Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs — introduction

This chapter is part of an online publication that is based on Eurostat’s flagship publication Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs (which also exists as a PDF). It contains a set of contextual and background information that may help readers to assimilate more easily the information presented in the subsequent chapters, including:

  • background information on urban development policies at a global level;
  • similar information relating to the European policy context;
  • methodological information outlining some of the key concepts and territorial typologies applied to European statistics on urban territories;
  • background information relating to the presentation of data, Eurostat’s online databases and access to other online resources.
Full article

Urban developments — a global policy context

UN habitat.png

Globally, the United Nations (UN) supports urban development initiatives that assist in the planning and building of a better urban future through support for economic growth and social development, while targeting reductions in poverty and social inequalities. UN-Habitat is a programme designed to encourage socially and environmentally sustainable development through the provision of human settlements that provide adequate shelter for all.

In 1976, the UN General Assembly convened the Habitat I conference in the Canadian city of Vancouver, as governments acknowledged a need for sustainable human settlements and the consequences of rapid urbanisation, as endorsed through the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements (1976).

In 1996, the Habitat II conference took place in Istanbul (Turkey), and resulted in the adoption of the Istanbul Declaration on Human Settlements (otherwise known as the Habitat Agenda), a global plan designed to provide adequate shelter for all, while acknowledging that sustainable human settlements could drive economic development in an urbanising world. The conference recognised that cities were the engines of global growth and that urbanisation was an opportunity, while calling for a stronger role for local authorities in relation to urban development policies and recognising the power of (local) participation.

More recently, UN-Habitat has worked on formulating an urban vision for the future, based on the premise that cities should become inclusive and affordable drivers of economic growth and social development in the face of unprecedented demographic, environmental, economic, social and spatial challenges.

The Habitat III conference will be convened in Quito (Ecuador) later this year (in October 2016). It aims to bring together a full range of actors to rethink appropriate policies that embrace urbanisation, while bridging the physical gap between urban, peri-urban and rural areas. The objective of the conference is to secure a renewed political commitment for sustainable urban development, through the adoption of a New Urban Agenda that seeks to provide a forward-looking, measurable action plan for urban development within the context of the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development. For more information: Habitat III.

Sustainable development goals (SDGs)

On 1 January 2016, a list of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) which form part of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development came into force. These goals apply universally to all countries and the UN hopes that the global community will mobilise its efforts to ensure an end to all forms of poverty, to fight inequalities, and to tackle climate change. However, the implementation and success of the goals depends, to a large degree, on sustainable development policies, plans and programmes in individual countries. The list of 17 SDGs may be summarised as follows: no poverty; zero hunger; good health and well-being; quality education; gender equality; clean water and sanitation; affordable and clean energy; decent work and economic growth; industry, innovation and infrastructure; reduced inequalities; sustainable cities and communities; responsible consumption and production; climate action; life below water; life on land; peace, justice and strong institutions; partnerships for the goals.

There is a specific SDG that concerns sustainable cities and communities, namely, Goal 11, which is ‘to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’; as such, this particular goal is closely aligned with the Europe 2020 growth strategy ‘to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy’. If cities are to deliver such sustainable growth, then the UN suggests that this will need to be done by allowing cities to continue to thrive and grow, while improving resource use and reducing pollution and poverty, thereby creating cities of opportunities, with access for all to a range of basic services, energy, housing and transportation. For more information: UN sustainable-development-goals.

The UN has designated the 31st October as World Cities Day. It is designed to promote the international community’s interest in global urban developments, with a different theme selected each year, to promote success stories linked to urbanisation trends and to address specific challenges that result from urbanisation. The first World Cities Day was celebrated in the Chinese city of Shanghai in October 2014, under the title of ‘Leading urban transformations’, while a year later celebrations took place in the Italian city of Milano, under the title of ‘Designed to live together’. For more information: World Cities Day.

Urban developments — an EU policy context

Within an European Union (EU) policy context, there are a broad range of issues and challenges that face the Union which have a disproportionate impact on urban areas, for example, social exclusion, migration and environmental degradation. Europe’s cities and towns can, potentially, provide solutions to many of these challenges, as they provide meeting points/hubs where people, businesses and resources can cooperate and innovate. Despite the potential of urban areas to stimulate the EU’s economic, social and cultural development, there was, until recently, a lack of political will or policy initiatives in this domain; this may be linked, at least in part, to the fact that there is no legal basis for urban policy in the treaties of the EU.

