The 3 Best Maps for Your iPhone for Travel

I’ve traveled around the world and everywhere I go, I’m addicted to the maps on my phone!  I literally use them everywhere, whether it’s to find out where to turn, local trails, shopping areas, transit, and more.   My map addiction has a long history too. Back in the days before smartphones, I was the guy buying Microsoft Streets and Trips and printing out maps on paper.  It provided me with hours of fun and excellent directions, but smartphone apps (for my iPhone) are the future.

There are many excellent maps out there, each with their own strengths and weakness.   One important point to be aware of is that most smaller mapping apps all get their data from the same source!  That source is the OpenStreetMap project, and it’s amazing.  A worldwide, user editable, and free to use.  Think of it as the Wikipedia of Maps.  Some of my iPhone map app recommendations below use it.

Without further ado, here they are:

The 3 Best iPhone Map Apps for Travel in 2017

#1: Google Maps (free)

Why I love it: It should come as no surprise that the best map app is Google Maps.  It’s not perfect, but it does offer excellent integration of transit, icons of places I’ve searched for in the past, but the best reason I love it is the colorization for shopping areas.  The tan colored neighborhoods are shopping streets, which generally have a high concentration of restaurants, shops, markets, etc.  I’ve had a lot of fun just wandering around random shopping areas in Mallorca, Taipei, London, etc.

Drawbacks:

Availability of using offline.  If you’re connected online, then it’s great, but if not, then you might be out of luck.  There is a  hidden feature to save a Google Map area for offline viewing, but many many places aren’t available offline, leaving you high and dry.   Also, I find Google Maps is a bit unreliable with secondary trails.  Sometimes it has them, sometimes it doesn’t, and often the smaller trails they have aren’t reliable.  I’ve encountered this in hiking meccas like Chamonix, France and Interlaken, Switzerland, as well as smaller countries.

It needs a LOT of data.  A great way to burn through your international data allowance is to use Google Maps.  Every time you zoom in or out, it takes a lot of data.  Accidentally showing terrain or satellite chews through the data as well.  If you have a small pipeline (like the T-Mobile unlimited 2G data), or limited bandwidth, it’s a big problem.

Screenshot:

click to enlarge

Notice the nice clear display of the correctly color-coded subway lines, the shopping areas in tan, A saved location in the form of a star on the map, and places I’ve searched for (in this case, the Snake Market called Hwahsi Night Market in Taipei, which I thought was a disappointment).

Get Google Maps in iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/google-maps-navigation-transit/id585027354

#2: maps.me (free)

Why I love it:  I love maps.me.  Seriously.  LOVE IT.  Yes, it’s a little quirky, and no, it’s not as polished or comprehensive as Google Maps, but it does only one thing and does it exceptionally well: offline maps.  It uses maps from OpenStreetMap, and displays them in a very uncluttered way.  Downloading maps to use offline is trivial: just zoom into a city or region, and it will ask if you want to download the map for that area.  Done. Easy.  Another thing I LOVE about it is the breadcrumb trail.  Set that up in settings under “recent track”.   One additional amazing It does support navigation routing (offline as well), but I don’t really have a need for that.

Drawbacks:

3D buildings is an annoying distraction.  For some reason, this was feature was enabled by default, and the novelty of it lasted 0.01 seconds.  The 3D buildings get in the way.  Turn them off.

Searching is a challenge sometimes.  It’s great for viewing maps but finding a specific store might be a problem. OpenStreetMap doesn’t have a very comprehensive listing of businesses, and the business categorization is hit or miss.  So if you’re looking for something like “Thai food,” it might not have what you’re looking for.

No distance for breadcrumb.  It’s not a FitBit.  Although it will show you a very nice track of where you went today, it doesn’t tell you how far you went.  A small thing, but I’d like to see that.

Screenshots:

Nice display of trails at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo
A long walk in Frankfurt, Germany. The Red pins are saved locations (typically restaurants and hotels)

Clean, simple, comprehensive, and reliable.  Plus an awesome breadcrumb trail!

Get maps.me in iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/maps.me-offline-map-navigation/id510623322

#3: AllSubway ($0.99)

Why I love it:  Again, this app does one thing, and it does it very well.  For $0.99, you get OVER 200 TRANSIT MAPS!  They’re alphabetically organized by city, and in my experience they’re exactly the same maps as the one produced by the transit authority.  I’ve used this in Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Hong Kong, and other cities around the world.  They even have some of the regional or national maps, such as the Germany DB Bahn ICE map.

Drawbacks:

Just the maps. It doesn’t tell you when or how often trains run.  It’s just the transit maps.

London.  London is back!  But it was missing before. I wrote the app developer and I guess the British Underground has some regulations regarding the distribution of their map and licensing fees.  I’m not sure why they’d want to limit the distribution of their transit maps, but apparently it’s sorted out for now.

Screenshots:

A listing of maps which start with C
A sample transit map. This one is for Graz, Austria. Pinch to zoom in/out

Get AllSubway in iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/allsubway/id299081353

 

Honorable Mentions:

CityMaps2Go (freemium): Also based on OpenStreetMaps, this is a bit more well-rounded map than maps.me, with more/better information about destinations.  However, somewhere in with all the polish (and inApp purchases) it loses it’s simplicity and provides some unnecessary extras like travel guides.

DB Navigator (free): Great way to check train timings across all of Europe.

MyRadar (freemium): Great app to see where it’s raining.  Excellent coverage around the world, and super easy to use.  Ads are annoying, but $1.99 to remove them seems a steep price to pay.

 

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