Oftentimes when we make maps it is based on our subjective interpretation of what is aesthetically pleasing. I would like it if people posted examples of beautiful maps, displaying any phenomena in any manner.

Below I have posted one of my favorite maps. This is an example of a value-by-alpha map recently asked about as How to implement value-by-alpha map in GIS?, and the picture is taken from the GeoVista website.

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Citation for the map's makers:

Geovisual analytics to enhance spatial scan statistic interpretation: an analysis of U.S. cervical cancer mortality Jin Chen , Robert E Roth , Adam T Naito , Eugene J Lengerich and Alan M MacEachren International Journal of Health Geographics 2008, 7:57

It would be best for the cultivation of knowledge if people would elaborate on why the particular maps they cite are beautiful.

The reason I believe I think the cited value-by-alpha map is beautiful is that it creates a very simple, but obvious and striking visual hierarchy with which to interpret the standardized mortality ratio's. This is in particular useful combined with the very "noisy" standardized mortality ratio's, and the typically very noisy clusters of abnormally high rates produced by the SatScan clustering technique. One can even clearly see very small clusters around Chicago and Philadelphia.

There are other supplemental elements of the map that make it easy on the eyes. For example, the black background, the heavier white outline for around the states and the white outline for the states (that is blended the same as the attribute values). Maps with many polygons can particularly be distracting if one does not take care when plotting the polygon outlines.

Also the legend is particularly well created, and effectively demonstrates the concept (although it certainly isn't a typical legend, so took some original creative thought).

47 Answers 47


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RADICAL CARTOGRAPHY showcases couple of really nice examples.

My two favourites:

  • Mississippi meanders

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  • Statistical Atlas of 1870 US Census

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Eduard Imhof's work, especially his hand-drawn hillshading maps:

enter image description here

As the question does not specify that a map has to be a traditional static map, I would like to propose the Mapnificent London travel times map.

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As per usualy, Google are really pushing what you can do with Online Mapping APIs. In terms of map design, the v3 API now gives you greater control over tweaking the underlying base map.

The map is also very user-friendly, but I think usability probably falls outside the realm of beauty.


A couple examples of beautiful flow maps

An article in the open journal PLoS, Redrawing the Map of Great Britain from a Network of Human Interactions by: Carlo Ratti, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Francesco Calabrese, Clio Andris, Jonathan Reades, Mauro Martino, Rob Claxton, Steven H. Strogatz PLoS ONE, Vol. 5, No. 12. (8 December 2010)

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Facebook worldwide friendships Mapped (via the Flowing Data blog) alt text

I originally posted this in another thread on visualizing network flows. Anyone interested in representing flows should check out the couple of threads on this site tagged with network.

As to the reasoning why I believe these maps are beautiful, flow maps can easily become very complicated. The mess of in-flows and out-flows tend to be difficult to visualize and summarize effectively (see this other answer of mine where I go into greater detail about how visualizing flow lines is typically done).

These two flow maps exemplify effectively visualizing such flow information in a concise manner. The PLoS article is a very nice example of utilizing a 3d perspective (which I have never been able to make anything in 3d that looks very nice!).

Sometimes knowing what goes into the creation of some work also gives you a greater appreciation for it. Reading the blog post about the creation of the facebook map is a wonderful exposition of the types of difficult data management skills necessary to handle, and make sense of, such a massive set of data.

Although each of the maps have their critics, the PLoS article has been critisized as being trivial by Andrew Gelman, and Laurent in the comments posted a series of blog posts by Th. Joliveau, I believe each is still a beautiful (and very effective) map visualization of flows between two locations.


Originally created and posted by Tear on the Cartographer's Guild Forum. A hand created map of George R. R. Martin's Westeros from The Song of Ice and Fire series:

Fan made map of Westeros by Tear

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This is the one that started it all for me. At age ~10 I first read R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island.
The map somehow encapsulates the mystery, adventure, search and discovery of a great story. Not only that, but Pirates! Har.

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I like interactive maps from Stamen a lot. Especially, for their their focus on handling temporal interaction.


SF crimespotting

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Hurricane Tracker alt text

(Update) Surging seas

enter image description here

A non temporal example:

Watermark, Terrain and Toner tiles

Water, Terrain and Toner


Here is a good one: The Atlas of Canada Map of the North Circumpolar Region http://atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/dataservices/wall_maps/MCR1-2.jpg/image_view alt text Also interesting is the Cartographica journal article describing the work involved in putting this map together: http://utpjournals.metapress.com/content/d80604507k247v46/


Can't believe no-one has mentioned XKCD's Map of the Internet:

For the IPv6 map just imagine the XP default desktop picture.

and this one has some mind-blowing aspects:

Best trivia I learned while working on this: 'Man, Farmville is so huge! Do you realize it's the second-biggest browser-based social-networking-centered farming game in the WORLD?' Then you wait for the listener to do a double-take.


My favourite maps are John Ogilby strip maps of routes within Britain.

The originals are from 1675, though there was also an official reprint around 1700 I think.

I have this one (the road from Hereford to Leicester) hanging in my office. I'd love to get a full atlas, but the cost would be rather more than I can afford!

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Truly beautiful, not to mention ground-breaking stuff.

