Google Places API Alternatives for Sourcing POI Data

A smartphone displaying a point of interest and details about it; technology symbols in the background

If your organization is building a location-based app or widget, it needs information on where people can go and what they can do at those places.

Google has invested heavily in geospatial apps such as Google Maps and Google Earth, so its Places API is a common choice for searching and fetching point of interest data in apps. It may not always be the best choice, though: it can be expensive, lack certain data, or have restrictive use clauses.

This article will discuss how to find the right Google Places API alternative if your business has specific needs. Here’s what’s inside:

  • What is the Google Places API?
  • The Difference between Google Places API and Google Maps API
  • 15 Google Places API Alternatives for More Completeness, Affordability, and Usability

We’ll first talk a bit about what the Google Places API is, to give some greater context.

What is the Google Places API?

The Google Places API is a service that takes HTTP requests and returns information, in XML or JSON format, about locations on Earth. Such locations are classified as establishments (e.g. businesses or government facilities), points of interest (e.g. memorials or parks), or general geographic areas.

The API is made up of four main functions:

  • Search: Shows the user a list of places close to their current location, or related to criteria that they search for (e.g. name, address, phone number).
  • Details: Displays additional information about a particular place, including general user reviews of any products or services sold there.
  • Photos: Allows the user to view photos of a specific place.
  • Autocomplete: Predicts the name or address of a place a user is searching for as they type it, or provides an on-the-fly list of places and/or possible search queries related to the user’s current search terms.

Each location in the Places API database also has a unique Place ID that can be used to find it in either the Google Places API or Google Maps API.

There is a slight difference between these two application programming interfaces, which is why they are often used together instead of one or the other. We’ll take a minute to briefly explain.

The Difference between the Google Places API and Google Maps API

Since people typically use maps to find places, it’s understandable to think that the Google Places API and Google Maps API are two different names for the same service. While they are somewhat related, they fulfill slightly different roles.

The Google Maps API primarily deals with depicting physical geography, as well as directions between locations. In that sense, it’s a starter kit for those wanting to build their own map widgets to show people where on Earth they are and how to get where they want to go. But it doesn’t necessarily provide a lot of information about what is specifically at one point on the map or another.

That’s where the Google Places API comes in. It’s more concerned with what’s interesting about a particular place. Can you eat/drink there? Shop? Sightsee? Be entertained? Rest for the night? Places API acts as a directory that allows map applications to access this information. Think of it this way: if the Google Maps API tells people where things are and how to get there, the Places API tells people what is at those places and why they would want to go there.

15 Google Places API Alternatives for More Completeness, Affordability, and Usability

As recognizable a brand as Google is, its Places API may not necessarily be the right fit for organizations needing POI and other geospatial data for their mapping applications.

Companies with large operations, popular apps, or more dynamic mapping needs may find they burn through free request credits too quickly and end up with expensive bills. Other groups may need specialized data that Google doesn’t have. Still others may find Google’s data licensing and use terms too restrictive for the kinds of projects they want to build.

The following is a list of alternatives to Google Places API if your organization needs a solution that’s cheaper, more flexible, or generally more tailored to its needs.

1. SafeGraph Places

Headquarters: Denver, Colorado, USA

Pricing: $$

Free Trial: Sample data available

Best for: Fresh, accurate, comprehensive, and easy access data for firms that need precision

SafeGraph’s Places dataset provides over 20 standard attributes of information regarding over 30 million distinct POIs around the world, including over 6 million parking lots. This data is updated monthly – far more frequently than most POI datasets – so your company can spend more time using it and less time worrying about having to fix it because it’s stale or inaccurate.

Plus, our thorough documentation makes it easy to understand how the data is organized, and why some parts are more complete than others. Our data is available through popular data platforms (such as Amazon S3, Snowflake, Databricks Delta Share, and Microsoft Azure) or direct CSV download, so you can start using it sooner for whatever application you need.

What you get

  • Complete, accurate, detailed, and fresh POI data that’s clean and ready to use
  • Extensive category tag system for richer information about places than Google Places
  • Easy data access through a CSV file, or a variety of other common data platforms
  • Data comes at a fair, flat, value-based price instead of expensive “pay as you go” models

2. ChainXY

ChainXY data for Tractor Supply Co. in the United States
Source: ChainXY

Headquarters: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Pricing: $

Free Trial: No

Best for: Coverage of major brands and chains

ChainXY provides data for major store and brand chains around the world. Using their self-serve portal, users can download points of interest data for specific brands and regions in the file format of their choice, such as .shp, .tab, .kml, .csv. and more. ChainXY data can be purchased an a one-off basis or as part of an annual subscription. However, the usage terms for ChainXY data do not allow for the use of the POIs externally, so there are limitations.

