What Defines a Village, Town or City?

| September 5, 2011 | 1 Comment

We all constantly refer to settlements as villages, towns and cities. But what exactly distinguishes these terms from one another, and how can you define each of these separate settlements?

The truth is that there is no definitive way in which you can define a village, town or city as the criteria for definition is numerous and diverse. Some of the main considerations include the absence (or presence) of a town/parish hall. The existence of a church, the population density and the geographical location are other important points to consider.

Town Hall vs Parish Hall

The existence of town or parish halls is one of the determining factors for determining whether a settlement is classed as a village, town or city. Villages will contain the smaller sized parish hall whilst towns and cities feature the larger town hall. When it comes to differentiating between towns and cities, other factors such as population carry more influence than they do when it comes to discussing villages and other settlements.


Churches are a marker of all three types of settlement and are used to define settlements that are larger than hamlets – historically a hamlet only earned the title ‘village’ when it constructed a church. The number of churches will increase with larger settlements, but this does not necessarily constitute a change in the title of the settlement. For example, an area with a parish council but also numerous churches could still be labelled as a village rather than a town.

Population Density

As stated, population density is a key factor in determining the label for particular settlements and is especially vital in helping to distinguish between towns and cities. Villages are typically expected to have small populations (usually of a few hundred people) but can extend as far as thousands, and even tens of thousands in some cases.

In contrast, towns have much larger populations generally speaking. Some towns are commonly referred to as cities even though they legally do not have the right to the title.

In the UK, settlements are given city status if they have a population which is greater than 300,000, a metropolitan character, governance and some important or significance within the area. A Royal connection can also be a contributing factor.

Geographical Location

Modern perceptions of settlements rely heavily on geographical location, as well as population density, in order to determine their status. Typically, villages are associated with rural areas and agricultural farming. Towns, which have historically evolved from settlements which held a market or fair and kept a town charter, are associated with suburban settlements and areas which are on the fringe of rural and urban settings. Cities are therefore associated with fully urbanised and larger areas which are seen as a by-product of industrialisation.


Lastly, another aspect which helps people define types of settlements is the infrastructure within an area. Villages are typically associated with traditional stone buildings and cottages. In contrast, towns and cities are characterised by more urbanised and industrial buildings, featuring more modern design styles and materials.

This article was written by property search engine Gartoo.


Category: Property

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