Who makes good guidebooks?
April 13, 2012 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Who makes good guidebooks?

We're leaving for Paris soon. We know where we're staying. I'm fairly familiar with Paris, my wife's never been. We're not big on shopping, but don't need a plan for free/dirt-cheap tourism. Who makes a good guidebook beyond the basic "here are the major tourist spots, here's a giant list of hotels you don't need, and here's a giant list of restaurants that locals never eat at"?

I like a lot of the background/history content in the popular guides like Fodor's and Frommer's, but can do without the hotel and restaurant listings, which take up over 1/2 the book. Rick Steves' walking tours are great, though I'd like something more free-form. We have a Kindle and iPhone (though don't expect any connectivity other than WiFi).

Who makes books that provide a solid "here's some background info about where you're standing" without a lot of fluff?
posted by mkultra to Travel & Transportation around Paris, France (19 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I like DK Eyewitness Travel guides.
Paris Top 10
posted by leigh1 at 8:47 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I like Lonely Planet and Rough Guide and Rick Steves and they're all available for Kindle; I recently used the Lonely Planet guide on a trip to San Francisco and I liked it. Yes, there was a lot of unnecessary information (I was staying with friends, so hotel info was useless and restaurant info mostly-useless), but it's not like it weighs any more in the electronic version (which was fairly well cross-referenced and easy to navigate).

I believe Lonely Planet also has city guide iPhone apps (the info is stored locally but it uses geolocation - nice) but I haven't used these myself.

Oh, and another thing I like to do is just rip out the parts I don't need (or, alternately, the parts that I do need). So if all the hotel info is at the back of the book, just cut the book right down the middle (leave a few hotel pages to help preserve the structural integrity of the book). This is probably more useful with a country guide than a city guide, though. And I would feel bad about doing it with one of the DK guides, which are glossy and have pretty pictures.
posted by mskyle at 8:57 AM on April 13, 2012

I've used Lonely Planet over much of the world and been satisfied.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 9:17 AM on April 13, 2012

Seconding/thirding Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. I've used these with an almost religious zeal for almost a decade now and they improve the travel experience immeasureably. They sound like what you're looking for.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:37 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Second on any DK Eyewitness book. They have always been great. They're full of detailed stuff that you don't need to read on the spot, but can read on the ride home.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:39 AM on April 13, 2012

Lately I've started buying both a general guidebook for orientation purposes but also an interest-specific guidebook for all my trips. For me, that interest is food -- there are nerdy foodie guides to most places these days, and the restaurant and shop suggestions are, like, a million times better than any general guidebook, which in turn makes my trip infinitely more rewarding.

I suggest doing this regardless of whether your interest is hiking, or biking, or archaeology, or whatever. The guidebook industry has expanded and specialized so much lately, it seems a shame to not take advantage of that, especially if you're getting the kindle versions and they're not taking up space in your bag.
posted by EmilyFlew at 9:46 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The DK books have really good illustrations and maps.

Not a book, but a set of cards to check out is CityWalks: Paris. I've got the NYC version and most walks are 1-2 hours and connect to others easily.
posted by soelo at 9:54 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding City Walks: Paris. Great information, split out by neighborhood and easy to follow. I'm also a fan of the Little Bookroom guides to Paris, as they are small, light and nicely detailed.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 10:01 AM on April 13, 2012

Oh one thing to add: the maps on the Lonely Planet Kindle version were difficult-to-impossible to use. Not a problem for me in SF because I had my phone and Google Maps, but if you're relying on wifi you may find you need an additional map. I suspect this may be a problem with maps on the Kindle in general (although if I recall, Rick Steves guides have small, simple maps that might look better on the e-ink screen).
posted by mskyle at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2012

Blue Guides, for cities or for regions, contain historical background and are densely full of detail about particular sites. They are designed as art guides, I think, but are more generally useful than that.
posted by Francolin at 10:44 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to use Lonley Planet and Rough Guide books in my 20s but there was a thread here only the other day about how they've dropped off in qualit, with which assessment I agree.

