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17 essential travel apps for your iPhone

The best iPhone apps for planning and going on the perfect holiday

With the right apps installed, you can explore the world from the comfort of an armchair, all by using your trusty iPhone. But, let’s face it, exploring the world in the old-fashioned way (by actually going out and visiting places) is a lot more fun!

Fortunately, the iPhone can help there, too, in providing the means to book accommodation and flights, plan your trip, and figure out what to do once you get to your destination. We’ve scoured the App Store to find the best travel apps to use ‘before you go’ and ‘when you get there’.

Before you go

When your holiday is merely an idea rather than a real thing that’s going to actually happen, you need to decide where to visit, sort flights and accommodation, and ensure you won’t get lost in an unfamiliar city. When looking for inspiration about great destinations, check out the guide apps covered in the ‘when you get there’ section. Your next step is to find flights and places to stay. Each of the following trio of apps provides a kind of one-stop shop for such searches.

1. TripAdvisor (free)


The idea behind TripAdvisor is to give you the benefit of people’s first-hand knowledge and experiences. You use it to search for hotels and flights, and in the former case get a useful local map, filtering options, a ‘save’ option for favourites, and a slew of reviews. You can also browse local attractions and restaurants when you settle on a place to visit. The app is sleek and fast, with a modern, responsive interface, and is our favourite of the three.

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2. Kayak (free)


Like TripAdvisor, Kayak provides a set of tools for quickly searching for hotels and flights. You can deal in-app with car hire, track prices, and build an agenda by forwarding confirmation emails to the Kayak service. Once you’ve booked, Kayak can assist with flight tracking, airport details and currency conversion, although you’ll need Kayak Pro ($0.99/69p) for airport maps. Like TripAdvisor, the interface is clean and simple, and the app is information-rich.

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3. Expedia (free)


We’re including Expedia in part because it has an excellent reputation for saving money on hotels. The app itself, although quite modern in appearance, doesn’t match Kayak and TripAdvisor, being a bit fiddly and slow, but we did manage to find decent deals in the app that weren’t readily available elsewhere.

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Standalone apps for flights and hotels

Several apps and services take a more focussed approach, concentrating only on flights or accommodation. This often enables them to provide more detailed information and features that are useful when you want to save money or improve your planning and travelling experience.

4. Skyscanner (free)


The Skyscanner service is a big favourite of ours online, and the iPhone app is equally appealing. Once you input your preferred flight details, the app provides a chart detailing alternatives that can often save you money, just by shifting your departure or return date by a day or two. Powerful sorting options round out a great app.

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5. SeatGuru (free)


This app’s worth having regardless of how you’re booking flights. Although it’s not always totally accurate, it attempts to indicate the best — and worst — seats on any plane. So if a seat’s near to the toilets or can’t recline, you’ll get a warning sign; and if there’s extra leg-room, it’ll be displayed in green, signifying you should book it immediately — or make a beeline for it on flights where you can’t book seats in advance!

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6. (free)


In a sense, the app offers nothing you can’t get in the initial trio of apps in this feature, but we like it nonetheless. It’s a very colourful and image-rich app, with useful filtering options, and it quite often has deals and special offers that can save you a lot of money.

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7. Airbnb (free)


Airbnb is a service that takes you off the beaten track, through listings for accommodation you might not otherwise have discovered. With 450,000 listings in over 34,000 cities, including anything from houseboats in Amsterdam to city flats only available for a week or two per year, it’s a great place to start looking for somewhere to stay. The app is nicely designed (totally buying into Jony Ive’s iOS 7 minimalism and transparency), making searches all the more pleasurable.

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Don’t get lost!

Two apps that may come in handy when you’re on holiday are worth firing up first when you’re at home, because they enable you to download useful information to your iPhone that can stop you from getting lost.

8. Google Maps (free)


You almost certainly know of Google Maps and you’ve probably downloaded it, but there’s a good chance you won’t know it can save maps to your iPhone. Just search for a place, tap its name at the bottom of the screen, and tap ‘Save map to use offline’. Pan/zoom to adjust the map, and tap Save. The map will be available from your profile page (tap the person icon, then scroll down), and can be zoomed and panned. You’ll of course need a network connection for directions, but a zoomable digital version of an old-fashioned paper map is better than nothing!

