One of my favorite parts of traveling is using the local transportation. I love the ability to hop on a train or a bus and get myself wherever I please, without the hassle of driving in an unknown area, parking or starring in confusion at a road sign that I never even knew existed because I swear it was not on my driving test.
Using local transportation also makes me feel a little more like a local. On my recent trip to London, one day as I was making my way to a tram station after roaming through the Portobello Market, I actually helped a local find her way to the tram. It was a little ironic and though I can’t take credit for guiding her (I myself heavily relied on my phone) it did feel pretty empowering to be able to get myself around and help out a gal in need.
The two best travel apps out there are Citymapper and Google Maps, available for Iphone and Andriod and.. probably my favorite part, they’re both absolutely free. With real-time updates, both apps let you know of any disruptions and cancellations that come up, so you are always aware of what’s ahead.
As I was prepping for my trip, I was originally advised to get around using Google Maps. However I opted for using Citymapper instead. I think both apps are great but I’d like to go over the specs of both to help you decided which you’ll be more comfortable using on your next adventure.
Both Citymapper and Google Maps work by providing a “Recommended” or “Suggested” route, some “Other Options”. Then a few that only include a bus or metro and then an alternative being Uber and the like. There is also a bike route as well as a ferry boat where applicable.
Both apps give you the option to save places you visit and easily access them later. To save these settings with Google you must be connected to your google account. With Citymapper, they are available as you download the app.
Generally Citymapper gave me much more options than Google Maps. Often these routes were simpler and didn’t require many changes or stops. At one point Citymapper even showed me a “Rain Safe” route, which I thought was kind of cool. I’m not sure that Google Maps does the same.
Anyway, more options made a huge difference when I was traveling around in London as I was getting around on my Oyster pass. It allowed access to all buses and trams but not all trains. So when Google Maps recommended a route that included a train, it would actually cost me extra, because my oyster pass didn’t cover it. Citymapper simply gave me more options to suite my needs.
There was one issue that annoyed me with Citymapper but I only noticed this happen a few times. Let me draw you a picture.
Lets say I typed in my destination and the GPS picked up my starting point and I was given options out of which these two caught my eye…
Hike to metro station A – take the tube to point B – take the bus to point C – walk to my final destination.
Easy peasy. BUT! Then I see the following option…
Take the bus to metro A– take the tube to point B– take another tube to point E– take another tube to point C– walk to my destination.
So I’m thinking “I don’t feel like taking 3 different tubes when I can just take one.” But why take a 20 minute hike to the station if clearly there’s a bus available that came up in option 2? I love walking but maybe it’s raining? Maybe it’s late and I’m alone? Get the picture?
Now I suspect that the whole point of this is to keep the cost of your trip below a certain amount of money. However depending on your location, chances are you might have purchased some kind of travel card which already gives you unlimited access to transportation. Citymapper might be trying to save you money that you’ve already spent. I guess better that, than the other way around!
Another downside to Citymapper is that unlike Google Maps it isn’t available everywhere and doesn’t offer transportation between cities. For example when I was traveling from London to Cambridge I had to incorporate Google Maps because Citymapper only worked within the London area.
My solution was to check Google Maps for a route and it suggested to get to St. Pancres Station in London and from there take a direct train to Cambridge. However since I didn’t really like how it took me to the St. Pancres Station, I used Citymapper to get at least that far.
Citymapper is expanding so more cities are expected to be available but you can check out their current list here.
However if you plan on travelling between cities, Google Maps will prove more helpful.
Layout and Offline Mode
Both Citymapper and Google Maps have an offline mode so if in mid trip you lose your internet connection, for example by going underground, you’ll still be able to navigate through.
As far as the layout and navigating through the apps, both Citymapper and Google Maps are very easy to use. However they are a bit different from each other. Let me show you how.
I’ll start with Citymapper. When you first enter a destination, for example I entered “Big Ben” from the “Wimbledon Chase Station” I was shown different routes and once I chose one (I purposely chose a longer one) here is what I saw…
As I scrolled down I saw exactly where I would be going, when were buses and trains arriving, in case I missed one, when was the next one coming etc. This is similar to google maps which displays like so…
If you click the arrow next to the stations name it will display different departure times as well. The difference is that this is how Google Maps will display through your entire trip. This is still very easy to use however Citymapper takes easy to a whole new level by literally breaking down your trip into a step-by-step process which I’ve shown below.
I traveled alone into the unknown quite often. Having Citymapper break the trip down to a step-by-step was very much appreciated!
What I love about Citymapper is that each time you reach your destination you collect your “GO Trip.” You are then provided with all sorts of information about your trip. It measures the time it took you to get to your destination. How much of that time you spent walking or riding the bus and how many calories you burned in the process. Even how much money and trees you saved by not taking a car!
Google Maps does contain a timeline of your destinations as wells as your contributions. This is where you can add photos or reviews of different places you visit. To access this feature, however, you must link Google Maps with your Google Account. Citymapper will do everything automatically as you download the app.
Another neat feature of Citymapper is the “Get off soon” alert, you receive, as you approach your stop. This proved useful on a couple occasions when I was day dreaming and nearly missed my stop. Ooops.. On the metro it also shows you the “Best Section” to board. Whether it’s the front, middle or back, boarding this section helps reduce commute time, during rush hour.
I personally prefer Citymapper and relied on it heavily during my trip to London as well as New York. However Google Maps is a great app too and is accessible in ways Citymapper is not.
Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below!
I'm Sandra, creator of Whispers of Adventure.
I'm a crazy dreamer with a love for adventure and new experiences. With my passion for writing and capturing the moment with a lens, I hope to inspire you for your next adventure!