Saturday, March 8, 2014

Reading my way to Ireland, part 1: travel guides

We're hoping to travel to Ireland before too long.

So I've been doing my typical thing: reading.

This is not the first time we've thought about visiting Ireland. So, tucked away in a closet somewhere, we had:

  • Michelin Green Guide Ireland
    THE GREEN GUIDE, the perfect travel companion: a discerning and up-to-date source of information. Practical and comprehensive, it offers suggestions on what to see and what to do, background on history and cultural heritage.

I really like the organization of this book, and the way the information is presented. It's easy to read, illustrated with lots of nice pictures, and full of useful information.

It's over a decade old at this point, and Ireland has changed a lot in the last ten years. But the editors of the Michelin Guide are to be congratulated, as the book doesn't seem very dated at all. They wisely chose to focus on more-or-less timeless topics, such as descriptions of the various towns and cities, points of interest, historical background, ideas for things to do.

But, it's ten years old.

So, I bought two other similar guides, to fill in the gaps and provide more recent information:

  • Rick Steves' Ireland 2013
    Rick’s candid, humorous advice will guide you to good-value hotels and restaurants. He’ll help you plan where to go and what to see, depending on the length of your trip. You’ll get up-to-date recommendations on what is worth your time and money. More than just reviews and directions, a Rick Steves guidebook is a tour guide in your pocket.
  • Lonely Planet Ireland (Country Travel Guide)
    You can trust our travel information because Lonely Planet authors visit the places we write about, each and every edition. We never accept freebies for positive coverage so you can rely on us to tell it like it is.

Each book has a slightly different style: the Michelin guide is very corporate in its approach, with very little personality. Dry, but useful.

The Rick Steves organization have been publishing books (and leading guided tours, which I think is where they actually got started) for many, many years. Where the Michelin team stick mostly to the facts, and are reluctant to make recommendations, the Rick Steves books are less neutral, and have a point of view.

The Rick Steves books are also more selective in what they cover. Where the Michelin guide tries to cover everything, the Rick Steves guide selects destinations that they enjoy, and provide lots of coverage of those, simply omitting the things they don't like. This means that almost everything in the book has a good rating and is a recommended choice, which gives the book an overall cheery, positive tone that makes the entire exercise of trip planning much more light-hearted.

The Lonely Planet organization have also been publishing guides for decades. They got their start focusing on trips for youth, to exotic and less-traveled destinations, but have expanded to the point that they pretty much cover everywhere.

Lonely Planet's focus on travel-for-the-young means that they tend to include a lot of coverage of hostels, low-priced eateries, public transit, and other practical matters, and rather less coverage of romantic getaways, cultural history, etc. Their guides also include pursuits like canoeing, surfing, and other outdoor activities that are clearly aimed at the younger traveler.

The Lonely Planet crew are also more willing to "tell it like it is," and will tell you if a place is likely to be "mobbed in the summer," "isolated if the unthinkable happens and it rains," or if it's an "unflinchingly honest town with a tough past."

I like having all three guides to compare and contrast. It's a lot of information, but I'd rather have too much than too little.

I'm not sure if I'll carry any of them along in the suitcase, though, as they're all a bit heavy. I'll have to think about this and see if there's one of them that seems like the best one to lug around when the actual trip arrives.

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