An EU urban agenda

The European Commission adopted a Communication titled, Towards an urban agenda in the European Union (COM(1997) 197 final)) almost 20 years ago. However, policy discussions relating to urban development have historically been largely confined to informal meetings.

In 2007, agreement was reached on the Leipzig charter which called for the sustainable development of European cities through greater use of urban policy approaches, with the goal of ensuring that cities become healthy and pleasant places to live, while placing a specific focus on deprived urban neighbourhoods (for this purpose, a web-based tool was developed to enable the implementation of the Leipzig charter, the Reference Framework for Sustainable Cities (RFSC)).

This was followed, in 2010, by the Toledo declaration which highlighted the role that may be played by cities for developing a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy through urban regeneration projects, thereby linking the Leipzig charter to the objectives of the EU’s growth strategy, namely, Europe 2020. The Toledo declaration provided further stimulus for change, as city-level and regional stakeholders increasingly stressed that policymaking should: better reflect the reality that almost three quarters of the EU’s population was living in urban areas; take account of the need for more effective coordination in relation to issues that impact urban areas; support the efforts of local, regional, national and EU levels of governance to develop a common framework for urban initiatives, namely, an EU urban agenda.

In 2012, additional recognition was given to the role that may be played by urban areas, as the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional Policy changed its name to the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, with the goal of ensuring cities play their full part in EU economic, social and territorial developments. One of its key tasks is to oversee European territorial programmes (development, cohesion, social and solidarity funds). At least 50 % of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), some EUR 80–90 billion, will be invested in urban areas through mainstream operational programmes during the period 2014–20, while at least 5 % of national allocations from the ERDF are earmarked for integrated sustainable urban development to ensure that it is a priority in each of the EU Member States. This increased prominence given to urban areas has also led to an increasing number of sectoral EU policies explicitly targeting urban areas, for example: education, transport, energy, the information society, the environment and climate change. At the same time, the profile of cities in the EU has been raised through a number of other initiatives, including: the European capital of culture, the European capital of innovation, or the European green capital.

In February 2014, the European Commission organised a forum for stakeholders, CITIES — Cities of tomorrow: investing in Europe. Its aim was to encourage dialogue and to discuss how the urban dimension of EU policymaking could be strengthened, in particular, through an EU urban agenda. The forum concluded that any future urban agenda should aim to provide:

  • a framework to guide urban actions, bringing coherence to the diverse range of initiatives and policies;
  • an instrument to involve cities and their political leaders in EU policymaking and implementation;
  • a methodology tool for developing and integrating the goals of the Europe 2020 strategy with cities’ own strategies.

The results of the forum, coupled with the support of EU Member States, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions, city and regional representative associations, and cities themselves, indicated a readiness to move forward with the process. In the summer of 2014, the European Commission presented a Communication titled, The urban dimension of EU policies — Key features of an EU urban agenda (COM(2014) 490 final), which was designed to widen the debate through a consultation phase regarding the objectives and functioning of any future urban agenda.

After a period of consultation/negotiation, the EU’s urban agenda was officially launched at the end of May 2016, as part of the Pact of Amsterdam. To coincide with the launch, the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency released a publication on Cities in Europe.

The EU’s urban agenda focuses on better regulation, better funding and better knowledge-exchange and provides: an updated understanding of urban development (the so-called urban acquis); a list of priority areas upon which to focus cooperation; and a working method defining what is to be done, the role of key actors and the governance of the process. It is designed to ensure that EU legislation better reflects urban needs, practices and responsibilities without the creation of any new EU legislation, organisations or funds. Its key delivery mechanism is urban partnerships, which will eventually be set up for 12 different themes, covering: jobs and skills in the local economy, urban poverty, housing, the inclusion of migrants and refugees, sustainable use of land and nature-based solutions, the circular economy, climate adaptation, energy transition, urban mobility, air quality, digital transition, and innovative and responsible public procurement. The first four pilot partnerships have already been launched, covering: air quality, housing, urban poverty and the inclusion of migrants and refugees; these will run for a three-year period.

