How to Use Google Maps

Discover what this powerful navigation tool has to offer

Google Maps is a completely free service that provides maps, public transport information, detailed directions, and listings of businesses to users all over the world. It’s one of the most popular services for people to use when traveling to new locations both domestically and abroad and is also a powerful tool for finding out where a business is, what hours it’s open, and what other people think about it.

Where to Download the Google Maps App

The full Google Maps tool can be used from any web browser on any device from a Windows 10 or Mac computer to an iOS or Android tablet or smartphone simply by going to the Google Maps website. Those using a smart device, however, may want to download either the iOS Google Maps app from the App Store or the Android version of Google Maps from the Google Play Store.

Most Android smartphones and tablets are sold with the Google Maps app already installed.

The Google Maps apps are free and feature all the functionality found on the web version. They are, however, better optimized to take full advantage of modern smartphone and tablet hardware and also allow for the downloading of maps for offline viewing.

How to Get Google Maps Directions

The Google Maps website and apps can give you directions to and from a location detailing how long it will take to get there, what transport options are available, and suggested times for leaving with an estimated arrival time.

This example uses the smartphone app, although the instructions for using the web version are almost identical.

  1. Open the Google Maps app on your iOS or Android device.

  2. Tap Search here.

  3. Type your destination in the Search field.

    Google Maps provides directions from your current location by default in a search. To look for Google directions from a different starting point, tap Your location and search for a beginning place as you did the destination.

  4. Browse the suggested results and tap on the one that you’re looking for.

    Google Maps app on iPhone showing location search path

    Make sure to double-check the location’s street name, city, and state to make sure that you get directions to the correct place. You may even need to check the country.

  5. The map for the location you choose loads with some basic information along the bottom of the screen. Tap Directions.

    If you have a specific route you want to take that isn't shown, you can create a Google Maps custom route.

    If this is correct, tap Directions. If the location is incorrect, repeat your search to find the place you’re after.

  6. The Google Maps driving directions display first by default. Tap Steps to read the turn-by-turn directions. This is useful if you’re a passenger assisting the driver or if you need to skip ahead to make sure you make the correct turns.

  7. Tap Start to begin real-time Google Maps driving directions that will guide you each step of the way.

    Google Maps driving directions in iPhone app

    Google Maps driving directions uses your device’s GPS to track your location which can drain your device’s battery. If possible, connect your smartphone or tablet to a power source during a long trip.

  8. If you prefer public transport options, tap the train icon to view public transport options. Tap on a route to view more details of it or tap the default Depart time to refine your search based on public transport leaving now or to specify an exact departure or arrival time.

    Public transport guide in Google Maps

    Tap Options to select specific public transport types and your preferred travel style. Tap Start when you are ready to leave.

    Customizing the arrival time can be useful when you need to get to a place at a specific time such as when catching a flight or going to a doctor’s appointment.

  9. You can also tap the person icon to view Google Maps walking directions. The three-lined icon shows you detailed directions, while the Live View option activates an augmented reality (AR) mode that overlays directions on top of what the camera sees.

    Tap Start for voice navigation to guide your walk.

  10. Tap the hailing icon to view Google directions for car services such as Uber. Estimated costs and travel times display at the bottom of the Google Maps app.

    Tap each company logo to compare details. When you’re ready, tap Open App.

    Uber and Didi options in Google Maps

    Tapping Open App opens the related car app on your smartphone or tablet. If you don’t have the appropriate app installed, you are prompted to install it.

  11. Tap the bicycle icon to view Google bike directions for cyclists.

  12. Tap the airplane icon to receive Google directions that involve flying. If no flights are available, you are presented with a Can’t find a flight there message. If flights are available, you see an estimated average cost and travel time.

    Click on See Flights on Google to open a browser window and compare flights on the Google website.

    Google Flights in the Google Maps app

How to Change Map Type and Details in Google Maps

The Google Maps apps and website offer several different visual styles that change the way the map looks while maintaining all of its functionality.

To change the map type in Google Maps, tap the diamond icon in the upper-right corner and then tap the option that you want to see.

Google Maps style options in the iPhone Google Maps app

How to Download Maps for Offline Viewing

If you think you might need to use Google Maps when you don't have a cellular or internet connection, you can save data from specific areas by performing a long press on the map, swiping left on the menu, and tapping Download and then Download again. In newer versions of the software, tap the three-dot icon and select Share Directions. Then, select to print or send the directions to another person or device.

Downloading offline maps in Google Maps on iPhone

Saving Google Maps areas for offline viewing can be useful if you’re flying into a new country and where you’ll have no service and will need directions to your accommodation.

Discover New Cafes, Restaurants, and Places With Google Maps

In addition to giving directions, Google Maps is also a powerful business directory that can be used to find places near and far.

To use the business directory, tap on a category from the floating menu at the top of the screen after opening the Google Maps app. The map then populates with nearby businesses in that category and a listing with basic information and photos.

To get more information on each business, tap on its map pin or name from the list. The address and contact information is readily available along with photos and reviews posted by other users.

Google Maps restaurant and cafe directory

You can post your own review and photos of any business on Google Maps, but you need to use your Google account to do so.