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9. Wi-Fi Finder (free)


This app’s much simpler than Google Maps, simply displaying a map with local Wi-Fi hotspots. Helpfully, it indicates which are free and those you must pay for. However, before you travel, you can download an offline database; it doesn’t provide quite as many hotspot locations (and lists them rather than using a map), but it will give you an indication of any in your general vicinity when you urgently need to get online.

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When you get there

Our apps in this section focus on three areas where your iPhone can really come in useful when you’re on holiday: going out, language translation, and dealing with money. First up, languages, for which we recommend two apps.

10. Google Translate (free)


The downside of Google Translate is it’s reliant on a network for new translations, but you can save favourites to use offline. All you need to do in any case is type a phrase, choose your two languages, and the app will translate your words from one to the other. Because we’re apparently living in the future, it will also in most cases speak the translation aloud too, in the correct accent. (For some less popular languages, the speech is more akin to a 1980s computer having a go, however!)

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11. Word Lens (free)


This app just got gobbled up by Google and so is probably on borrowed time. We suggest you download it immediately, because it’s a slice of magic. It uses your iPhone’s camera combined with downloadable (and now, entirely free) language packs to translate written words live. It doesn’t always get everything right, but it usually provides the gist of the text and even works on ingredients lists for Spanish cakes. (We’ve tried!)

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Money, Money

When it comes to money, you really need to know two things: how much something costs when you’re faced with an unfamiliar currency, and what you need to chip in when out with new friends. These two apps are therefore essential holiday downloads.

12. SpliTron2 ($0.99/69p)


Terrible name; great app. With SpliTron2, you tot up a bill (including taxes, tips and other costs) and split it between guests. If certain guests warrant a discount (for example, a driver who’s not had any expensive alcohol), you can intuitively adjust the figures to get new totals. You then get a page for managing collecting money from everyone, and the means to save receipts for your records.

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13. XE Currency (free)


This app’s pretty ugly, but it’s nonetheless superb for making quick currency conversions. You can select any currency and amount to convert from and a list to convert to. Rates are live, unless you’re offline, in which case the app will use the most recent data it downloaded. Each currency also has a profile page, outlining its name, symbol, coins and notes.

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Guides (and everything else)

Finally, getting out and seeing new things is a big part of why many people go on holiday, and so this final selection of apps is all about that, including travel guides, weather forecasting, and a means of quickly capturing amazing moments to cherish forever.

14. TripAdvisor Offline City Guides (free)


This app is separate to the main TripAdvisor app and solely concerned with city guides. You can access information about dozens of popular tourist destinations, and each guide can be downloaded to your device. (This can take a while and is best done before you leave home.) Search results are a touch cluttered and biased towards reviews, but the app’s itineraries are excellent, providing you with tours and walks for each location, ranging in length from an hour to a whole day.

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15. Triposo (free)


Unlike TripAdvisor, Triposo drills down into relatively small destinations, providing listings for restaurants, nightlife, shopping and activities. Again, you can download the content to your iPhone, and it provides suggestions of things to see, along with a city walk generator that configures a route based on how far you want to go.

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16. WeatherPro ($2.99/£1.99)


The weather can determine what you do on a holiday, and so it pays to check whether it’s going to rain or shine over the coming days. WeatherPro isn’t pretty but we’ve found its outlooks superior to those in rival apps, making it a dependable holiday companion. The [Forecast]( web app is worth bookmarking, too, mostly for its rainfall warnings.

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17. Capture ($1.99/£1.49)


Moments are fleeting, and the iOS Camera app is fiddly — by the time you’ve activated its video option, the moment you wanted to record may have passed. Capture begins recording the second it’s launched; when you quit the app, the video is sent to your Camera Roll. It’s simple and essential, and great to have for those holiday moments you never want to forget.

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