The agenda also foresees that the complexity of urban challenges requires the integration of a range of transversal issues across different policy aspects in order to avoid contradictory consequences, for example, in relation to: governance across administrative boundaries; societal change; urban regeneration; or international dimensions. Finally, the agenda also calls upon the European Commission to establish a ‘one-stop shop’ for all matters regarding the urban agenda, gathering information on EU programmes, policies and initiatives that affect urban areas. For more information: Pact of Amsterdam.

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) is committed to the implementation of the EU’s urban agenda. Indeed, the EU’s urban agenda aims to create a more integrated approach to the policymaking and legislation that affects towns, cities and all sizes of urban areas in order to eliminate existing overlaps and inconsistencies, and involve towns and cities and local and regional authorities more closely in the decision-making process. This includes working closely with respect to the better regulation agenda, using the experience of the CoR on urban and territorial impact assessments exercises, more tailor-made and place-sensitive EU funds and includes opportunities to exchange knowledge and best practices, research and cooperation. For more information: Committee of the Regions (CoR) — urban agenda.

Sustainable European cities

As set out in the Treaty on European Union, sustainable development is an overarching long-term goal of the EU. Such development should be ‘based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment’. Urban areas have the potential to play an important role in the EU’s renewed sustainable development strategy, which underlines how to deliver sustainable development commitments, while reaffirming the need for global solidarity, in order to achieve smarter, more sustainable and socially inclusive urban development; indeed, this integrated approach is recognised as a key element in the Pact of Amsterdam.

The sustainable development indicators framework covers 10 thematic areas belonging to the economic, social, environmental, global and institutional dimensions, covering: socioeconomic developments; sustainable consumption and production; social inclusion; demographic changes; public health; climate change and energy; sustainable transport; natural resources; global partnership; good governance. Many of these areas are recurring themes that appear across Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs.

A resource-efficient Europe is one of the flagship initiatives included within the Europe 2020 strategy. One of its main building blocks is a roadmap for 2050, which seeks to provide a path for transforming the EU into a low-carbon, sustainable economy that is characterised by a decoupling of economic growth from resource use. Resource-efficient cities are characterised by their potential to combine higher levels of productivity and innovation with lower costs and reduced environmental impacts.

Although city and regional administrations may be best-placed to tackle and resolve many of these issues at a local level, there are global challenges which require an international response. The EU seeks to play a key role in efforts to promote sustainable urban development, for example, by trying to ensure that air and water resources are kept clean, that ecosystems and habitats are maintained, and that climate change is kept to manageable levels. Indeed, the EU has some of the most stringent environmental standards in the world. The most recent EU policy developments within the environmental domain are based on the 7th Environment Action Programme, which has three key objectives, to:

  • protect, conserve and enhance nature — Europe is working to safeguard its natural resources, endangered habitats and species, for example, the Natura 2000 network is composed of 26 thousand protected natural areas that cover almost 20 % of the EU’s land mass;
  • turn the EU into a resource-efficient, green and low-carbon economy — ‘green growth’ entails integrated policies that promote sustainable development;
  • safeguard the quality of life and well-being of its inhabitants — for example, EU policies aim to guarantee safe drinking and bathing water, improve air quality, and eliminate the effects of harmful chemicals.

The protection and improvement of the quality of the environment has been a long-standing issue for many cities, for example, air or water quality. Those living in cities are often exposed to high levels of pollution that may impact upon their health, for example, fine particles, ozone, or nitrogen oxide in the air as a result of vehicle emissions. Furthermore, the inefficient expansion of cities through urban sprawl and the development of related infrastructure cause a decline in biodiversity (through direct destruction, but also the fragmentation of habitats). By contrast, green areas and nature in an urban environment have the potential to provide a range of benefits, such as improving air quality, providing opportunities for recreation, or increasing overall well-being. It is possible to promote measures within cities to increase biodiversity, for example, by eliminating the use of pesticides in an attempt to provide a refuge for flora and fauna (such as bees) when surrounding agricultural areas are exploited intensively.

European Union initiatives concerning cities


CIVITAS — an acronym for cities, vitality, and sustainability — is an initiative co-funded by the EU’s framework programme for research. Its goal is to support cities in their efforts to develop urban transport policies that promote more sustainable urban mobility and currently more than 200 cities across 31 different European countries participate.
The CIVITAS 2020 framework programme covers innovation in resource-efficient and competitive urban mobility and transport, with cities working together to ensure the transferability of tested mobility and transport solutions in the areas of smart, green and integrated transport. For more information: Civitas website.


