The districts of Germany are known as German: Landkreise, except in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein where they are known simply as German: ''Kreise'' (singulars: Landkreis and Kreis). It would make them second level administrative subdivisions in 12 of the 16 states and third level administrative subdivisions in 4 of the 16 states.
The districts are at an intermediate level of administration between the Länder (German states) and the municipal governments (Gemeinden). They are not to be confused with the larger Regierungsbezirk. They correspond to level 3 administrative units of the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS 3).
The title German: "Reichskreis" (Imperial Circle) was given to groups of states in the Holy Roman Empire.
The majority of the districts are rural districts (Landkreise) of which there are 295. Cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants (and smaller towns in some states) do usually not belong to a district, but take over district responsibilities themselves, similar to the concept of independent cities. These are known as urban districts (Kreisfreie Städte / Stadtkreise)—cities which constitute a district in their own right—and there are currently (2011) 107 of them, bringing the total number of districts to 402.