, Theodoros Kologotronis or even Ioannis Kapodistrias, Rigas Feraios and Adamantios Korais. There are also a lot of museums around today, where you can even see this history of the Olympics. You can even visit the National Archaeological Museum.
The population of Toronto in 1930 was just a bit over 600,000 people. Today the capital of Ontario boasts more than 6 million residents and is the fifth-largest city in North America! In the 1700s the city was called “York” and was only changed to be named Toronto in 1834.
Back in 1929, the stock market crashed and it had a huge effect on the city. By 1933, the unemployment rate was down 30% and wages dropped as much as 60%. This year, they built the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building and opened the Maple Leaf Gardens and the Canada Life Building. Did you know that it cost 75 cents to see a hockey game back then?
The Toronto Stock Exchange is the third-largest in North America and the seventh-largest in the world. The city ranks as the twelfth most economically powerful city in the world – based on economic output, innovation, its’ global economic power score, and its’ financial center score.
In 2008, Toronto bid to host the Olympic Games but wasn’t allowed to after their Mayor visited Kenya and insulted his hosts. Pope John Paul II visited Toronto in the early 2000s, which I’m sure helped with tourism a bit. Rob Ford was the mayor for years and went through a lot of different scandals. In the end, he helped his brother Doug run for mayor and he succeeded to get his old job back.
After the fall of Germany in 1945, the city of Berlin looked so gloomy and full of scars that the world thought it would take at least 1,000 years for it to be rebuilt, especially considering half the city was split to the Soviet Union, who let’s face it, was not keen on giving its people a good life.
The Battle of Berlin was fought between April 16th to May 2nd, 1945, between the German Army and the Soviet Army. The German Army was outnumbered by more than two times the soldiers, aircraft, and tanks. On May 1st, most of the German soldiers tried to escape the city, and on May 2nd, the German army surrendered. This is also the day that Adolf Hitler committed suicide.
On December 31st, 1989, David Hasselhoff headlined for the Freedom Tour Live concert. On both sides of the wall, there were over 500,000 attendees. Even more popularly, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen performed there two years before Hasselhoff. The fall of the Berlin Wall then happened between June 1990 and November 1991. People would come around and find chips of the wall to keep as souvenirs.
Today the city has made a comeback and is more than three and a half million strong in population! The bustling modern city of Berlin is nine times the size of Paris, and is home to some of the best technological breakthroughs in the world! Berlin’s public transport system travels 8.7 times around the Earth every day, and almost half of it lies underground.
The capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta is not an official city, it is a province. But it had gained the special status of being the capital of the Republic of Indonesia. Before WW2 Indonesia was a Dutch colony and there are still historical remnants of Dutch influence in the city of Jakarta, for instance, the Dutch cannons which still occupy a proud position in the old town of Jakarta.
In the ’60s, the city was known at the time for civil unrest. The 30 September Movement is when a group of militants captured and executed six of the top generals of Indonesia’s army. They took over the town square, and the President didn’t want to commit to the movement after they killed a lot of his generals, and as the night went on their side got weaker. A Major General of the Indonesian Army saw that the militants of the 30 September movement had a weak spot on one of their sides, so he came in and took the square back.
Jakarta people are crazy shoppers. They love to visit their shopping malls so much that the malls are open 24/7. There are about 130 shopping malls scattered all over Jakarta city. There are 76 coral islands where you can dive or go snorkeling. 144, that’s the number of fish species there are on the Islands around Jakarta, make sure you’re ready for a good time.
As of 2010, the city has a population of about 30 million people. The city has more business opportunities and a higher standard of living which attracts people from all over the country. Just like New York was nicknamed the ‘The Big Apple’, Jakarta was nicknamed ‘Big Durian’ after the Durian fruit. In Indonesia, there are 300 known varieties of this plant with different names.
In the 1920s the city of Melbourne only had about 100,000 residents. It must have been fun to live there back then, today the city is far more congested than residents probably imagined at the time! After all, the population of Australia itself in the 1920s was only 5.44 million in total!
At the beginning of the 1900s, it was known as Australia’s capital city but wasn’t growing fast enough so it went back to being Sydney. The population of Melbourne then grew to 670,000 by 1914. In 1934, a war memorial was put up in the city in honor of the men and women of Victoria who served in World War I. While commonly referred to as ‘The Shrine’, ‘The Shrine of Remembrance’ still stand there today. It is one of the largest war memorials in Australia.
Today the population of Melbourne is almost the population that the nation of Australia was in the 20s at 4.443 million, and the headcount in the whole country is more than 25 million and growing! That being said, 90% of Australians live on the coasts of the nation. That’s a lot of beachgoers! Melbourne is also the capital of the Australian state of Victoria.
Like other cities throughout Australia, it is known for the crazy always-changing weather conditions. One minute you can be sitting around getting a tan, and the next moment a crazy storm can come in which was brought from a southerly buster. These types of winds can bring cold temperatures and rainfall even during the hottest time.
The “Roaring 20s” were considered to be a time of Jubilation and hedonism for the people London. Women had experienced a new sense of freedom after World War Two, considering all the men were off at war. At the same time, America was beginning a period called “The Great Depression.”
In the early 20th century, London expanded so quickly that it expanded public transport. This is also when they constructed the LLC Tramways. The first motorbus transportation also started in the 1900s. The time between the two World Wars, London grew quicker than it ever did before. The city was expanded to keep up with the growing population.
