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What Are America’s Most Populous Capital Cities?

By K.C. Dermody
Read time: 5 minutes

The U.S. is one of the world’s largest countries in terms of both area and population. Interestingly, though, some of America’s biggest and most populous cities aren’t the capitals of their respective states. For example, while New York City — home to nearly 8.5 million people — is the most populated city in the U.S.,  Albany is the New York state capital, with a population of less than 100,000. Some state capitals — like Montpelier, Vermont and its 8,000 residents — are even tinier. But of course, there are some capital cities that are far bigger, even ranking among the most populous cities in the country. Check out the eight most populous U.S. state capitals below. 

8. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Statue atop Oklahoma state house overlooking Oklahoma City
Photo credit: Aaron Yoder/ iStock

Nicknamed OKC for short, Oklahoma City was established as a 400-acre settlement in 1889. The city grew rapidly and was chosen as the Oklahoma state capital in 1910. Today, OKC has an estimated population of 695,000 people (as of 2022), and population growth has continued to explode in recent years thanks to the city’s excellent business opportunities, variety of cultural activities, and affordable cost of living — which is about 16% lower than the national average. Oklahoma City has 14 unique districts, including the Adventure District — home to the National Cowboy Museum, the Science Museum, OKC Zoo, and the Remington Park racetrack and casino. Film Row is a hub for arts and film festivals, while the Bricktown and Downtown neighborhoods offer a wide range of bars, restaurants, and nightlife venues.

7. Nashville, Tennessee

Bars lining Broadway in Nashville, Tennesseee
Photo credit: f11photo/ Shutterstock

With a population of 684,000, Nashville is another fast-growing capital fueled by rapid economic growth Nashville was founded on Christmas Eve in 1799 and was named the state capital in 1843. The city became a hub for music publishing in the 19th century, and after the launch of the Grand Ole Opry radio show in 1925, Nashville cemented its status as “Music City.” When it comes to entertainment, there’s something happening in Nashville almost 24/7, from the famous Broadway honky tonks hosting live country music to historic venues like the Ryman Auditorium and internationally renowned art exhibits. Nashville also has two major league sports teams: the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and the NHL’s Nashville Predators.

6. Boston, Massachusetts

Old State House in Boston surrounded by skyscrapers
Photo credit: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock

With a population of 675,000 as of 2022, Boston is the largest city in Massachusetts and one of the oldest cities in the U.S. Boston was founded by Puritan colonists in 1630 and played a significant role in the American Revolution, as the home of events such as the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. Its rich history is a major draw for tourists today, many of whom come to walk the 2.5-mile Freedom Trail that starts in Boston Common, America’s oldest park. It runs through the historic downtown and the North End, concluding at the Charlestown waterfront, with 16 important sites pertaining to the Revolutionary War along the way.

5. Denver, Colorado

View of Denver skyline and Rocky Mountains from grassy park
Photo credit: Virrage Images/ Shutterstock

Denver — known as the “Mile High City” thanks to its official elevation at exactly one mile above sea level — is Colorado’s most populous city, as well as its capital since 1867. The city’s estimated 2022 population was 713,000 people, an increase of nearly 20% over 2010. Denver’s growth has been credited to a robust economy, numerous cultural attractions, and myriad opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors — with its proximity to the Rocky Mountains being a major draw. The Mile High City is also home to multiple pro sports teams, including the NFL’s Denver Broncos, NBA’s Denver Nuggets, MLB’s Colorado Rockies, and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

4. Indianapolis, Indiana

Plaza in front of Indianapolis state house in Indianapolis, Indiana
Photo credit: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock

With a population of 881,000 people, Indianapolis is the country’s fourth-largest capital city. Named the state capital in 1825, Indianapolis is also known as the “Racing Capital of the World,” The city hosts the Indianapolis 500, the world’s largest single-day sporting event, which draws thousands of fans to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over Memorial Day weekend every year. Throughout the year, visitors can also enjoy the Indianapolis Zoo in White River State Park, which includes a zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden. Downtown’s Mass Ave Cultural Arts District is home to many art galleries, quirky shops, eclectic boutiques, and restaurants.

3. Columbus, Ohio

Riverfront park and skyscrapers in Columbus, Ohio
Photo credit: Sean Reid/ iStock

Founded in 1812, Columbus is Ohio’s capital and largest city, with a population of 908,000. Nicknamed the “Biggest Small Town in America,” Columbus is known for its relatively low cost of living (10% less than the national average) and high quality of life, with a friendly, small-town feel combined with big-city amenities. Columbus offers 19 parks with over 230 miles of trails and family-friendly activities like the world’s largest indoor ropes course at CBUS Adventure Park. 

2. Austin, Texas

Paddle boats on Colorado River with Congress Avenue Bridge and Austin skyline in background
Photo credit: Pgiam/ iStock

Established as the capital of the Republic of Texas in 1839, Austin has the second-largest population of the U.S. capital cities with 974,000 residents. Despite that, Austin is only the fourth-most populous city in Texas, behind Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. The Texas capital is sometimes referred to as “Silicon Hills,” with many tech companies contributing to the booming job market, including Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, and others. The city’s famous barbecue can be enjoyed everywhere from food trucks to gourmet eateries. Burn off the calories at nearly 400 parks, with miles of trails for biking, walking, or running. As the “Live Music Capital of the World,” Austin also has a long list of venues for enjoying a show, including the Broken Spoke, The Continental Club, Antone’s Nightclub, and Icenhauer’s.

1. Phoenix, Arizona

Cacti on hilltop overlooking Phoenix, Arizona, skyline
Photo credit: Gregory E. Clifford/ Shutterstock

Topping the list of most populous capitals is Phoenix with 1.6 million residents as of 2022. That makes the Arizona capital the country’s fifth-largest city overall. Between 2010 and 2020, the city grew by 11.2%, faster than any major U.S. city during that same period. Known as the “Valley of the Sun,” Phoenix attracts many newcomers with its strong economy, lower-cost housing, warm weather, and numerous recreational opportunities. Phoenix is surrounded by mountains offering miles of hiking trails, there’s a thriving dining and entertainment scene, and the city is also home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, NBA’s Phoenix Suns, MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks, and NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

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