The Covenant of Mayors initiative was launched by the European Commission in 2008 with the objective of bringing together local and regional authorities voluntarily promising to implement EU climate and energy objectives in their territory. The initiative counts with more than 6 000 signatory cities who have committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 % by 2020 through the implementation and monitoring of sustainable energy action plans.
In 2015, the Covenant of Mayors for climate and energy was launched, bringing together three pillars — mitigation; adaptation; secure, sustainable and affordable energy, while introducing the EU climate and energy framework for 2030, namely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 across signatory cities. For more information: Covenant of Mayors website.

CoR Week.png

The European week of regions and cities is an annual event which allows regions and cities to showcase their capacity to encourage growth and job creation. It was created in 2003 by the European Committee of the Regions, which joined forces with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy one year later. It has become a networking platform for regional and local development and is viewed as a key event for policy practitioners. The next European week of regions and cities will be held under the title, ’Regions and cities for sustainable and inclusive growth’, with three principal themes:

  • sustained and sustainable economic growth;
  • inclusive economic growth;
  • making European structural and investment funds simpler.

As such, it is designed to be aligned with political priorities for 2016, namely the promotion of a stronger territorial dimension in shaping and implementing the Europe 2020 strategy. For more information: European week of regions and cities website.

Europe-wide representative organisations for cities, towns and metropoles

There are a wide range of representative organisations that work at various territorial levels to represent metropoles, cities and towns across the EU; the following list is by no means exhaustive.


EUROCITIES is a network of major European cities, bringing together the local governments of 139 of Europe’s largest cities and 40 partner cities that between them govern over 130 million citizens across 39 countries. They engage in dialogue with the European institutions across a wide range of policy areas affecting cities, which include economic development, the environment, transport and mobility, social affairs, culture, the knowledge society, and public services. They also provide a platform for their members to share knowledge and ideas, exchange experiences, analyse common problems and develop innovative solutions, through a wide range of forums, working groups, projects, activities and events. For more information: Eurocities website.


The Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) is a European umbrella organisation of the national associations representing local and regional governments from 41 European countries (including all EU Member States). Its work is structured within five thematic areas, covering: governance, democracy and citizenship; environment, climate and energy; economic, social and territorial cohesion; local and regional public services management; international engagement and cooperation. CEMR is the European section of UCLG. For more information: Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) website.

Climate alliance.png

Climate Alliance is the largest European network of local authorities dedicated to climate action, with some 1 700 members spread across 25 countries. Each member municipality has committed to a common greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and to adopt a holistic approach to tackling climate change. Recognising the impact lifestyles can have on the world’s most vulnerable people and places, Climate Alliance combines local action with global responsibility. For more information: Climate Alliance website.

Energy cities.png

Energy cities is an association of more than one thousand towns and cities in 30 European countries; their aim is to represent the interests of their members in relation to the European institutions within the fields of energy, environmental protection and urban policy. For more information: Energy cities website.


The European Urban Knowledge Network (EUKN) is a network of national governments and knowledge institutes, deeply involved in EU policymaking. Its focus is on generating a professional community that shares expert urban knowledge and best policy practice, inspiring policymakers, practitioners and researchers, benefiting urban development and city living. For more information: European Urban Knowledge Network (EUKN) website.


Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) is a world-leading network of over 1 500 cities, towns and metropolises committed to building a sustainable future. By helping their members to make their cities sustainable, low-carbon, resilient, biodiverse, resource-efficient, healthy and happy, with a green economy and smart infrastructure, ICLEI impacts over 20 % of the global population. The ICLEI European Secretariat provides its members with a voice on the European and international stage, a platform to connect with peers and the tools to drive environmental, economic and social change; it has over 50 urban sustainability and communication professionals based in Freiburg (Germany) and Brussels (Belgium). For more information: Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) website.


METREX, is a network of European metropolitan regions and areas, which provides a platform for the exchange of knowledge, expertise and experience on metropolitan affairs. It has some 50 metropolitan regions as members and represents these in relation to the European institutions, the research community, governmental organisations and other networks. For more information: METREX website.


United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) represents and defends the interests of local governments, regardless of the size of the communities they serve. Its mission is to be the united voice of democratic local self-government, promoting its values, objectives and interests. Its membership is structured in nine sections: seven geographical (Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eurasia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and West Asia, North America), as well as two sections covering regions and metropolises. For more information: United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) website.

