App

In the old days going on holiday was far riskier. Imagine a world where you’d end up in an unfamiliar city, armed with a battered old paper (paper!) map. What if you’re hungry? Before smartphones you may have ended up in that dive-looking bar taking a chance on some wings. These days, the iPhone has made things a lot better – you could easily fire up Trip Advisor and find that that bar absolutely wasn’t the best place to eat, and that there’s actually world class Bistro just round the corner.

If you’ve connectivity, point-to-point routing information in seconds, and more recommendations for things to see and places to eat than you could conceivably make use of in an entire lifetime. And even if you’re in some kind of mobile blackspot, there are apps that can come to your aid.

In this round-up, we’re listing what we consider the five essential apps to have installed when out and about, whether on a business trip, on holiday, or, for that matter, closer to home. Because even if you think you know where you live, there’s a good chance a brilliant restaurant, museum or park you’ve never heard of is ready and waiting for your visit.

Citymapper

Price: Free
Size: 31.9 MB
Version: 5.1.247
Developer: Citymapper Limited

App Store Download button

Citymapper is a focused app centred around getting from A to B. Unlike Google Maps, it’s designed to support specific cities, and so you must ensure the app works where you live or are intending to travel. If it does, chances are Citymapper will remain welded to your iPhone’s Home screen, purely on the basis of how effective and efficient it is.

The interface has three tabs — City, Go and Near — each of which provides its own entry point into transit directions and times. With City, you can explore travel options available now and at the weekend, and get notice of any potential disruption. Select an item to view its route as a list or map, and tap a stop to access further information.

Using the Go tab, you can define start and end points for a journey, entering locations or dragging a map around accordingly. On tapping Get Route, options are provided, which may include walking, cycling, taxis, buses and trains. Where appropriate, you get times, calorie counts and approximate costs. The Near tab, by contrast, figures out where you are and lists your nearby options.

Of course, Citymapper is only about transport — there’s nothing in here about things to see or places to eat. But then its focus is why the app works so well. If you’re a newcomer to a city, the app will reliably get you around; if you’re a return visitor, you can assign favorites, making it even more efficient next time round.

Pros:
– Excellent routing and transit info
– Provides times and costs for journeys

Cons:
– Purely for finding directions
– Certain cities have less mature info

Google Maps

Price: Free
Size: 26.9 MB
Version: 4.4.0
Developer: Google, Inc.

App Store Download button

When people think of Google Maps, they primarily recall the maps bit, and it’s long been a reliable and popular means of getting point-to-point directions, regardless of your chosen platform. And Google’s army of strange-looking cars has ensured the system includes something no others do, namely Street View.

But as we’ve written about before, Google Maps is far more than a mere mapping and routing app; over time, Google’s been gradually turning it into a comprehensive guide to wherever you happen to find yourself.

Manual searches are of course one means to access such data. Type something like ‘Pubs in Paris’ and you’ll get a list of places to visit, and a map that shows where they are. Alternatively, tap-hold to stick a pin in the map, and you can use the sidebar’s ‘Explore nearby’ option. This lists restaurants, local attractions and more, and you can filter these by time (for example, enabling you to check out what’s open of an evening).

Given that Google’s trying very hard to consume the entire web, it should be no surprise that individual pages for any given place are rich in information. You’ll usually find contact information, opening hours and reviews, along with local maps and photos. Any item can be saved as a favorite, and a map saved for offline use — although Triposo (see below) is a better bet if you need more than just a map when lacking in connectivity.

Pros:
– Regularly updated and plentiful data
– Loads of info on nearby things to do

Cons:
– Offline storage for maps only
– Some transit info can be iffy

AroundMe

Price: Free or $2.99/£2.29 ad-free
Size: 22.1 MB
Version: 8.1.9
Developer: Flying Code Ltd

App Store Download button

Although Google Maps is stuffed full of information, getting to it can take quite a few taps. The idea behind AroundMe is to dramatically simplify the process of finding out what happens to be nearby.

The main interface can be configured as a list or grid of buttons. These are labelled with things you’re likely to want to find in a hurry: cash machines, restaurants, parking, and the like. Make a selection and you get results that can be switched between a list, a local area map and a bizarre augmented reality live view that doesn’t really work.

Fortunately, the live view’s a rare stumble, because everything else about the app works really well. Tap a location and you get information about it, and although there’s no routing, tap the directions button and you can load the route between your current location and intended destination into Maps or Google Maps.

Notably, the location screens also happen to include things like opening hours, contact details, photos, and tips from Foursquare. For cinemas, you also get listings, and a separate Movies button enables you to start your search based around a film you’d like to see rather than whichever cinema you’re planning on visiting.

