Hi there! In this tutorial, I will show you how to load and display downloaded shapefiles in ArcGIS Pro.  We will download some shapefiles covering the capital of the Netherlands, Amsterdam. Let’s pretend we are a company owner who wants to find a new location for its Amsterdam office. It is important to us that the office:

  1. Can actually exist at the location, e.g. there is an empty office building.
  2. Is located in the central district of Amsterdam.
  3.  Has stations close by (250 meter) so it is easy for employees to get to work.
  4. Has a park close by (250 meter)so that employees have the ability to enjoy their lunch outside.

I have collected a collection of shapefiles which we can use to find the optimal location to establish our new office. Let’s go through this process together. In this first part, we will download the data, load it into ArcGIS Pro, and visualize it.

Downloading data

While you could find your own shapefiles and use these to follow along, I would recommend using the same dataset to make the examples more clear. I found some data at Amsterdams open data portal, found here: https://maps.amsterdam.nl/open_geodata/

Note that Amsterdam’s open data portal has most of their data available in GeoJSON instead of shapefiles. GeoJSON is a community-based format, and can easily be converted to shapefile format at http://mapshaper.org. We need to do this as ArcGIS Pro does not support reading GeoJSON files.

For your convenience I have zipped 5 shapefiles (each consisting of a dbf, proj, shx, and shp file): AMS shapefiles, also giving them shorter and less Dutch names.

The 5 shapefiles:

  • PARKS – Polygon shapefile, showing location and size of parks
  • DISTRICTS – Polygon shapefile, showing city districts
  • EMPTY_BUILDINGS – Multi point shapefile, showing vacant office buildings
  • TRAMMETRO_LINES – Line shapefile, showing metro and tram lines.
  • TRAMMETRO_STATIONS – Multi point shapefile, showing tram and metro stations. Train stations are actually not included, but since most train stations also have metro stops this should be fine.

Download the zip file, and unzip the shapefiles in a location which you can easily find later.

Short introduction to ArcGIS Pro for ArcMap users

For those of you familiar with ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro will feel quite similar. There are some new concepts and features though that might be confusing.

ArcGIS Pro uses projects (.aprx files) as working environment, instead of map documents (.mxd) in ArcMap. Projects in ArcGIS Pro keep all related items (maps, tools, connection and more) together. This however also means that you won’t be able to directly open ArcMap map documents in ArcGIS Pro. ESRI has a guide that you can use to migrate projects here.

User interface

Besides this difference, the UI will feel like the largest difference. Let’s take a quick look at the main elements of the UI.

The ArcGIS Pro window consists of three main sections: the ribbon at the top, the contents pane to the left, and the view (in this case a map view) in the center.

ArcGIS Pro User Interface


The ribbon replaces the menu system in ArcMap. Instead of having different menus, the ribbon has tabs to keep related tools together in ArcGIS Pro. Each of these tabs is further divided into groups based on related functionality.

Ribbon help

Ribbon help. Source: http://pro.arcgis.com/en/pro-app/get-started/migrate-to-arcgis-pro.htm

The Project, Map, Insert, Analysis, View, Edit, Imagery, and Share tabs are always visible. In addition, there is a contextual tab set, which shows certain tabs depending on what you have selected. When you select a layer, for example, the Appearance, Labeling, and Data tabs show up, providing functionality to make changes to the feature layer.

Contents Pane
Contents pane

Contents pane

Similar to the table of cents in ArcMap, the contents pane contains all the elements in the view (the third main element of the ArcGIS Pro UI).

Catalog Pane

The catalog pane has a similar function to the catalog window in ArcMap. The difference here is that the catalog pane only relates to the current project.

Catalog pane

Catalog pane



A view is the center part of the window and the primary work area of your project. A map does not necessarily have to be a map. It could very well be a scene (3D map), table, layout or chart.

Attribute table

This is a database view containing information about a set of geographic features. Each row represents a feature and each column a feature attribute. These attributes can be used to find, query and symbolize features.

There are more parts to the ArcGIS Pro user interface, notably the Symbology pane and the Geoprocessing pane. These will be covered later in these series.

