If you want to find your way around China, you’ll need a good map app.

I’ve always tried to be a hero in China and just followed my nose. I’ve tended to only use a map app when I’ve been well and truly lost.

But don’t be an idiot like me. Embrace the technology and learn to use a China map app before you leave your country.

You’ll have a much more pleasant time traveling, and you won’t waste time walking around in circles.

So, here’s my list of the best map apps that work in China.

I’ll start with the apps that are in English before moving on to some Mandarin options, and finish off with some tips.

1. Apple Maps

  • Available: App (iOS only)
  • English: Yes
  • Chinese name: 苹果地图

Got an iPhone? Then you should already have Apple Maps on your phone.

The app’s turn‑by‑turn spoken directions are really helpful. It makes the walk from Beijing’s Imperial Palace to Wangfujing Snack Street much easier.

Apple Maps China map app

Apple Maps works in China.

If you’re in a taxi (or a DiDi – China’s version of Uber), the app can factor in real‑time traffic information, including the current speed limit, so you’ll know exactly how long until you arrive.

And, with Apple’s Indoor Maps, you can get detailed directions inside major Chinese airports including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. It’s pretty cool!

2. Google Maps

  • Available: App and website
  • English: Yes
  • Chinese name: 谷歌地图

Everybody knows and loves Google Maps. You can get from A to B without even knowing the neighborhood you’re in.

In China though, Google Maps and other major foreign apps (like Facebook and Instagram) are blocked when you use Wi-Fi. This is known as The Great Firewall of China.

The solution? Get a VPN app (like this one) for a few dollars a month, or read my quick VPN review if you need more information.

Just make sure you download the VPN app before you arrive in China, otherwise you’ll be stuck.

AdAd

What’s great about Google Maps in China is it shows both English and Chinese together on maps. Trust me, when you get lost, this is a blessing!

Just note that street maps don’t align perfectly with satellite maps. This is due to foreign restrictions on geographic data in China.

3. MAPS.ME

  • Available: App only
  • English: Yes
  • Chinese name: It doesn’t have one

With over 120 million downloads, MAPS.ME is becoming an increasingly popular map app.

This is because the maps are available offline, and you get them for free. So you can find your way around without using the internet.

MAPS.ME is a map app that works in China

MAPS.ME is a map app that works in China.

Just be mindful that MAPS.ME is open-source software, so anyone can contribute to its development. This means that maps may not be entirely accurate (that’s been my experience, anyway).

You also don’t get the cool features that you find in other apps. But hey, it’s free!

It’s important to note that private mapping activities are banned in China. So while you’re allowed to use this app, just don’t contribute to the actual building of it while you’re in China.

4. Baidu Maps

  • Available: App (iOS only) and website
  • English: No
  • Chinese name: 百度地图

Baidu-what? If you haven’t heard of Baidu before, it’s China’s equivalent of Google.

It’s the search engine that the locals use. And, like Google, they’ve got their own Maps app.

Chinese men looking at their phones

Chinese people are addicted to their apps.

Baidu Maps has some pretty cool features like street view, 3D city maps and checking public transport times. But, unless you can understand Chinese characters, Baidu Maps probably isn’t for you.

At the time of writing, the app is only available in the Apple App Store, not the Google Play Store.

5. Amap

  • Available: App and website
  • English: No
  • Chinese name: 高德地图

Amap, pronounced Gaode in Chinese, is owned by Alibaba which is one the country’s biggest tech firms.

Amap provides China mapping data to both Google and Apple. So you know it’s a big player in the China map app space.

If you can read a bit of Chinese, you’ll appreciate using this app for the user-friendly interface. It’s a bit less overwhelming than Baidu.

6. Tencent Maps

  • Available: App and website
  • English: No
  • Chinese name: 腾讯地图

Tencent owns some of the most popular apps in China including WeChat, QQ and Tencent Video (China’s YouTube equivalent).

It’s no surprise then that Tencent wants a piece of the maps pie in China.

Tencent Maps

Tencent is a leading Chinese map provider.

In February 2020, Tencent Maps (along with WeChat) raised eyebrows by launching a special map that pinpoints residential communities infected by coronavirus.

You can download Tencent Maps on your phone here.

