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A capital city (or simply capital) is the municipality exercising primary status in a country , state, province, or other administrative region , usually as its seat of government . A capital is typically a city that physically encompasses the government 's offices and meeting places; the status as capital is often designated by its law or constitution. In some jurisdictions, including several countries , the different branches of government are located in different settlements. In some cases, a distinction is made between the official (constitutional) capital and the seat of government , which is in another place. Capital cities that are also the prime economic, cultural, or intellectual centres of a nation or an empire are sometimes referred to as primate cities . Examples are Athens , Brussels, Buenos Aires , Cairo , London , Mexico City , Paris , Stockholm , Tokyo , and Warsaw . News media will often use the name of a capital city as an alternative name for the country of which it is the capital or of the government that is seated there, as a form of metonymy. For example, "relations between Washington and London " refer to "relations between the United States and the United Kingdom .