The Best Travel Guides (Online and Books)

Even in the digital age, travel guide books are an important part of my travel planning journey. I have read and tried many different travel books and online travel guides. And I pulled together a list of what I think are the best travel guides (books and online resources). 

couple using a map while planning a trip
The best travel guides inspire and inform. Use them to plan the trip of your dreams.

I return to my favorite travel guides again and again with each trip that we plan. Once you find a travel guide series that you know and trust, it can really speed up the travel planning process.  

But which travel guides are the best? Keep reading for the full list! 

Need help with planning your trip? Check out our guide to the best travel planning resources. 

This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See disclaimer.

Are travel guidebooks still used now? 

Absolutely! Although you can find a wealth of travel planning help online, the good old-fashioned travel guidebooks are still very much available and in use. 

Some people prefer to use paper travel guidebooks. You can flag important sections and highlight things you want to remember. We’ve even ripped our books up (they’re meant to be used!) and traveled only with the sections covering the cities and sites we visited. 

E-books are also a great option for travel guides. If you use e-books, you can easily travel with several guides without adding a single ounce to your luggage. It’s a perfect option for those who travel carry-on only.

Rick Steves: best travel guides for Europe 

Rick Steves guidebooks 

Some seasoned travelers look down their noses a bit at Rick Steves guide books. There’s no reason for that. Rick Steves knows Europe inside and out from decades of traveling, leading tours, writing books, and producing episodes of his wonderful series Rick Steves’ Europe. 

Rick Steves books are excellent guides and well worth the money. I highly recommend them, especially for travel planning beginners or for anxious travelers who are looking for an expert to tell them where to visit and how. 

His books are kept up to date and quite detailed, even to the point of including full guided walking tours (often several) and detailed guided tours through major sites. 

Sale
Rick Steves Rome (Travel Guide)
  • Steves, Rick (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 604 Pages – 09/06/2022 (Publication Date) – Rick Steves (Publisher)

Rick Steves online 

You can also get a lot of good free travel tips and help on the Rick Steves website, including the forums. There are forums specifically for countries, reviews, and several forums about general travel tips topics. 

They’re a great way to get insight and tips from other experienced travelers…even those who disagree with Rick Steves itinerary suggestions. (Shocked face.)

Rick Steves Audio Europe Travel App 

I also highly recommend the Rick Steves Audio Europe Travel App. It’s loaded with audio guides for walking tours and top travel destination sites like the Colosseum in Rome and The Louvre Museum in Paris.  

Download the audio tours for your destination so you can listen to them on your mobile device as you explore your destination. 

Rough Guides: my favorite travel guidebooks overall 

Super practical and easy to read, Rough Guides are my top choice for any destination that isn’t in Europe (for which I prefer Rick Steves guide books). 

The UK-based company was founded in 1982 with the Rough Guide to Greece. Since then, they have published travel guidebooks for well over 100 destinations all over the world. 

In addition to their main guidebook series, they also offer Pocket Rough Guides, On a Budget, Snapshots, phrasebooks, and inspirational guides like “Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.” 

Sale
The Rough Guide to Greece (Travel Guide with Free eBook) (Rough Guides)
  • Guides, Rough (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 840 Pages – 10/18/2022 (Publication Date) – Rough Guides (Publisher)

Rough Guides website 

Rough Guides isn’t just a guidebook publisher though. Since 2017 they have offered tailor-made trips to over 70 destinations. created by local travel experts. 

Their website provides some basic itineraries, travel recommendations, and basic destination information for free that can help get you started on planning your travel itinerary

Fodor’s 

The great travel writer Eugene Fodor once said “You don’t need to be rich to travel well.” And that’s been kind of my mantra for the last several years. 

In 1936 Fodor wrote the first modern travel guide book. It was for British audiences and he wrote all 1200 pages himself. The book was On the Continent: An Entertaining Travel Annual.

According to Fodors.com, “The guide went beyond reporting on the sights and for the first time included information about Europe’s culture and people, practical information like how to tip, and was the first to be annually updated.” 

Since On the Continent was first published, Fodor’s has been a trusted name in travel guides. They now claim that their travel writers have covered more than 8,000 destinations around the world

In addition to the Signature Guides, their other series include Fodor’s Inside, In Focus, and 25 Best. Fodor’s says that Fodor’s Italy is the company’s top-selling guide book. 

Sale
Fodor’s Essential Italy (Full-color Travel Guide)
  • Fodor’s Travel Guides (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 896 Pages – 12/20/2022 (Publication Date) – Fodor’s Travel (Publisher)

Fodor’s website 

Fodors.com was one of the first travel websites when it launched in 1996. Today the site offers destination guides, general travel content, and forums about specific destinations or general travel topics such as air travel. 

