Is there any difference in meaning between "ayuntamiento", "municipalidad" and "alcaldía" ("city hall" in English)?

Word Reference and DLE definitions of these words are very similar and I cannot see a clear difference among them.

I have never heard "ayuntamiento" in Latin America, except in museums expositions about the colonial period, so I guess that term is used only in Spain.

Example sentences:

  • El ayuntamiento / la municipalidad / la alcaldía decidió aumentar los impuestos municipales.
    Refers to the elected politicians and administrative staff who work in the City Hall

  • El ayuntamiento / la municipalidad / la alcaldía está en obras.
    Refers to the building of the City Hall

  • In Colombia the words ayuntamiento and municipalidad are not used at all. We have alcaldia and governación
    – DGaleano
    Jan 22, 2020 at 13:04
  • And there is also cabildo used in the Canaries in the phrase cabildo insular
    – mdewey
    Jan 22, 2020 at 17:01
  • In Mexico I've mainly seen ayuntamiento and municipio. I suppose it depends on the relationships. For example in the US there are various levels of local government. The following might be relevant: village, town, city, county, etc. There's a lot of overlapping when you look at a map. Jan 22, 2020 at 18:41
  • @DGaleano "governación" with a V?
    – Gustavson
    Jan 22, 2020 at 19:52
  • @aparente001 I guess that "municipio" can be used in Mexico with the first meaning (elected politicians and administrative staff who work in the City Hall), but not the second (the building of the City Hall) ? For the second, I assume you always use "ayuntamiento" , as Spain. Jan 23, 2020 at 12:28

2 Answers 2


It's a regional question. All of these words can refer to the building where the local government has its venue, as shown by your second sentence:

El ayuntamiento / la municipalidad / la alcaldía está en obras.

and can also refer to the institution holding that authority, as it arises from your first sentence:

El ayuntamiento / la municipalidad / la alcaldía decidió aumentar los impuestos municipales.

In the case of "alcaldía", there has to be an "alcalde" for "alcaldía" to be used.

In Argentina, provinces are divided into "municipios" or "municipalidades", whose authority is the "intendente" (although "intendencia" was used in the past to refer to a political division, we now only use it to refer to the office or position of "intendente").

You will use one word or the other depending on the country involved. For further reference, you can read this Wikipedia article.

In English it's much easier: we use "city hall" or "town hall" for the building, "city" or "municipality" for the political division, and "mayor" for the person holding the maximum authority within that jurisdiction.

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer! I have added the information about Argentina you provided to the wiki you linked to. Jan 22, 2020 at 21:00
  • 1
    @AlanEvangelista I adjusted it as follows: En Argentina, se usa "municipio" o "municipalidad" para referirse a la división política en que están divididas las provincias y, por añadidura, para referirse a las autoridades municipales en forma genérica. La autoridad ejecutiva máxima del municipio es el intendente, mientras que las funciones legislativas recaen en el Concejo Deliberante (integrado por concejales).
    – Gustavson
    Jan 22, 2020 at 21:11
  • municipalidad can not subsitute ayuntamiento in some cases in Spain
    – Iria
    Jan 23, 2020 at 8:42
  • @Gustavson, en inglés también depende de cada país... entre Canadá, EUA, RU, Australia y otros tantos países de habla inglesa el orden territorial cambia (no todos son Cities o Municipalities) pero la idea se entiende
    – VeAqui
    Jan 25, 2020 at 16:54
  • I assume that you meant "mayor" instead of "major" ? Sorry, but I cannot see a clear difference between your definitions of the three words. Jan 22, 2020 at 12:30
  • sorry, the response was edited by somebody else and I could not see the references, have you had a chance to look at them?
    – Iria
    Jan 22, 2020 at 13:14
  • 2
    @Iria Press where it says "edited ... hours ago" and you'll see the edits.
    – Gustavson
    Jan 22, 2020 at 20:04
  • @Iria as I had already mentioned in the question, I had already checked the DLE definitions of the three words but I was unable to see any relevant difference among them. Jan 23, 2020 at 12:25
  • the three of them mean the building, but alcaldía and ayuntamiento can substitute each other, but municipalidad is different, it can't
    – Iria
    Jan 23, 2020 at 13:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.