Download GPX file for this article

From Wikivoyage
Jump to navigation Jump to search

See also: Wikivoyage Mapmaking Expedition

Maps are graphs that show the position of destinations in relation to other places. They can be used for reference, planning, or travel, or a combination of these.



A map of Bali drawn for Wikivoyage, showing regions, main roads and some key locations

Maps have existed for hundreds of years and mapmaking become more common once exploration and discoveries of new lands began. However, these maps, such as those made by explorers in the 1500s, were often not drawn very accurately, as they lacked the tools for doing so. Still, they usually include features for actually using them in navigation or other intended uses, to fully understand the markings, one must understand the navigation techniques of the time. You don't have to know the exact position of a feature, as long as you can determine a safe route close enough that you find it.

Mapmaking gradually became more accurate as the related technologies evolved, and with aerial photography, satellites and GPS, maps have become extremely accurate. The accuracy has posed new problems: with former triangulation techniques, relative locations were often fairly exact while they could be considerably off from their claimed position; a fairway could be correctly drawn to pass between islands, but as the islands were off, a GPS navigator would have a boater steer straight towards one of them.

Maps are commonly incorporated into encyclopedias and travel guides such as this one; the map on the right was specifically created for Wikivoyage.

Map types[edit]

Layouts and designs[edit]

Many maps, particularly in historic times, were on a single sheet of paper; however, maps in more recent times have been in other layouts, including those in leaflets and whole books, which are called atlases. An entire three-dimensional world map to scale is a terrestrial globe, free of projection distortions but inherently much less portable than its two-dimensional counterparts.

While historic maps were often hand drawn, maps today are mostly computer-made.

Nowadays there is an abundance of information on any area, and the prime design choice to make is about balancing the amount of information to include against how easy it is to grasp; a cluttered map is difficult to use. Somebody who is to drive along highways needs to easily discern major cities and road numbers, which are clearly signposted on the road, and other features can be added to the extent they don't interfere with this. A biker needs a map that tells about cycleways, usable highway shoulders, usable minor roads, and topography. A traveller with a tent or caravan needs to know about campsites, of little importance to others.


The Lambert projection keeps area sizes correct and the equatorial area undistorted, with distortions in shapes and distances at higher latitudes.
The Gall-Peters projection is a variant with the undistorted areas elsewhere, here at 15° north and south.
In this projection areas close to the poles are stretched out also south-north to keep shapes correct, making the area extortion extreme.

Mapmakers have throughout history faced the problem that Earth is more-or-less a sphere, a round, three-dimensional object, while maps are two-dimensional and rectangular. Therefore, mapmakers have used varying methods to convert the physical Earth's shape onto a two-dimensional, rectangular map. The most common projection method is to squeeze a farther distance into a smaller distance for locations near the equator and stretch out the distances at higher latitudes. This is why relatively small landmasses near the North Pole appear as large as continents near the equator.

Maps can be made so that distances, angles, or areas remain true, but not so that all three are true at the same time. The distortions are also not equal all over the map. Different projections can get a quite accurate image along a meridian or latitude or around a point, with bigger distortion away from the area of main interest. Sometimes the differences are subtle, but for accurate measurement over long distances, such as in navigation, the specifics of the projection have to be taken in account. For maps of the world the distortions are obvious, but somebody accustomed to a specific projection may believe it gives the true image.


Maps can serve many purposes, but most important for travelers are usually road maps, political maps of national borders, and topographic maps that show mountains, deserts, rivers, etc. Many general-purpose maps try to incorporate all three of these to some degree.

Buying a map[edit]

Cover of a 1940 Michelin map of Mons and Luxembourg

Maps are often available from stores catering to users of the specific map type. Road maps can often be bought at petrol stations, hiking maps from visitor centres or stores for hiking equipment and so on. Also many book stores sell maps. Of course the maps can be bought on the web, from web stores of such businesses or of the publishers.

