The Best Maps of 2016

From the craters of Mars to the streets of Zurich, these maps show cartography at its best.

It’s been a good year for map lovers. Whether you’re into old maps, new maps, or new ways of interacting with old maps, there was much to cheer about in 2016.

Lots of great historical maps became more accessible this year. One of the world’s great private map collections is now open to the public at Stanford University. The Central Intelligence Agency, which isn’t exactly known for sharing, released a slew of historical maps to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its Cartography Center. Here at All Over the Map, we were excited to publish a few maps that haven’t been readily available online, including secret Japanese military maps and a map used in 1783 at the Treaty of Paris to negotiate the borders of the brand-new United States of America.

It’s nearly impossible to keep up with all the innovative and beautifully designed maps being made these days. And thanks to the proliferation of digital cartography tools, lots of non-cartographers are making maps now too. This year, scientists mapped the rise of “megaregions”—clusters of interconnected cities—and documented the increasingly fragmented areas of Earth that can’t be reached by road. Journalists got into the act too, making sophisticated and attractive maps to examine everything from the presidential election to the aerial surveillance of U.S. cities.

Cartography may be in the midst of a digital revolution, but if you think hand-drawn maps have no place in the modern world, consider the case of the tourist who, earlier this year, wanted to mail a card to a small family farm in Iceland but didn’t know the address. He drew a map on the envelope instead, and it still found its intended destination—proof, if you really needed it, of the power of maps.

The maps in this gallery were chosen by the authors of All Over the Map, not by the cartography staff of National Geographic.