You need to have good and reliable advice on where to stay, what to eat, what restaurants to try, and what not to miss once you get there. The best way to find information is to walk in the doors of your favorite bookstore then make a beeline straight to the travel section. Once you get past the shock of seeing how many books are out there now you have to decide which one you want to purchase. There can literally be 25 different books on Paris, 15 authors for Rome, hundreds on Europe itself, map books, photo books, and novels about your picked city.
Our pick for the best travel guide books
Like most people traveling to Europe you want a book with the most updated information. Most travel guides have the year printed on the cover. Try to stay with the recent year. Sometimes you will find a half off sale on the previous year so if you want to save a little money that is a good option.
The most popular books will have first hand experiences such as Rick Steve’s Europe. Rick’s books have fun little tidbits of information. For instance, if you were visiting St. Stephen’s Church in Vienna he has you searching for hidden symbolism’s. For instance, he wants you to find lizards and frogs lining up one of the spiral stairways that lead to one of the priest’s altar. The “Dog of the Lord” standing at the top of the stairs watching out for the devious little critters so they won’t pollute the sermons. Yes, Rick’s books are fun and chock full of useful information. It’s not unusual to find people using his book as they sight-see, even in the smallest of villages. Rick’s idea of seeing Europe is through the people. His favorite pastime is to sit for a few hours in a local pub or café and get to know the people and how they live. The only small problem I see with Rick Steve’s is lack of photographs.
A favorite and very useful guidebook is the DK Eyewitness Travel Books. They are easy to read and filled with outstanding color pictures, and tops for useful information. DK is the perfect book for doing your own thing. It gives you information that will help you to decide what you really want to see, then you can make your own schedule and go as you please. DK has street-by-street attractions so you won’t miss a thing. What I like about this publication is they have a great timeline of history at the front of the book. Also the mapped drawings of major historical buildings are very useful. Another plus is they have detailed information on where to shop and what to shop for.
Frommer’s has been around for years. They are reliable and up to date. Frommer’s is famous for their “Traveling Europe for under $50 a day” publications.
Lonely Planet is perfect for those traveling on a budget. Students will love the shoestring recommendations for beds and food. Lonely Planet is also good for those who want something a little different. They will highlight the major sightseeing but also have dug down to find interesting out of the norm attractions. Their maps are simple and easy to navigate.
Fodor’s is another old standby, popular from its conception. So you will have the most recent and detailed information. Fodor’s is another book you will find people walking around Europe with in hand.
Let’s Go books are another handy book for college age travelers. If you want to find where the best bars are and where to meet the younger crowd these books are loaded with ideas.
If your idea of the perfect holiday would be visiting charming Bed and Breakfast locations, you will want to pick up the Karen Brown Guides. The books themselves are the kind you want to leave out to show to your friends. As far as B&B guides go Karen has gone above and beyond with her homework. She leaves no important details out.
The Rough Guide’s get right to the point. Starting with their “Introduction” and “Basics”, you will get ideas on what to see and how to get there. The Rough Guide also has a handy little list of “Discount Travel Companies” they recommend. Another helpful feature is their “Food and Drink Glossary” especially when traveling to Greece, you pretty much will rely on their conversions from Greek to English. Their maps are basic but good. They don’t have many pictures but what they put in their books give you a feel for the destination.
Cadogan Guides have been popular with Europeans and now the rest of the world. The books start out with some of the most beautiful pictures for your destination. They have quick boxes for each city that has important information. Each small box will have information for Getting Around, where to find Tourist Information Offices, a quick reference on Where to Stay, and Eating Out. These are very handy to get you started on planning your trip. The back of the Cadogan books have a “Useful Words and Phrases” section that help in hotel, restaurant and shopping choices.
One of the newer guides on the market is the Unofficial Guide Books. First one we ever used was for Disney World and to tell the truth we could not have seen so much in a short time without it. They now have written books for the major cities in Europe. The books are rather plain to look at, no photos or drawings, but the layout is in an easy to read format. For instance, the hotel section has the name of the hotel highlighted for easy reference, along with a star system for Quality, Value and Overall satisfaction. They give you the setting and facilities included along with reservation requirements. The restaurant section is in the same format but adding Atmosphere, House Specialties, and Summary and Comments.
Everyone from America knows and admires the AAA books. The Auto Club has been publishing travel books pretty much from its conception 100 years ago. They have branched out into International Destinations with books and maps but we have found their Spiral Guides to be the most informative, all in a nice pictorial package. The books are small and easy to travel with and the spiral binder makes it easy to turn the pages to your sightseeing attraction, fold over the book and leave it for there for easy access. A nice feature is the “Around the city in a Day” with a schedule on what time to start, following a map on what to see, how long to stay and where to eat. It’s like being on a tour without the expense.