Hot! Guidebook Guidelines – Cities

A good guidebook is half the fun of a good trip. It gets you excited about a city before you even leave. Once you’re there, it helps make the most of your time. But go to a bookstore and you’ll quickly notice there are guides for every possible interest. How do you choose just one?

When going to an individual city, I have three essential criteria for the book that will shape my trip:

  • Local Knowledge – Every guidebook will give you the tourist highlights. How many give you those plus recommendations to quirky local hangouts or off-the-path activities?
  • Maps – Almost as essential as knowing what to do is how to find it. Maps don’t have to have every side street drawn in, just be easy to read with significant landmarks and metro stops.
  • Size – It should be small enough to slip into the side pocket of my day pack – not just for easy access, but to keep out of sight so I don’t have to look like a tourist. Also, who wants to lug around a heavy book every day?

Fortunately, the trend to niche publications for specific interests has kept publishers on their toes. There are many good city guide series to choose from. Here are three of my favorites:

Knopf Mapguides: These slim books divide a city into 5 or 6 districts. Each page folds out into a map surrounded by select recommendations in each district for shopping, eating, nightlife and sights. It’s recommended by locals and the suggestions – especially for dining – are usually un-touristy and spot-on. This was the only guide I took on my second trip to Paris, but for a first visit to a city, I usually couple it with a second, more detailed guide.

DK Real City:
This is a bigger book, but packs a lot into its still compact size. The biggest advantages – incredibly detailed maps divided over 8-9 pages. It takes a few minutes to figure out the layout, but then you’ll only be lost if you want to be. Its recommendations not only include quirky stores and hangouts, but are divided by district and always include a price range so it’s easy to pick something on the fly. Their “niche,” though is that they are always updated online with new suggestions. But the books are so detailed, I’ve never had to look beyond the pages.

Frommer’s Day by Day: These books start with Top 15 Moments not to miss in a city then offer up nearly two dozen walking tours for nearly every interest. They give just enough history to make you feel like a local and discreetly fit in your palm as you walk. They also come with a large city map tucked in the back, but I’ve never felt the need to identify my tourist self by unfolding it.

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