These are the essential travel guide books and online travel guides
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).
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.
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Are travel guide books still used now?
Although you can find a wealth of travel planning help online, the good old-fashioned travel guide books are still very much available and in use.
Some people prefer to use paper travel guide books. 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.
Which guide book should I use?
That’s a great question, and it will depend largely on your traveling style.
I don’t often choose just one travel guide when planning a trip. In fact, I typically use several books plus multiple online helps for each trip.
Every guide book series is different and caters to a different kind of traveler or specializes in a certain part of the globe. My advice is to try all of them for various trips. Take them for test drives.
Keep reading to learn more about the top travel guide books.
Rick Steves: best travel guides for Europe
Rick Steves guide books
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 and/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.
Watch Rick Steves talk about why it’s worth it to buy a new edition of a guide book when planning your trip.
Rick Steves online
You can also get a lot of good free travel tips and helps 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, which is 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 guide books 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 guide books for well over 100 destinations all over the world.
In addition to their main guide book series, they also offer Pocket Rough Guides, On a Budget, Snapshots, phrasebooks, and inspirational guides like “Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.”
Rough Guides website
Rough Guides isn’t just a guide book publisher though. Since 2017 they have offered tailor-made trips to over 70 destinations. created by local travel experts.
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 and 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 7500 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.
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.
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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 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 guide books.
Several years ago, Frommer’s was acquired by Google, who pulled the plug on their print books in the spring of 2013; however, Arthur Frommer reacquired the company shortly thereafter and then quickly made a deal with 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 were seeing on the market.
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.
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 beame 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 guide books, Bradt also publishes a Slow Travel series of UK destinations, a Wildlife series and general travel literature.
Bradt Guides Travel Club
Avid travelers can support Bradt by join 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 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 kinds of details that certain travelers (beginners, anxious travelers) might wish for when trying to make 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 guide books, Lonely Planet also publishes phrasebooks, general travel books, food books and children’s books.
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 is best known for their 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.
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 24-day driving tour of New Zealand with a step-by-step driving tour over both islands.
Tour itineraries include recommended stops and sites as well as lodgings.
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 that are 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 guide books: itineraries, maps, dining and accommodations recommendations, top sites, etc.
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.
For more than 40 years, Insight Guides have published guide books 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 guide books might not be your top choice.
Insight Guides series include: Explore Guides, City Breaks, Pocket Guides, City Guides, Experience Guides.
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 book
Unlike all of the other travel guide books listed above, Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders is not a series of guide books 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.
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, 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 guide books
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 guide books and online travel planning resources.
But don’t just follow my advice. Try these guide books 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 guide books? Leave a comment below!
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