My Favorite Travel Guides

Just part of my travel book collection

As I’ve said before, I LOVE planning.  I love reading about the places we are going to go, going to and reading through the possible activities, going to google maps and figuring out how far away things are.  I just really enjoy the whole process.  For me, it is a way of savoring the trip before even getting started.  Like that old Heinz ketchup commercial An-ti-ci-paaaaaaaa-tion…  That’s what it is for me.

Because of that, I wind up reading many, many, many different guide books about wherever we are planning to go.   I know the hubby is a (hopefully good) combination of amused & befuddled at all the different books, and me with my highlighter and post-it page tags.

But there really is a purpose in reading so many different books.  The different lines of guide books are written very differently and have different strengths and weaknesses.  So I’m going to go through my thoughts on the different lines and what I use them for.


DK Eyewitness Travel

These are sort of the Usborne books of travel.  Lightly educational, somewhat entertaining.  Puts information into bite-sized pieces about the different sites.  It also has great graphics showing you the layout and cut-away graphics of museums and buildings to tour, so you really can think through where specifically you want to go inside the Uffizi Gallery, and look for where precisely that mosaic will be located on the outside of St. Marks in Venice.  They also have great tourist area section maps on the pages that show the actual surrounding buildings and irregularities of streets, making it easier to know what it is really going to look like.  Everything is high quality, color, and glossy in here.

What DK doesn’t include are the specific costs, or any differentiation between one site and another as far as popularity and whether something is a ‘must-see’ or not.  So for actual daily planning this won’t help.  But the guide books in combination with the internet can give you a lot of what you need.


DK Top 10

These books are an offshoot of the DK Travel books, and are visually and informationally very similar.  What they specifically do that is more helpful is rank the sites of a specific area, to help you make choices of what makes your list in the limited time you may have.  More than just ‘Top 10 Sites in Florence’ though, it will give you the top 10 museums, top 10 restaurants, top 10 cafes, top 10 places to shop.  This is broken down even further – and this is where I find it particularly helpful:  The Uffizi Gallery may be #4 on the Top 10 list for Florence, but then they give you the top 10 things to see inside the Uffizi.  So those overwhelming sites can even be broken down and prioritized for you.


Rick Steves

Rick Steves.  I kind of want to be him when I grow up.  I would love for it to be my job to travel the world, talk to people about it, and write about it.  He does a much better job of this than I would, which is why it is his job.

The Rick Steves books are the exact opposite of the DK books.  The pages are not color, they are the thinner paper, strictly black and white, no glossy.  These are not the books you browse for the joy of learning about the locations and getting absorbed in the photography.  These are however the books that give you dates, hours, prices, and specific tips on buying tickets and finding the entrance.  This is the book you feel no guilt about ripping sections out of and taking them with you when you go, because it is all the practical information you are going to need when you are there.

The place that Rick and I part ways in our planning priorities is that I choose to take more time (see Travel Philosophy) where he is more of the this is all the time you need to see the main sites and then you move on to the next.   He is also focused on being frugal in dining and admission charges, and being able to carry everything you bring with you on a carry-on.  While I don’t want to haul a lot from city to city, I’m ok with the medium sized rolling suitcase, and I’ll spring for the ‘behind the scenes’ tours and we will do at least one really nice dinner per city when we travel.  All of this is just fine though, I just keep it in mind when I am getting information from his books or website.

The books are very useful if you want to use them for ranking hotels and restaurants, compare prices and search for good deals.  However, I find websites such as TripAdvisor and such just as  useful for this part of things.


National Geographic Traveler

Now, these are the books that you curl up at night and just enjoy reading.  Or maybe that’s just me.  But if you do such things, this is the book series you want.  It is also the series I read through once we have already booked our trip and I have an outline of what we are doing.  There is limited information in here on hours and days things are open or closed, price ranges only (indicated by how many $$ are listed), and general information on which public transport will get you there.  What it does have is gorgeous photography, and what would nearly qualify as essays on different sites and art and architecture.  These books tell the stories.

These books give the funny or scandalous background stories about that mosaic on the front of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and tell you that financing the Duomo in Florence was a problem and the initial cost was met by a 10% property tax and the allocation of all fines for charges of drunkeness.  These are the tidbits that I will just enjoy reading, and I will also share with the husband and/or kids as we are touring a location to make it funny and memorable.

National Geographic Traveler doesn’t have as many graphics and illustrations, but what they have rivals DK Eyewitness in quality, and are very helpful.


An Art Lover's Guide to Florence, The Rome Guide, Venice, London the Biography, London Stories, A Traveller's History of Paris, Comparison of Guide Books, in depth travel books
Travel books to curl up and read.

Odds & Ends

If I have the time before we travel, I often look for more interesting and in-depth books about the location.  These may or may not be finished before we go, the demands of life can be an issue with that.  But I will still enjoy reading these after the trip, too, taking me back to the places and people from previous travel.

These books focus on the art of Florence, London’s growth around the Thames, Venice’s history, etc.  A couple of them I purchased in the local bookstore when traveling, which seems a really good way to find the best such books.

I don’t want to go in to reviewing each of these individually right now (maybe I’ll do that later by city), but a few on my bookshelves right now are:

An Art Lover’s Guide to Florence by Judith Testa

Venice by Jan Morris

The Rome Guide by Mauro Lucentini

A Traveller’s History of Paris 4th edition by Robert Cole

London the Biography by Peter Ackroyd

London Stories by David Tucker & The Guides

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