How to Create a Map using GGPlot2

How to Create a Map using GGPlot2

This article provide many examples for creating a ggplot map. You will also learn how to create a choropleth map, in which areas are patterned in proportion to a given variable values being displayed on the map, such as population life expectancy or density.


Related Book

GGPlot2 Essentials for Great Data Visualization in R


Key R functions and packages:

  • map_data() [in ggplot2] to retrieve the map data. Require the maps package.
  • geom_polygon() [in ggplot2] to create the map

We’ll use the viridis package to set the color palette of the choropleth map.

Load required packages and set default theme:


Create a simple map

World map

Retrieve the world map data:

world_map <- map_data("world")
ggplot(world_map, aes(x = long, y = lat, group = group)) +
  geom_polygon(fill="lightgray", colour = "white")

Map for specific regions

  1. Retrieve map data for one or multiple specific regions:
# Some EU Contries <- c(
  "Portugal", "Spain", "France", "Switzerland", "Germany",
  "Austria", "Belgium", "UK", "Netherlands",
  "Denmark", "Poland", "Italy", 
  "Croatia", "Slovenia", "Hungary", "Slovakia",
  "Czech republic"
# Retrievethe map data <- map_data("world", region =

# Compute the centroid as the mean longitude and lattitude
# Used as label coordinate for country's names <- %>%
  group_by(region) %>%
  summarise(long = mean(long), lat = mean(lat))
  1. Visualize
ggplot(, aes(x = long, y = lat)) +
  geom_polygon(aes( group = group, fill = region))+
  geom_text(aes(label = region), data =,  size = 3, hjust = 0.5)+
  theme(legend.position = "none")

Make a choropleth Map

World map colored by life expectancy

Here, we’ll create world map colored according to the value of life expectancy at birth in 2015. The data is retrieved from the WHO (World Health Organozation) data base using the WHO R package.

  1. Retrieve life expectancy data and prepare the data:
life.exp <- get_data("WHOSIS_000001")             # Retrieve the data
life.exp <- life.exp %>%
  filter(year == 2015 & sex == "Both sexes") %>%  # Keep data for 2015 and for both sex
  select(country, value) %>%                      # Select the two columns of interest
  rename(region = country, lifeExp = value) %>%   # Rename columns
  # Replace "United States of America" by USA in the region column
    region = ifelse(region == "United States of America", "USA", region)
  1. Merge map and life expectancy data:
world_map <- map_data("world") <- left_join(life.exp, world_map, by = "region")
  1. Create the choropleth map. Note that, data are missing for some region in the map below:
  • Use the function geom_polygon():
ggplot(, aes(long, lat, group = group))+
  geom_polygon(aes(fill = lifeExp ), color = "white")+
  scale_fill_viridis_c(option = "C")

  • Or use the function geom_map():
ggplot(, aes(map_id = region, fill = lifeExp))+
  geom_map(map =,  color = "white")+
  expand_limits(x =$long, y =$lat)+
  scale_fill_viridis_c(option = "C")

US map colored by violent crime rates

Demo data set: USArrests (Violent Crime Rates by US State, in 1973).

# Prepare the USArrests data
arrests <- USArrests 
arrests$region <- tolower(rownames(USArrests))
##            Murder Assault UrbanPop Rape     region
## Alabama      13.2     236       58 21.2    alabama
## Alaska       10.0     263       48 44.5     alaska
## Arizona       8.1     294       80 31.0    arizona
## Arkansas      8.8     190       50 19.5   arkansas
## California    9.0     276       91 40.6 california
## Colorado      7.9     204       78 38.7   colorado
# Retrieve the states map data and merge with crime data
states_map <- map_data("state")
arrests_map <- left_join(states_map, arrests, by = "region")

# Create the map
ggplot(arrests_map, aes(long, lat, group = group))+
  geom_polygon(aes(fill = Assault), color = "white")+
  scale_fill_viridis_c(option = "C")

Version: Français

Comments ( 5 )

  • Rafa

    hi! just the post I was looking for, thanks! What is the difference between geom_polygon() and geom_map() when doing a map?

  • Xi Chen

    I wonder how to change the color of the countries to white instead?

  • Javier Hernando

    In the geom_polygon() function and OUTSIDE the aes() function, use
    If you set fill, color, size or shape outsithe the aes() function, its value wont be related to any variable and will remain constant for all polygons you plot (polygons, dots, lines or whatever you plot.
    As an example: the last plot of American Assault data, the variable fill is mapped to Assault, and therefore the filling color of polygons represent that variable value. The color variable is defined to be “white” and used outside aes(), here color stands for border color (map frontiers). This color parameter could be defined as other colors, or declared inside the aes() to link border color to other variable. A list of the colors that can be used in R can be found by googling a litte (R colors ggplot), as well as all information to work with personalized colors by using RGB scales and symilar stuff

  • Italo Moletto-Lobos


    • Kassambara

      thank you for the positive feedback!

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