We’ve all used Google Maps to help us find public transport routes, avoid walking past our destinations or even as a sat nav in a car.

What you probably don’t know is how useful Google Maps can be as a tool for lifestyle design. Google Maps has untapped potential as a travel, socialising and recreation enhancer. Within it are hidden features and unused functions which are game-changers. Use the following Google Maps tips and tricks to get the most out of whatever area in the world you find yourself in.

Google Maps tips and tricks

Location optimiser

You’re bound to have searched for places to go or things to do on Maps before.

Despite the wealth of coverage Maps has about the world, have you ever noticed how you only see a handful of things you search for? Ever get the lingering feeling that you’re not seeing everything there is to see on this big wide world map?

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Optimiser One
This is Central London. There are a bucketload more restaurants than this.

Standard searches on Maps have limitations. Google Maps offers preset types of places such as ‘Restaurants’, ‘Hotels’, ‘Things to do’ as buttons on the screen. However, clicking on one of the options only gets you so far on the map. It doesn’t showcase ALL the possible options for this type of place in a given area making discovering things more difficult. Even clicking the ‘Search this area’ button doesn’t always reveal the depth of options that are out there.

In the past, Maps used to reveal all the options for a place type in the chosen search area but they no longer keep up this functionality. Now people lament not being able to find new places or see all the options available to feel they’re getting the most out of the area.

There’s a way to increase the number of options you see for a given area though.

On the map, click on a location pin or any given area. In the example above, I clicked on a restaurant.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Optimiser Two

On the sidebar that pops up, you’ll see a list of options. Click on ‘Nearby’.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Optimiser Three

You’ll then have the option to search. Put in your desired type of location or click on one of the default options Maps gives. In this example, we’re searching for more restaurants close by.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Optimiser Four

Maps will now display more options of that place type around the area you clicked on. In our example, you can see there are more options close by compared to before.

Despite this, note that for some reason Google Maps won’t necessarily show all the possible options for that place type in that area. The closer you zoom into a particular place, the more likely Google Maps will reveal additional options that you searched for.

Another case where this is useful is with descriptive search terms. Sometimes a descriptive search term in Maps doesn’t bring up an option associated with that term. For instance, you’d think that searching specifically for ‘cocktail bars’ would bring up every cocktail bar in town or certainly the vicinity but this isn’t always the case even when the location has been categorised as that term.

The reason for this is that Google Maps prioritises locations and businesses with high prominence. How this is calculated remains a mystery but not being displayed right away due to lack of prominence can be frustrating to the businesses as well as users who want to see all options so they don’t miss out on a potential gem.

Using this location optimiser technique beyond a standard search helps to ensure you’re seeing as many relevant options as possible.

Popular times omniscience

Ever wished you could know when to avoid crowds in a city and saunter into a place without having to wait?

While no perfect crowd-predicting crystal ball exists, there is something close.

Google Maps offers you the ability to see which operating hours are the busiest for any place on any day of the week. This cool feature lets you anticipate how busy a particular venue is going to be allowing you to adjust when you go saving you waiting time plus the experience of large crowds (if that’s what you want).

To access it, search for a place in the search bar or click on its location pin on the map. This will bring up information about the place. Scroll down until you see a section titled ‘Popular times’. This section displays a bar chart for each day. The taller the bar, the busier the place. A bar close to the dotted line indicates the location is near peak capacity.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Popular One
Google Maps Tips And Tricks Popular Two

In this example, we can see this particular darts bar reaches high popularity between 4-7pm on Wednesdays compared with 3-6pm on Thursdays showing it’s better to go there on a Thursday if you have to go after standard work hours and want to avoid crowds.

On the day itself, the red bar highlights the current live hour accompanied with an alert indicating if the place is busier or less busy than expected.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Popular Three
In this example, the red bar overshoots the blue one indicating that the venue is a lot busier than normal.

