16 Surprising Things You Can Do with Google Maps

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Google Maps has evolved a lot over the years, making the jump from our computers to our phones and adding a ton of cool features along the way. In fact, there are so many that we’re sharing our favorite features, along with some hidden tips and tricks.

1. Add stops to your trip

When you get in the car for a road trip, you rarely go straight to your destination without stopping. You’ll need to stop for lunch or gas or a bathroom break or a detour to visit a cool roadside attraction. Once you program in your destination, it’s easy to add stops along the way. 

For stops after you’ve started your trip, you can tap the search icon and choose from “Gas stations,” “Grocery stores,” “Restaurants,” “Coffee shops” or to search. 

For planned stops, tap on the three dots in the top right corner of the app and select “Add stop.” Tap on the empty slot, and you can search, add from the map or select from “Gas stations,” “Groceries,” “Restaurants,” “Cafes,” “Fast food,” and “ATMs.”

2. Check current and future traffic

If you want to check the traffic in your area, you need to turn on “traffic” by tapping on the diamond-shaped layers icon. For computers, you’ll see a box with “Live traffic” and an upside down triangle. Select the triangle and you can choose “Typical traffic” to see what traffic will be like later in the day or week. 

Screenshot of Google Maps showing options for showing satellite, terrain, traffic, transit and more options layered on top of map. You can also see a box that shows typical traffic for days of the week and time of day. At the top left there is a right facing triangle pointed out with the word expand side panel.

3. Orient yourself

Are you all spun around? Not sure whether you’re supposed to make a right turn or a left because you don’t know what direction you’re facing? Stop wondering – with a quick tap of the compass in the top right corner of the screen while navigating will shift the map to face the same direction you are. Tap the compass again to switch back to the more traditional (but less useful) “North is up” view.

If you’re walking, you can access Live View, a navigation mode that brings in a live image from your phone’s camera and layers directions on top. Tilt the phone up (as though you were taking a picture) to see where you should be going in the app plus a small portion of the traditional map. You have to be standing still to access Live View. Depending on where you look, you’ll see where to turn or how far to continue in the direction that you’re facing. When you want access to just the traditional map view, start walking or tilt your phone back down. 

Google Maps screen shots showing the Live View Feature. In screenshot 1, you see a map walking directions from Your location to Jones Woods Foundry. On bottom of the screen is the estimated time to destination, Live View (pointed out), and Start. In the 2nd screenshot you bee a map with a directional arrow at the bottom and an image showing the street and

4. Navigate through buildings

Need to find your seat in a large stadium or navigate to your favorite store at the mall or find your way out of a casino? You’ll find maps of some venues, including All of America, Madison Square Garden and Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, in Google Maps. 

Google Maps screenshot of the interior of Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. You can see the stores, hotel towers, restaurants and other venues.

5. See inside places

Did you know that Google Maps not only shows you how to get around while driving our nation’s interstates and city streets but also while you’re inside buildings like famous art museums, airports, and your local gym as well? When you look up a location, on the map, you’ll see a photo with a 360-degree icon. Tap the icon and you can view rooms inside and even walk within a space. (Try it with the Museum of the City of New York.) You can also quickly access a Street View of the exterior of the building the same way – great for when you’re trying to drive to an unfamiliar destination.

Google Maps: See inside places

6. Catch the last train

In many cities, mass transit trains don’t run all night – they stop running shortly after bars close. This can be a tough trip to plan if you need to make a transfer along the way. Fortunately, if you type your destination into Google Maps, choose the train icon, then “Depart at…” and then choose “Last” and “Done,” the app will show you the last trains and buses that get you where you need to go. You can even set a reminder to take the last train.

3 Google Maps screenshots. From the left, screenshot 1 shows a map a restaurant listing for The Whelk with the options for directions, start and call. Screenshot 2 shows the starting and end location, options for driving, public transit, walking, ride share and biking directions, with a listing of train options. Layered on top is a box with Now, Arrive by, Last, and Depart at underlined with a time/date wheel below to choose a departure time and date. Screenshot 3 shows public transit directions to The Whelk with the option to Add to Calendar and Remind you to leave on time pointed out. Below these options, you'll see when you'll receive your reminder.

