One of the early signs that Google might expand beyond search in all sorts of interesting and unexpected directions was the Google Maps release in 2005. Borne out of a series of acquisitions, the Google Maps project has grown over the years to encompass satellite imagery, millions of points of interest, street views, turn-by-turn navigation, traffic conditions, public transportation, and a good deal more.
Google Maps boasts more than 1 billion active users today, making it the most popular navigation software in the world. It gets millions of us where we need to go every day, but are you sure you’re getting the most out of it? It’s easy to miss new features or hidden options. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of handy Google Maps tips and tricks. It’s time to take your first step on the road to Google Maps mastery.
How to save your home and work addresses
One of the first things you should do with Google Maps is save your home and work addresses. To do this, open up Google Maps, tap the menu button — represented by the three vertical lines in the top-left corner — and tap Your places. You’ll see entries for Home and Work. Put your addresses in. You can now ask Google Maps to navigate to Home or Work instead of having to enter the address. You can also enter searches like “restaurants near work,” and get a list of viable suggestions.
How to get directions quickly
Most of us are familiar with the Google Maps Navigation feature that offers voice-guided, turn-by-turn directions, but did you know that there’s a nifty shortcut to start it? You can search for a place or touch it on the map, then touch and hold the blue transportation button at the bottom right (it shows a car, bike, or person), and Google Maps will choose the best route and launch straight into Navigation mode.
How to share your location
Just tap and hold on your location (marked by a blue dot) to drop a pin. Tap the address or Dropped pin section at the bottom of the screen to expand it, then tap Share. You’ll see a pop-up list of apps that you can share your location through. If someone is having trouble finding your location, then a photo view of the front of the actual building can help. Check the next tip for how to share Street Views directly.
How to see Street View on mobile
If you want to see a photo of your location, then you need Street View. Touch and hold on the map to drop a pin on your chosen location, then tap at the bottom where it says Dropped pin (or the address) to bring the information up. You should see an image that says Street View on it. Tap that, and you’ll launch into Street View at your chosen location. You can share that Street View by tapping the menu in the top-right corner and tapping Share.
How to find things nearby
Let’s face it, you don’t always know what you’re looking for. Maybe you want some gas, you’re looking for a bite to eat, or you need to mail a package. Thankfully, if you tap the blank search bar in Google Maps, you’ll see a list of recent searches alongside some icons for nearby points of interest. If you tap More on the right, then you can further expand this list, which includes restaurants, hospitals, ATMs, gas stations, and a host of other establishments.
Choose whatever it is you’re looking for, and you’ll be presented with a list of nearby options with their respective distances. You’ll also see review scores — if available — and you can often call businesses or visit the website directly from the info panel. If you slide the information panel down, then you’ll see that they’re even marked on your map.
How to zoom one-handed
Everyone is used to pinching in order to zoom in and out, but you can also zoom one-handed in Google Maps. A double tap will zoom partially, but there’s another option. Tap twice on the map, leaving your finger or thumb on it the second time, and you’ll find that you can swipe down to zoom in and swipe up to zoom out.
How to view maps offline
A lot of users complain that one of the major weaknesses of Google Maps is the fact that you need to be online to use it. Actually, you can download and view maps offline with a little planning. If you’re going to New York, for example, you would open up the app, search for “New York,” and tap the bar at the bottom where it says “New York.” Then, you’d select the Menu button — aka the three vertical dots located in the top-right corner — and tap Download offline area.
New York is enormous, however, so you’d be prompted to select an area. After doing so, you can name your map and save it. Your saved maps will be listed in the Google Maps menu, which is accessible by tapping the three horizontal lines in the top left when you first launch the app. Take a look under Your places, and scroll to the bottom to find your offline maps. They expire in 30 days, so you’ll need to update them if you don’t want them to expire.
Offline maps are pretty limited, unfortunately. You can’t get turn-by-turn directions, or search maps while you’re offline.
