Guide Books, Map Books, and a Tourism Rant

This post is republished from my other blog, Read Play Edit. It ran in September 2012.

Back before I had even a hope of traveling to Ireland, I bought a travel guidebook for the country. A gal can dream, can’t she?

I think I’ve experimented with every brand of guidebook available, but my favorites are the DK (Dorling Kindersley Publishing) Eyewitness Travel Guides. I have just always liked a book with pictures, and these have full-color photos, illustrations, detail maps, and lots more. My Ireland ETG is a little beat up, with Post-It markers, receipts, loose hand-written directions, dried flowers, and photographs stuffed into the pages. It really is just a souvenir at this point, since it’s more than ten years out of date.

DK has another travel guide solution that you might find useful. Called Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guides, these much-smaller books are intended for those who may not have much time for sightseeing.

(I’m being nice here. These books smack a bit too much of getting on a tour bus and being shown what you should see and told what you should know, and how long you have to do it. I am not that person. I like a little more adventure. I like being a little lost. On the other hand, one wouldn’t go to Paris without stopping by the Eiffel Tower, right? And I assure you, that tower is number one on the Paris Top Ten list; in fact, it’s the number one tourist destination in the world. So these lists have a purpose; they can serve as a jumping off place. But they are no substitution at all for wandering, delightfully half-lost, in a foreign city.)

The Top Ten books start with the ten most important destinations in a particular city (again: bear in mind, these will be highly trafficked tourist destinations … but there’s a reason for it: these sites are special). Then each of the ten destinations are broken down into ten features, to be sure you don’t miss what makes the site exceptional.

For example, Dublin’s top ten destinations are:

1. Trinity College
2. National Museum of Ireland
3. National Gallery
4. Dublin Castle
5. Temple Bar
6. Christ Church Cathedral
7. St. Patrick’s Cathedral
8. Guinness Storehouse
9. Kilmainham Gaol and Kilmainham Hospital
10. Phoenix Park

There’s a lot more than this, of course (top ten pubs, performing arts venues, shopping areas, and so on)—but now that you know where to go, you’ll need one more book on your trip.

The Irishman and I have found a detailed road map to be indispensible, because in Ireland there are a lot of what I call “back roads” (and what William Least Heat-Moon called Blue Highways). And by detailed, I mean the kind of map on which one inch equals just three miles. That’s a rather thick book of maps. You’d have to go to a bookstore here to get something like that, but in Ireland you can pick them up at any petrol station. Even the tiniest historic spot was marked on this map; it had the national roads, the regional roads, and even the unnamed roads—and we could literally tell what curve of what road we were on at any given time. It proved invaluable.

So. You’re ready. Buy a ticket and get started. I’ll see you there … !