Frommer’s 

The venerated Frommer’s travel guides were launched by Arthur Frommer in 1957 with a guide to visiting Europe on $5 a day (yup. $5.). That guide followed his book about how to travel Europe as a GI (Frommer was in the Army at the time). 

Frommer’s quickly grew to become one of the most trusted names in travel guidebooks. 

Several years ago, Frommer’s was acquired by Google, which pulled the plug on their print books in the spring of 2013.

Arthur Frommer reacquired the company shortly thereafter and then quickly made a deal to get the books back in distribution. Frommer’s then started emphasizing their Easy Guides and Day by Day series, which were smaller and easier to read and carry than the typical large guidebooks they saw on the market. 

Sale
Frommer’s Ireland (Complete Guide)
  • Gordon, Yvonne (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 602 Pages – 08/23/2022 (Publication Date) – FrommerMedia (Publisher)

Frommer’s website 

Frommers.com is a fine place to start planning for a trip for free. Destination information includes city layouts, how to get around, and their top picks for hotels and dining. 

They also provide other general travel content and feature articles plus trip ideas for honeymoons, arts and cultural travel, national parks, family travel, road trips, and more. 

The Frommer’s Travel Show (podcast) 

Pauline Frommer, daughter of Frommer’s founder Arthur Frommer, hosts The Frommer’s Travel Show podcast. New episodes come out approximately once per week or several times a month. 

Bradt Guides 

Known for publishing guides for lesser-traveled destinations (though certainly not less deserving), Bradt bills itself as “the world’s leading independent travel publisher.” 

Bradt guides are the go-to for destinations not covered by other publishers. They say that “over two-thirds of Bradt guides still have no direct competition from other publishers.” 

The Bradts’ first book, Backpacking Along Ancient Ways Peru & Bolivia, was the first to detail the Inca Trail.

Later they became known for writing guides to destinations “post-conflict.” These included Rwanda, Kosovo, and the Baltic States after the fall of the Iron Curtain. 

In addition to their destination guidebooks, Bradt also publishes a Slow Travel series of UK destinations, a Wildlife series, and general travel literature. 

Sale
Zanzibar: Pemba, Mafia (Bradt Travel Guide)
  • McIntyre, Chris (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 456 Pages – 06/01/2022 (Publication Date) – Bradt Travel Guides (Publisher)

Bradt Guides Travel Club 

Avid travelers can support Bradt by joining their Travel Club through Patreon. There are three tiers: Bradtpacker, Globetrotter, and First-Class Traveller. Each tier offers differing levels of subscriber benefits including things like e-books and access to their bespoke travel planning service. 

Lonely Planet  

Lonely Planet books for a long time were quite popular especially with younger backpackers looking to travel on a budget. The books can be light on the details that certain travelers (beginners, anxious travelers) might wish for when making good decisions about where to spend their travel dollars. 

Lonely Planet books are good for independent and adventurous travelers. Or for those who just want some recommendations but not a prescribed itinerary with a ton of detail.  

In addition to their popular guidebooks, Lonely Planet also publishes phrasebooks, general travel books, food books, and children’s books. 

Sale
Lonely Planet Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks (National Parks Guide)
  • Mayhew, Bradley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages – 03/16/2021 (Publication Date) – Lonely Planet (Publisher)

Lonely Planet website  

You can get some basic, inspirational travel information to start your travel planning from the Lonely Planet website. Sadly, they set their forums to “read-only” some time ago. In my opinion, the forums were the best (and most valuable) part of the website. 

Marco Polo 

Marco Polo is best known for its compact and colorful pocket travel guides. They also offer spiral-bound itinerary-based guides, phrasebooks, folding maps, travel handbooks, travel journals, city maps, and road atlases. 

Cover image for Marco Polo guide to Santorini
10 Reviews
Santorini Marco Polo Pocket Guide (Marco Polo Pocket Guides)
  • Marco Polo Travel Publishing Marco Polo Travel Publishing (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 136 Pages – 10/15/2022 (Publication Date) – Marco Polo Travel Publishing, Ltd. (Publisher)

Marco Polo Discovery Tours App 

The free Marco Polo Discovery Tours app offers travelers a variety of guided itineraries through many destinations. For example, you can download a 23-day driving tour of New Zealand with a step-by-step driving tour over both islands. 

DK Eyewitness: among best travel books for visuals 

I enjoy reading DK Eyewitness guides, especially when I’m looking for information about the history and culture of my destination. The glossy full-color books feature beautiful photographs and illustrations perfect for inspiring your travel itinerary. They cover more than 100 destinations. 

