Discover 33 Unique World Maps That You Won’t Find In Any Textbook

Published September 15, 2021
Updated September 20, 2021

From the true size of Africa to the countries that refuse to use the metric system, these maps will make you see our world in a whole new light.

World Population Map

World Population Distribution Map
There are nearly 8 billion people living in the world, but the Earth's population is far from evenly distributed. Countries like China and India house a lot more people than others, each boasting a population of more than 1 billion each. This can be hard to visualize — until now.

This map shows the surprisingly small region where many of the world's people live.

Metric System Vs. Imperial System

Metric System World Map
You're looking at the only three countries in the world that don't use the metric system: the United States, Myanmar, and Liberia. While some believe that the U.S. should ditch the imperial system, others claim that making the switch to metric now would cost too much money.

Back in 2009, NASA said that converting its engineering plans, software, and hardware to the metric system would cost $370 million — and that's just one agency.

Cloud Cover World Map

Cloud Cover World Map
Which areas of the world see the most clouds — and which regions see the fewest?

This map shows the average cloud cover around the world. At any given time, around two-thirds of the Earth's surface is covered by clouds.
Johannes Kroeger

True Size Of Africa Map

True Size Of Africa Map
Most world maps make Africa look smaller than it actually is. The famous Mercator projection, for example, minimizes the size of territories near the equator, including several countries in Africa.

In reality, the continent is large enough to fit the contiguous United States, China, India, Japan, and several European countries within its borders.
Kai Krause

Google Street View Map

Google Street View World Map
Which streets has Google mapped around the world — and which places don't offer Street View?

This map shows the heavy concentration of Google Street View in Europe and the U.S. By contrast, hardly any streets in Africa (outside of South Africa) appear on Google Street View — and the same goes for much of Asia.

Crop Coverage World Map

Crop Coverage World Map
Crops grow well in certain regions, but not so well in others. This map shows the crop coverage around the world, revealing where most of our grains, fruits, and vegetables are grown. The countries that produce the most crops include China, the U.S., India, and Brazil.USGS

Maternity Leave World Map

Maternity Leave World Map
Federal maternity leave policies vary widely around the world.

Countries in dark green offer a year or more of maternity leave. Those in light green offer 6 to 12 months. Yellow represents 14 to 26 weeks, while light orange shows under 14 weeks. Dark orange represents areas with no guaranteed paid maternity leave.

The U.S. stands out as one of the only countries in the world with no federal paid maternity leave.

New Zealand-Centered World Map

New Zealand-Centered World Map
Most flat world maps place the Atlantic Ocean in the middle. But what would the world look like with New Zealand at the center of the map?

A remote, Southwestern Pacific nation, New Zealand contains two main islands and some 700 smaller islands. This map shows a Kiwi perspective on the globe.

Passenger Railway Networks

Passenger Train Maps Around The World
Passenger trains transport millions of people every day — in some parts of the world. For example, an estimated 22 million Indians take passenger trains every day.

In other areas, passenger railway lines are uncommon. This map highlights railway networks in four regions.

Communist And Socialist Countries In The Late 1970s

Communism And Socialism Map
The fear of Communism drove much of U.S. foreign policy in the years after World War II. Supporters of a containment policy often pushed for war in Korea and Vietnam in order to stop the spread of Communism.

This map shows the large number of Communist and socialist countries in 1978.

Ship Traffic World Map

Ship Traffic World Map
More than 90 percent of the world's trade is carried across the oceans by some 90,000 ships. As shown by this map of ship traffic around the globe, this industry covers a shockingly large portion of the world's water.

Like some other forms of transportation, these ships are a significant source of carbon dioxide emissions. But unlike other methods of transport, the shipping industry is almost completely unregulated — which can lead to massive amounts of pollution.

Tea Vs. Coffee World Map

Tea Vs. Coffee World Map
Which countries prefer tea, and which countries prefer coffee? This map breaks down the world according to people's hot beverage preferences.

While much of the Western hemisphere sips coffee, most Asian countries strongly prefer tea. In fact, China, India, and Sri Lanka rank as some of the top tea-producing countries in the world.
The Economist

Time Zones World Map

Time Zones World Map
What would the world look like if you took away the continents, oceans, and other geographic features — and left only the time zone lines?

