15 Best Travel Guidebook Series & Why You Will Love Them

Are you an avid traveler or someone who loves exploring new places? If so, you know the value of good travel planning information and particularly the value of editorial independent guidebooks . Though—with so many options, how do you choose the best book?

In this article, I share the top 15 must-have travel guidebook series , from Lonely Planet to Rick Steves and everything in between. These books offer essential resources for travelers seeking reliable details about destinations, local cultures, and tips for a seamless journey.

The guides deliver a one-stop-shop that combines the best of the internet without the pop-up ads and paid-for-placement “recommendations.”

So, join in—as I delve into the pros and cons of each travel guidebook series, considering factors like accuracy, depth of coverage, user-friendly layout, and unique features. I will cover what sets these guidebooks apart, helping you to make the best decision on which one to choose before your next trip.

Why Travel Guidebooks are Still Relevant in the Digital Age

From our early days of travel, I remember one of the heaviest parts of backpacking around the world used to be shouldering the weight of hefty printed guidebooks as we made our way from one country to another.

We would often carry four or five thick books at a time. This heavy stack included guides for our current country, our recently visited country, and, if we happened to be organized—for the country we were going to next.

We did this because, at the time, we had no other choice. Before the prevalence of e-books and travel blogs, YouTube channels, and social media accounts, old-school travel guidebooks provided the only source of travel information available.
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However, today, in our digital age, where information is just a few clicks away, you might wonder if travel guidebooks still hold any value. The truth is, despite the abundance of online resources, guidebooks continue to be an essential tool for travelers worldwide. Here is why:

Firstly, travel guidebooks offer a curated, reliable, and comprehensive source of information. While the internet can provide a wealth of data, it can also be overwhelming and often unreliable. Guidebooks, on the other hand, are meticulously researched, are editorially independent (aka do not receive payment from businesses for placements), written by experts who often share a distinct opinion on a place and its attractions, and are constantly updated to ensure accuracy.

Secondly, guidebooks provide a complete overview of a destination. They go beyond just listing tourist attractions, offering insights into possible itineraries, local customs, traditions, and lesser-known gems that are easy to miss. Whether your interests lie in history, art, food, or adventure, guidebooks typically cover it all comprehensively.

For example, after reading Frommer’s EasyGuide to Washington, DC before a family spring break visit, I learned I needed to act fast to request tickets for Capitol and White House tours. Because the guidebook let me know to reserve so early, we successfully booked a tour and visited the Capitol building. Standing in the historic and beautiful US Capitol Rotunda and viewing the House and Senate Chambers was an unforgettable experience I would not have wanted to miss.

Lastly, guidebooks are portable and do not require cell connectivity . Physical guidebooks are easy to carry and access anytime, anywhere. Digital travel guidebooks, or e-books, can be downloaded and discreetly referenced from the convenience of a smartphone or portable tablet. Whichever your preferred format, these books offer an excellent choice for travelers who want to disconnect from being constantly in contact and have a more immersive experience.

With these benefits in mind, we will explore things you should consider when choosing the best guidebook in the section below.

5 Factors to Consider When Choosing a Travel Guidebook

To help you choose the ideal travel guidebook for your next trip, here are five key factors to consider:

1. Destination: Consider the specific destination you plan to visit. Some guidebook series specialize in regions or countries, offering more in-depth coverage and insider tips. For example, Rick Steves’ travel guidebooks focus on Europe only.

2. Travel Style: Think about your travel style and preferences. If you are a backpacker looking for budget-friendly recommendations—you will likely want to read Lonely Planet . Or are you more interested in luxury and upscale experiences? Then, a DK Eyewitness Guide or a Fodor’s might be more to your taste. Different guidebook series cater to specific travel styles, so choose one that best aligns with the way you travel.

3. Content: Evaluate the type of content you are looking for. Do you prefer detailed historical information, practical tips, or recommendations for off-the-beaten-path experiences? Some guidebooks, like Culture Smart! , focus on cultural insights, while others provide a broader overview.

