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I once been in Zurich where host told me that I can get a free map in any hotel for free. I did not get into details that time but now I am curious, is it true for any city? Where can I ask for maps when arrive to rail or air station?

  • For London, there are 3 such periodicals. They are stacked in the entrance hall in several places. I rate the map quality as pretty good. – Gayot Fow Nov 2 '15 at 16:14
  • Please also see travel.stackexchange.com/questions/51998/… for related content – Gayot Fow Nov 2 '15 at 16:14
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    @JonathanReez: I consider them significantly better than having no map at all (and in many cases, I have found that any more modern replacement has not added nearly as many advantages over paper maps as paper maps add over having no map at all). – O. R. Mapper Nov 2 '15 at 21:31
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    @JonathanReez. I strenuously disagree. I often want context: more context than will comfortably fit on the small screen of a smartphone. – TRiG Nov 2 '15 at 22:47
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    @JonathanReez: I have a smartphone. Yet, I often find paper maps more convenient. Your mileage may vary. – O. R. Mapper Nov 2 '15 at 22:48
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At least in Europe, I think without many exceptions, every larger city or place with some level of tourism has a tourist information office, which offers free information brochures and/or a more or less decent map of the city centre.

When coming to a new city, there is most likely a tourist information office at least at the airport, at the main railway station or near the city centre where you can pick up these brochures. Most hotels are also likely to carry a selection of them and either offering them at a self service display or handing them out at the reception desk.

In case of Zurich, you can also read all the available brochures from the tourist office online, or if you wish, have them sent to your home address for free before you go to Zurich.

  • I checked Google maps, and the Zurich tourist information office is located in the Haubtbahnhof (central station), one of the first stores on your right if you enter via the main doors (or on the far end of the station if you arrive by train). 99% of the time, entering "{cityname} Tourist information" into Google will show you if they have one. – Nzall Nov 2 '15 at 18:47
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This is most definitely not true for every city - counter examples are easy to construct. However large chain hotels do sometimes have rather terrible maps of their neighbourhoods available, and rental car companies also have rather terrible maps they give you. Having sworn my way around three different Pacific Islands trying to use free maps, I recommend you don't rely on what you can get on site for free.

Very touristy destinations do have tourist handbooks that include maps in their airports. Sydney (Australia) has them, for example. But I didn't see any in the Zurich airport, or in any other European airport. I also found it a challenge to buy good maps of a city from inside that city.

If you want a map that tells you roughly whether the Eiffel Tower is on the south or north side of the Seine, or whether the zoo is on the way to the airport from your hotel, then probably a free map will work for you. If you want to actually use that map to navigate, I recommend you think again. Now that I've tried to do that - for driving and for public transport - I won't do it again.

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    Before I moved to Toronto, I bought a city map in Amsterdam. When in Toronto, I wanted to buy another copy of the same map for my wife (no other map showed streetcars), and I could not find it anywhere — not even online! — and the most specialised travel bookstore had maps from the same series for many world cities, but until I showed him my copy, insisted that no such map existed for Toronto. A mystery indeed. – gerrit Nov 2 '15 at 16:33
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I would not rely on maps of hotels in European cities, or in the rest of the world for that matter, but if you are in a city and you can not find the tourist information office, the TIC happens to be closed for the night or the TIC is closed forever, your best bet might well be a friendly hotel.
All hotels I have asked for a map it was free, Tourist Information Centers do at times charge for even a simple map.
And in some cities you will find the hotel maps in all hotels, even the cheaper ones, and they are good enough that you do not want to buy maps, like Paris.

An other trick is to find a map on the street and take a photo on your phone or digital camera. You can do an overview and detail photos if the map is big. Also not a sure way, as you do rely on maps being there, but when they are there it is better than no map. Taking a photo of an online map might be a better option, but you have to think about it before you tidy your laptop away.

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    Really, I have realized that we have 3 options, the paper, offline mobile and online mobile, instead of paper vs. online. You may not want to go GSM online abroad but downloading offline map into your device is the option that worth consideration as well :) – Valentin Tihomirov Nov 2 '15 at 23:05
  • If you use a digital camera, with a good screen, you can add one more option, photo of map rather than online map. This can be a photo of a paper map or of an online map, or even of a map you find in the wild. – Willeke Nov 3 '15 at 20:25
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In the United States printed maps are getting hard to find. Recently I flew into Pittsburgh International Airport and the large convenience store/gas station next to the car rental had no maps AT ALL. None. I drove to several other convenience stores and got the same answer: no maps. I finally found a store that had a few maps, 80 miles away from the airport, and the maps they had were large scale.

I would definitely recommend ordering maps ahead of time and taking them with you. (Just beware that some countries like China, Russia, Viet Nam, and North Korea, consider maps to be secret or military information, and they may seize them, so do not bring maps in or out of those countries.)

  • China, Russia, Viet Nam, and North Korea, consider maps to be secret or military information, and they may seize them, so do not bring maps in or out of those countries -- wat, really? I mean, like aside from NK (where one can expect anything) why would they take away a paper map...? Given that any smartphone can store gigabytes of offline map/sat data nowadays? – unknownprotocol Nov 3 '15 at 2:10
  • @unknownprotocol Ask them, I don't know. All I know is that those countries will search your luggage both going and coming and if they find maps they can get upset. – Lemuel Gulliver Nov 3 '15 at 2:29
  • But where did you read this? How did you learn of it? Can you point me to any sources? Are these local anti-map laws or merely overzealous border control officers...? And what if one is carrying a map, will they jail you? or just confiscate it, or just fine you? I'm genuinely curious about this... I will be traveling to some of those countries. – unknownprotocol Nov 3 '15 at 2:37
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    @unknownprotocol Various places, just read the news. For example: vietnambreakingnews.com/2014/01/… – Lemuel Gulliver Nov 3 '15 at 2:42
  • Oh ok I see. Thanks. It seems like it's more of a political/diplomatic thing rather than actual anti-map laws. – unknownprotocol Nov 3 '15 at 2:54

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