Background information outlining key methodological concepts for EU statistics on territorial typologies

This section provides some important background information detailing the various territorial typologies that have been used throughout Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs. There are many different ways of understanding or defining a ‘city’. These may refer to an administrative unit (the ‘de jure’ city defined by its administrative borders), or to socioeconomic agglomerations (the wider ‘de facto’ city). The expansion of de facto cities into suburban areas has led to the traditional delimitation of urban and rural areas becoming less clear, a pattern that has been reinforced by complex, overlapping urban systems, such as those found in the Ruhrgebiet of Germany, Rotterdam/the Hague in the Netherlands, or Leeds/Bradford in northern England.

As such, although cities are often presented as distinct, unconnected dots on a map, in reality they are increasingly interconnected. Transport, communication and technology developments have resulted in an increasing flow of people, resources and information between different areas, emphasising the growing importance of spatial relationships, as urban–rural connectivity (linkages between cities and their hinterlands), inter-urban and intra-urban relationships have taken on a growing importance for those considering regional development policy objectives.

With this in mind, a range of territorial typologies have been developed: these aim to provide information for a number of different geographical constructs. The following classifications/typologies are discussed in more detail below:

  • the degree of urbanisation;
  • city statistics;
  • metropolitan regions;
  • an urban–rural typology;
  • regional statistics.

Degree of urbanisation

The degree of urbanisation is a classification of local administrative units (LAUs) that indicates the characteristics of a particular area, based on a population grid composed of 1 km² cells (and clusters thereof), identifying:

  • urban areas — defined here as the sum or average of cities and towns and suburbs;
  • cities (densely populated areas) — where at least 50 % of the population lives in urban centres;
  • towns and suburbs (intermediate density areas) —where at least 50 % of the population lives in urban clusters, but is not classified as a city;
  • rural areas (thinly populated areas) — where at least 50 % of the population lives in rural grid cells.

In order to classify LAUs based on the grid cell approach, the following criteria are employed. An urban centre is defined as contiguous (in other words, neighbouring or adjoining) grid cells of 1 km² with a population density of at least 1 500 inhabitants per km²; these clusters are used to identify all cities with urban centres of at least 50 thousand inhabitants. An urban cluster is defined as contiguous grid cells of 1 km² with a population density of at least 300 inhabitants per km² and a minimum population of 5 thousand inhabitants. Rural grid cells are defined as those grid cells outside of high-density and urban clusters.

The use of identical grid cells across the whole of the EU territory eliminates distortions that may be created when using local administrative boundaries (which may vary considerably in size). Furthermore, the revised degree of urbanisation classification ensures comparability with data from the voluntary data collection on cities, insofar as both sets of data are based on identifying European cities with centres of at least 50 thousand inhabitants that cover densely populated areas.

The data presented in this publication by degree of urbanisation are based on local administrative unit boundaries for 2011 (see Map 1), for more information, refer to: A harmonised definition of cities and rural areas: the new degree of urbanisation. Note that the classification was recently updated to take account of changes to local administrative unit boundaries for 2014 (however, at the time of drafting data had yet to be received on this basis).

Eurostat produces data based on the degree of urbanisation for a broad range of statistics, including the following domains: health, lifelong learning, educational attainment and outcomes, living conditions and welfare, the labour market, tourism and information society statistics.

Map 1: Degree of urbanisation for local administrative units level 2
(LAU2) (1)
Source: Eurostat, JRC and European Commission Directorate-General for Regional Policy


For the purpose of EU statistics, cities are defined as a cluster of contiguous grid cells of 1 km² with a population density of at least 1 500 inhabitants per km²; these clusters are used to identify all cities with urban centres of at least 50 thousand inhabitants. Data are collected through a voluntary data collection exercise, the main goal of which is to assist cities to improve their quality of urban life, by supporting the exchange of experiences between Europe’s major cities, helping to identify best practices, while providing information on the dynamics of urban life both within cities and between cities and their surrounding areas.