While ChainXY could be a good alternative for the Google Places API for users looking to populate maps and applications with major brand storefronts, the data is not ideal for coverage of mom-and-pop stores or smaller brands. ChainXY also only updates their database each quarter, so data is commonly stale and not a true representation of the real world. They also do not cover non-commercial places, like transit stops, industrial warehouses, or parks.

What you get

  • POIs for major brands across the world
  • Quarterly updates to data when possible
  • Flexible file format download options, but restrictions on how it can be used

3. AggData

AggData's website shows how many records you can download and how recently they were updated
Source: AggData

Headquarters: Dupont, Washington, USA

Pricing: $

Free Trial: Free data available

Best for: Locations of major brands

AggData offers POI data bundles for specific brands by geographic region. On their site, users can search for the geographic extent and commercial brand they need and purchase the data directly. Data is delivered via a CSV download with each individual purchase, but if users would like complete access to all AggData bundles, they can pay for a premium subscription.

Within their self-serve data buying experience, AggData shows how recently each bundle has been updated. The data freshness really depends on the specific bundle, but can range anywhere from one month to three years since the last update. AggData bundles do not provide contextual attributes related to store building geometry, open hours, or NAICS code, so are best used for getting a general idea of where major brands may be located in the world.

What you get

  • POIs for major brands across the world
  • Self-serve buying experience for the exact brand and geography you need
  • CSV with geocoded points of store locations, although the geocoding quality is not as precise as Google or others on this list

4. Precisely

Precisely points of interest in Boston, MA
Source: Precisely

Headquarters: Burlington, Massachusetts, USA

Pricing: $$$

Free Trial: Sample data available

Best for: Global coverage and interoperability with their other geospatial datasets

Precisely (formerly Pitney Bowes) is a data integrity company with a geospatial data portfolio that includes points of interest and building footprint data. They have global coverage and provide data records for all types of POIs, and their large data portfolio is all connected through a unique identifier for addresses, the PreciselyID.

As a large company, Precisely does a lot of things related to data integrity and their geospatial portfolio is just a small subset of their focus. While their points of interest dataset does have hundreds of millions of records, many are duplicates of each other. The data is updated quarterly, so POIs are not always a true representation of the physical world. Depending on how fresh and clean you need your POI data, Precisely POIs may be a good alternative to the Google Places API.

What you get

  • Global coverage of POIs from a wide variety of categories
  • Interoperability with Precisely's other geospatial datasets using the address-based unique identifier the PreciselyID
  • Flexibility in file format download (.csv, .shp, .tab, and more)
  • Lots of duplicate records, so you will need to be comfortable cleaning and de-duping data

5. OpenStreetMap

Landing page of OpenStreetMap
Source: OpenStreetMap

Headquarters: Cambridge, UK

Pricing: Free

Free Trial: No

Best for: Free, flexible data for do-it-yourself mapping projects

OpenStreetMap is a popular free alternative to Google Places API. It’s built and maintained by a community of cartographers, humanitarians, software engineers, and others contributing information about points of interest all over the world. Many organizations use it because it has very relaxed licensing requirements, requiring only crediting OpenStreetMap contributors for any data used and requiring the same conditions for any derivative works produced.

However, its data can be tricky to access, and can have issues with coverage, attribute fill rate, and documentation completeness. This can limit its usefulness for operations needing more precise and detailed information.

What you get

  • Free data (but can have completeness issues, as it’s contributed mainly by volunteers)
  • Flexible licensing to create a variety of projects without running into legal issues

6. HERE Geocoding & Search API

Example of HERE Geocoding & Search API being used to find electric vehicle charging stations
Source: HERE Technologies

Headquarters: Eindhoven, Netherlands

Price: $$$$

Free Trial: No

Best for: Finding places based on several different types of criteria

HERE’s Geocoding and Search API provides many of the same functions as the Google Places API. It allows for finding or discovering locations using names, addresses, coordinates, telephone numbers, business categories, brand names, etc. It can also autocomplete or autosuggest places based on valid addresses and terms. Furthermore, it can geocode addresses or reverse geocode coordinates, or – similar to how Google Places can – find a specific location based on a unique identifier.

HERE’s database contains over 120 million points of interest in over 100 countries and territories. It can also draw from third-party datasets such as TripAdvisor’s. However, its coverage is limited outside of a handful of prominent countries.

