The best guidebooks for 2014

With apps, Kindle versions and traditional paperbacks, the choice of guidebooks is almost overwhelming these days.

Perhaps that’s why a lot of travellers tend to stick to the same ones, testing out a couple of brands and loyally buying a chosen few ever after. The Grumpy Traveller has written a few posts on picking the best, and why it’s not always the best idea simply to grab your favouritetravel-guide-book-best-worst

I am as guilty of that as the next person, with a distinct bias towards Lonely Planet on my shelves, including country, area and single city guides, plus a handful of Rough Guides, with a smattering of Frommer’s and other brands in between.

So it’s interesting to see the new survey by Which? on the best and worst out there. The good news for publishers, firstly, is that printed guidebooks are still by far the top choice over digital (although I’m betting that’s partly because digital versions tend not to be as user-friendly or require some kind of connection you might not have).

Unlike most of the tests from Which?, there has to be an element of subjectivity in guidebooks – it’s not like dishwashers where you can compare reliability and functions quite so exactly.

But there is the usual thoroughness – thousands of members gave their views, 13 brands were included, and the books were rated for level of detail, pictures, quality of maps, ease of finding information and value for money.

And somewhat surprisingly, DK Eyewitness and Time Out came joint top. The former picked up four to five stars for everything except map quality. The latter, which focus on cities, got three to four in every category (although with an updated format launching for both in 2014, it might be interesting to see if this changes).

Next spots went jointly to Bradt and Michelin (neither of which I gravitate to) and Rough Guide, with Lonely Planet following. Bottom was Thomas Cook guides, which couldn’t scare up 50%.

Looking at the full table is perhaps most interesting with the detailed breakdowns – for example, I suspect Lonely Planet lost marks for its pictures which only got two stars.

To be honest, when I’m buying a travel guide, I’d rather it gave me the relevant information and made it simple to find than illustrated it beautifully (and if I wanted that, there are plenty of gorgeous coffee tables books to drool over, not least from LP themselves).

And while Michelin might have detailed, easy-to-read information, I can’t help feeling I’m probably not their target audience!

But perhaps next time I buy a guidebook, I should take a few minutes to look at what else is out there…


Image: agroffman/Flickr