Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for best world maps

Even with the convenience of web-based maps at our fingertips, there’s nothing like admiring a full-sized world map. Map apps on your smartphone are the best choice for finding your way to a new restaurant, but a world map is the best way to see and understand how the earth is laid out.

Visualizing our planet’s geography is much easier with a world map. Depending on the type of map in question, myriad pieces of information can be gleaned from a 2D visual representation of the planet. World maps are great educational tools in the classroom. They’re also a wonderful decorative accessory in a den or office. For those bitten by the travel bug, the maps are full of inspiration for future journeys.

World maps aren’t just for the geography obsessed. There are plenty of maps out there to suit different tastes, styles, and uses. The BestReviews team has included everything you need to know about world maps in the guide below. In doing so, we hope to make your shopping experience as simple and pain-free as possible. When you’ve explored all the information, scroll back up to the top of the page to find our curated selection of recommended world maps.

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The oldest world map currently in existence is the Imago Mundi, in the British Museum in London. It dates from between 700 and 500 BC.

Types of world maps

  • Political

This type of map displays such information as country borders, cities, and towns. It doesn’t usually display topographical information. Borders change, so a political map from the 1920s is indeed very different from one from the 1980s or the 2000s.

  • Physical

This type of map depicts topography. Physical maps are representations of landscapes and natural features, such as bodies of water. The elevation is typically depicted with relief lines or different methods of shading. A topographical map is a type of physical map that uses contour lines to indicate elevation and landscape changes.

  • Economic and climate

These types of maps depict specific information, usually coded by color. Climate maps convey different climate zones (such as tropical, arid, or tundra). Economic maps provide information about natural resources, population, and related economic activities in different areas.

  • Children’s

Children’s maps are usually brightly colored and full of imagery to help kids learn about geography.

  • Historical

There are different types of historical maps, from old-style world maps with a vintage look to historically accurate maps from specific eras. Replicas of old-world maps are also available. For the collector, antique maps are a window into the past.

  • Artistic

These world maps are not necessarily geographically accurate. Instead, these maps focus on artistically depicting the world. Some examples include maps made up of canvas paintings or graphics.

  • Interactive

There are a variety of fun world maps available, from maps that allow you to scratch off destinations you’ve visited, to push-pin style maps that enable you to keep track of where you’d like to go. Other options include dry erase maps, which are great for classroom purposes, and self-adhesive map decals.

Representing world geography

A map projection is the way the geography of the earth is visually displayed in two dimensions. The following are the most common methods for representing the three-dimensional earth in two-dimensional form, but it should be noted that there are many more projection methods than listed here.

  • Mercator projection

Most maps feature this commonly used projection from the sixteenth century. It distorts the true sizes of countries.

  • Peter’s projection

This method better represents country sizes in relation to one another, but some areas are stretched out, which isn't visually appealing.

  • Robinson projection

Created in 1963, this projection is less focused on accuracy and more on artistic representation. It depicts the entire world map, but the geography at the poles is fairly distorted.

  • Winkel Tripel projection

This is the projection method used by the National Geographic Society. It isn’t a useful map for navigation, but it does a good job of accurately representing true country sizes, with some slight distortion at the poles.

  • AuthaGraph

This very accurate projection is the brainchild of a Japanese architect. It folds into a 3D globe. You’re unlikely to find this projection used for wall maps, however.

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Did you know?
Most world maps include five basic elements: heading, compass, map key, grid to help locate coordinates, and map scale.

World map features to consider

Geography and map information

What kind of information do you want displayed on your map? Does it matter if the map you choose is geographically accurate, or are you looking for more of an art piece? A world map for a geography classroom might include topographical information, relief lines showing changes in elevation, and a grid with latitude and longitude to help readers find coordinates.

Save for artistic geographical representations. Most maps contain similar elements.

  • Date: The date is important, especially if it’s a political map.

  • Compass: Most maps also feature a compass to indicate the map’s orientation. On most world maps, though, finding the cardinal directions is easy: north is at the top.

  • Place names: Some maps include the names of small cities, airports, and more, while others are completely unlabeled.

  • Legend: Many maps also include a legend to help you read the map and distinguish one symbol from another.

  • Extra data or images: Some maps include additional facts or images, such as population information or country flags.

Size and placement

Where will you be using your world map? The size of your wall space will dictate the maximum size map you can display. World maps range from poster to mural size. If you want to hang it up on a classroom wall, look for a map with grommets. Map decals are an excellent non-permanent display solution for renters.

Framing and protection

Many world maps are available already laminated, which helps protect them from spills and prevent rips and tears. Some world maps can be purchased already framed, too.


World maps are available in a variety of styles, including classic full-color maps, vintage maps in sepia tone, and black and white maps. The style you pick depends entirely on your taste and current décor.

World map prices

  • Inexpensive

For under $50, you’ll find poster-size world maps for the office as well as children’s and classroom maps. Many options at this price point are available laminated, but the cheapest options are made of paper without any kind of protective film.

  • Mid-range

For $50 to $100, you’ll find slightly larger world maps, most of them laminated.

  • Expensive

For $100 and more, you can find mural-size world maps. Pre-framed options typically go for over $200, depending on the size of the map.

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Google Maps uses a version of the Mercator projection.


Q. What is a map scale?

A. The scale refers to the relationship between the distance measured on the map and the actual distance. A ratio of 1:100,000,000, for instance, means that 1 centimeter on the map represents 1,000 kilometers in reality. Maps are either small, medium, or large scale. World maps are small scale.

Q. Why does Greenland look so different on different maps?

A. Depending on the projection method used, some distortion will occur on a map. Many projections distort the relative sizes of land masses. The Mercator projection, for example, shows Greenland as larger than the entire continent of Africa, which is not at all accurate. It’s actually 14 times smaller than Africa!

Q. I just want a nice map for my wall. Does the projection type really matter?

A. A few projections look wildly different from what you’d expect from real world geography, but most world maps for sale use the Mercator projection. Regardless of the map you choose, be aware that it’s a visual representation of the world. Some countries may appear larger or smaller than they actually are. In short, if you just want a beautiful piece of art for your home, the projection isn’t an essential consideration.

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