What you get

  • Multi-criteria search and discovery functions, including by proximity or along a route
  • Geocoding, reverse geocoding, autocomplete, and lookup by unique ID features
  • Local coverage can be lacking in some geographic areas tracked

7. Foursquare Places API

Geotagging a photo with Foursquare Places
Source: Foursquare

Headquarters: New York City, New York, USA

Price: $$$$

Free Trial: No

Best for: Core POI information plus crowd-powered extra details

Foursquare grew its fame from location information crowdsourcing apps, but is now a general geospatial data company. Its Places API lists over 100 million POIs from over 200 countries and territories around the world. Similar to Google Places, it not only allows users to search for places through various criteria, but it also has autocomplete functions, place details, and photo capabilities. Plus, it includes place reviews and traveler’s tips on locations from users of Foursquare’s family of apps, such as City Guide and Swarm.

What you get

  • User-generated reviews and tips about locations from Foursquare app users
  • 25 core POI data attributes; other ones available, but at additional cost
  • Allows only temporary caching of data for enterprise customers

8. Esri ArcGIS Geocoding REST API

Finding the Empire State Building and nearby POIs using the ArcGIS API geocoding feature
Source: Esri

Headquarters: Redlands, California, USA

Price: $$$

Free Trial: No

Best for: Ability to search for information about places in a variety of different ways

Esri’s ArcGIS is one of the most well-known mapping applications in the world, and it has a number of APIs associated with it as well. The one closest to an alternative to Google Places API is the Geocoding REST API, which allows for geocoding, reverse geocoding, and searching for locations in a variety of different ways.

For example, you can search for places by category type, or even how they are referenced in different languages. You can also limit searches to proximities, geofences, cities, or countries. There are many other formatting options, such as searching for specific data attributes, limiting the number of search results, and specifying whether to search for a rooftop or street address.

What you get

  • Lots of different ways to search and filter information on locations
  • API has other functions for base maps, routing, demographics, elevation, hydrology, etc.

9. Leaflet

Example of creating a map with a marker using Leaflet
Source: Leaflet

Headquarters: Kiev, Ukraine

Price: Free

Free Trial: No

Best for: A simple map-making tool for developers with lots of customization options

Leaflet is a free, lightweight, and open-source JavaScript library that can be used to create interactive, mobile-friendly maps. It’s designed for simplicity, so it doesn’t contain any POI data itself. However, Leaflet has a large user base that has created a number of plugins for the service, some of which allow for overlaying place details from various sources.

Because of its lack of cost and abundant community support, Leaflet is considered a top Google Places API free alternative. It’s made for people with software development experience, though, so you need to know how to work with coding languages to get the most out of it.

What you get

  • Free and flexible toolset that doesn’t take much processing power to use
  • Large support community has created lots of plugins for customization 
  • Doesn’t inherently come with POI data and requires coding experience to use well

10. TomTom Places API

Example of identifying places along a route with TomTom Places API
Source: TomTom

Headquarters: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Price: $$$

Free Trial: Yes (with limitations)

Best for: Proximity-based or route-based searches, or locating EV charging stations

As one of the pioneers behind route-planning software, TomTom has a number of different geospatial APIs. Its Places API allows for geocoding and reverse geocoding locations (up to 10,000 at a time); searching for locations with autocomplete and fuzzy logic capabilities; searching for locations within a proximity or along a route; and even searching for electric vehicle charging stations (though this latter function is more pricey to request). TomTom Places provides POI data for about 270 countries and territories, but only has complete data for about 70 of them.

What you get

  • Ability to find locations within a certain proximity or along a specific route
  • One of the few APIs that tracks electric vehicle charging stations
  • Data completeness is limited for the geographic areas it tracks

11. OpenLayers

Example of creating a popup overlay on a map using OpenLayers
Source: OpenLayers

Headquarters: Beaverton, Oregon, USA

Price: Free

Free Trial: No

Best for: Free mapmaking for developers who are only looking for specific functions

OpenLayers is similar to Leaflet in that it’s a JavaScript library for building custom maps. Also like Leaflet, it requires a bit of programming knowledge to use correctly, and it needs to pull data from services like OpenStreetMap, Bing, Mapbox, Stamen, etc. So it can suffer some of the same problems regarding data breadth and completeness as some other free and/or open-source services. On the plus side, OpenLayers lets users pick the features they want to include, which makes it lightweight and thus allows maps to load quickly.

