5 Free Navigation Apps That Will (Probably) Never Get You Lost

Because somebody needs to get you to the closest coffee shop—stat.

Driving directions app - top-rated, best free navigation apps
Photo: Monica Buck

With the advent of smart driving directions apps, driving has changed a lot—but the wrong direction app could actually make finding a new destination more challenging, making tense drivers wish for the paper maps of old. It happens to everyone: The navigation app tells you to turn left … where there's no street. It says to make a U-turn … right where there is a sign explicitly telling drivers not to make U-turns. Fortunately, as these apps have gotten smarter, this happens less and less often. The best navigation apps even offer extra services, such as driving tips, suggested routes to avoid traffic, and more. At this point, driving directions apps aren't just for navigating a new city or road trips. Many people use them every single day to find the quickest routes through their hometowns, keep an eye on traffic, avoid speed traps, and more—and most of these apps are free. Thanks to them, driving has never been smarter. Whether you're driving somewhere familiar or navigating new roads, driving directions apps can help you get there with minimal hassle. With any luck, you'll even reach your destination in record time. Just be sure you're aware of your surroundings, even if an app is helping with directions. Your instincts as a driver should take precedence over what the app says, if it comes down to a split-second decision. Don't let any fear of driving convince you otherwise—you do know better than the app. That said, if the app asks you to take a new road to reach your destination, it may know something you don't about traffic or other conditions ahead. Most drivers likely already have a driving directions app or navigation app of choice, but seeing all the extra features and add-ons in other options might just change their minds. Whether you're ambivalent about the app you currently use or have stuck with the same one for years and are looking for something new, one of these apps might just be the change-up your commute's been waiting for. (Next up is figuring out how to clean the car's interior.)

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Driving Directions, navigation apps - Waze

Waze offers the step-by-step instructions of all driving directions apps, but with a focus on finding the best possible route and avoiding traffic, potholes, police, and more as much as possible. The app outlines the quickest route and highlights road blockages, accidents, stopped cars, and more along the way.

Pick this navigation app if: you have a tough commute or live in an area with heavy traffic.

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Google Maps

Driving Directions, navigation apps - Google Maps

It’s probably already your go-to for checking directions and driving time on your computer, but Google Maps has an equally good navigation app for driving, walking, biking, and transit directions. The app offers real-time traffic updates, plus ways of finding restaurants and activities (with reviews).

Pick this navigation app if: you want detailed driving directions and help finding a restaurant nearby in a single app.

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Apple Maps

Driving Directions, navigation apps - Apple Maps

If you have an iPhone, you know Apple Maps. The driving directions app is the default on all iOS devices and is a solid option for navigating. It will get you where you need to go with minimal frills—perfect for someone who might get overwhelmed by restaurant pop-ups or traffic alerts mid-drive.

Pick this navigation app if: You’re skilled at following an app’s brisk instructions and want an app that will get you to your destination with little to no fuss.

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Driving Directions, navigation apps - MAPS.ME

MAPS.ME offers entirely offline navigation services, so driving directions are always available, sans hiked data usage (and the accompanying higher phone bills). Driving, walking, and cycling directions are available, and the maps will highlight points of interest along the way. A comprehensive bookmarking system allows users to flag places they’ve visited and loved and even share them with friends.

Pick this navigation app if: you travel abroad often and want help navigating the attractions in new cities.

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Sygic GPS Navigation

Driving Directions, navigation apps - Sygic GPS Navigation

Try this driving directions app for an incredibly detailed breakdown of your next moves. The Sygic GPS Navigation app offers navigation with a live view at the street or path ahead, so it’s nearly impossible to get lost in the maze of lines and names on an animated app. Maps are also available offline, so driving in areas without phone service is doable.

Pick this navigation app if: animated or 3D maps confuse you, or you frequently travel beyond cellphone range.

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