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From 2011 SND awards:

Best printed map -NG ‘Gulf of Mexico’ map (PDF available here):

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Miguel Urabayen Award - NG ‘World of Rivers' map:

enter image description here

(Interactive version here)

(Via FlowingData blog)


This is pretty much an interactive map

This is a truly wonderful thread for a maplover like me! I found this (with a little help from my friends) Rock and roll.

Metal Map

enter image description here


Shanghai Interactive Map: enter image description here

Actually there are many other cities there drawn in such style.

Use google translate ;)

Very interesting renderer, quite good for interactive public maps I think.

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From the hip my answer would be Stephen Walter's 'The island': witty, irreverent, slightly subversive he has hand drawn a map of London representing it as an island (poking fun at Londoners' London centric view of the world).


I think its beautiful as its highly original, detailed, fascinating and I interpret it as sending up the idea of maps themselves.

Having said that I think the question is too vague, it would be more useful if it were more specific. IMHO there are a number of separate characteristics that make up map beauty:

Function: Is it fit for purpose? My vote for this type would be the London tube map: Original and highly functional it sacrifices distance representation to show the network with more clarity.

Aesthetics: The Island map

Historical Interest: A personal favourite is the Geological map of the UK by William Smith - a world first. alt text

he did this pretty much by himself over 15 (I think) years, before him no one had thought of mapping what was below the ground.

I'd be most interested in hearing people's examples of maps representing outstanding functionality.

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How about Minard's flow map of Napoleon invading Russia, made famous by Tufte? Both beautiful and informative. It achieves the latter primarily by abstracting away many of the typical elements that identify it as a carte, but still conveys a strong sense of the geography involved.

Minard map

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The wind map http://hint.fm/wind/. See the wind flow before your eyes. Below is a screen shot example of October 30, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast of the United States.

enter image description here


Many beauties on BIG map blog. For instance, Birdseye map of Coronado, San Diego by a property developer, 1880s:

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(via O'Reilly radar)

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I love Dymaxion maps. In this example from Wikipedia, it used to map human migrations:

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Reminds me again of how tiny Europe is.


National Geographic Atlas of the World, Ninth Edition not one map but a whole Atlas of Maps.

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Available as:

National Geographic Atlas of the World, Ninth Edition (hardcover)

National Geographic Atlas of the World, Ninth Edition (hardcover)

National Geographic Atlas of the World, Ninth Edition (softcover)

National Geographic Atlas of the World, Ninth Edition (personalized)

National Geographic Atlas of the World, Ninth Edition (Platinum Edition with case)

National Geographic Atlas of the World, Ninth Edition (Platinum Edition without case)

prices range from $109.00 USD to $1,798.00 USD

confession: mapperz did have some input to the NGS Database (subcontracted) but this is not a sales pitch! it is just nice to see it finished and available to all


Every OpenStreetMap Edit Ever Made, Visualized.

The color scale ranges from green for old, through blue then pink, to white for recent. At the worldwide level it looks pretty; zoom in and it's fascinating. You can check out the whole map here.

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For those on the latest Chrome or Firefox version: This brilliant animated map of the world arms trade is a beautiful, yet simple representation of a major global issue!

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Some nice maps made in R:

enter image description here http://spatialanalysis.co.uk/2012/03/mapped-british-shipping-1750-1800/ enter image description here http://spatialanalysis.co.uk/2011/03/global-migration-maps/

This one was made with OpenStreetMap data, althought I am not sure how the algorithms were implemented (R or not), the plot was made with ggplot2:

enter image description here http://spatialanalysis.co.uk/2012/02/london-cycle-hire-pollution/

I decided to post these maps as an example of can be achieved with a software that is not know for the ability to make nice plots (including geographic maps). For me these are examples of the best or most beautiful maps created in R in recent years with a lot of work behind each one.


Iam a biologist and most maps i create have something to do with nature and its management. I really got inspired by the beautiful maps from the ESRI Conservation Mapping Contest. Visit the site for some very good and nice looking examples.

For instance this beautiful map by Mark Endries from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, which highlights conservation priority areas in Western North Carolina. Click here to see the picture in full-resolution (Size over 4MB).

All credits go Mark Endries. Picture from the ESRI CMC

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Guardian's article points to interesting work of Sohei Nishino.

Some of his diorama's are trully stunning:

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Nelson Minar has created a vector tile map of all the rivers in the United States that I think is pretty amazing.

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See also the map of the month of the International Cartographic Association.

The map of october is a hiking map of Wallis, with "a wonderful relief representation; beautiful in its simplicity".

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Most of these maps of the month are selected from the international maps exhibition organised every 2 years during the International Cartographic Conference. The last one was in Santiago in 2009, and the next one is in july 2011 in Paris: http://www.icc2011.fr/


Le monde diplomatique offers some really beautiful maps. They look like hand-drawn maps, but I'm not sure whether they really are.

Why do I think this maps are beautiful? I prefer the handmade style - but in a modern way: they don't look like historical maps. These maps visualize current global economical, social or environmental issues with high accuracy and an always interesting spatial context.

Africa without its margins.

Every now and then they publish the Atlas der Globalisierung (German only?) with these maps.


This map shows how political boundaries would be located if the supercontinent Pangea still existed. Should be shown in every geography/geology course.

enter image description here

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Imperium Japonicum by Adrien Reland and Reiner & Josua Ottens

enter image description here

More information can be found here.

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