Map-making companies[edit]

Shop selling maps

Physical maps[edit]

  • The Geographers' A-Z Street Atlas[dead link] makes maps for urban areas in the United Kingdom. The first atlas of London was published in 1936 after its artists, Phyllis Pearsall, had completed the monumental task of walking the 3000 miles it took to cover every single one of London's 23,000 streets, to verify their names and locations, and even pinpoint house numbers, stations and points of interest. As well as being mapped, the streets were listed in the lengthy index, from Aaron Hill Road to Zoffany Street! While the London atlas is still the most iconic, every urban area in Britain now has its own A-Z, and the series has spawned numerous copies from commercial competitors.
  • Car tyre company Michelin[dead link] produces some of the best road maps in Europe, most notably of its native France, but also of most other European countries and of the continent as a whole. They were first made in 1905 to complement their famous Guides rouges (for hotels and restaurants, responsible for doling out the prestigious Michelin stars); the Guides verts (for tourist attractions, scenic routes and interesting cities) followed in the 1930s. Other prominent road atlas makers in the European market are the AA, Collins and Philip's.
  • The Ordnance Survey was first conducted across Great Britain in the wake of the Jacobite uprising (1745) and was a pioneering attempt to map first the whole of Scotland, then all of the British Isles, at a scale of 1:36,000. Throughout the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, these maps were refined and updated using the method of triangulation – the trig points which stand on most peaks in the country are the product of the 1936 effort. Today, the OS use satellite mapping like everyone else, and they make by far the most detailed topographic maps of Britain, which are essential to any traveller wanting to stray off the beaten path. The pink-covered Landranger general-purpose maps (1:50,000) and orange Explorer walking and cycling maps (1:25,000) are the two most popular series, beside OS MasterMap, the Ordnance Survey's premium product, which covers all fixed features of the United Kingdom that are greater than a few metres in a single continuous digital map.
  • Rand McNally is well-known for their maps of the United States. The company publishes books, with each page in the book showing a map of one of the fifty states. The books include other sections as well, such as information on certain routes and destinations. Use Rand McNally's national road atlases if you're interested in using them for transportation over large distances (such as a hundred miles or more), but not if you're driving around a city or interested in the detailed topography of a certain place.
  • No city's map is more familiar to inhabitants and visitors than that which depicts its public transport system. Perhaps the single most influential of these is London's Tube map, specifically the 1933 version created by draughtsman Harry Beck, which was the first to dispense with geographical accuracy and focus on a simplistic 'circuit diagram' rendering of the lines using bold primary colours and only verticals, horizontals and 45° diagonals allowed. Beck's influence can be seen in the modern Tube map, as well as metro maps of systems around the world. Other iconic transit maps, not all of which have signed up to Beck's ideals, include those depicting systems in Berlin, Chicago, Madrid, Moscow, New York City, Paris, Tokyo and Washington, D.C.
  • The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office issues the Admiralty charts on most areas relevant for international shipping. Although locally produced maps may give more detail, the nearly global coverage make these charts a common choice.

Electronic maps[edit]

See also: GPS navigation

Most navigator devices and navigation apps come with maps. For some you need to buy the maps you need, some have maps as free downloads and some use online maps downloaded tile for tile as needed – as long as your internet connection works. Some online maps can be used with a web browser.

Maps available on the WWW include:

  • OpenStreetMap (OSM) is an open-source online map service run by volunteers. Most maps on Wikivoyage are based on OSM, showing some of the layers. OSM map data is used also e.g. for some biking and hiking maps.
  • Google Maps are one of Google's many products and are fairly similar to OSM. Google Maps also provide directions, so you can enter the place you're departing and your destination into the system and it will give you directions, which you can print. Also run by Google is Google Earth, a map of the world created from satellite images that is detailed to even individual houses. Earlier versions of the application, which were downloadable, enabled users to draw routes on top of the map and construct models of buildings.

Using a map[edit]


Certain activities, especially those where transportation is involved, are made easier with a map.

Subway map for Boston, this one on a non-distorted base map


See also: Driving

When driving, a road atlas offers some advantages over a collection of unwieldy, loose map sheets. It is easier to use a map for driving when you're traveling long distances on major highways than when you are driving down a narrow street in a large city.