7. Zoom one-handed

Most of us have been well trained to use the pinching gesture to zoom in on our smartphones. But there’s an easier way to zoom while using Google Maps: Just double tap the screen, and swipe up to zoom out or swipe down to zoom in. (Keep your finger on the screen after the second tap.)

8. Save your favorite locations

Want quick access to all the locations you frequent most often, or just want to save information about a store or restaurant to review later? Maps lets you set Favorites by selecting the “Save” icon. Choose it as a “Favorites,” “Want to go,” or “Starred places” and it will show up on the map. And you want to consult your list, head over to the left menu inside the app, then choose “Your Places” and “Saved” to consult your lists.

You can also save your home and work addresses to Google Maps to save time. When you search for an address, you can select “Label.” This information interfaces with Google Assistant, allowing it to serve up real-tim

e traffic updates to your phone before leaving for work in the morning.

Google Maps screenshots. From the left, screenshot 1 shows a map with a listing for Lusardi's restaurant below and the Save icon pointed out. Screenshot 2 shows a list of save places and a box at the top to create a new list. Screenshot 3 shows a map with Explore, Go, Saved, Contribute and Updates at the bottom with Saved pointed out.

9. Create offline maps

If you’re traveling through the woods, mountains or desert, there’s a good chance your phone will lose its data signal from time to time. Unfortunately, no signal means no maps – real bad news if you’re not familiar with the remote area through which you’re traveling.

Fortunately, Google Maps lets you easily save maps for offline use. Simply tap the mic and say “OK Map” to save the map that’s currently on your screen (for Android users). Or, select the menu (your profile photo in the top right) and choose “Offline maps,” and then “Select Your Own Map.” You can access these saved maps by looking under “Saved.”

Google Maps screenshots: from the left, screenshot 1 shows the menu with Offline maps pointed out. Screenshot 2 show offline map option to select your own map and download your Home area. Screenshot 3 shows a map with a box that contains the map area to download with cancel and download underneath.

10. Check out hiking and skiing trails

Heading out for a day of winter sports and adventure? Google Maps now features a wealth of ski and hiking trail maps for a number of major destinations including Snowbird, Big Sur and Yosemite. Just type your favorite resort into Google Maps and zoom in to see the different trails. Don’t forget to save the maps for offline use before you go!

Google Maps screenshot showing Map details box with Transit, Traffic, Biking, Terrain, Street View , COVID-19 info, and satellite options. Plus a legend box showing dark green for trails, lighter green for dedicated bike lanes, dotted green line for bicycle-friendly roads and brow for dirt/unpaved trails. At the top are options for searching for ATMs, Pharmacies, Parking, Transit, Attractions, Hotels, and Restaurants.

11. Avoid paying tolls

Looking to save a couple dollars on your next drive? Instead of taking a costly toll road or bridge, you can tell Google Maps to only show you free access routes. Just tap “Route Options” while searching for directions and toggle “tolls” off. Be careful, though: This could add a lot of miles to your trip!

3 screenshots: 1st from the left show a map of directions to Bear Mountain Trailside Museums & Zoo with estimated time for 3 routes plus the triple dots for the menu pointed out. The 2nd screenshot shows the map with a pop up showing options for route options (pointed out), add stop, set depart or arrive time, set a reminder to leave, and share directions. Screenshot 3 shows options to avoid highways, avoid tolls and avoid ferries with the option to remember settings.

12. Remember where you parked

When you arrive at your destination, select the little blue dot that represents your location, and you can select “Set as parking location.” For Android users, you can also leave a parking note (like the level in the parking garage) or a meter timer.

Did you know that Google Maps not only shows you how to get around while driving our nation’s interstates and city streets but also while you’re inside buildings like famous art museums, airports, and your local gym as well? When you look up a location, on the map, you’ll see a photo with a 360-degree icon. Tap the icon and you can view rooms inside and even walk within a space. (Try it with the Museum of the City of New York.) You can also quickly access a

 Street View of the exterior of the building the same way – great for when you’re trying to drive to an unfamiliar destination.