This knowledge is win-win. Either you can use it to deliberately avoid more crowded places or you can willingly walk into them because the more the merrier in some places. Use it to your advantage.

Vibe detection – getting a feel for a place

So we now have basic omniscience for whether a place is busy or not. What about knowing how the place actual looks and feels from Maps alone?

The images we see of places often show the pick of the bunch highlights. A restaurant will often put its popular dishes front and centre on a photo reel. A bar will show its best drinks or bar counter. A hotel might show its premium rooms first, hiding away the lesser known ones which you could end up in.

How do we get a more comprehensive overview of the entire place?

We can do this through the ‘Vibe’ section. On a selected place on Maps, scroll down to the ‘Photos and videos’ section, then scroll across until you see the ‘Vibe’ card. On a phone you should be able to click on ‘Photos’ from the pop-up menu, then scroll across.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Vibe

The Vibe photos will give you a more detailed insight into the look, feel and space of a site, often from all angles. From this you can assess its suitability with you. Is that coffee shop the type of space you can sit in for hours on your laptop? Does that bar have adjacent seating or would you have to sit across from your date like an interview? And so on.

On occasion, you can even see an entire panorama of a location. Scroll right of the ‘Vibe’ card to see the ‘Street View & 360°’ card. However, be aware that most indoor locations will not have a 360° panorama of their interior and you’ll only see the view from the street most of the time.

Photos give a nice visual impression of a place but image isn’t everything, what about its reputation?

This is where the collective intelligence of reviews comes in.

Reviews are nothing new and we see ratings of places right away on phone versions of Maps via the scores on the pins.

But not all review scores are equal. If you want an accurate way to consider reviews you need to factor in two things: sample size and recency.

Sample size is how large the population of reviewers is; the bigger the better. A 5 star rating from 1 reviewer means nothing compared to a 4.3 average from 2000 people. The latter is a proven place of quality, the former’s reputation is still up in the air.

Recency means weighing assessments from others who’ve visited the place recently higher than those who’ve visited it in the distant past. You wouldn’t favour newer opinions more for everything in life (e.g. it’d be foolish to say a brand new book must be better than one written long ago) but for locations this pays off. The decor, atmosphere, staff and product lines could be entirely different now than a couple of years back.

It’s easy to learn both on Google Maps. Clicking on a location will instantly reveal the review score out of five including how many people have given a score in brackets.

Factoring in recency requires a little more effort. Click on ‘Reviews’ in the menu, then scroll down until you see ‘Sort’ or ‘Sort by’. From here, you should be able to select the category of ‘Newest’ which will arrange the reviews in order of most recent.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Reviews

From here you can make a more accurate assessment on the quality of a place. If the most recent reviews are positive, this is a great sign. If instead the more recent reviews are lacking compared to the overall score, this discrepancy might reveal the place isn’t what it once was.

An extra tip for the even more inquisitive among you is to look at the responses from the owners to reviews. If a staff member is taking time to respond to feedback often, this is a good sign the venue has exceptional customer service. Be careful of responses that seem repetitive however, they may have just assigned someone to copy-paste replies for the sake of trying to look good on Maps.

Preference prioritisation

Google Maps’ intelligent algorithms work to update recommendations you see based on your search history. But what if you get fed up of seeing the same places over and over again or have a specific place type in mind that you want to see factored in?

There is in fact a secret way to maximise the recommendations you receive based on your personal preferences.

On your phone, tap your profile icon when in Maps, then proceed to ‘Settings’. Scroll down until you find ‘Manage your preferences’. This will bring up three options. You can specify your dietary preferences (‘Dietary’), types of things you’d like to see more of (‘Interested’), and things you’d like to see less of (‘Not interested’).

If you have specific place types in mind that you want to see more of, your best bet is to update the ‘Interested’ feature. Clicking on it will reveal a current list of topics and places you’re interested in (if you’re new to this feature then the already added topics are based on your browsing history by Maps). You can choose to add more topics, particularly cuisine types for restaurants.