Having a second person as map reader is essential unless you have a device giving directions by voice. Having the device in a well-placed rack allows the driver to use its screen for navigation when little happens on the road, but only as long as there are no surprises or confusion – checking more carefully or changing settings will take away your attention from the road for the moment you should have noticed that elk, bike or child. In streets or on busy roads there may be too much happening for even a glance at the navigator.

Public transport[edit]

Public transport services provide maps showing the extent of their service. Some have the lines on a normal map, which can be used also for orienteering by foot, or a miniature one that can easily be used together with another city map. Maps for underground lines are often schematics with distorted distances and directions; the user is assumed to know what station they are heading for, using the map to see whether and where to transfer and to see the intermediate stops.


See also: Hiking, Orienteering

Many parks, especially those at a national level, will provide maps of their trail network. These will include other locations, like a visitor center or points of interest, as a reference for comparison with the trails. Park maps are often topographic, showing hills by contour lines, with each contour line representing a particular elevation. The farther apart the contour lines are, the flatter the area. Therefore, trails that cross many contour lines within a short distance will be more difficult hikes than trails that cross only a few or no contour lines. Also vegetation types are often shown, at least on the level of distinguishing forest from open terrain, and marking marshes and stone fields.

Where trails are not well-marked or where you might want to make a detour – such as to a place to camp wild, cook or swim, or to seek shelter for deteriorating whether – you will need a map detailed enough to allow navigation independent of the trail and its markings. In open landscape the scale can be quite small, but in rocky or forested terrain you need to be able to use details in the immediate vicinity for navigation. Regardless, they should be detailed enough to let you choose and keep to a feasible route in the terrain.


See also: Cycling

In some cases there are maps showing cycling routes for a particular area. These are often made in a general attempt to further cycling, for commuters or tourists, which means areas with cycling maps often have relatively well developed cycling infrastructure, or at least a good amount of safe and comfortable routes, be it by roads or along dedicated bikeways. On ordinary road maps it is hard to see whether there are bikeways or wide enough paved shoulders, and whether the roads otherwise are suited for cycling. Cycling maps can also point out especially nice routes along minor roads, and relevant services.


See also: Navigation

Sea charts are meant for navigating boats and ships. They show coastlines and harbors, anchorages, fairways, shallows, depths, navigational aids etc.

Common symbols[edit]

Symbology can vary considerably between map types and scales, regions, and publishers. Any decent paper map will include a legend with a key to explain the meanings of the used colors and symbols. General-purpose online maps and navigation apps like Google Maps, on the other hand, tend to let users guess the meaning of their vastly simplified color schemes and icon sets. Luckily, there are some common principles found in many maps that make this possible.

Point symbols[edit]

  • Small circles or dots are used on small scale maps to represent settlements.
  • Stars often represent capital cities.
  • Aircraft symbols represent airports and airfields.
  • Anchors represent harbors or mooring points.
  • Triangles with a number next to them represent mountain peaks and their elevation.


  • Solid lines of varying width, often in red to yellow or white colors, represent different kinds of roads.
  • Dashed black and white lines usually represent railroads.
  • Dashed or dash-dotted lines, especially those with shading around them, usually represent some kind of political boundary.
  • Blue lines typically represent linear water features such as rivers, streams, canals, or coast lines.
  • Brown, thin lines running in parallel represent relief features and elevation.


  • Green areas can represent a number of different (often natural or semi-natural) areas such as forests, scrubland, or protected areas. On orienteering maps, green is used for thick vegetation, while on a city map it will often signify some sort of park.
  • Blue areas represent larger bodies of waters such as lakes and oceans.
  • Yellow areas may represent beaches, agricultural land, or rural areas.
  • White areas represent areas of open terrain, or navigable waters in nautical maps.
  • Areas shaded or hatched in red are often inaccessible to the public for one reason or another.

See also[edit]

This travel topic about Maps is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.