Open, free and pub­lic. Three terms, which when appear­ing before the word “GIS” make geo­g­ra­phers feel all warm and fuzzy (I think?). Geospa­tial data can be very costly, but free alter­na­tives may be suit­able, if not as use­ful, as their expen­sive coun­ter­parts. There­fore, its worth­while know­ing what data is avail­able for pub­lic con­sump­tion. I have com­piled a list of the open GIS data resources that I fre­quently make use of in my per­sonal projects. Hope­fully they become as use­ful to you, as they are to me.

Open GIS Data

Avail­able in a vari­ety of styles, open GIS data is worth­while explor­ing before tak­ing the plunge with expen­sive alternatives.


Natural Earth

Nat­ural Earth is a pub­lic domain map dataset avail­able at 1:10m, 1:50m, and 1:110 mil­lion scales. Fea­tur­ing tightly inte­grated vec­tor and raster data, with Nat­ural Earth you can make a vari­ety of visu­ally pleas­ing, well-crafted maps with car­tog­ra­phy or GIS soft­ware. All ver­sions of Nat­ural Earth raster + vec­tor map data found on their web­site are in the pub­lic domain.



Extracts of the Planet Open­StreetMap pack­age. Var­i­ous geo­graphic extents and plenty of for­mats, includ­ing shape­files, osm, adobe illus­tra­tor and more.


Global Administrative Areas

GADM is a spa­tial data­base of the loca­tion of the world’s admin­is­tra­tive areas (or admin­is­tra­tive bound­aries) for use in GIS and sim­i­lar soft­ware. Admin­is­tra­tive areas in this data­base are coun­tries and lower level sub­di­vi­sions such as provinces, depart­ments, bib­hag, bun­des­lan­der, daerah istimewa, fivon­dro­nana, krong, landsvæðun, opština, sous-préfectures, coun­ties, and thana.


US Census Bureau - TIGER/Line Database

Extracts from the Cen­sus Bureau’s MAF/TIGER data­base, con­tain­ing fea­tures such as roads, rail­roads, rivers, as well as legal and sta­tis­ti­cal geo­graphic areas. Does not include demo­graphic infor­ma­tion but does include geo­graphic id mark­ers that can be linked to US Cen­sus data.


National Weather Service - GIS Shapefile Database

Data includes weather, hydro­log­i­cal, city and urban, state/province and other libraries. This is a shape­file clear­ing­house, one of the many sites that you will encounter that con­tain large amounts of un-manicured GIS data. The data often come from many sources, there­fore we can­not be cer­tain that all data will be of the same quality.


City of Toronto - Open Data

The City of Toronto makes data it col­lects avail­able to the pub­lic via By offer­ing data sets for oth­ers to use, the City sup­ports unfil­tered access to its infor­ma­tion. Appli­ca­tions cre­ated using City data pro­vide poten­tial ben­e­fits for every­one. The goal over time is to offer all data allow­able by law through


Government of Canada - Open Data Pilot Project

The Open Data Pilot is part of the Gov­ern­ment of Canada’s com­mit­ment to open gov­ern­ment, which is being pur­sued along three streams: open data, open infor­ma­tion and open dia­logue, and aims to drive inno­va­tion and eco­nomic oppor­tu­ni­ties for all Canadians.



The GeoN­ames geo­graph­i­cal data­base cov­ers all coun­tries and con­tains over eight mil­lion pla­ce­names that are avail­able for down­load free of charge. Data incudes pla­ce­names as well as postal codes.



GeoBase data are gov­erned by the GeoBase Unre­stricted Use Licence Agree­ment. With this licence, users are granted a non-exclusive, fully paid, royalty-free right and licence to exer­cise all intel­lec­tual prop­erty rights in the data. This includes the right to use, incor­po­rate, sub­li­cense (with fur­ther right of sub­li­cens­ing), mod­ify, improve, fur­ther develop, and dis­trib­ute the data; and to man­u­fac­ture and/or dis­trib­ute Deriv­a­tive Products.



GeoGratis is a por­tal pro­vided by the Earth Sci­ences Sec­tor (ESS) of Nat­ural Resources Canada (NRCan) which pro­vides geospa­tial data at no cost and with­out restric­tions via http or ftp requests.




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