Google Maps screenshots: from the left, screenshot 1 shows map with blue dot signifying a person's location (below are Latest in Upper East Side and options for Explore, Go, Saved, Share, Contribute and Updates). In screenshot 2 there are options for Share your location, Add a missing place, Set as parking location (pointed out), Download offline map, Calibrate with Live Views and Cancel. In screenshot 3, there is a map with a large red icon entitle You parked near here and at the bottom a box entitled Save parking with options for Directions, Start and Clear. .

13. Share your location

There are times when it’s beneficial to share your location with others. Maybe you want someone to know where you are when you go out on a run or see where family members are at an amusement park. With Google maps, you can choose to share your location for a specific period of time or “Until you turn this off.” When someone is sharing their location with you, you can see them on the map, along with the time of the location information, and easily get directions to their location. 

You can also share your location while you’re driving. Once you’ve started a trip, swipe up from the bottom and you’ll see to “Share your trip progress” as your first option. 

Google Maps screenshots: from the left, screenshot 1 shows map with blue dot signifying a person's location (below are LAtest in Upper East Side and options for Explore, Go, Saved, Share, Contribute and Updates). In screenshot 2 there are options for Share your location (pointed out), Add a missing place, Set as parking location, Download offline map, Calibrate with Live Views and Cancel. In screenshot 3, you can see my location with percent battery left and in the box below there is a pull down menu for how long you want to share you location, recent contacts to share your location, More option link and a link to Lear what information will be shared.

14. Hear voice navigation through your car speakers

If you’ve paired your phone to make and receive calls in your car, you can also get navigation guidance. Go to menu (the three bars), then select “Settings,” then “Navigation settings” and then turn on ” “Play as Bluetooth phone call.”

Google Maps screenshots: from the left, screenshot 1 shows Google Maps menu with options for Turn on incognito mode, Your profile, Your timeline, Location sharing, Offline maps, Your data in Maps, Settings (pointed out), Add a missing place, Add your business, Help & Feedback. In screenshot 2 you see Settings options in sections. Under Getting Around, there are options for Navigation (pointed out), Ride services and Google Assistant, under Exploring Places there are options for Manage your preferences, and Your feedback about places, and under Using Maps there are options for Distance united, Scales, Voice Search and Location Sharing. In screenshot 3 there are options for Mute state (muted, alerts only and unmuted), Guidance volume (softer, normal and louder), Play voice over Bluetooth (pointed out), Access your Assistant with

15. Measure distances between points 

Want to know how far back the fence is on the ball field or calculate your run through the park? On the desktop of Google Maps, you can select a point by right clicking. Then select “Measure distance” from the menu. Add at least one more point, and you’ll see the distance. To measure distance between two points using the Google Maps app on your iPhone or Android phone, you first press and hold to bring up a menu, then add at least on additional point to see the distance. 

Google Maps screenshot showing 5 dots along a trail that show the total distance, plus a box entitle measure distance with a Total distance measurement.

16. Check the busyness of transit, stores, restaurants, and more

If you’re wondering how crowded the train will be or if a store or restaurant is really busy, the Google Maps app for Android and iOS will let you know. Google pulls in live location information if it is available or shows the projected busyness. You can even see how crowded trains and other public transit is and see when the next bus is arriving. 

Google Maps busyness screen shots. From the left, the first screenshot show Costco Wholesale list with Popular Time with a day of the week and downward arrow the change the day. Below is the Live time and busyness rating of a little busy and a graph showing how busy the location is throughout the day. The second screenshot show an itinerary for traveling to New Haven showing Pennsylvania Station at 5PM usually being as busy as it gets and New Haven State Street with a live rating of not too busy. In the 3rd screenshot you see a map with a bus icon and pullout bubble showing the bus line number, estimated time of arrival and an icon of one filled in person to show busyness level.

Updated on 6/29/2021

[Image credit: Screenshots via Techlicious/Google]

For the past 20+ years, Techlicious founder Suzanne Kantra has been exploring and writing about the world’s most exciting and important science and technology issues. Prior to Techlicious, Suzanne was the Technology Editor for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and the Senior Technology Editor for Popular Science. Suzanne has been featured on CNN, CBS, and NBC.

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