How to save favorite locations
You’ll see recent searches come up when you tap on the search bar, but you can also save locations quite easily, and it can be a real time-saver in the future when you look for a place again. In order to do it, simply tap on the place you want to save on the map, expand the information by tapping on the address at the bottom, and then tap the star that says Save underneath. When a location has been saved, that star will go from blue to gold. Go into the menu and you’ll find Saved places listed under Your places.
How to check bus and train timetables
You can also use Google Maps to check up on bus and train times to any location. Simply enter the location you want to travel to in the search bar, tap on the blue transportation button in the bottom-right corner, and tap on the icon of the train. You’ll see a list of options based on the current time.
If you want to check when a later train is available or see when the last train leaves, then tap where it says Depart at and enter a specific time, or you can tap on Last to find your latest option. You can also filter the results by type of transport (bus, train, underground), and set preferences in terms of fewer transfers or less walking via Options in the top-right corner.
How to see where you’ve been
Google Maps keeps a record of your travels and you can review it via your browser. Go to this Google link and, provided you’re signed into your Google account, you’ll see a map of where you’ve visited in the last day. You can use the calendar located in the top-left corner to select specific dates, or date ranges to see weeks and months.
Beneath the calendar you’ll also see options to Delete history from this time period and Delete all history. You can also turn this tracking off by opening the Google Settings app, and tapping Location > Google Location History. Toggle it off completely, or choose specific devices that you want it turned off for. Bear in mind that, if you don’t have GPS on and High accuracy mode set under Location in your Settings all the time, then you may see some approximate locations that are way off where you really were.
How to find where to eat and when
If you zoom in on an area in Google Maps, say New York’s Central Park, then you’ll see an option at the bottom of the screen that says Explore food & drinks near Central Park. You can tap it to get categorized recommendations for nearby places to visit where you can get food and drinks. Even better, you can tap the categories along the top to see what the hot spots are at different times throughout the day, and to find the best place for breakfast, dinner, or drinks. It’s great for planning ahead.
How to get a 3D view
You can always tilt your map and get an isometric view in Google Maps. Tap and hold on the map with two fingers slightly apart and then swipe up. Moving your fingers in a circular motion will rotate the map. If you make sure that you’re in the normal view, with Satellite and Terrain turned off, there are certain areas where Google has added 3D representations of buildings. Sometimes this can help you find landmarks and obtain your bearings more easily.
How to use voice commands in Navigation
There are various voice commands that you can use while you’re in Navigation mode in Google Maps. You just have to tap the microphone icon at the top right and then speak your command. You can turn off the voice by saying “Mute,” or “Be quiet.” You can also “Show traffic,” ask it to “Show alternate routes,” or say “Next turn” to find out what your next turn is. Many options have multiple triggers and there are lots of possibilities, but you can browse Google’s full list of voice commands for a detailed summary of the various commands.
How to get directions for multiple locations
You can now plot a route in Google Maps that goes through multiple locations. To do so, set up directions for your first location like you normally would, then tap the three vertical dots in the top right and choose Add stop. Add as many stops as you need and then tap Finished. Google Maps will now guide you to each location in turn.
If you prefer, you can also set this up using your browser. Make sure you’re signed in with your Google account, and search for the directions via Google Maps. There’s a small plus icon in the top left, under your destinations, which allows you to add a destination. You can plot a whole itinerary this way. When you’re done, simply tap Send directions to your phone. To enable this feature in iOS, launch the Google Maps app, tap Settings > Notifications, and make sure that Notifications are enabled and Sent from desktop maps is checked.
How to create your own maps
Whether you want to share your knowledge with friends, or help guide your kids or elderly parents, the ability to create custom maps can prove very useful. Google actually offers a comprehensive set of tools for creating your own maps, marking routes, points of interest, directions, and more. To get started, make sure you’re signed into your Google account and go to My Maps in your browser.
You should get a short tutorial with tips if this is the first time you’ve tried it. It’s easy to set a location and mark your POIs and routes, but you can also import layers and data, color different areas and routes, and a lot more. Your creations are automatically saved to your Google Drive, and you can find them in the Google Maps app on your phone via the menu > Your places.