Time zones date back to the 1884 International Meridian Conference, which was held in Washington, D.C. However, it took years for all nations to get on board with the idea, and many countries have made changes to their local time zones throughout the centuries.
Branden Rishel

Water Risk World Map

Water Risk World Map
WHO reports that over 2 billion people around the world do not have reliable access to safe drinking water — a problem that will likely grow as time goes on.

This map shows the overall water risk for different regions of the world, with low-risk areas in light yellow and high-risk areas in dark red.
Gassers/World Resource Institute

World Elevations Map

World Elevations Map
Elevations vary across the globe — and not just on land. This map shows the world's most striking elevations, from the towering Himalayas to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

The highest elevation on land is Mount Everest at about 29,000 feet. And the deepest point in the sea — the Challenger Deep — is about 36,000 feet below sea level.

The "Most Accurate" World Map

AuthaGraph World Map
Most flat world maps severely distort the globe. They shrink the size of Africa, narrow the width of the Pacific Ocean, and make Antarctica and Greenland look huge.

In response to these wildly inaccurate and misleading maps, a Japanese architect named Hajime Narukawa came up with an innovative solution: triangles. Dividing the spherical surface of the world into 96 triangular regions, Narukawa mapped out those regions on a flat, rectangular surface while still maintaining their original area ratios.

Though the resulting AuthaGraph World Map still isn't perfect, it's said to offer the "most accurate view yet" of what our world actually looks like.

Global Population Distribution Map

Global Population Map
It's well known that a large number of the world's population lives in countries like China and India, but how is the rest of the population spread out?

This map divides the globe into 10 wedges, each of which represents 10 percent of the total population.

Map Of The World's Ports

Map Of The World's Ports
Ports keep the world connected. In fact, 70 percent of global trade by value passes through a port.

This map shows the location of every port in the world.

European Ancestry World Map

European Ancestry World Map
Where do people with the most European ancestry live? This map shows the percentage of people around the world that trace their heritage back to Europe.

Unsurprisingly, former European colonies often report high percentages of people with European ancestry, as shown in the darker shades on the map. But Africa — which was heavily colonized by European countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries — represents a major exception.
Nagihuin/Wikimedia Commons

GDP Per Capita World Map

GDP Per Capita World Map
On this map, darker colors indicate a larger gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. The richest countries in the world report a GDP of over $50,000. The poorest, by contrast, report well under $5,000.OurWorldInData

Population Growth World Map

Population Growth World Map
Our planet supports nearly 8 billion people. But while some countries report negative population growth, others have a positive growth rate.

This map breaks down the world by population growth rate. The darkest green countries represent growth rates of zero or below. Meanwhile, light green represents 0-1 percent growth, yellow is 1-2 percent growth, orange is 2-3 percent growth, and red is over 3 percent growth.

Proposed Trans-Siberian "Superhighway" Map

Proposed Trans-Siberian Highway Map
What if you could drive from London to New York — the long way?

In 2015, the president of Russian Railways proposed a "superhighway" that would connect North America to Asia and Europe. If this idea ever took off, it would reportedly cost "trillions of dollars" to build and would span almost 13,000 miles.

Forest Canopy Height World Map

Forest Canopy Height World Map
What would the world look like measured by tree height?

Forests grow to different heights around the world. As the map shows, equatorial rainforests report some of the highest forest canopies, as do subarctic forests. These forests help absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. They also play a role in biodiversity.
Global Forest Watch

Calendar World Map

Calendar World Map
Most of the world uses the same calendar. The Gregorian calendar (represented in green on the map) dates all the way back to 1582. Other calendars include a modified Gregorian calendar (represented in purple), independent calendars (symbolized by light blue), and national calendars in Nepal and Ethiopia.Daesenriel/Reddit

Snow Around The World

Snow World Map
Which parts of the world are most likely to see snow each year — and where does it never snow?

According to this map, the light blue countries see snow in places that are below 3,000 feet over sea level, while dark blue countries very rarely see snow at that elevation. Pink represents countries that only see snow in places that are above 3,000 feet over sea level. And the gray countries never receive snow, even in places with high elevation.
Wikimedia Commons

WWI Casualties Map

WWI Casualties Map
World War I was truly a global war. Many countries around the world saw high casualty numbers, especially since the war ended with around 40 million casualties total.