The free version of the app is slightly infested with ads, a few of which are a bit intrusive (going full-screen and forcing you to sit through 15 seconds of grainy footage); however, they’re bearable for occasional app use, and AroundMe’s one-off ad-free pricing is perfectly reasonable for regular users.

Pros:
– Extremely simple interface
– Surprising detail for certain categories

Cons:
– No way to add your own filters
– Live View is just plain weird

Triposo

Price: Free + optional IAP
Size: 36.3 MB
Version: 4.5.0
Developer: Triposo, Inc

App Store Download button

Triposo calls itself a travel guide for the whole world, and it’s not lying. Although it’ll naturally direct you to the biggest and most exciting attractions and places in any given country, search for somewhere smaller and you can drill down to find parks and ‘hidden away’ eateries you’d never have otherwise known existed.

The visual design is rather smart, full of great imagery and subtle transparency effects, and the app has usability to match. It’s easy to explore an area, city or town, finding out about sightseeing, eating out, nightlife, and more. Additionally, Triposo users occasionally submit travel guides, providing you with potential itineraries when planning a visit, and the app can dynamically build city walks to help you take in the local sights (even if the directions and maps aren’t always the best).

Triposo has one other major trick up its sleeve, though: an offline mode. You can download all of the information about a specific town, the general area, or even an entire country. Naturally, the wider the area, the larger the download (and therefore, the more storage it takes up), but having the option is fantastic.

It’s also the least obnoxious app imaginable, in that you can access all the data entirely for free. If you want, you can sign up for an account, to sync preferences. You can go ‘pro’, too, for $4.99/£3.99, which removes the ads and gives you a bunch of premium travel guides. Mostly, though, you’ll probably pay to get that warm glow at supporting an app that will be indispensable if you’re a regular traveller.

Pros:
– Guides can be downloaded for offline use
– Builds dynamic city walks for exploring the area

Cons:
– Directions system isn’t the best
– Offline guides can, naturally, be weighty

Foursquare

Price: Free
Size: 30.7 Mb
Version: 8.10
Developer: Foursquare Labs, Inc.

App Store Download button

Foursquare’s had quite a journey over the years, and for a long time was utterly obsessed with mobile users ‘checking in’ to places and telling all their friends about that across social networking. However, the app’s latest iteration retains certain aspects of community, but is far more interested in being a city guide — and a more personalized one than most.

On figuring out where you are, the app lists local points of interest, for which you can find out details, view imagery, and check out tips that people have left. Depending on the place and its popularity, these tips may prove to be useful or outdated. (Over time, we’ve seen plenty of years-old gripes about parking charges, but handy mini-reviews of restaurants that might sway your decisions.)

In the main search screen, Foursquare lists local standouts, including restaurants, bars and shopping. There’s a manual input for search terms, or you can quickly filter results by tapping icons that represent certain mealtimes, ‘fun’, top picks, and the like. The resulting lists can be further refined by relevance, distance, rating, price and opening hours, or by the finest of subcategories. (So while you can search for food, you can also drill down to finding a nearby place that’s open and sells gelato.)

Mapping is basic, and routing is offloaded to another installed app (Apple’s Maps, Google Maps or Citymapper); also, the interface feels a bit messy and muddled. But once you start building up a list of favorites, adding your personalized preferences along the way, Foursquare can rapidly become an excellent app for making the most of wherever you happen to be.

Pros:
– Plenty of filters and local info
– Has a real community feel

Cons:
– Tips are quite often out of date
– Interface feels a bit muddled

The best of the rest

Citymaps

Free • 21.3 MB • v5.1.0 • CityMaps, Inc

This visually rich app makes it easy to explore your locale, and is also designed to help you collect favorite places, storing their information for revisits.

Download Citymaps

Find Near Me

Free or $2.99/£2.29 ad-free • 29.0 MB • v5.1 • XLabz Technologies Pvt. Ltd.

The interface is a bit of a dog’s dinner, but this app broadly mirrors AroundMe’s functionality while adding the interesting feature of user-defined keywords for instant searches.

Find Near Me

Gogobot

Free • 90 MB • v3.5.0 • Gogobot

This beautifully designed app breaks down searches into places to stay, eat and ‘play’. Listed attractions tend to be larger ones, so it’s best for those in a bigger town or city.

Download Gogobot

Yelp

Free • 43.5 MB • v9.6.0 • Yelp

According to Yelp, its system now has over 50 million reviews. However, the app itself is a useful aid for finding local businesses and services from a huge range of categories.

Download Yelp