4. Layout and Format: Consider the layout and format of the guidebook. Is it easy to navigate? Are there maps, photos, or illustrations? Does it offer an easy-to-follow rating system for top recommendations like the Frommer’s guides include? A well-organized guidebook with clear visuals can significantly enhance your travel experience.

5. Publish Date: Reference the date the travel guidebook was most recently published. If it is several years old, see if a newer version with updated content is available for your destination from a different guidebook series.

Now that we have covered the factors to consider, check out the top 15 picks for the travel guidebook series in the sections below.

Lonely Planet: The Iconic Travel Guidebook Series

Best for: Budget and mid-range independent travelers.

Coverage: 50+ countries throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, Americas, Australasia & the Middle East.

Lonely Planet is—undoubtedly—one of the most well-known and respected travel guidebook series. For over five decades, Lonely Planet has been helping travelers discover the world with its comprehensive guides.

Here are three things that set Lonely Planet apart:

  • Accuracy: Lonely Planet guidebooks are known for their accuracy. Writers and editors meticulously research the information, ensuring that you have the most up-to-date and reliable details at your fingertips.
  • Depth of Coverage: Lonely Planet offers extensive coverage of destinations worldwide. From popular tourist spots to hidden gems, you will find detailed information on attractions, accommodations, transportation, and more.
  • User-Friendly Layout: Lonely Planet guidebooks have a user-friendly layout that makes it easy to navigate and find the information you need quickly. Clear maps, color-coded sections, and helpful icons enhance the reading experience.
  • However, it is worth noting that Lonely Planet guidebooks can sometimes be overwhelming due to the vast information provided. Additionally, since it focuses primarily on budget and mid-range travel, you may want to consult other sources for more luxury recommendations.

    Though given that their library is so extensive and refreshed so frequently, they may offer the only up-to-date travel guidebook for your destination. We recently used their Lonely Planet Malta & Gozo guide for a spring family trip to Gozo and Valletta and found it an excellent resource.

    The only other downside when it comes to Lonely Planet for travelers who prefer e-books is that it can be slow to e-publish new editions, offering only print guides for sale.

    Rick Steves: A Comprehensive Guide for the European Traveler

    Best for: Independent European travelers.

    Coverage: 30+ European countries.

    For travelers planning a trip to Europe, Rick Steves’ guidebooks are a must-have. With a focus on European destinations, Rick Steves has been helping travelers explore the continent for over four decades.

    Three reasons why travelers regard Rick Steves’ guidebooks so highly:

    In-depth European Coverage: Rick Steves’ guidebooks offer unparalleled coverage of European destinations. Whether visiting popular cities like Paris and Rome or exploring lesser-known towns, like Dingle Town in Ireland, you will find detailed information and valuable insider tips provided by experts. For example, in his Ireland guidebook, the excellent detail for the Dingle Peninsula self-guided route is supplied by a local archeological tour guide and retired police chief, Tim Collins.
  • Cultural Insights: Rick Steves is known for emphasizing cultural immersion. His guidebooks provide insights into local customs, traditions, and history, helping to give you a deeper understanding of the places you visit.
  • Practical Advice: Rick Steves packs his guidebooks with practical advice for European travel. From transportation options to money-saving tips, you will find everything you need to make the most of your trip.
  • One downside of Rick Steves’ guidebooks that might be an upside is that Rick always has an opinion, and he shares it. You may love his strong point of view. Or you might not agree with what he thinks.

    For example, I love Rick Steves and always reference his guides for any new European destination. However, in his Switzerland guidebook , Rick shares his low opinion of a Berner Oberland mountain hub town called Grindelwald for being too busy and overly commercial. Upon visiting Grindelwald, I could see his point. However, a short five to 10-minute walk from the train station showed me a very different view of a beautiful and much quieter destination that I would, without hesitation, highly recommend for any traveler to visit.

    Read Rick for his deep knowledge of Europe, though take some of his strongest opinions with a grain of salt. Then, visit and form your own views.

    Fodor's: The Go-to Guide for Luxury and Upscale Travel

    Best for: The upscale traveler.

    Coverage: 150+ guides for countries throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australasia & the Middle East.

