Online and digital travel guides are great — no one knows this better than we do — but sometimes it’s both fun and reassuring to carry around an old-fashioned paper guide when you’re exploring. That’s especially true because there’s a new generation of paper-based travel guides that are smaller, smarter, and more stylish than their encyclopedic, heavy-as-a-brick predecessors. Here are just some of our favorites.
These arty, almanac-style guides aren’t meant to be read front-to-back; they can be skimmed and browsed as you wander through some of America’s coolest cities and regions. Read stories from a local saxophone repairman while you wander the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter, or a Texas historian’s essay about the Alamo that puts you there on the morning of the famous battle. Buy it now.
Short, to the point, and filled with beautiful, Instagram-worthy photographs, these guides won’t tell you the operating hours of the Sydney Opera House or the best places to view the Golden Gate Bridge. But, they will tell you where to shop for vintage watches or discover a rock-and-roll bowling bar. Buy it now.
The best part about this fun card deck is that you don’t have to actually travel anywhere to use it. Filled with questions, suggestions, and prompts that help you think creatively and experience new things, this guide lets you explore anywhere on earth — including your own neighborhood. Buy it now.
You may have seen these compact, richly illustrated guides at Anthropologie, which is where we first discovered them. A combination of practical maps and advice and a list of the hippest shops and restaurants, the CitiX60 series is like having a fun, in-the-know local friend as a tour guide. Buy it now.
Architecture aficionados will know these guides as the high-style travel versions of Phaidon’s spectacularly illustrated large-format books. Fun to collect and display thanks to their brightly colored covers, these guides are updated frequently, so always check for the newest editions. Buy it now.
They’re not as easily packable as some of the others on this list, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the erudite, always tasteful Monocole guides for your next trip, especially if you like high-end shops, beautiful hotels, and sports and fitness activities. Buy it now.
This quirky line of guides doesn’t adhere to a specific format or theme, but that’s what makes them so charming. They take the form of books, meticulously edited and illustrated folding maps, postcards, and more. If you’ve ever craved a guide that lets you explore sights in New York City related to the rock band The Velvet Underground, or one that helps you find Old Hollywood hangouts in Los Angeles, these guides are for you. Buy it now.
Impeccably drawn, exhaustive, and accurate, these books are a fun companion to digital maps that allow you see some of the world’s most famous cities in a new way. Plus, artist and writer Michael Middleditch infuses them with lots of good humor and warmth. After you’re done using these guides to get around London or Paris like a pro, see if you can find a copy of the map guide to St. Albans, Vermont (the author’s hometown). Buy it now.
These architecture-focused folding maps draw your eye to the Brutalist structures of Boston, Art Deco gems in London, Constructivism in Moscow, concrete buildings in Tokyo, and much more. These also make great gifts for anyone in your life who loves design — whether they’re planning a trip or just armchair traveling. Buy it now.
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