What about Bing Maps?

Bing doesn’t have a map app.

But you can use their website map instead. Luckily it’s not blocked in China.

AdAd

Just be careful with Bing though. It may automatically select the language based on your location, meaning everything will appear in Chinese.

It can be difficult to change this.

Other China map websites

You don’t need the latest apps on your phone to navigate China.

So long as you can read Chinese, these map providers all do the job:

OSM is like MAPS.ME – it’s an open-source map that you can view offline.

The downside of OSM is that local maps are displayed in the language of the country you’re in. So in China, all the streets are shown in Chinese characters.

However, you can still type a location in English and the map works. A few businesses, particularly in the more cosmopolitan areas like Shanghai, have their English name on the map too.

As an example, type ‘People’s Square Shanghai’ into the app and you’ll see what I mean.

Will using a map app in China eat up my data?

Using your hotel’s Wi-Fi won’t use any data. But if you turn on international roaming on your phone, you may start to use data quickly.

It depends on the kind of data plan you have on your phone.

The last time I was in China, I activated international roaming with Vodafone for an extra AUD$5 a day (US$3.50). This got me unlimited data.

Scrolling on a phone

Check your data limits with your phone company.

Your rate may be totally different. So, before you go to China, chat to your phone company to find out what your options are for international roaming. And don’t forget to turn it on!

If you don’t want to use any data while you’re in China, you’ll need to rely on the MAPS.ME app. Just download the maps using your hotel’s Wi-Fi before you head out.

Tips for using map apps in China

Here’s some advice on getting the best experience with your map apps in China.

Street view in China

Only the domestic map apps and websites offer street view in mainland China. So you would need to use Baidu Maps or Tencent Maps for this feature.

Google Play is blocked in China

If there are any apps you think you’ll need to download in China, do it before you leave. This is because Google Play is blocked in China. If you download a VPN though, you’ll be able to use Google Play.

Maps can be slow

Downloading maps on the go will chew up your data quickly, and could end up costing you a small fortune. Download offline maps of the areas you’ll be exploring before you head to China.

AdAd

Just note that you won’t get the full map experience, i.e. many features will be lost.

Chinese street signs

Although you’ll find some English in the touristy areas, you’ll only find Chinese characters and maybe pinyin (the Romanized spelling of Mandarin) on China’s street signs.

And that’s if there are any street signs at all!

Chinese street sign in Dalian

A street sign in China with characters and pinyin.

Chinese writing is notoriously difficult to decipher, so you’ll need to be patient as you try to match up the street sign with what’s showing on your app.

But remember, if you use Google Maps you’ll have both English and Mandarin to make it easier.

What if I get lost in China?

China is safe, and the people are generally friendly and will help if they can.

If you get lost in China, you can always rely on a translation app like Google Translate. It may not give you a perfect translation, but the locals will still get the gist!

Just show them the translation on your phone rather than try to pronounce the words yourself.

So what is the best map app for China?

If you can understand Chinese characters, Baidu and Amap reign supreme.

But if you’re like most people and can’t read Chinese characters, you’ll need to use MAPS.ME, Apple Maps or Google Maps.

MAPS.ME is a good option because it has offline maps. This means you won’t need to spend a cent on internet data. However, it’s built using open-source software so the maps are far from perfect (especially in China where people are banned from enhancing the maps).

If you have an iPhone, using Apple Maps is your best bet. The app isn’t currently blocked in China, and the maps are based on Alibaba’s cutting-edge technology.

And if you’re an Android user, Google Maps is the best option. But because Google is blocked in China, you’ll need to download a VPN app before you arrive.

Just don’t forget to enable international roaming on your phone.

My last piece of advice

No matter where you’re going in China, make sure you have the address in Chinese characters.

The hotel staff will gladly write it down for you, or you could take a screenshot of a location on your phone. That way, you can simply hand it over to your taxi driver, and you’ll be taken to the right place.

There’s so much to see and do in China that you don’t want to spend half the time getting lost.

Best of luck traveling – you’re going to have a blast!

I hope I’ve helped with your China map app needs. Leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions. If you’re looking for the best overall apps to use in China, check out my blog here. I think you’ll like it.