Map symbols and map reading

To successfully navigate with an Ordnance Survey map you should get to know map symbols. Check out the guides below to understand symbols and abbreviations.

Understanding map symbols

Ordnance Survey maps use map symbols, known as a 'key' or 'legend', to show where things are on the ground. Using the map symbol guides below you can find out what everything means on the OS Explorer and OS Landranger maps, and on OS getamap.Ordnance Survey Discount Graphic

The map symbols for 1:25 000 OS Explorer maps and 1:50 000 OS Landranger maps differ because of the scale of the mapping - OS Explorer maps show more detail because they cover a smaller area.

The type of symbols on Ordnance Survey maps can be broadly categorised as:

  • Contours - lines showing the height (elevation) and shape of the terrain;
  • Roads - types of roads from motorways to unfenced farm roads;
  • Leisure signs - showing attractions, viewpoints, places to go, camping and caravan sites, national parklands and trails;
  • Terrain and landscape features - scree, mud, sand, rocky outcrops, cliffs.
  • Paths - footpaths, bridleways and routes, some are rights of way, some aren't.

You can view examples of these maps and symbols in the downloads section at the bottom of the page.

Map reading made easy peasy

For a basic and fun introduction to map reading check out the pdf guide ‘Map reading made easy peasy’ below. It talks you through navigation skills such as using map symbols, compass skills, scale, contours and distance.

Abbreviations

If you've ever been perplexed by what some of the abbreviations stand for on Ordnance Survey maps, you can find out by checking our guide to map abbreviations. You can download these in the section below.

Downloads:

File Format File Title File size
Adobe PDF unique-symbols-used-on-25k-scale-mapping 275KB
Adobe PDF Abbreviations used on 1:25 000 and 1:50 000 scale maps 42KB
Adobe PDF 1:50 000 scale OS Landranger Maps English version 788KB
Adobe PDF 1:25 000 scale OS Explorer Maps England & Scotland 838KB

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