Maps of Italy
Beyond Google maps: The best printed maps and online maps to help in your travelsFolding maps are widely available in bookstore around the world.
|Rick Steves' Italy Planning Map||Michelin Italy Map||Streetwise Italy Map|
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Before you leave home, most large bookstores (as well as travel specialty stores) sell the Touring Club Italiano’s (TCI) series of enormous pristine maps of Italy’s regions at 1:200,000 scale. You can find regional maps ("Toscana," "Veneto," "Sicilia," etc,).
TCI also publishes some pocket-sized street maps of cities, and makes laminated bound map booklets (if you don’t like sheets), both regional and collections of city plans.
If you can't find TCI maps, get whatever is available (Michelin is good, as are the city maps by Streetwise; Rick Steves publishes a helpful planning map), but bolster any bought at home with locally-produced maps picked up once you get over there, as they'll be infinitely more detailed. Don't worry about them being "foreign" publications. A road is a road in any language.
pianta - city street plan
mappa or carta - map of a region or larger area Edizione Multigraphic covers Italy in varying scales with contour-lined maps so detailed that some actually show individual farms. Their “Carta Turistica Stradale” 1:50,000 maps are perfect for exploring back roads, while the 1:25,000 “Carta dei Sentieri e Rifugi” sheets include hiking trails and alpine shelters for those hoofing it or on bike. The maps are widely available at bookstores, newsstands, and souvenir shops.
Litografia Artistica Cartografica makes very complete and large foldout city maps with searchable indices. They also publish 1:150,000 province maps that are less detailed than the Edizione Multigraphic sheets, but because of this are easier to glance at while driving.
Note that, even with a map, you are going to get lost in Venice (even Venetians get lost repeatedly if they venture outside their own little section of town). Accept this, and view it as part of the adventure.
There are a ton of free mapping services available online. The better to compare/contrast the results each of the general mapping services will give you, I've pasted below screen shots of the maps each service returned when I did a search of a pretty minor street (Vicolo del Cinque) in Rome, Italy.
Before we get to the details, remember: getting lost in a foreign city counts as a cultural experience. Go with the flow, don't fret if you spend a happy hour wandering the back alleys of Venice trying to find your way (only way to escape the tourist crowds there, really), and above all, don't be afraid to ask directions —my fellow guys of the male persuasion, I'm looking in your direction.
Evaluating the Results
I searched all services for a small street in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood called Vicolo del Cinque. Trust me; I didn't pick this neighborhood at random. I once lived there—though not on Vicolo del Cinque, but an even smaller street a few blocks up called Vicolo del Leopardo that none of the mapping services was able to find. (Gosh, I miss that apartment.)
Of the general mapping sites, good ol' Michelin (www.viamichelin.com) had the best actual map (though its search engine was fussy about spelling, not recognizing that "Vicolo del Cinque" was the same as its abbreviated "Vicolo de' Cinque"). However, it was fully detailed with all sorts of remarkably accurate nuances and streets drawn with all the crooks and corners of reality.
Google Maps (maps.google.com) did a stellar job, and even found it though I used a different spelling. It had some of the best close-up detail, including street numbers and some sightseeing info. It also comes with Google's patented StreetView, allowing you to plop a little avatar on any (non-pedestrian) street and take a virtual look around to see what the street looks like (well, what it looked like circa 2007, or whenever the Google van cruised through).
Multimap (www.multimap.com)—a British mapping service that has been absorbed by Microsoft juggernaut bing.com—has vastly improved its accuracy in searching, and the maps it produces are accurate. However, the labeling isn't as complete as with some others, and (though this is a personal preference) the maps don't reflect the true size and shape of each street; a boulevard and an alleyway are drawn with the same line thickness, which to me is a drawback (and makes it harder to read and follow).
Famed Mapquest (www.mapquest.com) fared the worst in our test by an enormous margin. It did find the street—or rather, found the same street five times with different ranges of address and made me pick one—but at the closest magnification the street wasn't labeled at all, and the level of detail was ridiculously useless. I know Mapquest is OK at domestic maps, but when it comes to the rest of the world, don't even bother.
The actual results are below, but before we get to them, do know that there are also country-specific mapping sites out there than can be a real asset. TuttoCittà (www.tuttocitta.it) is the Italian mapping outfit that provides the city maps Italians get with their phone books.Michelin
Each of these maps is shown at the the closest "zoom" level available, so you can see how much detail each offers. Other than converting these images to jpgs—and shrinking the Michelin and Google maps by 10% so they would fit on this screen properly—I did not alter or crop these maps, so as to show you just what you get when you search on a map at these sites.
This material was last updated December 2010. All information was accurate at the time.
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