What you get

  • Free and customizable mapmaking solution
  • Fast and lightweight, since users only need to call what they need
  • Uses a mix of POI data sources, so data scope and fill is unreliable

12. LocationIQ

Example of reverse geocoding using LocationIQ
Source: LocationIQ

Headquarters: Milpitas, California, USA

Price: $$$

Free Trial: Yes (with limitations)

Best for: Google Maps functionality at a fraction of the cost

LocationIQ positions itself as an alternative to Google Places API and Google Maps API that costs up to 90% less. It also has more flexible policies and features. LocationIQ has three different APIs: one for geocoding and reverse-geocoding; one for creating maps with customizable tiles; and one for planning routes, including measuring distances and matching coordinates to road networks.

LocationIQ uses a combination of open-source and third-party data, which improves its data quality a bit. But it still can’t outperform a curated POI database. Also, it currently has strict limits on the number of API calls that can be made under each subscription plan. If these limits are exceeded, additional requests will fail. LocationIQ is trying to loosen these restrictions, but hasn’t been able to yet.

What you get

  • Contains geocoding, mapping, and/or navigation APIs
  • Street-level accuracy in most places; house-level accuracy in some places
  • Reasonable pricing and licensing terms
  • Uses open-source and third-party data; data breadth and completeness can be iffy

13. Oracle Spatial Studio

Map of car accidents in New York built on Oracle Spatial Studio
Source: Oracle

Headquarters: Austin, Texas, USA

Price: $$$$$ 

Free Trial: Yes (30 days)

Best for: Advanced geospatial data analysis at an enterprise level

Oracle’s data management solutions also include tools for viewing and analyzing geospatial data, collectively called Spatial Studio. This software allows for manipulating and enriching various forms of geospatial data – including POI, street, boundary, imagery, network, topology, and movement – in a no-coding mapping platform. Possible operations include geocoding and reverse geocoding, route finding, and other types of spatial analysis.

What you get

  • Wide variety of geospatial analysis tools, compatible with many data types
  • Uses data from third-party and open sources; often requires your own data
  • Requires subscription to Oracle Autonomous Database

14. Apple MapKit / Mapkit JS

Sample map of Apple stores in San Francisco created with MapKit JS
Source: Apple

Headquarters: Cupertino, California, USA

Price: $$

Free Trial: No

Best for: Ready-to-go digital mapmaking with advanced but intuitive features

Apple has its own mapping service in Apple Maps, and MapKit (for mobile apps) and MapKit JS (for the web) are APIs that allow you to build off of it. In addition to standard features like geocoding / reverse geocoding, filterable searches, route planning, and place details, they have a bunch of other capabilities. These include importing your own geospatial data; limiting maps to certain regions and zoom levels; adding custom annotations to places to highlight them and provide more information; and creating panoramic photos to give views at street level.

What you get

  • Creative map-building functions like zoom/region limits, annotations, and street views
  • Uses Apple’s proprietary location database
  • Requires annual commitment to Apple Developer Program

15. Build your own API

One last option we’ll mention is to create a custom POI data API from scratch. This can have a few advantages for your organization:

  • It doesn’t have to pay or rely on a third party to maintain the system
  • It maintains greater control over the actual data, and what that data can be used for
  • It gets a system that can be built to fit its exact use cases

There are some downsides, however. For one thing, it costs a huge amount of money and time upfront to secure the hardware, technical expertise, and partnerships to get the system up and running. By the same token, your organization needs just as many resources to update POI data as it changes, let alone scale up the system infrastructure when operations expand.

Then there’s the issue of the quality of the data itself. Your organization has to have dedicated employees with the skills to properly collect, clean, organize, and merge data so that this data is always as accurate, trustworthy, and current as possible. And even then, there’s still a risk that the data may lead to biased models and conclusions if your company doesn’t critically evaluate its own data collection and processing methods. So it can sometimes be better to get data from a third party so there’s less chance of it being biased towards a particular organization or industry.

SafeGraph Places as an Alternative to the Google Places API

Those are some options for getting point of interest data for your organization’s geospatial app or widget if Google Places API doesn’t quite fit the bill.

However, we at SafeGraph feel that our Places dataset is still the best option. We work with you to negotiate a fair price for our data so you get great value for your money. Our data is also easy to access through CSV files or common data management platforms that your organization may already be using. So there’s no need to repeatedly call an API to get the data. And once you have the data, our flexible licensing terms let you do pretty much whatever you want with it.

Most of all, we pride ourselves on the fact that data is all our company is about. So we put all of our effort into creating the best-quality POI datasets possible with broader and more complete coverage, as well as unrivaled data freshness for time-sensitive applications. We even have additional columns with building footprints or transaction data that can be combined with POI information for even greater context.

If you’re interested in learning more about what SafeGraph data has to offer, download some sample Places data or contact our sales team.


Get Started with SafeGraph Places