    For travelers seeking a more luxurious and upscale trip experience, Fodor’s guidebooks are an excellent choice. With a focus on high-end destinations and experiences, Fodor’s offers a curated selection of recommendations for the discerning traveler.

    Here are three things that make Fodor’s stand out:

  • Luxury Recommendations: Fodor’s guidebooks offer comprehensive coverage of luxury accommodations, fine dining options, and upscale experiences. If you want to indulge in the finer things during your travels, Fodor’s has you covered.
  • Insider Tips: Fodor’s guidebooks offe r insider tips and recommendations from local experts. Whether a hidden gem or an exclusive experience, you will find unique suggestions that cater to luxury travelers.
  • Beautiful Photography: Fodor’s guidebooks are known for stunning photography. The visuals not only inspire wanderlust but also provide a glimpse into the luxurious experiences that await you.
  • However, due to its upscale focus, you may find Fodor’s guidebooks to be not as budget-friendly as other series. If you are on a tight budget, you may need to supplement this book with additional resources.

    Frommer's: A Trusted Guide for Budget-Conscious Travelers

    Best for: The all-around traveler looking for value for money. Also, for family travelers.

    Coverage: 350+ guides split across 10+ different series from Frommer’s Complete Guides to EasyGuides that cover Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australasia & the Middle East.

    If you are a budget-conscious traveler looking for value-for-money recommendations, which includes most family travelers, Frommer’s guidebooks offer an excellent choice. With a focus on affordable travel, Frommer’s offers practical advice, insider tips, and a reliable rating system, bestowing one to three stars on places and experiences it recommends as worth your time and money.

    Over the years, and as a value-conscious traveler always looking to get the most out of my travel budget, I have come to rely on Frommer’s guidebooks as my first resource for how I want to shape a trip. I use these guides to set high-level itineraries and develop a broad-strokes list of things I want to see and do most. For example, its Hawaii guide provided just the right amount of information for me to figure out which islands were best for our family to visit on a two-week trip.

    These three factors set Frommer’s apart:

  • Budget-Friendly Recommendations: Frommer’s guidebooks provide a wide range of budget-friendly recommendations, including affordable accommodations, dining options, and attractions. They also offer money-saving tips to help you stretch your travel budget.
  • Practical Information: Frommer’s guidebooks are known for their practical and detailed information. From transportation to multiple sample itinerary options, you will find everything you need to plan your trip efficiently.
  • Local Insights: Frommer’s guidebooks include insights and recommendations from local experts, allowing you to experience a destination like a local. This adds a unique perspective to your travel experience.
  • One limitation of Frommer’s guidebooks is their coverage, which may not be as extensive as other series. Especially if you are visiting lesser-known destinations, you will want to consult additional resources.

    Rough Guides: The Adventurous Travel Companion

    Best for: The adventure traveler.

    Coverage: 100+ countries throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australasia & the Middle East.

    For adventurous travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path experiences, Rough Guides is the perfect companion for your journeys. With a focus on adventure travel, R ough Guides offers a wealth of information for those looking to explore beyond the usual tourist spots.

    Here are three things that make Rough Guides unique:

  • Off-the-beaten-path Recommendations: Rough Guides detail recommendations for lesser-known destinations and experiences. Whether trekking through remote mountains or exploring hidden cultural gems, Rough Guides will inspire your adventurous spirit.
  • Adventure Travel Tips: Rough Guides offer practical advice for adventure travel, including information on outdoor activities, gear recommendations, and safety tips. If you are planning a hiking, diving, or wildlife-focused trip, Rough Guides supply a valuable resource.
  • Cultural Immersion: Rough Guides emphasize cultural immersion, providing insights into local customs, traditions, and indigenous communities, helping you achieve a more authentic travel experience.
  • One potential drawback of Rough Guides is their limited coverage of popular tourist destinations. If you plan to visit major cities or well-known attractions, you may need to consult additional guidebooks.

    DK Eyewitness Travel: Visual Guides for Immersive Travel Experiences

    Best for: Travelers who love to learn while they travel.

    Coverage: 200+ guides to destinations throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, Australasia & the Middle East.

