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 OS 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. 

Scroll down to watch the Simon King video on map symbols, or read on.

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 atrractions, 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);

1:25 000 scale OS Explorer Maps England & Scotland (pdf 1Mb)

1:50 000 scale OS Landranger Maps English version (pdf 321k)

1:25 000 scale OS Explorer Maps additional symbols (pdf 267k)

And for Welsh language versions of Ordnance Survey map symbols you'll need these; 1:25 000 scale OS Explorer Maps Welsh version (PDF 390k), and 1:50 000 scale OS Landranger Maps Welsh version (PDF 433k) 


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;

Abbreviations used on 1:25 000 and 1:50 000 scale maps (pdf 45k)

Complete set of Ordnance Survey abbreviations (all maps)

How well do you know your map symbols?

Test your knowledge of map symbols with the Ordnance Surveys series of flashcards and quizzes.

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