Even if you know the route to a particular destination, Google Maps is a great to check on whether or not it’s the best one, thanks to a couple of recent updates.

Real-time traffic data is now available for major cities across the UK and Europe, which means its possible to see congestion on major and minor roads before setting off on a journey.

The feature is enabled by turning on the Traffic layer that’s available from the menu at the top-right of the Google Maps page. Real-time traffic data then appears as coloured lines on roads, on a scale from green (fast) to red (slow).

Google Maps also retains historical traffic data and can use it to predict levels of congestion at other times. Click the “Live traffic” link at the bottom-left of the page and both the day and time can be altered, which is useful for seeing what Sunday evening traffic might be for the journey home after a weekend away, for example.

Better still, traffic data is also now taken into account when planning a route with Google Maps, with the actual expected journey time shown alongside the ideal one. This makes it possible to see at a glance which route is the quickest when there are two or more viable alternatives.

[Google Lat Long blog]