Ultimate Guide to Online Spatial Data Sources

Spatial planning research is somewhat a murky field of research, and data available online is sometimes hard to obtain, as you have to navigate around search engines and complicated sites. For some time now I meant to put together a list of spatial data sources and tools I use when doing research, which I gathered along the years. The list below is not exhaustive by any means, however these are the main sources where you can obtain reliable EU and world data free of charge. I am not going to go into detail for every source as their descriptions are usually self-explanatory. Please be advised that for more detailed national and subnational data you should research country specific data sources.

(Disclaimer: All text in Italics is excerpted from and is the property of the respective websites)


Probably the best known source for statistical data for the EU. It holds standardised data from all EU and partner countries. Eurostat provides both statistical handbooks and raw statistical data which you can customize to your own need. Raw data extraction has quite a learning curve if you are not experienced with quantitative data, but basic manipulations are fairly easy to do. The website has numerous sections, the main ones are listed below.

Eurostat is the statistical office of the European Union situated in Luxembourg. Its task is to provide the European Union with statistics at European level that enable comparisons between countries and regions.

Eurostat > GISCO: Geographical Information and Maps

GISCO, a Eurostat service which promotes and stimulates the use of GIS within the European Statistical System and the Commission.

It is responsible for the management and dissemination of the Geographical reference database of the Commission. It produces maps, spatial analysis, promotes geo-referencing of statistics and provides user support for Commission users of GIS.

GISCO is one of the leaders of the INSPIRE initiative, supporting the implementation of the directive for the establishment of a European Spatial Data Infrastructure.

Eurostat > LUCAS: Land Cover / Use Statistics

LUCAS project is also a part of Eurostat. The 2012 survey is not finished yet, however they offer useful insights into the data they gathered and some preliminary results.

*EUROSTAT is carrying out the LUCAS 2012 survey on the state and the dynamics of changes in land use and cover in the European Union. The LUCAS 2012 survey covers all 27 EU countries. The field work will be carried out in March-September 2012.

Eurostat > NUTS – Nomenclature of territorial units for statistics

This specific section of the Eurostat website gives insights into the NUTS system, and points to the data regarding classification and basic statistics.

Eurostat > Regions and cities

This section provides a single access point to Eurostat’s sub-national statistics. These consist of a wide variety of data for the regions and cities of EU countries.


The Eurobarometer is the go-to website for data resulted from public opinion analysis regarding EU issues. They publish several studies concerning all domains.

*This is the website for the Public Opinion Analysis sector of the European Commission.
Our surveys and studies address major topics concerning European citizenship: enlargement, social situation, health, culture, information technology, environment, the Euro, defence, etc. *


ESPON is maybe one of the most versatile data and information sources for the European Union. It consists of different sections and has been at the origin of several projects and analysis tools.

ESPON > Projects

This section of ESPON lists all the projects contracted under ESPON 2006 and ESPON 2013 programmes, providing detailed information and documentation for each of the projects. The list is extensive and according to your needs is rather easy to get around this section, as it is well organised.

ESPON > Tools and Maps

Next to the Projects section, the Tools and Maps section is by far the most useful as it lists the main tools provided by ESPON to be used for policy-making and analysis. At the moment through the ESPON 2013 programme four tools are available for use, and a fifth is under development.

ESPON 2013 DataBase (DB)

The DB provides access to regional, local, urban, neighbourhood (candidate countries), world, grid and historical data. The data is mainly provided by ESPON projects and EUROSTAT. More information

ESPON HyperAtlas (HA)

The HA is an analytical tool based on the multi-scalar territorial analysis concept. With the HA a local decision maker can compare and analyse its region’s relative position at European, national and local scale for a whole set of criteria. More information

Mapping Guide (MG)

The MG provides guidance on mapping statistical data correctly and delivering the right message. The MG looks into the mapping method, aggregation level, level of statistical areas, type of data and the graphic variables to be used.

ESPON Typologies (TYP)

The TYP provides 9 regional typologies for additional analysis of project results to be considered in the European context. Guidance is given on how the project can filter their results in relation to the specific types of territories.

Online MapFinder (OMF) – Under Development

The OMF provides access to the most relevant ESPON maps resulting from ESPON projects and reports. The maps are accompanied by an explanation and observations for policy makers.