    If you are a visual learner or prefer a more immersive travel experience, DK Eyewitness Travel guidebooks or their Pocket Top 10 guides are a perfect choice. Or the ideal complement to read along with a more detail-intense series. With its stunning visuals and in-depth coverage, DK Eyewitness Travel offers a unique way to explore the world.

    Here are three things that make DK Eyewitness Travel stand out:

  • Visuals: DK Eyewitness Travel guidebooks are known for their beautiful photography, detailed illustrations, and 3D maps. These graphics bring destinations to life and help you visualize your travel experience.
  • Immersive Content: DK Eyewitness Travel guidebooks provide immersive content beyond just listing attractions. They offer insights into local culture, history, and traditions, helping give you a deeper understanding of the places you visit.
  • User-Friendly Layout: DK Eyewitness Travel guidebooks have a user-friendly layout with color-coded sections, detailed maps, and easy-to-read text. Readers find these convenient to navigate, helping them to find the information needed.
  • However, it is worth noting that DK Eyewitness Travel guidebooks may not offer as much depth of coverage or budget-friendly recommendations as other series. If you seek more specific or detailed information, you will want to pick this up elsewhere.

    National Geographic Traveler: Discover the World Through Stunning Photography

    Best for : Travelers who want their guidebooks to double as keepsakes and prefer a culturally immersive experience.

    Coverage: 40+ guides to destinations throughout the world, with the heaviest coverage in Europe and a few titles for top destinations in the US, Central America, Asia & Africa.

    National Geographic Traveler guidebooks offer a unique perspective on travel, combining stunning photography with informative content.

    Three factors that make National Geographic Traveler guidebooks a must-have:

  • Photography: National Geographic Traveler guidebooks are known for breathtaking photography. The visuals capture the essence of a destination and will inspire your wanderlust.
  • Insider Tips: National Geographic Traveler guidebooks provide insider tips and recommendations from National Geographic experts. These insights offer a deeper understanding of a destination, allowing for more unique travel experiences.
  • Cultural Exploration: National Geographic Traveler guidebooks emphasize cultural exploration, focusing on local customs, traditions, and indigenous communities. These elements add a deeper layer of authenticity to your travel experience.
  • One potential limitation of National Geographic Traveler guidebooks, like the DK Eyewitness Guides , is their limited coverage of the logistics of travel as compared to other series. If you are planning a trip to lesser-known or off-the-beaten-path locations, you may need to consult additional resources.

    8 Other Notable Travel Guidebook Series

    1. Bradt Travel Guides: Known for their offbeat and unconventional destinations, and Slow Travel titles to British regions, Bradt Travel Guides are perfect for travelers seeking unique experiences.
    2. Moon Travel Guides: Moon Travel Guides offer comprehensive coverage of worldwide destinations. Though—it publishes many titles for less mainstream places. For example, Moon offers the best, and in some cases, the only guidebooks for less common places like Vermont and Door County, Wisconsin.
    3. Berlitz Pocket Guides: Berlitz Pocket Guides provide concise and practical information for travelers who prefer a more compact and portable guidebook.
    4. Michelin Green Guides: Michelin Green Guides are known for their meticulous attention to detail and focus on cultural, historical, and architectural landmarks. Although, check the date of publication. Many of its Green Guides are due for an update.
    5. Blue Guides: These in-depth guides are indispensable for culture and history lovers. Expect a deep and thorough dive into art, architecture, and history for major and minor destinations and sites throughout Europe. Also, look for their Art/Shop/Eat guides for major international cities.
    6. Culture Smart!: Culture Smart! guides offer excellent pre-trip reading. Learn about the people, the culture, and the dos and don’ts travelers should adhere to while visiting. These illuminating guides—we read Culture Smart! Switzerland before a trip to the Bernese Oberland —written by long-term expats, journalists, professors, and diplomats, help provide visitors with a deeper understanding of a place and direction on how to be a good guest.
    7: Not for Tourists: Although these guides, mainly offered for major US cities and a few large international ones, are designed for residents, they provide an excellent alternative read for visitors seeking a more off-the-beaten-path experience.
    8: Independent Local guidebooks: When planning a visit to any new destination, search online for the term “best guidebooks for [your destination]” and see what you find. Many travel locales offer hyperlocal guidebooks written by experts in the know and are sometimes not easily found without an engaged search.
    series, offering 20+ titles dedicated to in-depth information about trekking in the Himalayas. Or the
    Such as the
    Himalayan Travel Guides
    series, which provides the most extensive and detailed travel resource for the four most visited Hawaiian Islands. I read both the
    Hawaii Revealed
    Oahu Revealed
    Kauai Revealed
    guidebooks before a two-week Hawaii stay, and each was excellent.
    Or even for a recent trip to Acadia National Park in Maine, I found and read two non-mainstream travel guidebooks, Acadia: The Complete Guide and Ten Days in Acadia—A Kids Hiking Guide to Mount Desert Island , both off-the-radar reads written by locals. The history section in the Complete Guide was so good that I read it twice. And our heavily used dog-eared copy of the Hiking Guide is a testament to how valuable I found it to be during our trip. See a few pics from our Maine visit below.

