Having a map of a place and directions on how to get there are both handy for navigating. But it can be easy to lose your bearings if you take a wrong turn in a neighbourhood, and it can be much harder to re-orient yourself when all of the streets and buildings look the same because they're unfamiliar to you.
That's where the "Street View" function of Google Maps comes in. With Street View, you can get a full 360-degree view of the surrounding area from pretty much any street in the world. Plus, Street View even allows you to move your view from street to street. This lets you scout out an unfamiliar neighbourhood and identify the local landmarks… all without leaving your home!
How to Access Google Maps Street View
Go to www.google.com/maps in your web browser.
There are two main ways to access the Street View function. The first is by finding a location that you want to use Street View on, either by just manually finding it and clicking on it, or using the search functions to find it (see our How to Use Google Maps and Google Maps Search tutorials if you need help using the controls or searching).
Once you have a location selected, you will see a Street View button in the information window below the search bar in the top-left corner. Click on it.
NOTE: Be as specific as you can with the location that you're looking for, or Google Maps might just take you to the busiest or most central street in a general area.
The other main way to access Street View is by clicking on the Browse Street View icon (), also known as "Pegman", the unoffical mascot of Google Maps. This will highlight certain areas of the map in blue or yellow. Click one of these areas to access Street View for that location.
You can also click and hold your left mouse button on the Browse Street View icon (), then drag it to the location where you want to use Street View, and then release the left mouse button. The location you pick still has to be highlighted in blue or yellow, though.
NOTE: Again, be as specific as you can with the location that you're looking for, or Google Maps might just take you to the busiest or most central street in a general area.
How to Use Google Maps Street View
You'll have a bunch of new options available once Street View is active. They're all over the map (no pun intended), so we'll break them down for you.
First is the main window. Here you'll see panoramic images of the street you're on and the surrounding area. The names of streets will be displayed on them in white lettering.
As you move your mouse around the screen, you may see a faded white box or a faded white arrow, like the one highlighted in the screenshot below. When you see either of these, you can click the screen at that point to move your view in that direction, or to move your view to refocus on the object that you clicked on.
In the lower-right corner, you will see the "+" and "-" buttons that you can click on to zoom your view in and out, respectively. In addition, you can click the arrows on either side of the compass icon to rotate your view in a certain direction. (Note: you can also do this more gradually by clicking and holding the left mouse button in the main window, and then dragging your mouse around the screen.)
To know which direction you're facing, remember that the red point of the needle in the compass icon will always point north. So, in the example above, we're facing east.
In the upper-left corner is the Street View menu. Here, you can click the history icon () to open a window that lets you look at the location you're currently viewing at different points in time. The month and year next to this icon are the time at which you're currently viewing this location in the main window. This point in time is also faintly highlighted in the slider bar below.
To change the point in time at which you're viewing your current location, click a point on the slider bar to move the large marker there. Then, click the zoom icon (). Click the history icon () again to close this window.
If you wish to return to the map at the exact location you're currently viewing, click the arrow icon () next to the location's name. Or, you can click the point-of-interest icon () to return to the map at the central or busiest area of this location.
In the bottom-left corner is a miniature version of the main map screen. Here, you can see the location you're using Street View at in relation to its position on the map, as well as what direction your current view is facing (which you can tell by which way Pegman, the little avatar here, is looking).
You can click the "+" and "-" buttons here to zoom this mini-map in and out. Additionally, like you could on the main map screen once you had clicked the Browse Street View icon (), you can click an area on the map highlighted in blue or yellow to immediately use Street View at that location.
Finally, you can click Back to Map to switch back to the main map screen at the exact location that you're currently viewing.
And that's a quick tour of how the "Street View" function on Google Maps works!
How does Google create the Street View maps?
Street View images in Google Maps are created by cutting-edge systems of electronic equipment that are moved around in different ways, depending on the terrain. For most Street View images, cars are enough to get the job done. For some locations that are off the beaten path and are usually only travelled by foot, such as nature trails around and leading to famous landmarks, Google uses special tricycles, or even snowmobiles. And for some places with geography that's difficult to navigate for any of these vehicles — such as Venice, Italy — the equipment is carried around on backpacks, or even boats!
As for the equipment itself, some of it was already available on the professional consumer market, and some of it had to be developed by Google themselves. It includes:
Specialized automated electronic cameras that scan images gradually (but still very quickly) rather than capturing all parts of them at the same time, and can produce effects such as "fish eye"
Global positioning devices and speed sensors, to account for and correct any distortions caused by the cameras as they move around
Range scanners that use lasers to determine the actual physical proportions of the space being photographed by the cameras