I decided to add ‘Cajun’ cuisine to my list of preferences and immediately saw Cajun-themed restaurants appear on Google Maps when I returned to the app.

Use this hidden feature and experience the benefits of tailored customisation to your preferences.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Preferences

Area Busyness

We’ve seen how to know the busyness of individual venues but what about knowing how busy the wider streets and outdoor parts of town are in general?

If you’ve used Google Maps enough, you’ve probably seen how some areas of a town or city are coloured in yellow. This is a sign that those areas are some of the most popular on average with a higher amount of footfall.

On top of this, there are even further ways to glean live popularity of areas. When you’re scrolling live on Maps, pay attention to whether a certain highlighted area is darker yellow than average. This shows that the area has some of the highest footfall in town right now.

The absolute busiest areas have an additional notification. If you zoom in on the darker yellow areas, you’ll see an icon denoting ‘Busy area’. The orange busyness icon appears when you zoom close enough into an area that the map scale is about 2,000 ft or 1 km. This is the ultimate sign that there are a lot of people in this part of town which can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking to do in town.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Busyness
The area around the infamous Harrods department store. Unsurprisingly one of the busiest.

Saving and labelling hotspots

Another one of the useful Google Maps tips and tricks is organising favourite or desired locations so that you don’t have to search for them again and again each time you open the app.

The ‘Save’ feature is at the heart of this. When you click or tap on a location, you’ll be given the option to save it on the pop-up menu. You can choose to save it under a particular type of list such as ‘Want to go’ or your own list. Once you add it, it’ll be colour-coded on maps so it always stands out.

But there’s an even more useful function for hotspots: labelling. You can give a place a custom label that you always call upon making searching or locating this place on the map much easier.

On a location’s pop-up menu, click on the three dot icon located to the side, then select ‘Add label’. From here, you can enter your choice of label or use one of the go-to options available such as ‘Work’ or ‘Gym’.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Label One

In my example I’ve shown my favourite foreign language bookshop in London. Since it’s labelled accordingly, it’ll stay colour-coded but more importantly, will be selected straight away once I search ‘Foreign language bookshop’ in Maps rather than me having to go through all the individual branches to find the right one.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Label Two
Foyles, Charing Cross Road branch. Genuinely the best foreign language bookshop in London bar none.

You can imagine how useful this shortcut is for other places you frequent when you want to see travel updates and more.

Google Maps Offline

Yes you read that correctly, you can even use Google Maps offline.

Google Maps lets you download particular location maps so that you can access them without internet connection.

To do so, tap or click on your profile icon then choose ‘Offline maps’. You can then choose to save a recommended map or select your own one.

This feature is particularly handy when you’re in areas with bad coverage (although it doesn’t hurt to learn the ancient but cool skills of geonavigation). An offline map could get you out of the sticky mess of being lost or help you figure out the travel route you need in time.

Google Maps Tips And Tricks Offline


We all think we know Google Maps as it’s such a common app but there are many unknown Google Maps tips and tricks we can deploy to make our lives easier. Use the several techniques shown to learn about a new locality as quickly as possible or even reveal secrets about the place you live in you never knew about.

Knowing which places are buzzing could mean the difference between a fun night out meeting lots of different people or a mediocre one with few social opportunities. Knowing how busy a venue is could mean the difference between smooth entry or wasting part of your life waiting in an unnecessary line. Knowing the vibe and layout of a bar could mean the difference between a good date or a bad one.

Our forebears would have killed to have access to the powerful technologies we have today. Google Maps is commonplace but has the potential to magnify our social, dating, travel and recreation lives to higher levels. Use it wisely.

Like this post? Share it with others who would find it useful using the icons on the side of the page and subscribe to Abroad Lifestyles to ensure you keep your finger on the pulse for lifestyle design and personal development wherever you are in the world.