These days I swear by the Time Out city guides, in fact I've been happily using one for the last week. They're not too spendy but don't focus on the bottom end hostels either and strike a nice balance. They've got the content you're asking for.
posted by dmt at 12:06 PM on April 13, 2012

Rough Guides are honest, if self-aware crunchy.

The DK guides are dandy for figuring out, post-trip, just where the hell you took a given photo.

The Frommer's/Fodor's books recommend solidly safe things.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:11 PM on April 13, 2012

(And if it's not clear, I like to "triangulate" among two or three.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:11 PM on April 13, 2012

I've been all over the world using Lonely Planet guides and have uniformly liked them.

I used Rough Guide once on short notice when I couldn't get an LP (or the edition was very outdated) and found myself annoyed. It may just have been that I was used to LP, but it seemed to me that LP was laid out better for quick reference (maps, money, transit, etc.).

Most of my experience is from 1996-2008, in case LP has indeed dropped off lately.
posted by intermod at 12:59 PM on April 13, 2012

I'm going to put in another vote for Rough Guides and Lonely Planet. However I will caveat this with the fact that I haven't looked at any of their guides in about 5-6 years or so.
posted by tckma at 1:09 PM on April 13, 2012

If what you want to know is history, architecture, art, etc., Francolin's recommendation of the Blue Guides is spot on. They were originally French, though it has been decades since there was a relationship between the French Guides Bleus, published by Hachette, and the Blue Guides. I was just thinking about this today because I'm planning a short bike tour southeast of Paris and wanted to buy a guidebook that would let me know about interesting sights, not where to eat and sleep.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:38 PM on April 13, 2012

My experience with Lonely Planets is that some of them are good and some are less so. In LPs where there are multiple countries, I often find that some of the countries will be really well done and some will be the subject of some disdain from the authors and they will often give really terrible recommendations for these places. This was the case with Scandinavia, where the authors apparently did not like Oslo/Norway very much, and Atlantic Canada, where the author of the New Brunswick section apparently hated NB and all of the people visiting there. That said, sure, the maps and basic orientation information is good, but one can practically put together their own guidebook from the internet with that information.

I don't find that Rick Steves is good for my style of travelling, as he seems to like to drive everywhere (or at least he does in his Eastern Europe and the accompanying episodes of his show) and that is not how I travel.

I have a Blue Guide of Rome that I really, really enjoy, as it has much more of an architectural/historical/archaeological bent to it that makes for great reading beforehand and great sightseeing for more information when you're actually standing in the place you read about. Lonely Plant and Rick Steves really fall flat on that aspect. I studied Classical Archaeology and this was one of our go-to books for really good on-the-ground information on Rome. They make one for Paris.
posted by urbanlenny at 1:59 PM on April 13, 2012

In Paris, I used the Lonely Planet guide to Paris along with the Rough Guide and the Time Out guide. Between the three, I felt pretty at home.

Although I agree that the LP guides can vary by locale, I've been lucky enough to visit places where they just plain rocked.
posted by birdherder at 5:17 PM on April 13, 2012

Lonely Planet is pretty well the standard in general. They do chapter downloads, and I notice that 90% of their Paris book is in the one Neighbourhoods pdf for five bucks, so that's the cheapest/lightest option.

I like Time Out for major cities; they have a little more history and culture, which sounds like what you're asking for. Rough Guides are okay, but better at grittier locales. Fodors/Frommers are for people who would have had a better time at the Paris hotel in Las Vegas, the Paris pavilion in Epcot Center or somewhere else with the edges sanded off.

Actually, the thing I find the most useful for major cities is a good quick-reference map. I've used popout-style maps and laminated folding maps; the key is something that's so small it fits in your pocket, but doesn't need to fold out into something the size of a bedsheet to give useful direction. You don't need a guide book to suggest that you may want to go to the Eiffel Tower or whatever; you need to know where to go. And Paris has one of those angled street plans that's easy to get turned around in, so a map you can easily look at is very useful.

Also, your iPhone will probably cache some of the maps data, so if you load the areas you plan to be in the night before on your hotel wi-fi, you will still have access during the day. There may also be an iPhone program that does precached map; I have an Android phone, so I don't know, but something to consider.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:35 PM on April 13, 2012

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