After the Second World War, London hosted the 1948 Summer Olympic Games.
Today the population of London is a little more than 9 million people. Queen Elizabeth 2 may be the head of state, but she needs permission from the Lord Mayor to enter the city of London. Now, who would have thought that? In 2014, 16 million people visited London, making it the most-visited city in the world.
Did you know that before it was called London, the city was also known as ‘Londonium’, ‘Ludenwic’, and ‘Lunenburg’? Also, everyone there drives on the left side of the road. This is something well-known, however, there is one road in London where drivers must drive only on the right side. This street is just off the Strand leading over to Savoy Hotel, called Savoy Court.
Istanbul in the early 1900s looks oddly similar to what it looks like today, a significant difference between the two is the fact that it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire at the time. The population back then was less than half a million. That was for sure changed in the past 100 years and counting.
After the First World War, they signed the Armistice of Mudros. This decree made it so that Istanbul would be occupied by Allied Forces. In 1918, French and Italian forces came in to take over the city. In 1923, the Republic of Turkey was founded and they changed the capital of the state from Istanbul to Ankara. This led to a population decrease of about half a million people.
Today the population of Istanbul is almost 15 million people! Istanbul has a total of 3,113 mosques and is a city that sits on two different continents, half in Europe and half in Asia. The parts of Istanbul which are located on two different continents are separated by the Bosphorus strait. This is a waterway that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and runs for 31 km between the two Seas.
Check out the Hagia Sophia, you see it there on the right. Did you know it is one of the largest mosques in the world! Istanbul was once given the title of the most crowded city in the work, all the way back in 1502. The city also has the third oldest subway system in the world which runs 573 meters long. It was built in 1875 and is located in the Beyoglu district.
New York City was known to be a pretty desolate place for most of its life cycle. Until the early millennium, the city had some of the highest crime rates and substance abuse in America. The population in NY was still insane compared to the rest of the world for its time, in the 60s it was more than 7 million residents. Guess what it is today?
On December 8th, 1962, The New York City Newspaper Strike started. The strike lasted for 114 days, and they were mainly protesting the automation of the printing process. The union was also protesting low wages. Back then, the paper offered to increase their weekly pay by $8, but that raise would be spread over 2 years. The union requested a $38.82 over the two years. In the end, they agreed to a raise of $12.63 per week.
Today the population of New York is more than eight and a half million people. There are millions of restaurants to choose from, iconic selfie spots, and always great museums to visit. Make sure to check Elis Island and the Statue of Liberty. Oh, and don’t forget to get yourself an “I Love NY” T-Shirt!
New York City is made up of five different boroughs, Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. It is the largest city in America. So large, that there is a birth in New York City every 4.4 minutes.
Did you know that the Empire State Building gets hit by lightning about 23 times per year? The building’s website states “The Empire State Building is a lightning rod for the surrounding area”. In this case, the same can be said about Chicago’s Sears Tower, which is hit by lightning anywhere between 50 to 100 times every year.
The population of Kuala Lumpur was only a mere 50,000 at the beginning of the 20th century. It went up to 80,000 residents in the year 1920! The city has since grown exponentially and as of 2019 has a population almost akin to NY of more than seven and a half million people.
The name Kuala Lumpur came from the Hakka word ‘Lampang’. This means ‘muddy uncleared forest’. It got its name from where it is located, which is in a clearing on the swampy land next to the Gombak and Klang river junctions. It was also one of the first cities in Malayasia to hold an election. They held it on February 16th, 1952, marking this a special day in history. The city was officially called a city in February 1972.
Kuala Lumpur is fondly known as KL, and its residents are known as “KLites.” Make sure you check out the Petronas Towers while you’re there, and make sure you don’t come during the rainy season, as the city floods profusely during the winter rainy season.
This city is known today as the largest city in Malaysia, and as of 2016 has a population of 1.73 million people, and growing. There are a lot of other things to do while you’re on vacation in Kuala Lumpur today, like sampling some of the local flavors, enjoy the culture at the National Museum, or even let loose at the Sunway Lagoon Theme Park. The city isn’t too expensive in the first place, but you can find some very cheap places to stay and a lot of things to see for free.
La in the 1940s was still just as competitive then as it is today when it comes to the movie business, but when it came to high skylines, and bustling roads, things were a bit different. The population of LA then was one million five hundred and four thousand people. Today that number has grown to more than 4 million residents, but the city feels like there are 100s of million there at once!
In 1931, a woman named Ethel Prioleau sued the city after not being allowed to use the pool at a nearby park, and was forced to travel 3.6 miles to the designated “negro swimming pool”. Ethel paved the way to the end of racial segregation in municipal swimming pools in L.A!
When LA was founded, the city’s full name was “El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles Sobre el Rio Porciuncula.” (if you don’t know Spanish), that translates to “The town of our lady queen of the angels on the Porciuncula River.” Oh, and you know Dodger Stadium sits atop where oil was first discovered in LA in 1892!
As of 2015, Los Angeles has an estimate of 31.8 million people living there, and it is also said that the GDP (gross domestic product) of $1 trillion, as of 2017. The temperatures are not known to drop too far below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and when it rains the whole city shuts down. It’s almost as if it snows randomly there and they don’t know how to handle it, but snow actually would make it seem more reasonable.