People often ask me where they can get GIS data to use for projects, analysis and general mapping. In the UK we now have OS OpenData, which is very nice and very detailed. There's also a new GIS portal from the Office for National Statistics - built using the Geoportal Server. Other GIS datasets are available, from organisations like Natural England, but in this post I thought I'd highlight the excellent - and totally free - Natural Earth site which is very well known in the geodata community but perhaps not more widely. It really is absolutely fantastic.
A little bit of technical information....
- Natural Earth Vector comes in ESRI shapefile format, the de facto standard for vector geodata. Character encoding is Windows-1252.
- Natural Earth Raster comes in TIFF format with a TFW world file.
- All Natural Earth data use the Geographic coordinate system (projection), WGS84 datum +proj=longlat +ellps=WGS84 +datum=WGS84 +no_defs
Whether you're looking for data to make a general world map or a more detailed local area map you will find what you are looking for here. It's not as detailed as OS data for Great Britain but then many GIS users don't need that level of accuracy. Another screenshot below showing the various download options...
Finally, taking my inspiration from the worst website in the world, and Ken Field's blog - I've made an absolutely awful map using some of this data*. Can anyone do a worse one?
*I actually did this as part of my work in developing some new GIS modules. I tried to pack in as much bad practice as possible just as an extreme example of what not to do.