Module 25 Interactive maps

Learning goals

  • Learn how to create interactive, beautiful maps with leaflet.

  • Understand why leaflet is so awesome and valuable in reproducible data science.

Mapping with leaflet

If you know about the right packages, making really nice maps in R is actually pretty easy. R’s spatial visualization tool set is one of the things that elevates it above the other open-source coding tools out there.

Being able to make a map programmatically is a powerful skill. And we can do it quickly and easily in R thanks to the package leaflet.

Let’s load it up:


# Some other packages too:

To practice making a map, let’s focus in on the location of Sewanee: The University of the South, in Tennessee, USA.

sewanee <- data.frame(longitude=-85.9211, 

To begin a leaflet map, simply type leaflet(). This creates a blank canvas.



Now, add the background map. To do so, leaflet uses “tiles”. Tiles are basically images – little pictures stitched together to give you a sense of a continuous map.

leaflet() %>% addTiles() 


Try zooming into this map to get a sense of how powerful these interactive leaflet maps can be.

To get the map focused on a specific area of interest, bring in “markers” based on your data:

leaflet() %>% 
    addTiles() %>% 


Ta-dah! There’s your map. Try zooming in & out again.

Stylizing your leaflet map

How about satellite imagery instead?

leaflet() %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$Esri.WorldImagery) %>% 


How about topography instead?

leaflet() %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$Esri.WorldTopoMap) %>% 


The leaflet package has plenty of other tile styles available through the addProviderTiles() function. To preview all the options, check out this site.

Working with markers in leaflet

To change the markers from a “dart” to a circle, use addCircleMarkers() instead:

leaflet() %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$Esri.WorldTopoMap) %>% 
                     color = "firebrick",
                     radius = 15)


To add ‘pop up’ information when you click on your marker, use the popup input:

leaflet() %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$Esri.WorldTopoMap) %>% 
                     color = "firebrick",
                     radius = 15,
                     popup = paste0('<b>YSR, yall.</b> <br>', 
                                    'Lat: ',sewanee$longitude,'<br>',
                                    'Lon: ',sewanee$latitude,'\n'))


Click on the marker and see how it looks! Note that we used a bit of HTML to make the text look prettier.

Mapping marine areas

Note that leaflet is also useful in mapping marine areas.

For example, map the bathymetry of the northeast Pacific basin:

leaflet() %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$Esri.OceanBasemap) %>%
    fitBounds(lng1 = -165,
              lng2 = -100,
              lat1 = 10,
              lat2 = 50)


Or get satellite imagery for an island off the coast of Georgia, USA:

leaflet() %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$Esri.WorldImagery) %>% 
    fitBounds(lng1 = -81.2,
              lng2 = -81.1,
              lat1 = 31.54,
              lat2 = 31.7)


To jumpstart your mapping skills in R, the second package you need to know about is tidygeocoder. This package helps you “geocode” a mailing address. Geocoding means providing the latitude and longitude for an address, which allows you to find it on a map.

First, install & load the package:


Second, create a dataframe for the address(es) you wish to map:

addresses <- data.frame(name= 'White House', 
                        addr = "1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC")

Now, geocode:

lat_longs <- addresses %>%
    geocode(addr, method = 'osm', lat = latitude , long = longitude)

Check out the result:

# A tibble: 1 × 4
  name        addr                                     latitude longitude
  <chr>       <chr>                                       <dbl>     <dbl>
1 White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC     38.9     -77.0

And check out your map:

leaflet(data=lat_longs) %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$Stamen.Watercolor) %>% 


You can also reverse geocode, i.e., get the mailing address for a lat-long coordinate.

Say these are your coordinates of interest:

lat_longs <- data.frame(latitude=48.8584, 

Now, reverse-geocode:

reverse <- lat_longs %>%
    reverse_geocode(lat = latitude, 
                    long = longitude)

Check out the result:

# A tibble: 1 × 3
  latitude longitude address                                                    
     <dbl>     <dbl> <chr>                                                      
1     48.9      2.29 Tour Eiffel, 5, Avenue Anatole France, Gros-Caillou, Quart…

Now, add the mailing address as a popup in your marker:

leaflet() %>% 
    addProviderTiles(providers$HikeBike.HikeBike) %>% 
                     color = "firebrick",
                     radius = 15,
                     popup = gsub(",",",<br>", reverse$address))

Final thoughts

Maps, even simple ones, are amazingly effective data visualizations. The density and layers of information contained within a map are incredible!

All of those virtues are compounded with an interactie map. At each zoom level, you gain a new perspective. Like shiny apps, leaflet maps put the viewer in control of how they explore and understand the data.


1. Create a new Rmarkdown document.

2. Create a code chunk. In this chunk, read in some data on “conflicts”. To read in the data, run the below code.

              destfile = 'conflicts.RData')


This data comes from Take a minute or two to look at the website.

3. Have a look in the data. Which fields are likely to be geographic?

4. Make a simple x-y plot using geographic fields.

5. Create an object named conflicts_afg. This should be a plot of conflicts in Afghanistan.

6. Color the points by year.

7. Instead of year, color the points by deaths_civilians.

8. Color the points by date, but make point size reflect deaths_civilians.

9. Create a leaflet map of conflicts in a country of your choice.

10. Use addTiles.

11. Use addProviderTiles to make your map a satellite map.

12. Explore other tiles

13. Add pop-ups to your maps by using the popup argument within addMarkers.

14. Add clusterOptions = markerClusterOptions() to make your points clustered.

15. Replace your markers with “circle markers”.

16. Create a shiny app wherein the user selects a country and time frame, and the app shows both (a) an interactive map and (b) a plot of the number of conflicts by year for that country.

Learning goals

  • This is a review exercise: apply the dplyr and ggplot skills introduced in the previous modules to explore the passenger manifest for the RMS Titanic.


Instructor tip:

This review exercise is best done immediately after the module on Dataframe wrangling.