Even in this age of internet research, guidebooks are not dead. In fact, they’ve gotten better.
The best, smartest guidebooks focus on insider tips from residents who know the destinations well, forgoing the old formula that had guidebook writers breeze through town and pop into a dozen hotels and restaurants a day.
This intimate knowledge of place is key to keeping guidebooks vital — and outsmarting the online competition when it comes to a place’s best kept secrets. The philosophy seems to be, “Let TripAdvisor help people find the right hotel; we can tell them where to go when they walk out the hotel doors.”
I first noticed this trend while planning a trip to Rome. I got mired on the internet. Then I logged off and opened what became my favorite resource: a book with the simple and accurate name, “Rome: The Essential Insider’s Guide.”
Further proof of this new bent in guidebooks lies atop my desk. I have “Exploring Historic Dutch New York” (written by New York-based scholars), Moon guides to walks in cities from Amsterdam to NYC (all with the subtitle “See the city like a local”), and that Rome book plus its counterpart for Florence and Venice (covered in one book). Published by City Secrets, the books reveal the favorite places of expats, including writers, chefs and art historians.
The newest book on my pile — just in time for the Super Bowl and its visiting hordes — is “111 Places in the Twin Cities That You Must Not Miss.” Even for me, an explorer by nature, the book holds surprises (No. 57, Marshall Terrace Rookery in northeast Minneapolis, is drawing me; it’s home to great blue herons).
The book, written by local writer (and occasional Star Tribune contributor) Elizabeth Foy Larsen, reflects the sensibility of a whole series of 111 Places books, which lend a local’s perspective on cities from Stockholm and New Delhi to, now, our hometown.
Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.