Creating a new ArcGIS Pro project

  1. Startup ArcGIS Pro.
  2. You will be met with a welcome screen. To the left, you can open recent projects. Since we want to start a new project, move your attention to the right part of your screen and you will find a section to create a new project. Click Map to open a completely new project with an included map.

    Select “Map.aptx”

  3. You will be asked to give the project a specific name and location. By default, the project is saved in your ArcGIS folder, located in the Documents folder of your computers C: Drive. Give it a name you like, and a location that you can remember.
  4. Click OK. You will be met by a map.

    A new project with a map.

    This is a basemap, and can be used as a reference for any added data.

Adding data to your project

  1. One of the major changes in ArcGIS Pro, when comparing to ArcMap, is the new ribbon design which you might recognize from any of the Office programs.

Ribbon at the top of the screen

On the ribbon click the Map tab (should be selected as default when starting ArcGIS Pro. This tab is divided into different groups, which you can see in the screenshot above. Examples of these are Layer, Selection, and Labeling.

2. Find the Layer group and click Add Data. Navigate to the folder where you unzipped the shapefiles. Hold Control, and left click each file. Or: Select the first file, hold shift, and left click the bottom file to select all files. Press OK. The data will get added to the map, and the map’s extent will move and cover Amsterdam.

Selecting the shapefiles

Selecting the shapefiles

4. (Optional) Instead of step 2, it is also possible to add a folder connection to your folder with the shapefiles. This makes it easier to find the folder later on. You can do this by clicking the Insert tab, followed by pressing Add Folder. Find your folder, select it, press OK and the folder will now show up in the Catalog pane under Folders. You can then drag and drop layers to your map view.

Showing the first data on your map

  1. To start out small, let’s clean things up a bit. Find the contents on the left of your window and deselect all layers except TRAMMETRO_LINES and Topographic. You do this by deselecting the boxes in front of the layer names. We will use other layers later.

    Contents pane

    Contents pane

  2. You will see a small line beneath TRAMMETRO_LINES. This symbolizes the symbology of this layer, and gets assigned a random color when loading the data; in my case a purple. Let’s change that. Click the line to open the symbology pane on the right side of your screen. Afterwards, find the Railroad symbology underneath ArcGIS 2D, shown here as the fifth element in the list. This will make the railroads features on the map look more recognizable as railroads.

    Railroad symbology

  3. You might want to change your basemap, so that the rail features are easy to see. As a general rule, you want your basemap to provide context to the rest of your data. It should definitely not distract from the main message of your map. As before, on the ribbon, click the Map tab if it is not selected. Find the Basemap item, and a menu gets shown with different basemaps. Select the Light Gray Canvas basemap.

    Changing the basemap

    This updates the map, and you will most likely find it less distracting. Your map should now look somewhat like this:

    Map showing railroads

Exploring your data

Now that we have added a basic symbology for rail networks, let’s take a better look at the actual data. For anyone with a basic knowledge of Amsterdam, you will know that Amsterdam has both train, tram and metro lines.

While our shapefile does not include train lines,  it would be nice to show tram and metro lines with separate colors. But we need to be sure that the data distinguish between these forms of rail transport. We can do this by looking at the data itself in an attribute table.

Opening the attribute table

Opening the attribute table

  1. Right-click the TRAMMETRO_LINES layer in the Contents Pane, and click Attribute Table. This shows the attribute table in a pane below.

Each record (railroad) has some data associated with it, such as a ObjectID (FID), which metro/tram routes use this section (Lijn), and whether the line belongs to the metro or tram network (Modaliteit). Bingo, that’s the information we are looking for. We can use this to symbolize the railroad, in the next part of this series.

Showing data in the attribute table

Showing data in the attribute table

Next steps

In this tutorial, we took a first look at ArcGIS Pro. We loaded in the data, taken a look at it, and added some simple symbology. In the next part of this introduction to ArcGIS Pro series, we will start showing and styling the remaining 4 layers, and we will distinguish between different fields by adding more advanced symbology. We will also do some filtering, to only show those parts of the data that we are interested in.

Continue to part 2

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