Monday, 1 May 2017

My Travel Book Collection

I have an addiction, a travel book addition, and it's got to a ridiculous stage.

I've always had a love for travel books as I find the process of planning a holiday as enjoyable as the holiday itself. I love reading as much information about a city as possible, finding out the best places to see, eat and drink. I'm not very good at wondering around without direction on holiday, instead I like to have a list of things I want to see and use the time in between to wonder around different parts of the city. But even with a love of travel books as intense as mine, they aren't my only resource. Blogs play a big role, especially when it comes to food. But it's not all about the most peak Instagram interiors. I like places with history, a reputation for producing the best produce, and places that a local would happily frequent.

I like to use travel books as the initial building blocks when it comes planning a trip. Find out what attractions I need to see, which areas are the best for dinner and drinks, and what sort of prices everything will cost. But to plan the best possible trip I don't think travel guides should be you're only source of reference as there's still so much to find online.

Go back 10 years and city guides didn't really stretched beyond Lonely Planet and Wallpaper. In the last few years more and more independent publishers have been popping up and releasing their own spin on the city guide concept. In turn, I've become addicted to checking out new series, so when it comes to planning a trip I'm inevitably left with a ton of different guides to check out. Fortunately for my bank account, most of these new series only feature guides for big, popular cities which means when I travel to somewhere less popular (like my recent trip to Romania) quite often the Lonely Planet is the only guide available.

My big holiday this year is a 2.5 week road trip around Denmark where we will be spending 5 nights in Copenhagen. Copenhagen is currently having a bit of a moment, which means all the new city guide publishers are bringing out Copenhagen city guides. Most of the city guides I collect feature a Copenhagen guide so I thought it would be best to use this city as an example.

The first thing I do when planning a holiday is pick up a Lonely Planet. I've been a fan of Lonely Planet ever since I went inter railing in 2009. A friend recommend the company so I picked up Europe on a shoestring and have never looked back. I love the way the books are laid out, with detailed descriptions, helpful maps, and a ton of tips about what to see, drink, eat and do. The more you use a guide like Lonely Planet the easier it is to navigate their future books as everything is presented in the same style. 

Lonely Planet publish many different styles of guides but I always pick up the traditional city guide, or in the case of a smaller country, the country guide. If you're going to a large city like NYC, London or Paris you don't need to pick up the country guide as it'll be far too big, but for somewhere smaller like Copenhagen, they only publish a Denmark guide. That's fine for me as I'm travelling around the country but even if I wasn't I'd probably still buy it as the book isn't that big, yet the Copenhagen section is extremely comprehensive. I always bring the Lonely Planet on holiday with me as it's such a great all rounder. The only thing I don't think they excel at is food recommendations. The books are fine for smaller places but for large cities, or those like Copenhagen where the food scene is one of the best in the world, the books fail to cover a lot of really exciting options. Yes, all the big names will be mentioned, but for those new, trendy places, the books are somewhat lacking.

I'm also a big fan of the Lonely Planet pocket guides. These are great for on the go whilst you're away (I'll leave the big one in the hotel if a pocket guide is available) as they're small and compact. While a lot of the information in my Denmark guide is repeated in my Copenhagen Pocket Guide, the sights have a more detailed description and there are lots of interesting facts about local life. Bear in mind that the pocket guides don't include hotel recommendations.

My next port of call is a Wallpaper city guide. I've been collecting these for over 10 years and thanks to the beautifully colour coded spines, they make quite the impression on my bookshelf. The first thing I will say about these guides is that they shouldn't be used as a stand alone city guide. They tackle cities from a design perspective so expect lots of unique looking buildings, fancy hotels, design concious shops, and the most exclusive bars and restaurants. This is especially useful for Copenhagen which is positively bursting with cool design. I love these books for their beautiful photography and unique take on a city. You'll find lots of unusual suggestions that'll take you far beyond the usual tourist sights. For the budget concious traveller, you'll definitely find the occasional 'cheap' recommendation amongst the high end restaurants and hotels. When looking for a boutique hotel I always check out the Wallpaper guide first and have subsequently found plenty of reasonable priced options. Most, but not all, Wallpaper guides are available in an app which I always download to save me from taking the book away. Yes, I'm paying for the same thing twice but I did say I had a pretty serious addiction.

The only city guides I buy regardless of if I'm visiting the place or not are the Herb Lester guides. These fold out paper maps are small but mighty. They are beautifully designed and every city is depicted in a completely different way. They definitely don't contain a huge amount of information but they're full of trendy eating, drinking and shopping recommendations. The Copenhagen guide is lovely and I'll probably bring it on holiday with me, using it as a book mark in my Lonely Planet so it stays in a good condition. A few years ago I was gifted the European and American box-set of guides which has lead me to continue buying new guides every time one is released. Blue Crow Media make similar fold out city guides but their range is a lot smaller.

I really like the CITIX60 series of city guides and despite the collection being on the small side, most major cities are covered. These can definitely be used as a stand alone guide as the content is pretty comprehensive, plus you'll find a bunch of maps at the back. I like to think of these as a 'hipster' series due to the types of restaurants, bars and shops included. The sightseeing section isn't as comprehensive as the Lonely Planet but everything major is included. The guides are full of photography which is something you don't get in your traditional travel book so they really give you a feel for what the city will be like. The Copenhagen guide is full of places I'm looking forward to visiting. I probably won't bring the book with me as I'll just make a reference of places on my Google maps.