The information is presented for four different spatial levels:

  • a functional urban area: which consists of a city and its commuting zone; the latter is defined in relation to commuting patterns, on the basis of those municipalities with at least 15 % of their employed residents working in a city (see Map 2);
  • a greater city: in some cases, the urban centre stretches far beyond the administrative boundaries and so to better capture the entire centre, a ‘greater city’ has been defined (generally applicable only to capital cities and other relatively large cities);
  • a city: the most basic level, a local administrative unit (LAU), defined by its urban centre that has a minimum population of 50 thousand inhabitants, consisting of a cluster of contiguous grid cells of 1 km² with a population density of at least 1 500 inhabitants per km²;
  • subcity districts: a subdivision of the city according to population criteria (generally between a minimum of 5 thousand and a maximum of 40 thousand inhabitants); they should be defined for all capital cities and for non-capital cities with more than 250 thousand inhabitants and may be based on established city districts (level 1) or the above mentioned population criteria (level 2).

Note that to ensure the above definitions identified all relevant centres, national statistical authorities were consulted and minor adjustments were made where needed and consistent with this approach. Furthermore, small and medium-sized towns with centres of 5 thousand to 50 thousand inhabitants are currently not defined in a harmonised manner. For more information, refer to: Cities in Europe — the new OECD-EC definition.

Subject to data availability, statistics referring to the greater city were preferred when a choice was available between information pertaining to the city or its greater city; when the concept of the greater city was used, this information is documented in the footnotes under each map/table/figure. Data sourced from a perception survey on the quality of life in 79 European cities also presents statistics for greater cities, namely, for Athina (Greece), Paris (France), Lisboa (Portugal), London, Manchester and the Tyneside conurbation (all United Kingdom).

Map 2: Functional urban areas, 2011 (1)
Source: Eurostat, JRC and European Commission Directorate-General for Regional Policy

Metropolitan regions

The typology for metropolitan regions is based on NUTS level 3 regions which are divided into metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions. Regional statistics are processed on an annual basis to provide data for metropolitan regions for the following domains: demographic statistics, economic accounts, labour market and patent statistics.

Metropolitan regions are approximations of functional urban areas (cities and their commuting zones) of 250 thousand or more inhabitants. Each metropolitan region consists of one or more NUTS level 3 regions and is named after the principal functional urban area inside its boundaries; if more than 50 % of the population in an adjacent NUTS level 3 region also lives within the functional urban area, then it is included in the metropolitan region. The typology distinguishes three types of metropolitan regions: capital city metropolitan regions; second-tier metropolitan regions; smaller metropolitan regions.

As data for metropolitan regions are based on functional urban areas, these data are particularly useful when correcting for distortions created by commuting patterns, for example, GDP per inhabitant may be more meaningful for the wider metropolitan region than for individual NUTS level 3 regions (where a relatively high proportion of the region’s economic activity may be attributed to inflows of commuters from surrounding regions).

Urban–rural typology

The urban–rural typology is based on a classification of NUTS level 3 regions, according to the share of their population living in rural grid cells, distinguishing:

  • predominantly urban regions — where the rural population accounts for less than 20 % of the total population;
  • intermediate regions — where the rural population accounts for between 20 % and 50 % of the total population;
  • predominantly rural regions — where the rural population accounts for 50 % or more of the total population.

The classification is adjusted to take account of the presence of relatively large cities: any region that is classified as predominantly rural (by the criteria above) is reclassified as intermediate if it contains a city of more than 200 thousand inhabitants representing at least 25 % of the regional population; any region that is classified as intermediate (by the criteria above) is reclassified as predominantly urban if it contains a city of more than 500 thousand inhabitants representing at least 25 % of the regional population.

Regional statistics

Regional statistics use the NUTS classification, which is based on a hierarchy of regions, subdividing each EU Member State into regions at three different levels, covering NUTS levels 1, 2 and 3 from larger to smaller territorial areas. It should be noted that some EU Member States have a relatively small population and may therefore not be subdivided at some (or even all) of the different levels of the NUTS classification.

The NUTS classification is defined by Regulation (EC) 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council, which is amended by a European Commission regulation for each update (NUTS version) of the classification, partly due to regular amendments, partly due to the accession of new EU Member States. The second regular amendment Commission Regulation (EU) No 31/2011 was adopted in January 2011 and was applied from 1 January 2012; it is referred to as NUTS 2010. A third amendment Commission Regulation (EU) No 1319/2013 was adopted in December 2013 and has been applied to the transmission of data from 1 January 2015; it is referred to as NUTS 2013. Note that, as there was insufficient data available based on NUTS 2013 at the time of data extraction, a decision was taken to use NUTS 2010 for the analyses presented in this publication.

