How to use the new ‘busy area’ icon on Google Maps

Should I stay or should I go?
hand holding phone showing google maps on screen
Should you go out? Probably not. Anna Nekrashevich / Pexels

Whether you hate crowds or love being pressed from all sides by a seething mass of humanity, Google Maps has the tool for you. Called “Area Busyness,” this feature will tell you exactly where those amorphous blobs of people are so you can avoid them or run straight to them.

Appearing as a pulsating orange circle with a bar graph inside it, Area Busyness is an extension of the details Maps already provides when you investigate public transit options or tap on certain stores while inside the mobile app. 

And just like those other data displays, this feature does more than simply inform you of how many people you can expect to encounter when you go out.

How to use Area Busyness in Google Maps

The busyness icon shows up when you zoom close enough into an area that the map scale reads around 2,000 feet or 1 kilometer. When it comes into view, the Busy Area icon will pulse, and if you zoom closer, you’ll see the area bordered by a dotted line and shaded orange.

Tap the icon and you’ll see information about the area, including a bar graph showing how busy it is at the current time and a note about how the current number of people compares to the average day and hour. You can also scroll through each day of the week to see the typical crowd levels and plan in advance for a trip that matches your preferred level of human interaction.

[Related: 9 tips for navigating Google Maps like a pro]

This informational screen also offers directions for how to get to the area in question. Maps automatically saves your last chosen mode of transportation, but you can tap Directions to change it.

Finally, scroll down and you’ll see a “plus code,” which is a string of six or seven numbers and letters, as well as the town or city name, that acts as a street address for a general area. You can save this code to find that particular place again and navigate there if you aren’t sure of the local addresses. Just enter the code into the search box at the top of the Maps app.

With this knowledge in mind, hopefully you won’t end up trapped in the midst of a mortal maelstrom that seems to move everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Unless you’re into that, in which case go where the tide takes you, friend.