Google Maps: Tips, Tricks, and Hidden Features

Check out these tricks, tips, and cool hidden features

Google Maps is handy for getting directions to just about any destination, but you can do a lot more interesting things as well, including walking, cycling, and public transit directions. You can also look at a street view of your destination, or embed maps on your blog or website.

Get Walking, Cycling, and Public Transit Directions

Google Maps Returns To Apple's iPhone

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images 

Not only can you get driving directions to and from a location with Google Maps, 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 will customize 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 choice, preview the route with Google Street View so you can be aware of rough terrain, inclines, or traffic. 

Drag for Alternate Driving Directions

You aren't limited to the routes that Google prepares for you. When you want to avoid a construction zone or toll area or stop somewhere 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 is 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

Select the menu icon at the top of the navigation panel of a Google Map, then 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 will 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, choose the Send a link tab and copy the link to the map. Paste the link into a text field to send it via email or text message. This option works well when you are hosting a party, for example, and some 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 their 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; 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 so. Select Your Places in the side navigation panel, then select Maps > See all your maps. Select Create a New Map and pick a location. Add or draw flags, shapes, layers, or directions, and publish your map publicly or share it with a few 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 this while driving. 

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

See Your Location on a Map 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. It accomplishes this by using contacts with cell towers in the area. 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's in the vicinity. Just select Browse Street View images 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, select 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.