DK was founded in 1974 by Christopher Dorling and Peter Kindersley. They published their first travel book in the early 1990’s promising to show you “what others only tell you.”

They also cover all the usual grounds for travel guidebooks: itineraries, maps, dining and accommodations recommendations, top sites, etc. 

Sale
DK Eyewitness Great Britain (Travel Guide)
  • DK Eyewitness (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 592 Pages – 04/26/2022 (Publication Date) – DK Eyewitness Travel (Publisher)

Where to Go podcast 

Produced by the team behind the DK Eyewitness books, each episode of the Where to Go podcast dives deep into a particular destination. New episodes come out every two weeks or so. 

Insight Guides 

For more than 40 years, Insight Guides have published guidebooks covering more than 200 destinations. 

In my experience, they’re quite a bit heavier on destination history and culture than any other travel guide I’ve encountered. So, if that’s not something you enjoy, then these guidebooks might not be your top choice. 

Insight Guides series include: Explore Guides, City Breaks, Pocket Guides, City Guides, and Experience Guides. 

Sale
Insight Guides Explore New Zealand (Travel Guide with Free eBook) (Insight Explore Guides)
  • Guides, Insight (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 144 Pages – 04/01/2018 (Publication Date) – Insight Guides (Publisher)

Insight Guides website

You will find some travel information on the Insight Guides website, making it a decent place to start if you’re unsure of your destination.

The emphasis of their website seems to be on advertising their Insight Guides trip offerings…not that there’s anything wrong with that. 

Atlas Obscura 

Atlas Obscura book 

Unlike all of the other travel guidebooks listed above, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders is not a series of guidebooks but rather one book that details an incredible array of oddities and wonders around the world. 

Here’s how the authors describe their book and website (more on that below): 

“The site, and this book, are a kind of wunderkammer of places, a cabinet of curiosities that is meant to inspire wonderlust as much as wanderlust. In fact, many of the places in this book are in no way ‘tourist sites’ and should not be treated as such. Others are so out of the way, so treacherously situated, or (in at least one case) so deep beneath the surface, that few readers will ever be able to visit them. But here they are, sharing this marvelously strange planet with us. 

Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras & Ella Morton, Atlas Obscura, revised second edition, (New York: Workman Publishing, 2019) vii

The revised second edition (published in 2019) added more than 100 new sites to the 2016 first edition. The book is delightful reading if you’re into oddities around the world. I definitely recommend picking up a copy. 

Sale
Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders
  • Hardcover Book
  • Foer, Joshua (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

Atlas Obscura website 

Make sure you stop by the Atlas Obscura website during your travel planning if you like finding out-of-the-way sites, or unusual places to visit, or want to make it a priority to get off the beaten path. 

You can even take Atlas Obscura trips to some pretty unusual places and even with some unusual activities…such as assisting biologists with bee research at Redwood National Park. 

Atlas Obscura podcast 

Atlas Obscura launched a podcast in March 2021, which I’ve really enjoyed listening to. Early episodes covered sites such as the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan, the Museum of Bad Art in Massachusetts, and the old Widow Jane cement mine in Rosendale, New York. 

Final thoughts on the best travel guidebooks 

The best travel guides will be the ones that you use and that help you plan a trip that you truly love. I personally like to use a combination of travel guidebooks and online travel planning resources. 

But don’t just follow my advice. Try these guidebook series and online travel guides for yourself and find the ones that you will like and use for your trip planning. 

What are your favorite travel guidebooks?

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6 Comments

  1. Robert Johnston says:

    Michelin guides (the green books) are great!

  2. Wayne Roberts says:

    I used to use the “Let’s Go: Europe” guides, which were great. They were targeting college age students mostly, but they had lots of good information re: trip planning for everyone.

    Which guidebooks (and/or websites) are best for planning train/plane travel while in Europe? Any standouts?

    Thanks for your very helpful information!

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      You’re welcome, Wayne. The Man in Seat 61 is THE expert in European train travel. His website is: https://www.seat61.com/. He’s also pretty active on Twitter. I’d also recommend checking out https://www.rome2rio.com/ for helping with planning transportation for any trip. Thanks for reading!

  3. Rob Alter says:

    My family had a great time in Paris. We had a wonderful time there and enjoyed the culture of the region. The nightlife was fantastic, and the city’s elegance is indescribable. We are in love with the place and explore so many places like the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre Museum, Cruise on the Seine, etc. After reading your blog I would like to revisit there.

    1. Darcy Vierow says:

      Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed your trip. Thanks for reading!

  4. Manish Ambaliya says:

    Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.

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