The urban heat island (UHI) effect, defined as the air temperature difference between the urban canyon and the nearby rural area, is investigated. Because not all cities around the world are equipped with an extensive measurement network, a need exists for a relatively straightforward equation for the UHI effect. Here, we derive a simple, diagnostic equation for the UHI using dimensional analysis. This equation provides a first-order estimation of the daily maximum UHI based on routine meteorological observations and straightforward urban morphological properties. The equation is tested for 14 cities across northwestern Europe and appears to be robust. The comprehensiveness of this analytical equation allows for applications beyond urban meteorological studies.