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Choosing the Best Guidebook for Ireland

April 23, 2009

Irish Travel Books, originally uploaded by IrishFireside.

corey says…My task was simple. Visit my local bookseller, find a guidebook on Ireland and start planning the trip of a lifetime. With this strategy, I would be compiling a list of top ten sites and a rough itinerary before dinner, right?

My naivety became obvious the moment I approached the bookstore’s travel shelf. There I found one, two, three, four…TWELVE books on Irish travel. There were guides for hikers, bikers, parents and even dummies. Others claimed to reveal the best of Dublin, the highlights of the southwest, the most beautiful villages, the coziest B&Bs. It was a collage of superlatives, but deciding which book would actually deliver my dream vacation didn’t seem as obvious as my inclusion in the race for the “most clueless tourist in Ireland.”

In the end, I made the obvious choice. I bought the book with the most pictures. That was over a dozen years ago, and a lot has changed. I’ve thumbed through all twelve of those original travel books, even reading many of them. The Irish travel section of my personal library now exceeds my local bookseller’s, and I can usually rate a guidebook’s attributes by leafing through only a few pages. I’ve also learned that the right guidebook really depends on your travel style and budget.

Finding your “Dreambook”

For the first time traveler, I recommend starting with, what I call, a “dreambook.” “Dreambooks” are filled with pictures and a general overview of Ireland. These may range from a coffee table book of beautiful photographs to a guidebook with maps, cutaways and lots of photos.

If your itinerary is not already set, use a “dreambook” to help identify a region you want to visit. Some good books in this category include “DK Eyewitness Travel Guides,” “Fodor’s See It Ireland,” “AAA Spiral Guides: Ireland,” “Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Ireland” as well as the many photo books out there.

More Content, Fewer Pics

For a more in-depth look, traditional guidebooks provide more information on regions, routes, sites, accommodations, restaurants and nightlife. These books will be text-heavy and may seem intimidating at first. When tackling these, I suggest starting with a region that includes a site on your must-see list and branch out from there.

Budget travelers will find “Lonely Planet Ireland,” “Let’s Go: Ireland” or “Frommer’s Ireland from $90 a Day” (which is due for an update) the best for making economical decisions. Meanwhile “Ireland for Dummies,” “Fodor’s Ireland,” “Frommer’s Ireland,” and “Rough Guide to Ireland” each provide thorough coverage of the Emerald Isle.

Personalized Attention

How often do you have direct access to a guidebook author? Both Pat Preston and Michele Erdvig break the mold of big publishers by supporting their books with their own websites and travel forums. Unlike group-authored books, these writers moderate their own forums, which means they answer questions themselves and invite their online communities to add their suggestions as well.

Michele Erdvig’s “Dream Trip Ireland” breaks trip planning into bite size segments and then focuses on her list of hand-selected accommodation choices for each region ( Michele also publishes her book every year…that gives her the advantage of having the most up-to-date guidebook on the market.

Pat’s “Take a Break in Ireland” is one of my favorite daytrip books; she has fashioned routes that include many of Ireland’s greatest sites, and she has added shopping, eating and cultural suggestions along the way ( Pat also publishes the useful “The Smart Shopper’s Guide to Ireland,” and I’m I’m very curious and excited about the new book Pat has in the works that covers all of Ireland…I’ll be sure to keep you posted on its status.

Special Interest

If you have a special interest, such as golfing, biking, walking or traveling with children, exploring ancient history, there are books written especially for you. These books, as well as those dedicated exclusively to listing accommodations, can provide all the details you need to plan a personalized tour.

Nowadays, my biggest challenge at the bookstore comes from having to choose between guidebooks. My secret? I select the same area in each book and read the sections carefully. Most books do a good job of covering cities, so I inspect their coverage of places like Donegal or Cobh to see how the they handle the smaller destinations before making my decision.

I’m frequently asked what books I travel with in Ireland. Years ago, I packed five or six guides. Yikes, HEAVY! Now, I tend to rely on the internet (often using my iPhone)…especially for accommodation suggestions (that’s where Michele and Pat’s sites come in very handy). That said, the one physical book that still gets tucked in my carryon is Lonely Planet. The-road-less-traveled tends to make my itinerary and LP covers more of the obscure locales… the extra information might not be a big help for those sticking to the major sites, but it works for me. I have also been known to pick up a localized guidebook when I arrive in a region.

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