Classic vs Alternative tagging schemes in use in the United Kingdom

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There are currently two schemes in use for footpaths, cycle tracks and bridleways. It is of personal preference as to which makes the most sense and which you should use. Each have their pros and cons.


Implied tag values when using highway=* in the UK (unless over-ridden)
Tag Highway=
footway bridleway cycleway
surface unpaved unpaved paved
foot designated designated designated
horse no designated no
bicycle no yes designated
vehicle no no no

The original method uses so-called duck tagging: if a path is used as a footway and looks like a footway, you tag it as highway=footway. (Similarly highway=cycleway, highway=bridleway and so on). Access rights are inferred from the tag (and country) with additional specific access tags added as required:


  • Fewer tags are needed.
  • Is the original method so already prevalent.


An alternative scheme uses granular tags added to a basic highway=path tag. When used in the UK, it implies "A generic narrow path that is used in conjunction with access tags and a designation=* tag where applicable" and surface=unpaved


  • Access rights are defined and unambiguous and are separate from the physical attributes.


  • More tags are usually required.
  • If additional access tags are not added, it is unclear who is permitted to use the route.
  • If additional surface tags are not added, it is unclear whether the route is suitable for different users.
  • Not convincingly supported by major renderers. The standard map style at, and the OpenCycleMap style, will both show highway=path; foot=designated;bicycle=designated;horse=designated;designation=public_bridleway in the style that is familiar for cycleways, rather than in a bridleway style.

See access for more information.

Examples of the different schemes

Here are a couple of examples of the different mapping schemes:

Image Description Classic tagging style Alternative tagging style
Urban walkway.jpg
A path intended for pedestrian usage. highway=footway;
surface=* recommended;
surface=* recommended
PENDING A path intended for horseriders.
Please note: omitting the surface=* tag implies it is unpaved
highway=bridleway; highway=path;