8 Unconventional Guide Books

Travel Lists

Let’s face it, you haven’t opened a guide book since Y2K, but that’s about to change. Sure, any website or app will give you a good overview of a destination, but the following travel troves do so much more. These unconventional tour books aren’t just about where to go and what to do. Instead, they encourage an edgy approach to the cities they cover and lead you through them by way of themed itineraries and tours designed by the city’s creative professionals.

1. Herb Lester Guides
Photo by Herb Lester Associates

From how and where to hoof it around Austin to a Paris itinerary for traveling the city of love alone, the illustrated guides from Herb Lester Associates are created to show you around different cities by way of specific themes. These witty city companions cover destinations around the world, and, if ever you set your sights on the moon, they’ve got a guide for that, too.

2. City Cycling Guides
Photo by Rapha

With city-bike systems being implemented all over the world, it’s time we get a guide book that utilizes this awesome method of transportation. Well, now we have. The pocket-sized City Cycling Guides will help you discover Europe’s major cities on two wheels. Each book is illustrated by local artists and includes maps for the destination.

3. CITIx60 City Guide
Photo by Viction:ary

Hong Kong-based publisher Viction:ary didn’t just leave it up to a travel expert or agency to design run-of-the-mill itineraries. Instead, they tasked 60 international creatives to contribute tips, secrets and favorite spots in six different cities around the world and compiled them into the CITIx60 City Guides. The series’ goal is to guide you through each city’s backroads and leave you feeling inspired by the each contributor’s picks. Current editions include Barcelona, Berlin, Tokyo, London, New York and Paris.

4. Weird and Wonderful Guides
Photo by Le Cool

Le Cool’s Weird and Wonderful Guides offer tips and itineraries for exploring the weirder sides of Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon and London. From secret gardens to old corset shops and underground wrestling, the manuals are filled with curated lists of odd itinerary items and hidden gems you won’t likely find on Wikitravel.

5. Food-Themed Guides from All You Can Eat Press
Photo by All You Can Eat Press

If you’re the type to go with your gut, food-themed guides from the Brooklyn-based All You Can Eat Press will lead your senses to the sweet spots. Forget historical monuments and museums, these food-maps will take you on a croissant crawl of Paris and have you discovering New York by way of its doughnuts, burgers, ramen, diners and oyster bars.

6. Graphic USA: An Alternative Guide to 25 U.S. Cities
Photo by Cicada Books

For those of you who opt for picture books (hey, we’re not judging), swap the Frommer’s for this. From Anchorage to Austin and then on to Atlanta, this publication is written and illustrated by graphic designers about their hometowns. It “picks out the uber-slick hotels designed by the hippest architects, and the weird restaurant in the strip mall that makes the best breakfast burrito this side of the border,” says the book’s publisher. Are you surprised? It is written by designers, after all. Graphic USA is an alternative and graphically-appealing guide for those seeking to visit any of the 25 U.S. cities included in the book.

7. Wildsam Field Guides
Photo by Wildsam Field Guides

Wildsam Field Guides is a self-described “American travel series with a bygone sense of place.” Currently, editions include New Orleans, Detroit, San Francisco, Nashville and Austin. Each guide contains local lore, illustrated maps, essays and interviews that get at the heart of each city while displaying a different side of that destination. The New Orleans guide focuses on the city’s underrated romance, while the Detroit version aims to convey the city’s honesty. The Nashville manual includes never-before-published notes by Johnny Cash, along with an essay written by his daughter, that help inform you about and then lead you through Tennessee’s capital.

8. Design Guide Series
Photo by The Design Guide

A “practical manual” of sorts, the Design Guide Series chronicles each city’s creative offerings. “It’s a city guide and designer directory rolled into one, highlighting contemporary developments in the built environment, design, art and fashion and joining the dots between them to paint a colourful picture not only of the city itself but also the dynamics that are at play within it,” says the series’ website. Current editions include Sydney, Melbourne and Berlin.

Chicago-based journalist Lauren Kilberg is a frequent Paste contributor.

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