Understanding Map Symbols

How Well Do You Know Your OS Map Symbols?

Quiz of Legends
Answer Sheet

Click on the test link above to see how many of these common Ordnance Survey map symbols taken from the Explorer range, you can identify.

Understanding map symbols

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

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; and
  • Paths - footpaths, bridleways and routes, some are rights of way, some aren't.

As a quick-reference guide, you can download the following guides to English and Scottish Ordnance Survey map symbols (pdf documents);


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;

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