City Tours is one of the many projects bubbling away in Google’s Labs and it’s just received an update that makes the service much more customisable – but is it any good?
City Tours was launched in mid-2009 and uses Google’s database of landmarks and attractions to create tour itineraries for cities. Until now the service allowed you to enter a city name and return a map featuring a route taking you around all the most popular sites.
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The service smartly takes into account opening times and dates for attractions so that it doesn’t guide you to places it thins are closed. You could customise the map by adding extra attractions, but the whole project felt very much unready for mainstream use.
Google’s Zurich-based team has now announced a number of updates that make City Tours much more useful.
First up, you can now import your own custom maps containing only the landmarks you want to visit and Google will try its best to create a tour around all of them. The experience has now been optimised for walking directions, using Google Maps’ walking directions service to provide more useful directions for those on foot. A number of other tweaks have been made to the UI to make City Tours easier to use.
So, how does it fare? In our tests, really well – as long as you stick to cities. Importing a map of locations out in the middle of the countryside (or even urban areas away from major city centres) results in an error message informing you that Google couldn’t work out which city your map relates to. We know it’s called ‘City Tours’ but there’s no reason we can see that the service couldn’t work out optimum itineraries for landmarks anywhere.
Gripes aside; when City Tours works, it works well. This walking tour of New York Bookshops is given by Google as a good example of the service’s potential.
City Tours is still a work-in-progress and hopefully Google will continue to work on it. Particularly, we would love to see the ability to save these tours as a ‘layer’ to be used in Google Maps for Mobile. Printing it out just isn’t as fun.