- See also: List of national capitals
A capital city (or capital town or just capital) is a city or town, specified by law or constitution, by the government of a country, or part of a country, such as a state, province or county. It usually serves as the location of the government's central meeting place and offices. Most of the country's leaders and officials work in the capital city.
Capitals are usually among the largest cities in their regions. For example, Montevideo is Uruguay's capital as well as its biggest city. If a capital city is much bigger than a nation's second city, like Bangkok in Thailand, it can be considered a primate city.
However, a capital is not always the largest city in a country. For example, the capital of the India is New Delhi, which is smaller than Mumbai, the largest city; and the capital of Pakistan is Islamabad, which is smaller than Karachi. Also, in countries with subdivisions like the United States, the capital cities or towns of the federated states are often not the largest or most populated town. For example, Albany is capital of New York, not New York City.
An unusual case exists in Canada; the federal capital, Ottawa, is not the largest city in its province, Ontario, which is Toronto. But Toronto happens to be the capital of the province of Ontario. This way, Toronto is both a capital and a non-capital, depending on how you see it, as a city in a country or part of it.
Some countries have more than one capital, often for different purposes, like Bolivia, which has two (Sucre and La Paz); and South Africa, which has three (Pretoria, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein). Some countries treat their capitals as if it was the country itself, like Monaco, the Vatican City, and city-states like Singapore.
Not all countries have capitals. Nauru is a country that does not officially have a capital, but the district of Yaren, which is where the government is, can be called the de facto capital. Also, although many people consider the city of Bern in Switzerland to be the capital of the country, it is in fact not the case by law, but has the status of "federal city" by the government which is based there.
Capitals can be in cities that are already there like London, United Kingdom (as early as the 12th century), or new cities can be built and made the capital like Canberra, Australia, as the Australian Capital Territory.
Countries can change capitals from time to time. The United States once had its capital in Philadelphia, but moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800. Because of this, a town can lose its capital status. For example, this happened with Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, when Brasilia was built between 1956 and 1960.
Seat of government
Most countries have their seat of government within their capital city, though some do not. Malaysia has their capital at Kuala Lumpur but their seat of government is at Putrajaya. In the Netherlands, the constitution says that Amsterdam is the de jure capital, but the government is in The Hague.
Images for kids
Capital city Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.