European Environment Agency (EEA) > Data and Maps

The European Environment Agency (EEA) is an agency of the European Union. Our task is to provide sound, independent information on the environment. We are a major information source for those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, and also the general public. Currently, the EEA has 32 member countries.

Urban Audit

Following a pilot project for the collection of comparable statistics and indicators for European cities the first full-scale European Urban Audit took place in 2003, for the then 15 countries of the European Union. In 2004 the project was extended to the 10 new Member States plus Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey. Under Eurostat coordination, the work of the Urban Audit involves all national statistical offices as well as some of the cities themselves.

The second full-scale Urban Audit took place between 2006 and 2007, and involved 321 European cities in the 27 countries of the European Union, along with 36 additional cities in Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

Data collection currently takes place every three years, but an annual data collection is being planned for a smaller number of targeted variables.


The United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) launched a new internet based data service for the global user community. It brings UN statistical databases within easy reach of users through a single entry point (http://data.un.org/). Users can now search and download a variety of statistical resources of the UN system.

World Bank Data

This site is meant to provide all users with improved access to World Bank data and to make that data easy to find and use.

The World Bank recognizes that transparency and accountability are essential to the development process and central to achieving the Bank’s mission to alleviate poverty. The Bank’s commitment to openness is also driven by a desire to foster public ownership, partnership and participation in development from a wide range of stakeholders. As a knowledge institution, the World Bank’s first step is to share its knowledge freely and openly.

Statistics and data are a key part of that knowledge and are easily accessible on the web for all users. The World Bank provides free and open access to a comprehensive set of data about development in countries around the globe, together with other datasets cited in the data catalog.

Broader access to these data allow policymakers and advocacy groups to make better-informed decisions and measure improvements more accurately. They are also valuable tools to support research by journalists, academia and others, broadening understanding of global issues.

OECD – iLibrary

OECD iLibrary *contains all the publications and datasets released by OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), International Energy Agency (IEA), Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), OECD Development Centre, PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), and International Transport Forum (ITF) since 1998 – over 1 200 journal issues, 3 300 working papers, 2 900 multi-lingual summaries, 7 700 e-book titles, 16 000 tables and graphs, 25 000 chapters and articles, and 480 complete databases with more than 4.5 billion data points.*

While *OECD iLibrary *is a subscription-based service and requires proper access to some full-text titles, many content areas are freely available to any site visitor, such as the OECD Factbook, Working Papers, OECD Key Tables, and more.

Human Development Reports – Indices and Data – provided by UNDP

The human development data utilized in the preparation of the Human Development Index (HDI) and other composite indices featured in the Human Development Report are provided by a variety of public international sources and represent the best and most current statistics available for those indicators at the time of the preparation of this annual report.

World Government Data – provided by The Guardian

Governments around the globe are opening up their data vaults – allowing you to check out the numbers for yourself. This is the Guardian’s gateway to that information. Search for government data here from countries, cities and states around the world – and we’re adding more all the time.


Gapminder Foundation was founded in Stockholm by Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund and Hans Rosling on February 25, 2005.

The initial activity was to pursue the development of the Trendalyzer software. This software unveils the beauty of statistical time series by converting boring numbers into enjoyable, animated and interactive graphics. The current version of Trendalyzer is available since March 2006 as Gapminder World, a web-service displaying time series of development statistics for all countries.

CIA – the World Factbook

The World Factbook *provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities. Our Reference tab includes: maps of the major world regions, as well as Flags of the World, a Physical Map of the World, a Political Map of the World, and a Standard Time Zones of the World map.*

The Data Hub

The Data Hub is a community-run catalogue of useful sets of data on the Internet. You can collect links here to data from around the web for yourself and others to use, or search for data that others have collected. Depending on the type of data (and its conditions of use), the Data Hub may also be able to store a copy of the data or host it in a database, and provide some basic visualisation tools.

Data Catalogs

DataCatalogs.org aims to be the most comprehensive list of open data catalogs in the world. It is curated by a group of leading open data experts from around the world – including representatives from local, regional and national governments, international organisations such as the World Bank, and numerous NGOs.

Google Maps

Probably the most known tool out of the whole list, it is a useful tool in spatial analysis as it can help visualize information, aggregate basic GIS information and more. Some good examples by Alasdair Rae can be found here.

If you believe I missed a major source, please leave a comment below and I will try to update the list!