As such, the regional data presented in Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs are shown exclusively for NUTS 2010 level 3 regions, the most detailed geographical information available. There are a range of different collections for which data based on NUTS level 3 regions are available, including: demography, patent applications, road freight transport and agri-environmental statistics.

Data coverage and presentation

The final section of this introduction provides some background information relating to the presentation of data, Eurostat’s online databases and access to other online resources.

Data extraction

The data presented within this publication were extracted during February and March 2016.

Geographical coverage

Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs contains sub-national statistics for the 28 Member States of the EU and, where available, data are also shown for the EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and the candidate countries (Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey).

The geographical descriptions used to group EU Member States, for example, ‘northern’, ‘eastern’, ‘southern’ and ‘western’ are not intended as political categorisations. Rather, these references are made in relation to the geographical location of one or more EU Member States, as listed within the geography domain of the European Commission’s multilingual thesaurus.

Data presentation

In order to improve readability, only the most significant metadata has been included as footnotes under the maps, tables and figures. In tables, the following formatting and symbols are used, if necessary:

italic data value is forecasted, provisional or estimated and is likely to change;
: not available, confidential or unreliable value;
– not applicable.

Where appropriate, breaks in series are indicated in the footnotes provided under each map, table or figure.

Note that throughout this publication billion is used to indicate a thousand million.

Eurostat’s website — access online data

The simplest way to access Eurostat’s broad range of statistical information is through the (Eurostat website). Eurostat provides users with free access to its databases and all of its publications in portable document format (PDF) via the internet. The website is updated daily with the latest and most comprehensive statistical information available on: the EU and euro area, the EU Member States, EFTA countries, candidate countries, and potential candidates.

An online data code available under most of the maps/tables/figures in this publication can be used to directly access the most recent data from Eurostat’s database. Note that it is possible that the database already contains fresher data due to the continuous nature of data collection and processing (resulting in updates and new reference periods being added).

Eurostat online data codes, such as urb_cpop1, provide easy access to the most recent data available. In the PDF version of the publication, readers are led directly to the freshest data when clicking on the hyperlinks provided. For readers of the paper publication, the freshest data can be accessed by typing a standardised hyperlink into a web browser, http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/product?code=<data_code>&mode=view, where <data_code> is to be replaced by the online data code in question. Online data codes can also be fed into the ‘Search’ function on Eurostat’s website, which is found in the upper-right corner of the Eurostat homepage.

Eurostat’s data are published with accompanying metadata that provide background information on each source, as well as specific information (flags) for individual data cells.

Eurostat’s website — Statistics Explained

Statistics Explained is a wiki-based system which presents statistical topics in an easy-to-understand way; each of the chapters from the Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs is included as a separate article. Statistics Explained articles form an encyclopaedia of European statistics, which is completed by a statistical glossary clarifying the terms used. In addition, numerous links are provided to data, metadata, and further information; as such, Statistics Explained is a portal for regular and occasional users of official European statistics.

Eurostat’s website — dedicated sections

The Eurostat website presents statistics by theme. One section deals with general and regional statistics and this includes the bulk of the information that was used for the production of Urban Europe — statistics on cities, towns and suburbs.

Dedicated sections have been developed for the following sets of sub-national statistics, each of which provides a range of information (an overview of the data collection, access to data, access to publications, links to methodology and classifications):

Eurostat’s website — applications

There are several interactive applications on the Eurostat website which provide tools for visualising and analysing territorial data. Among these, City Statistics Illustrated contains data for 26 statistical indicators across European cities, with information displayed in a map and as a bar chart for the latest available reference period).

The Statistical Atlas, is an interactive viewer that allows users to study layers of statistical data in combination with layers of geographical information (for example, cities, roads and rivers). The Statistical Atlas can be used for viewing all of the maps that are contained within the Eurostat regional yearbook and provides users with an opportunity to focus on information for a single administrative region in Europe; the maps can be downloaded as high-resolution PDFs.

My capital in a bubble, launched in September 2016, is a playful application which allows users to compare data for the capital cities of the EU Member States, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Turkey for about 30 indicators grouped into different themes: living in cities, the economy and labour market, quality of life, smart and green cities and urban demography.

Source data for tables and graphs

Direct access to
Other articles
Dedicated section
External links