Top critical review
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Probably too dense to take along
on July 7, 2007
On his website, travel guru Rick Steves says that Blue Guides take "a dry and scholarly approach to the countries of Europe. They're ideal if you want to learn as much about history, art, architecture, and culture as you possibly can." This is basically true, though I much prefer a "dry and scholarly" tone to Rick's "nerdy and precious" style. He's great when it comes to practical tips, but he can't touch the historical, artistic and architectural content of the Blue Guides.
Blue Guides pack a tremendous amount of information into their pages, much more than any other guide I've used. They're wonderful for reading before and after your trip, but they're probably too dense to pack and take along for most people. Before leaving on my honeymoon to Italy, I photocopied the relevant pages of the Northern Italy book to avoid having to pack it because I knew I wouldn't be visiting most of the cities it covers. On that trip I field-tested three guides: Rick Steves, Eyewitness, and Blue Guide.
Blue Guides are not good to use as your main guide. They're far too light on practical matters such as maps, directions, hotels and restaurants, and they're not updated every year. I used Eyewitness to plan and get around and then pulled out the Blue Guide once I reached a major site. I used Rick Steves so little and found him so unhelpful that I left his books behind in hotels along the way.
Blue Guides have come a long way over the years. I was given an older edition of the Rome guide many years ago, and I couldn't believe how small the print was; it had a lot of detail but would have been very difficult to use while traveling. The publishers have learned their lesson: the current edition of the Rome guide is far easier to use and much more attractive, with colorful maps and an easier-to-read format. They've improved on the practical aspects as well, but you'll probably be in trouble if you rely on this book to get around in Rome. I recommend packing a more comprehensive one-volume guide such as Eyewitness and using Blue Guide to learn about specific sites once the other guide gets you to them. Keep Blue Guide on your shelf as an attractive reference and let it inspire you to return to Rome in the future!