The world in Witcher 3 isn't a single large map like in Skyrim. Instead, it has been divided into few smaller parts between which Geralt can travel. At first those journeys will have some limitations described below, but later in the game it will be possible to freely travel without the need to spend gold on it.
After completing the prologue in Kaer Morhen, the main character goes to the White Orchard. Until you advance enough in the main storyline, you can't leave that location. This limitation is removed later in the game, when you can travel to and from White Orchard with no trouble.
Another main part of the game world (definitely the largest one) are Northern Kingdoms consisting of Velen and Novigrad. Geralt can visit them for the first time after completing the main quests in White Orchard and in the Royal Palace in Vizima. It's worth mentioning that although the game allows you to freely travel through the whole Northerm Kingdoms, some regions of the map are occupied by very strong monsters that can quickly kill Geralt. Thus, it is wise to start with the simplest territories surrounding the Inn by the Crossroads or Crow's Perch and gradually travel to more far away territories.
Skellige Islands is the last of the main maps to be unlocked. If you want to go there, you must find and pay 1000 crowns to the ship's captain in Novigrad for transporting Geralt to the islands. For a beginning character that hasn't completed many quests and found expensive treasures yet, it's a massive expense. Additionally, there are many strong monsters and hard quests there, so you shouldn't travel there before you explore most of Velen and Novigrad. Suggested character level for Skellige Islands is at least 15.
You can travel between parts of the game world mentioned above by opening the main map and selecting the territory to which you want to go. After you reach selected region, you don't have to journey through it on your foot. There is a quick travel mechanism available in Witcher 3. It's available at any moment of the game - Geralt can travel only between signposts marked with green icons on the map.
Signposts AREN'T visible on the map since the very beginning of the game. Despite few exceptions, you will have to find them on your own. Of course, you can help yourself with our "walkthrough and atlas" guide. If you prefer to find them on your own, then look mostly at crossroads and in all villages, cities and unique locations visible on the map. Most of them have their own signpost.
After unlocking the "signpost network", you can travel between them. However, you can't activate the quick travel option in any place of the game world. You must reach one of the previously found signposts and only after interacting with it can you choose another one.
In addition to the previously mentioned signposts, there are other markers on the world map as well. Those include:
- Quest icons (exclamation marks) - Usually they symbolize characters that want to give you a quest.
- Optional location icons (question marks) - They symbolize various locations like bandit camps or monster nests. Once you get close to them, the icon changes from a question mark to one informing you what sort of location it is. Most important optional places have been described in the Optional locations (question marks on the map) chapter.
- Herbal icons - They are very common, you should find on your mini-map some icons informing about the possibility to gather herbs almost always. The game doesn't differ more and less popular ingredients, so you will need to check them with your own eye or by interacting with them. The herbals regenerate automatically on the map. It is worth mentioning that in some locations you will find more alchemy ingredients of a specific type (for example, more fungus in caves).
- Merchant icons (a purse or a mug in case of an inn) - Most merchants can be found in cities, but some of them travel between villages or live in the wild. It's worth adding that many merchants are interested in playing Gwent.
- Craftsmen icons - Just as merchants, craftsmen can be found mostly in villages and cities. Important - Various craftsmen can have different crafting skill. Try to find ones that can create the highest quality items.
- Icons of places where you can upgrade weapons and armors - Grindstones that allow you to upgrade weapons and crafting tables used for upgrading armors. Usually these objects can be found in the same places where you can find craftsmen. Upgrading weapons and armors is temporary. Since you can do it as many times as you want and it's free, you should return there as frequently as possible.
- Notice boards icons - Importance of notice boards has been described in separate page of this chapter. Yellow boards are the ones you haven't visited yet; white are the ones already checked.
- Boat icons - Boats can be found only at the shore. There are many of them and you can take them without worrying that someone will call you a thief.
Important - Some icons show on the world map only after Geralt gets close to them. It includes mostly herbals and many NPCs. Because of that, you should frequently check the mini-map in the corner of the screen and react to new markers shown there.
Important - Some merchants and craftsmen can be inactive at some times of the day, for example they can be sleeping during the night. In that case you can meditate to speed up the flow of time.
Another important matter related to world exploring is the ability to freely use witcher senses. They work similarly to the detective mode in Batman games or scanning in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Each newly visited location should be checked with witcher senses. They can make it much easier to find interactive chests and other containers with treasures. All these interactive objects are marked with yellow color, although they are highlighted only after Geralt gets very close to them. Witcher senses are also useful when searching for tracks in some quests. In that case, potential clues are marked with red color. Some of them Geralt can examine, others (like footprints, sounds disruptions or smell tracks) are used only for guiding the witcher to some important places. You can use witcher senses with no limits.