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Online maps are becoming more and more personalized. Long gone are the days when, if you wanted to get to know an area, you had to buy a paper map, and then stand like an idiot trying to get the flapping paper under control. Now it’s just a case of whipping out the smartphone and calling up Google Maps Get There Faster - 10 Google Maps & Navigation Tips Get There Faster - 10 Google Maps & Navigation Tips Google Maps is still the most powerful mapping service ever, despite what Apple might say. Whether you’re using Google Maps in a browser on your desktop or an app on your mobile phone, Google Maps... Read More . Slick, cool, and guaranteed to get the ladies gazing in admiration.

Google Maps has come a long way since it was first introduced back in 2005. From its basic beginnings, it is now getting packed with endless amounts of features. The latest idea — making the maps more local to your area, so you can find what you are looking for more easily.

Throw away the phone book, and strap yourself in boys and girls. It’s time to get hyper-local.

Search for Places Nearby

This really neat feature enables you to enter an address into Maps, and then search for places nearby. It can be anything you want. This is excellent if you are visiting an unfamiliar area, and you need to know where the interesting places are. Let’s take a look at how that works.

I am walking round my area in Frankfurt. I am feeling peckish and fancy a burger. So let’s go to the local McDonalds. Enter that into Maps.

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The second one is the one I am looking for. Clicking on that, I get directions to my cold burger, and uncooked fries.

All the relevant details pop up, and very helpfully, a red pin drops on the map on the exact location. So you can zero in exactly on that Happy Meal.

But wait! Suddenly you want something much nicer in your stomach! McDonalds doesn’t seem good enough. So what to do? You want something else, but you are not sure exactly where to go. This is where Maps helps.

Click once inside the search box, and the “Search Nearby” function appears. It automatically suggests what it thinks you are looking for (typical Google, always thinking they know what we are thinking before we do). But these categories can be changed if necessary. Just type into the box what you are looking for. So “coffee shop” (without the speech marks), supermarket, whatever.

But since we are looking for a nicer restaurant, click on that and Google Maps springs into action.

Woooo….the second one looks nice. Schnitzels! So click on it, and Google will immediately drop a pin on the map to show you where it is. Now go and gorge on fine German food, my son.

Recommendations for Hotels, Restaurants, & Things to Do

If you look at the search suggestions in the last screenshot, you will see that they have scores and stars, as well as the number of reviews each one has.

People are able to leave reviews by Googling the name of the place and then looking at the big information box to the right. In that box is an option to “Write a review” and you can then leave your Shakespearean reviews for others to feast upon (“if currywurst be the food of love, play on!”).

So when you are looking for local suggestions on Google Maps, clicking on the reviews link will take you to past opinions. You can star favorite places, and the map starts to adapt, suggesting places, based on past likes.

Get Some Quick Facts on Your Area

If you have just moved into the area (or are planning to), then you might like to see some “quick facts”, provided by the ever benevolent Google machine. As well as that, you can also click on “photos” underneath, where you can see photos provided by people How To Geotag Your Flickr Photos on Google Maps & Earth How To Geotag Your Flickr Photos on Google Maps & Earth Read More who have posted them online.

Use Street View to Give Yourself a Virtual Tour (& Time-Travel into the Past as Well)

Next to photos is the Street View option 5 Tools To Take An Auto-Guided Google Street View Tour 5 Tools To Take An Auto-Guided Google Street View Tour Google Maps is a great travel guide. Now you can even set Street View on auto-pilot and let it take you on the world's most scenic drives. Here are 5 tools that make this possible. Read More , and clicking this whizzes you down to the street level (assuming your country has been mapped — Germany for example has banned Google Street View). You can then look through your neighborhood without having to leave the comfort of your sofa.

You can also see older versions of the street view pictures that you are seeing. Go back to the map view, and in the bottom right hand corner is a yellow “Pegman”. Drag him around the map, and you will see pictures pop up from Street View. When you find the one you are interested in, let go of Pegman to see it.

If you then want to move backwards or forwards in time, look to the top left. You may see a clock icon, signifying the presence of older photos. I say “may” because apparently not all Street Views have older versions.

You can then move the slider back and forth to see what photos Google has on file for you to look at.

Find Related Places & Explore the Area

Let’s say you are really into museums, like me (nerd-alert!).  You know of one museum in your area, but maybe you are missing out on some you don’t know about?

To find similar places of interest, simply click on a place (in our example, a museum), and immediately various other similar places will pop up on the map.

Create Custom Maps & Share Them via Google Drive

With Google My Maps, you can now create your own custom maps, directly in Google Drive. This means you can file them in Drive folders, as you would with images and documents, as well as making them searchable (“keywords…..”epic”……”stag night”….”route”…..”). And then not forgetting about sharing them with other people.

Possible uses for this feature could include organizing a local treasure hunt What Is Geocaching And How To Have Fun With It What Is Geocaching And How To Have Fun With It Read More , a map to organize a day trip, running & walking maps, directions for friends to find your home, and much more.

Virtual treasure hunts are a nice way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon and also discover the world around you. Take these sites for a spin with your own localized maps.

Useful Mashups

Google Maps has always benefited from the many mashups Thought Maps Were Dull? 7 Creative Google Maps Mashups Prove You Wrong Thought Maps Were Dull? 7 Creative Google Maps Mashups Prove You Wrong Truth be told – I don't have to break sweat to prove how Google Maps can show you the world in new fantastic ways. Seafarers used them to find new lands. We use them today... Read More , made by imaginative users. Here are two which would be useful to you for rediscovering your local neighborhood.

Gramfeed

This pulls in Instagram photos New To Instagram? Top Tips For Newbies New To Instagram? Top Tips For Newbies When you’re getting started on Instagram, there are a few tips and tricks to bear in mind to make sure that you hit the ground running. The popular app is part photo-sharing site and part... Read More , once you have inputted a location. It finds local spots, such as restaurants, markets, car dealerships, and more. Just type in what you are looking for and where. It will then look for relevant Instagram photos. But not every location will have photos, so be prepared to come up empty.

Gramfeed is so famous that it made an appearance on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”.

Checkin Mania

This one relies on Foursquare check-ins Foursquare Relaunches As Discovery Tool Based On Your Tastes Foursquare Relaunches As Discovery Tool Based On Your Tastes Foursquare pioneered the mobile check-in; a location-based status update that told the world exactly where you were and why – so is the switch to a pure discovery tool a step forward? Read More , even though it also advertises Gowalla, Brightkite, and Twitter. Those three have apparently now been discontinued.

If you enter a city, and then type what you are looking for (or click on the map), you can then see how many people have recently checked in, as well as the reviews for that place. It’s a good one to use if you are a keen Foursquare user.

How Do You Go Local with Your Maps

Google Maps and virtual tools like Google Earth have helped us discover the world in new ways. But there still are things to be found closer to home. If one feature tells us the quickest way to get to a place with local transit data, another warns us about doing it before closing time. It’s making it difficult for us to take a wrong turn off the bridge!

So how do you use Google Maps to discover the hidden pearls of your neighborhood? Which features here were you unaware of? Do you plan to start using them now?

Image Credits: navigator over city via Shutterstock

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