on July 6, 2005
I've been to Italy several times.....Rome, Venice, Florence, Bologna, Milan, some of the hill towns, etc (most recently last April). Here are my reviews of the best guides to meet your exact needs.....I hope these are helpful and that you have a great visit! I always gauge the quality of my visit by how much I remember a year later......this review is designed to help you get the guide that will be sure YOU remember your trip many years into the future. Travel Safe and enjoy yourself to the max!
Rick Steves' books are not recommended. They may be an interesting read but their helpfulness is very poor. They don't do well on updates, transportation details, or anything but the first-time-tourist routine and even that is somewhat superficial on anything but the mega-major sites.
These are time tested guides that pride themselves on being updated annually. Although I think the guides below provide information that is in more depth or more concise (depending on what the guide is known for), if your main concern is that the guide has very little old or outdated information, then this would be a good guide for you.
Lonely Planet has City and Out To Eat Guides. They are all about the experience so they focus on doing, being, getting there, and this means they have the best detailed information, including both inexpensive and really spectacular restaurants and hotels, out-of-the-way places, weird things to see and do, the list is endless.
Without doubt, the best of the walks guides.... the Blue Guide has been around since 1918 and has extremely well designed walks with lots of unique little side stops to hit on just about any interest you have. If you want to pick up the feel of the city, this is the best book to do that for you. This is one that you end up packing on your 10th trip, by which time it is well worn.
MapGuide is very easy to use and has the best location information for hotels, tourist attractions, museums, churches etc. that they manage to keep fairly up to date. It's great for teaching you how to use the public transportation system. The text sections are quick overviews, not reviews, but the strong suite here is brevity, not depth. I strongly recommend this for your first few times learning your way around the classic tourist sites and experiences. MapGuide is excellent as long as you are staying pretty much in the center of the city.
The Time Out guides are very good. Easy reading, short reviews of restaurants, hotels, and other sites, with good public transport maps that go beyond the city centre. Many people who buy more than one guidebook end up liking this one best!
Let's Go is a great guide series that specializes in the niche interest details that turn a trip into a great and memorable experience. Started by and for college students, these guides are famous for the details provided by people who used the book the previous year. They continue to focus on providing a great experience inexpensively. If you want to know about the top restaurants, this is not for you (use Fodor's or Michelin). Let's Go does have a bewildering array of different guides though. Here's which is what:
Budget Guide is the main guide with incredibly detailed information and reviews on everything you can think of.
City Guide is just as intense but restricted to the single city.
PocketGuide is even smaller and features condensed information
MapGuide's are very good maps with public transportation and some other information (like museum hours, etc.)
Famous for their quality reviews, the Red Michelin Guides are for hotels & Restaurants, the Green Michelin Guides are for main tourist destinations. However, the English language Green guide is the one most people use and it has now been supplemented with hotel and restaurant information. These are the serious review guides as the famous Michelin ratings are issued via these books.
Fodor's is the best selling guide among Americans. They have a bewildering array of different guides. Here's which is what:
The Gold Guide is the main book with good reviews of everything and lots of tours, walks, and just about everything else you could think of. It's not called the Gold guide for nothing though....it assumes you have money and are willing to spend it.
SeeIt! is a concise guide that extracts the most popular items from the Gold Guide
PocketGuide is designed for a quick first visit
UpCLOSE for independent travel that is cheap and well thought out
CityPack is a plastic pocket map with some guide information
Exploring is for cultural interests, lots of photos and designed to supplement the Gold guide
I have relied on the Green Guide to Italy for planning itineraries in Italy since 1974. Over the years I have bought every new edition upon release. I am sorry to report that the latest edition, the 7th, departs enough from the classic Green Guide concept to be a huge disappointment.
The book is thicker than it used to be, with the addition of a few color photographs and the inclusion of a very limited number of restaurant and hotel recommendations. Restaurant guides are never useful in Italy anyway (it would be difficult to find bad food anywhere in the country) and the hotel listings are so limited (one or two hotels in each major location) as to be a waste of space.
The guide is now organized more along major destinations with excursions, rather than strictly alphabetically. One of the things I always liked about the Green Guide was that you could see a destination on the map and instantly read about it to see if there were any highlights worth seeing.
The Green Guide's greatest strength remains its system of prioritizing destinations and attractions. I have rarely been disappointed by any sight given the maximum 3-star "worth a journey" rating by Michelin. Most of the attractions of Italy have not changed since previous editions of this book: if you can find an earlier edition I recommend buying it instead of the seventh edition.