The 500 Hidden Secrets is a series I have recently discovered that I absolutely love. These guides are presented as a series of lists. 100 different lists will give you an oversight into all things happening in the city, many of the choices being things you won't see in other guides. I wouldn't recommend the book as your only form of travel guide as it's not really comprehensive in terms of sight seeing. However, if you're looking to get off the tourist trail then you will find so many exciting options. The Copenhagen book is jam packed with amazing recommendations that I can't wait to check out. The series is relatively new so there aren't a huge number of guides available but the brand is growing. These books are on the chunky side so it's worth making a note of interests in Google maps instead of lugging it around on holiday.

Another new set of books I've recently discovered is the LOST iN series. These are definitely more of a magazine than a travel guide with lots of editorials about new openings, trends and insider stories. Packed full of glossy photos, this is the book to pick up for the low down on the hottest shops, restaurants and bars in town. The Copenhagen edition is full of exposes on the city and a ton of exciting recommendations. I like to read these guides at home, just before embarking on the holiday as it really gets me that new city state of mind.

Another magazine type of travel book are the city guides from Cereal. At the moment these only exist for London, Copenhagen, Paris and NYC. They are quite hard to get a hold of but I picked up the Copenhagen guide in Snaps and Rye, near Notting Hill. These guides are beautiful coffee table type books with a curated list of hot places to eat, drink and shop. I treat these as a list of the best places to go, and while the choices they include pop up in most other city guides, having a list of the coolest places to frequent makes picking a place to eat a little easier. Plus the beautiful imagery is a huge bonus. Copenhagen is a hugely foodie city and I spent a long time deciding where to eat, taking into account what's hot and what represents the best of the city. I think the Copenhagen guide more or less mentions everywhere I intend to visit.

The MONOCLE travel guide series fell on my radar a couple of years ago when my friend bought me the Tokyo version. First of all, I love the way these look. The illustrations are adorable plus the actual guide if full of photography and laid out in sections for eating, sleeping, seeing etc. which makes it easy to navigate. A lot of the suggestions covered you'll find in other guides, especially those the lean on the side of 'hipster'. But the thing that really makes these stand out is the collection of essays about the city, shopping lists of recommended products, and the sports section which includes walking, cycling and running routes. I picked up the Copenhagen guide from the Monocle cafe in Marylebone. As far as I'm aware the cafe is the cheapest place to buy the guides plus it's a lovely place to stop for a drink.

A few years ago cycle brand Rapha released a collection of eight European city guides focused on cities designed for cycling. Despite not being a cyclist I bought the box-set of eight guides (you can also buy them individually) as the books are full of cool drawings and sightseeing cycle routes, with lots of stops for refuelling. They're a nice collection of guides for whether you're a cyclist or not as the proposed itineraries are pretty detailed. Copenhagen is a famously cycle friendly city and even though I'm not sure we will get much bike-time done, I like to think the guide will give me push in the right direction.

Black Sheep Guides is a series of food specific city guides that only exist for a small number of cities, Copenhagen being the most 'mainstream'. They cover around 20-30 independent restaurants and are split into different areas. The Copenhagen guide covers a few of the popular names and a bunch of restaurants I've not seen in other guides. If you're serious about food these are good guides to purchase as you can use them to plan meals and make necessary reservations before you travel. The guides recommend what to order from each restaurant which is a really nice touch. A few of the guides are available as apps.

The Secret series of travel guides are excellent for lesser known attractions. I almost find them a little overwhelming as they cover so much information that isn't found in any other travel guide. The Copenhagen guide covers small museums, specific works of art, historical landmarks, and unusual shops. These are great guides for those looking for 'unusual' things to visit as well as people who have visited a city many times and want to find something new. I'll probably tag a lot of the places mentioned on my Google maps to look out for when I'm visiting some of the mainstream attractions or for public artwork when I'm wondering around.

The Top 10 series by DK are actually the travel guides Steve likes to buy. He started using these before we met and I've now become a bit of a fan over the years. These guides are presented as lists of 10 for things to see, eat, drink etc. Many of the big attractions in Copenhagen have a top 10 lists themselves which is really helpful. I find that a lot of the recommendations are on the traditional side, especially when it comes to dining, so if you're looking for more contemporary options then you might want to look elsewhere. Saying that, I find these books excellent for sightseeing as they cover a lot of attractions, many of which are provided with in-depth content

I forgot to include my Analogue guide in the above photo which is a shame as this is another nice, smaller, series. The Copenhagen guide splits the city into areas and give the best recommendations for sleeping, eating, drinking and shopping. It's a little light on sights but it's great for what's hot when it comes to everything else. Packed full of photography, these are small guides filled with helpful suggestions.

Other guides I like that don't exist for Copenhagen include LUXE city guides, which are a collection of small, fold out guides full of high end recommendations for sleeping, eating, drinking and shopping. Streetwise produce really nice laminated maps of different cities, they aren't the most effective travelling resource but I'm fond of their aesthetics. A Hedonist's guide to is another series of what's hot travel recommendations. I used to like their old, leather bound books but they changed their design and I'm not a huge fan of the cover art any more. Despite that, their website always has great tips.

So that's my enormous list of travel book recommendations. If I had to pick my favourites I'd probably choose Lonely Planet, Wallpaper, Herb Lester, CITIX60, Monocle and 500 Hidden Secrets. I certainly don't recommend buying them all, I just have a bit of an addiction. I hope you found this helpful and do let me know if there's any series I should check out that aren't mentioned here.

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  1. And this, my friend, is why YOU are the travel queen! I'm definitely a Lonely Planet and Wallpaper kind of girl myself. I also like the Guides du Routard if I need my guide to be in French for some reason.

    - Elodie x

  2. So envious of your travel book collection! I love Lonely Planet pocket guides, the district-by-district maps always help me plan my days on solo trips so I don't get lost or over-whelmed as to what to do. The Herb Lester guides sounds great - definitely checking them out for my next trip! x

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