This map charts WWI casualties as a percentage of population. The lightest red countries saw casualties of under 1 percent of their population. The next two darkest shades represent 1 to 2 percent and 2 to 4 percent. Dark red countries saw 4 to 10 percent casualties, and the black represents countries with over 10 percent casualties. The map shows the devastating toll of the first world war.

Age Of Consent World Map

Age Of Consent World Map
This map shows the wide variety of age of consent laws around the world.

Shockingly, some countries claim that children as young as 12 or 13 can consent to sex. Meanwhile, other countries define consenting adults as those who are at least 19 or 20 years old. Yet other places simply require people to be married before they have sex — and sometimes have no age limit at all.
Wikimedia Commons

British Empire World Map

British Empire World Map
In 1897, the U.K. controlled several territories all around the globe. This map shows the British-controlled territories in red. It's little wonder why there was once an old saying that claimed: "The sun never sets on the British Empire."

The empire reached its height in 1922, when it covered nearly a quarter of the world's land surface. The empire's legacy shapes modern politics into the 21st century.
Cambridge University Library

When The World's Population First Hit One Billion

First Billion World Map
What did the world look like the first time Earth's population hit one billion?

This map shows the national boundaries of the world when the global population crossed the one billion mark during the early 19th century.

Some national borders look familiar. Much of Europe looks like a 21st-century map, and the borders of Russia and China are likewise very similar. But Africa and the Americas look quite different.
SvoHljott/Wikimedia Commons

The World's Largest Islands

Largest Islands In The World Map
In addition to the seven continents, Earth is home to countless islands. This chart shows the 100 largest islands by size (not counting the continents).

Greenland ranks at the top of the list. New Guinea, Madagascar, and Baffin Island also rank in the top 10.
David Garcia

Marijuana Legalization World Map

Marijuana Legalization World Map
This map charts the countries, states, and territories around the world that have legalized marijuana, the regions that still classify it as an illegal substance, and those areas where the situation is a bit more complicated.

For example, in the United States alone, some states have completely legalized cannabis, while others have only decriminalized it for medical use. Yet others have still maintained a complete ban on marijuana in all cases.

Weighted Population Map

Weighted Population Map
What if a map of the world represented the population of every country?

This weighted population map shows what the Earth might look like if each country's physical size was proportional to its population.

When it comes to population, China and India rank at the top of the list. The U.S., Indonesia, and Pakistan rank behind them — looking quite small in comparison.

Religions Around The World

Religion World Map
More than two billion people in the world practice Christianity. Nearly two billion practice Islam. And over one billion practice Hinduism.

Charting dominant religions by country rather than by population, as this map does, gives another perspective on world religions. The dark purple areas represent predominantly Christian countries, while green represents predominantly Muslim countries and orange shows countries where most people practice Hinduism.

Red represents Buddhism, dark blue shows Judaism, yellow symbolizes Indigenous religions, and light purple indicates a lack of association with any religion.

Which countries prefer tea over coffee? How many countries use the Gregorian calendar? And which countries saw the most casualties during World War I? These maps offer a unique perspective on our planet and its past. From the true size of Africa to the age of consent around the world, these are the maps that they didn't show you in school.

Maps can also help make complex truths much simpler. For example, a map of global ship traffic shows how much of the world trade is carried across the Earth's oceans — and how much pollution it causes. Crop coverage maps show where we grow most of the food that feeds our planet. And weighted population maps show where most of the world actually lives.

There's no question that more traditional maps — like the Mercator projection — remain popular to this day. But it's now known that some of the most famous illustrations of the world are misleading at best. That's why it's worthwhile to explore other maps and their striking revelations.

What did the world's national borders look like when the human population first hit one billion? How many countries still reject the metric system? And what would a 13,000-mile highway that stretches from New York to London look like? These 33 world maps are sure to change your perspective.

After looking through these unique maps, check out these maps that explain the United States. Then, travel back in time with these ancient world maps.

Genevieve Carlton
Genevieve Carlton earned a Ph.D in history from Northwestern University with a focus on early modern Europe and the history of science and medicine before becoming a history professor at the University of Louisville. In addition to scholarly publications with top presses, she has written for Atlas Obscura and Ranker.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Carlton, Genevieve. "Discover 33 Unique World Maps That You Won’t Find In Any Textbook.", September 15, 2021, Accessed June 22, 2024.