Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With Google Maps

Check out these tricks, tips, and cool hidden features

Google Maps is handy for finding out driving directions to a destination, but you can do a lot of other interesting things with it as well, such as getting walking or cycling directions, looking at a street view of your destination, and embedding maps on your blog or website.

Get Walking, Cycling, and Public Transit Directions

Google Maps Returns To Apple's iPhone

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Not only can you get driving directions to and from a location with Google Maps, but you can also view walking and biking directions. If you're in a major metropolitan area, public transportation information is also included. After you enter your starting address and destination, instead of choosing the car icon, tap the icon for Transit, Walking, or Cycling, and Google Maps customizes the directions for you.

When Google suggests cycling routes, the routes are listed in order of shortest to longest, some of which may lead you up a hill or into an area with traffic. Before you make your decision, preview the route with Google Street View to avoid rough terrain and traffic. 

Drag for Alternate Driving Directions

You aren't limited to the routes Google prepares. When you want to avoid a construction zone or toll area or stop off to see something along the way, you can change the route by clicking on the path to set a point and then dragging the point to a new location to modify the path. You don't want to use a heavy hand when you do this, but it's a useful feature. After you move the point, the alternate routes disappear and your driving instructions change to accommodate the new path.

Embed Maps on Your Website or Blog

Click on the menu icon at the top of the navigation panel of a Google Map, and select Share or embed map. Select the Embed a map tab for a URL you can use to embed a map in any webpage that accepts embedded tags. Just copy and paste the code, and you have a professional-looking map on your page or blog that shows your viewers precisely where your business or event is located.

If you prefer to send a link to a person, click the Send a link tab and copy the link to the map. Send it in an email or text message. This option works well when you are hosting a party and many of your guests have never been to your home.

View Mashups

Google allows programmers to hook into Google Maps and combine it with other data sources, which means you may see some unusual maps. The Gawker website took advantage of this feature at one point to make the "Gawker Stalker." This map used real-time reports of celebrity sightings to show the location on Google Maps. A science fiction twist to this idea is the Doctor Who Locations map that shows areas where the BBC television series is filmed. Other versions show where U.S. zip code boundaries are, or you can even find out what the effects of a nuclear blast would be based on location.

Create Your Own Maps

You can make your own map, and you don't need programming expertise to do it. Go to Your Places in the side navigation panel, select Maps > See all your maps. Select Create a New Map and pick a location. Add flags, shapes, and other objects, draw, add layers and directions, and publish your map publicly or share it only with friends. Are you planning a picnic in the park? Make sure your friends can find their way to the right picnic shelter with a customized map.

Get a Map of Traffic Conditions

Depending on your city, you may be able to view traffic conditions when you look at Google Maps. Combine that with the ability to create an alternate route to skip the toughest traffic jams for the best driving experience. Just don't try doing this while you're driving. 

When you are driving, Google Navigation usually warns you of upcoming traffic delays. 

See Your Location on a Map From Your Phone Without GPS

Your position in a Google Map is indicated by a blue dot. The Google Maps mobile app can show you approximately where you are from your phone — even if you don't have GPS or your GPS is not working — by using its contacts with the area's cell towers. This method isn't as precise as GPS, so the blue dot indicating your position is surrounded by a light blue circle indicating an area you are in rather than a precise spot. Still, the information is useful when you are trying to find where you are on a map.

Street View

Google Street View shows panoramic images of many streets and locations. You can follow a route down a street and look around the 360-degree panorama in 3D to see what is in the vicinity. The images are so clear, you can read license plate numbers from the captured images. Just click the Browse Street View images icon at the bottom of any map.

Street View isn't available in all areas. To see which streets are available on the map you are using, click or tap the Pegman icon in the bottom corner of the map to display the streets that have been mapped for Street View. They appear in blue on the map.