Google Maps is good. Let’s just get that out of the way first. Google’s ever-updating, ever-improving navigation is popular and robust enough to have more or less brought on the death of the paper map, and it feels like it’s getting more and more accessible by the day.
But there are still reasons why you wouldn’t want to, or can’t, use Google Maps. Some countries, like China, run a pretty tight ship when it comes to regulation, making Google Maps over there as good as useless, or maybe you just don’t want Google algorithms profiting off your data. Whatever your reasons, we won’t pry, and instead treat you to the best map apps that aren’t prefaced with “Google.”
1. Pocket Earth
This iOS-only map app uses the popular OpenStreetMap data to give you up-to-date navigation all around the world. Crucially, you can download maps for offline use, and it has great organizational tools such as pins which can be categorized into groups.
There are plenty of layers and extra info you can add to Pocket Earth, and you’re given a lot of flexibility about what level of detail is shown on your maps. A real bonus here is the Wikipedia layer, which links to the online encyclopedia for various points of interest on your map.
The basic version is free, but for £4.99, you get topographical maps as well as improved offline functionality and other features.
One of the best features of this robust open-source navigation app is the presence of offline maps, which ensures that wherever you are in the world – no matter your signal – you’ll be able to find your way. The maps are very nicely detailed, recalling the aesthetic of Ordnance Survey maps, and frequent updates mean you’re never out of date.
You can really break down what you see on your map, too – from things like toll roads and street lighting to more specific variables like road surface and road quality. You can select roads to avoid and multiple stops, and everything is super-responsive once you’re on the road. The UI isn’t gorgeous, but it’s highly customizable, letting you fine-tune which elements take priority during navigation.
Citymapper is more narrow in its scope than Google Maps but does its sole job better than any app out there. Namely, it’s a public transport app, showing you how to get around many of the world’s top cities using bus, tram, subway and other forms of public transit.
The app keeps an up-to-date database of all public transit routes in its supported cities, showing prices and alerts, and letting you keep a list of your favorite locations to travel to.
Now this is a nice one. Maps.me has all the necessities you’d want from a map app – traffic info, public transport, cycling navigation, you name it. Unlike many other map apps, however, it also has that Google Maps perk of letting you download maps to use offline – handy when traversing foreign cities or if you find yourself Internet-less.
It’s good for all kinds of scenarios. If you’re exploring a city, it shows all the important points of interests and things to see, while hikers in the wilderness also benefit, as it has a regularly updated database of hiking trails all around the world. Once you’ve planned your trip or hike, you can bookmark it and send it to a friend, too.
The Web-based version is excellent, too, letting you pick from dozens of categories, then set up filters to find exactly what you’re looking for.
5. Bing Maps
Did you know that Bing Maps is just as old as Google? Yep, the Microsoft-owned map service was originally known as MapPoint before taking on its more catchy name. It’s packed with plenty of features, including a traffic overlay and 3D views. For you more traditional mappers out there, or people working in town planning, it has the full ordinance survey map of the UK, too.
Bing tends to pick different routes from Google, and when you compare them, Google usually comes out on top when it comes to journey planning. But if you’re looking for neat extra features like 3D views and OS maps, as well as its own comprehensive answer to Street View, then Bing’s worth a pop.
6. Here WeGo
If a consortium of BMW, Audi and Mercedes were willing to cough up $3 billion to Nokia for this app, there must be something good about it, right? It supports over 200 countries and provides all basic features like navigation, places to visit and detailed routes, as well as giving you up-to-date info and prices on all the public transport links around your area, calculating them for you.
Here WeGo offers current route conditions using different information like police reports, cameras, Twitter feeds, construction sites, speed cameras and other data to keep you informed and provide a faster route if required. Its offline maps support is also amazing with the ability to archive a whole continent and get step-by-step navigation even while offline.
7. BackCountry Navigator
Found yourself in the middle of Lord Knows Where, perhaps on a mountainside or in a dense forest in the Canadian wilderness? Google Maps won’t be much help because it doesn’t detail the topography of the land like BackCountry does.
Designed with hikers and outdoorsy types in mind, this map uses GPS waypoints and allows you to do such manual things like enter the longitude/latitude coordinates of your location.
It’s a crucial companion when you’re out in nature, relying on highly detailed topography maps from various established sources like USTopo, OpenCycleMaps, and even nautical maps from the NOAA RNC (should you get shipwrecked or something).
Waze is a community-driven map service that is fast to navigate and very intuitive. Its highly interactive system, which lets you warn other drivers of changes in traffic, speedcams, hazards and so on on the roads, proved so popular, that Google bought the company in 2013. It’s telling that six years on Waze continues to exist as a separate entity from Google Maps.
You can get information about the cheapest gas stations near you, under-constructions sites, accidents, speed cameras, police and other information that is updated by millions of other Waze users. You can even track other Waze users’ and your friends’ locations in real time. Bear in mind that it’s designed more for drivers than pedestrians looking to get around a city.
Navmii is a feature-rich maps and navigation service that is serving over eighty-five countries. It offers all the basic features such as turn-by-turn navigation, bookmarking, nearest locations, and search and satellite views.
It provides alerts like speed limits, traffic, speed cameras, construction sites, slow-downs and much more. All this gets even better with community-driven updates from other Navmii users. Navmii also partners with Foursquare, TripAdvisor and What3Words to provide customized searches.
Its other features include Google Street View, ETA indicator, Automatic rerouting, HD maps, and full offline navigation support, though my favorite has to be the Driver Scoring which rates your driving based on the movement and GPS sensors in your phone! You’re interested now, right?
MapQuest is another great Google Maps alternative, especially if you use public transportation for commuting. It will let you compare local transportation services for your route like Uber or car2go and also book cars right from the app. It also provides quick updates about all local transportation options near you. If you like walking to different places, it will show you how many calories you will burn, too, which is a nice perk!
Its advanced features include automatic re-routing, real-time traffic conditions, ETA, the ability to detect cameras/accidents/construction sites/slow-downs, location-sharing, weather reports and roadside assistance. It also has some basic features of Google Maps like turn-by-turn navigation, bookmarking, best route, satellite view, nearby locations to visit, etc.
Most of the above-mentioned apps focus on providing the most up-to-date information about your local area, perhaps even better than the great G-Maps itself. What do you think? If you’ve tried any of these (and others) and have some experiences to report – good or bad – let us know!
This article was first published in December 2015 and was last updated in December 2019.