Downloading data from OpenStreetMaps

      Tuesday 5 February 2019 |  by


OpenStreetMaps is a collaborative mapping project which has been revolutionary as a global participatory exercise. Here’s 3 easy ways to download OSM data.

For those unfamiliar with OpenStreetMaps, think of OSM as a collaborative version of Apple / Google / Bing Maps, with the data freely available for access and download.

Data can be explored via the website, various mobile applications, and can be downloaded for use within GIS.


The 3 easiest ways to download OpenStreetMap data are:

  1. Downloading all data from an area with Geofabrik
  2. Selecting particular subsets of data with the HOT (Humanitarian OSM Team) Export tool *requires registration
  3. Custom queries with Overpass Turbo


The above list is in order of increasing customisability.

Though you can use the HOT Export Tool to filter certain data via the tick-box options (e.g. educational locations, or specifically colleges), this is only a limited subset of features within OSM – normally humanitarian/development-specific.

If we were looking for a very custom filter (e.g. cafes in Berlin), we would instead have to use Overpass Turbo. The different methods also allow for different export format types (see Format section below).

Whilst Geofabrik and the HOT Export Tool are self-explanatory, Overpass Turbo custom queries are a little more in-depth. The easiest way of creating filters in Overpass Turbo is by using the Query Wizard (the Wizard button is located in the top menu). A brief explanation is given in the wizard tool.


Some Overpass Turbo tips & tricks

If expecting a large amount of data, Overpass Turbo can frequently timeout. An easy way to ensure you do not receive a timeout is by adding [timeout:900] to your call (feel free to increase the 900 seconds to whatever you desire).

Note that it can often be good to filter our specific elements in your query. For example, buildings, businesses or places can often take multiple forms such as single points and/or areas (e.g. the boundary of a park or building).

For reference, a full list of map features can be found here.



Geofabrik allows for downloding of shapefiles (.shp) or the OpenStreetMap-specific file format (.osm – usable within QGIS or OSM-specific applications)

HOT Export Tool allows for downlaoding of: shapefiles (.shp), Google Earth (.kml), GeoPackage (.gpkg), Garmin (.img Рuseful for smartwatches), MAPS.ME (.mwm), MBTiles (.mbtiles), OSM (.pbf) or OsmAnd (.obf).

Overpass Turbo allows for download of XML or GeoJSON (convertable to .shp via the MyGeodata converter)

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