    About Finding the Perfect Travel Guidebook for Your Next Adventure

    Choosing the best travel guidebook can easily enhance your travel experience, providing you with the most useful information, insights into local culture, and practical tips. From Lonely Planet to Rick Steves, Fodor’s to DK Eyewitness Travel , each guidebook series has its own unique strengths and specialties.

    Consider factors like accuracy, depth of coverage, user-friendly layout, and unique features to help pick the right book. Determine the destination, travel style, and content you are looking for to choose a guidebook series that fits your needs best.

    If you are still unsure which travel guidebook is the right one, try one out. Borrow a book from your local library, visit a nearby bookshop to skim their travel section , or take a leap and buy and download an e-book to determine if you want to keep or return it.

    Guidebooks continue to offer a valuable travel planning resource in the digital age, delivering curated and reliable information not often replicated by online sources. So, before your next adventure, find your perfect travel companion from the travel guidebook series that fits you best. Happy travels!

    Related Reading

    Additional Trip Planning Resources

    To further help you with travel planning, I share my go-to resources for every trip below.
    Google Flights. Save money and time by searching this free flight search engine for affordable and direct flight options. Learn more about why to use it here.
    Google Hotels. Use its “Where to stay” button to discover which neighborhood to stay in and which hotel to book. Learn more in this video clip .
    Booking.com. You will love its more flexible cancellation and payment options, user reviews, discounts, and easy-to-use interface for hotels and rentals.
    Viator, Get Your Guide, & Airbnb Experiences . Search any of these tour and experience booking platforms to find and pre-purchase highly rated guided activities.
    Google Travel Things to Do & Google Maps . Discover more travel things to do on Google Travel, then record the places you want to visit on your own Google Maps lists.
    AllTrails . Use AllTrails to find top hiking and biking trails. Get up-to-date route info, like trail difficulty ratings, what to expect, user reviews, and access points. Sign up for AllTrails+ to download offline maps.
    Guide Along . For U.S. road trips and National Parks. Download these 5-star self-guided audio tours that are GPS-compatible and work offline. Hear stories, fascinating facts, and tips for visiting. We loved the Glacier National Park tour .
    Insure My Trip. Stay protected using this online travel insurance agent and search engine to shop policies from different insurers. Buy from the ones with the highest user ratings. Learn why to buy it here.
    Want to know the 15 travel apps I have downloaded and updated for every trip? Check them out here.
    About the author: Janice Moskoff is a travel writer and blogger who loves hiking, exploring the world, and reading. She writes to inspire travel-loving families, adult friends, and couples on her blog, Gather and Go Travel. Check out her bio , learn how she became a blogger , and discover how to work with her . Sign up for her monthly Discovery Newsletter to get her latest travel recommendations and how-to’s.
    Love to travel? Sign up for my monthly Gather & Go Travel Discovery Newsletter and get a free trip budget calculator.
    Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links on this page may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I only recommend products and companies I use. And the income goes to keeping the site community-supported and ads minimal.
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