Travel back in time with Google Street View

Check out how your town or famous locations around the world once looked thanks to some Google Maps wizardry.

Google’s camera-mounted Street View cars have become regular fixtures in our towns and cities.

The company is continually updating its imagery to ensure you get the most recent view of the area you’re exploring at the click of a mouse button.

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To make the most of this archived imagery, in 2014 Google launched a new feature allowing users to turn the clock back on Street View imagery to see how their town or city looked whenever the 360-degree cameras rolled down the street. 

While it’s not available in all areas, here’s how you can step back in time without the aid of a time machine.

Use Google Maps to go back in time 

Step 1: Head to Google Maps on your PC or laptop

Google Maps

Open your web browser and type into the URL bar. If you have location services enabled on your PC the map should show your current location.


Step 2: Find the place you want to explore

Google Maps showing Shrewsbury

If you don’t want to check out your current location, type any city, landmark or street address into the search bar in the top left corner and click Enter

[Read more: 7 great tips and tricks for getting more out of Google Maps]

Step 3: Enable Street View

Street View icon in corner of Google Maps

Unless you’re exploring the deepest darkest corners of the Amazon (and Google even has some of that covered) you should see the yellow Street View man in the bottom right corner of the screen. Using your mouse drag him over to the area you wish to view.

Entering Street View mode Google Maps

Drop the icon when you’ve found the perfect spot and you’ll see the map imagery replaced by real-life 360-degree photography shot from ground level.

Alternatively the search results also contain a Street View section on the right that allows you to jump right in.

Step 4: Find the Clock

Time clock Google Maps

By default, Street View automatically shows the most recent imagery.

In the top left corner it’ll tell you the date it was captured by Google. If you also see a clock icon next to this date it means you’re in luck… you can view images from previous photography sessions.

If you don’t see it, it means Google has only mapped that area once.

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Step 5: Open the time portal

Time portal Google Street View

Once you’ve clicked on the clock, you’ll a see a drop-down timeline which lets you cycle through the previous imagery, in some cases dating back to around 2007 when Google began its Street View project.

You’ll see the older images in the thumbnail. Clicking them will transport you into the full Street View experience.

[Read more: Take a trip to Victorian London with Google Maps]

Step 6: Explore

Google Street View - Shrewsbury past and present

Once you’ve opened the older Street View maps full screen, you can navigate around the location just as you would with current imagery.

That means you can drag the cursor around the screen to rotate your view, move and double-click the arrows to travel along the streets or get close-up views of buildings.

In some cases you can see how the area changes depending on the seasons.

Step 7: Notable areas to explore

Freedom Tower New York in Street View

As well as it being a neat tool for taking a trip down memory lane (or just to view your town before they erected a monstrous new hotel right in the middle), the feature is fascinating from a historical perspective. For example, you can see the construction of Freedom Tower in New York City, or witness the rebuilding efforts in Onagawa, Japan following the destruction of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

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