Italy is a dream destination but navigating through the countryside or the winding streets of ancient cities can be daunting. Modern mobile satnav apps are invaluable but they're not all the same. Here are a few notes on what I've found out through using them.
Many hire cars now come with Apple CarPlay which is great for getting an instant hands free experience, and putting your navigation straight through onto the car's screen. Some don't so I normally still pack a charger and a vent phone-holder so that I stay hands-free - like in most countries, Italian police take a very dim view of those holding their phones as they drive.
The first two apps in this list are native to Android and iOS, so they're what you'll find on your phone by default:
Google Maps is undoubtedly one of the most widely used mobile satnav apps worldwide. It offers comprehensive coverage in Italy, making it an excellent choice for travelers. With its extensive database, Google Maps provides accurate directions, real-time traffic updates, and estimated travel times. Its user-friendly interface and voice-guided navigation make it easy to use, even for first-time visitors.
It relies on data, so make sure you have a data plan that can cover the downloads Google will be making from your phone - if you'd prefer something less data heavy, jump straight to option 3!
Google Maps is highly reliable in major Italian cities like Rome, Florence, and Milan, offering detailed information on public transportation routes, including buses, trams, and trains. It also provides information about nearby attractions, restaurants, and hotels, ensuring that you never miss out on any hidden gems during your Italian adventure.
For iOS users, Apple Maps is a built-in option that has evolved significantly in recent years. While it may have had a rocky start, Apple Maps now provides reliable navigation in Italy, with accurate directions, real-time traffic updates, and a user-friendly interface.
I found it slightly less reliable in the countryside than others, which is a pity - but it's still a great option and one that most of us already have on our phones from the start.
My current favourite for navigating through Italy is the TomTom app. Known for its accuracy and reliability, TomTom offers a robust set of features tailored specifically for drivers. With its high-quality maps and precise turn-by-turn directions, TomTom ensures that you stay on the right track during your Italian adventures.
You can download maps for entire countries before you travel so that your phone can navigate you even when on airplane mode to save your data plan. While the real-time traffic updates, including congestion alerts and road closures, are very useful, there are large swathes of the Italian countryside where you can happily do without them.
Waze, a community-based navigation app, has acquired a lot of popularity among travelers worldwide. Its unique feature is its reliance on real-time user-generated data, allowing users to share traffic updates, accidents, and road closures. While Waze is primarily known for its ability to navigate through congested city traffic, it is also a reliable option for exploring Italy.
It does indeed! Waze provides turn-by-turn directions, live traffic updates, and suggests alternate routes to help you reach your destination faster. It also integrates with popular music streaming services, allowing you to enjoy your favorite tunes while on the road. Although Waze might not have the same level of integration with public transportation systems as Google Maps, it remains a reliable choice for road trips and urban navigation in Italy.
I don't like using it because I find its privacy settings unsettling - you give up a lot of your data in order to benefit from everybody else's data sharing, and I'm not comfortable with it. But if you're relaxed about data-sharing, there are those who swear by it, particularly when roads are congested and you want to find the easiest way round.
what3words is the most precise and the easiest way to describe any precise location. Every 3 metre (10ft) square in the world has been given a unique address made of 3 random words - once you have the three words you can be guided to the exact spot in the world. We tend to use this to help guests find the front door of their house if they're staying in a hamlet, or group of houses - but it's also good for any directions.
I haven't used it for road directions but it's worth having in your app list if only for finding museums, river swimming spots or your own italian front door.
When it comes to choosing a mobile satnav app for your Italian travels, several options cater to different preferences and needs. My preference is for TomTom maps because of its downloadable maps and offline capability. Google Maps remains a top choice, offering comprehensive coverage, real-time updates, and a user-friendly interface. Waze's community-based approach makes it an attractive option for those seeking up-to-date traffic information - more useful in Milan or Rome than in the country roads of Tuscany. Apple Maps provides a seamless experience for iOS users, although it may not offer the same level of features as other apps and lastly, What3words is the secret weapon for pinpointing anywhere on the globe.