Since its release in 2005, Google Maps has been helping people get where they need to go. Millions of people rely on Google Maps to navigate all around the globe and find addresses, points of interest, public transit routes, and much more.
Even if you’re a regular user of Google Maps, chances are good that you aren’t taking advantage of the many features the app has to offer. Check out this quick guide to mastering Google Maps.
How to turn on incognito mode
If you want to be able to search for locations and navigate in Google Maps without your searches or location history being recorded in the app, then you can use incognito mode. Since Google has added incognito mode to Google Maps you can also prevent your searches and navigation from impacting the personalized recommendations you get. To turn it on tap your profile picture at the top right, then tap Turn on Incognito mode. Remember that other apps or services running on your device may still be tracking your movements or searches. To turn it off again, tap the incognito icon at the top right and tap Turn off incognito mode.
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 horizontal 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 Directions button at the bottom right, and Google Maps will choose the best route and launch straight into Navigation mode. If you want to tweak the route or change your mode of transport, then just tap it once, make your changes, then tap Start.
How to share your real-time location
If you want to share your location in real time with family or friends then tap the menu button (three lines in the top-left corner) and choose Location sharing. You can tap the Add People icon at the top right to choose how long you want to share your location for and Select People to share with. If they have a Google account then your position will be shared with them in their Google Maps app; otherwise, it will be sent as a link they can tap. You can also choose to share your location via a host of other apps like Facebook Messenger. Anyone who is sharing their location with you will have their own tab at the top of the screen and you can tap on it to see where they are.
How to share a location
Just tap and hold on any location to drop a pin. Tap the address 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 of the location near the bottom of your screen. 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 Explore option at the bottom left in Google Maps, you’ll see a list of nearby points of interest. If you scroll down, then you can narrow your search by choosing one of the categories. There are restaurants, hospitals, ATMs, gas stations, and a host of other establishments. You can also search for whatever you need by typing in the search bar at the top or do a voice search by tapping the microphone icon at the top right.
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 people 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 Lagos, for example, you would open up the app, search for “Lagos,” and tap the bar at the bottom where it says “Lagos.” Then, select the button marked Download.
Lagos is enormous, however, so you’ll 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 at the top left when you first launch the app. Take a look under Your places, and scroll along to the Maps tab 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 timesaver 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 Save. You can choose to save it as a favorite place with the heart icon, mark it as a place you want to go, or add it to the list of your starred places. When a location has been saved, the Save option will switch to Saved with the relevant icon. 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 Directions and tap on the icon of the train at the top. 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 in to 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. You can tap it to get categorized recommendations for nearby places to visit where you can get food and drinks. Even better, you can scroll through the options and tap More 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 change your view
Tap the icon at the top right, that looks like two layers stacked, and you’ll find view options for Satellite and Terrain. 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. The Terrain option will show some hills, but it also sometimes shows the interior plan of certain locations.
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 also now say “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google” if you have Google Assistant set up. 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 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 in to 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.
How to save parking location
If you’re anything like us, then you sometimes forget precisely where you parked. Google Maps is pretty good at tracking this automatically, although it does depend on your location settings. You can also choose to save a parking location manually. Tap on the blue dot that marks your current location once you’ve parked up, then choose Save your parking and it will be marked on your map. If you have an Android device it will also pop up as a notification and you can simply tap it to find your way back.
Is this a frequent problem for you? If so, you may want to check out the best “Find My Car” apps.
How to check traffic
You’ll find that traffic analysis is built-in to Google Maps now and it can help you find the best route and avoid jams. It’s turned on by default when you request directions between two places. Red spots are to be avoided, orange is a bit congested, and green is for go. You’ll also see an icon to highlight roadworks and speed cameras. You can also check traffic when you’re just browsing around. If you jump back to our change your view tip above, you’ll see Traffic listed as an option that you can overlay all the time.
How to check parking
It’s one thing getting to a place, but if you’re driving, what do you do with the car when you arrive? Some spots in the city can be positively nightmarish for parking. Thankfully, Google Maps offers parking advice for some locations. If you plug in your location and check the Directions screen then you might see a P icon next to the time and distance at the bottom. Tap on it and you’ll get an indication of how tough it might be to find parking at your location. For some locations, you’ll also see a Find parking option that will list possible parking locations nearby.
How to get a ride
If you can’t find parking, or you’re without a car, and public transport isn’t going to get you there in time, then you can always check out services like Uber and Bolt. On the Directions page there’s an icon of someone hailing a cab at the top; tap on that you’ll see your options. You obviously need an Uber or Bolt account to use those services, but once you have an account you can link it with Google Maps to make it easy to book a ride. If there are no options in your area then the hailing icon simply won’t appear.
Check out the best ridesharing apps for alternatives.
How to ask questions
When you tap on a place of interest in Google Maps, you can access the page about it, which includes directions, a link to call, basic information, a website link, and often some reviews. For popular places, you’ll also find a Questions & answers section if you scroll down. It can be a goldmine of useful information, though you will sometimes find silly comments in there, too. You have the option of posting your own questions for the community, which is particularly handy if it’s closed and you can’t call.
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