Here are our picks for Best Ireland Guidebooks – 2015
After reviewing 12 general travel guidebooks on Ireland from publishers that included Insights Guides, Moon Guides, Fodor’s, Frommers, Lonely Planet, National Geographic, DK Eyewitness, Michelin and Rick Steves our team has come up with our Top 3 General Guidebooks and our #1 pick for a specialty guidebooks for 2015.
INVEST IN A GOOD GUIDEBOOK – If you think about how much a guidebook costs- $15-$25, that’s the cost of a nice lunch in Ireland. One guidebook can make such a difference in planning your tour and enriching the experience once you’re at a sight. Do yourself a favor and pick up a guidebook or two before you take your trip. We’ve also got links for Books to read before you go to Ireland and Best recommendations for maps and apps.
Top 3 Ireland Guidebooks
#1 Rick Steves Ireland 2015 #1 Best Seller in General Ireland Travel Guides
Rick is still our #1 choice and it’s not surprising that he is the #1 guide book author in the world. His Ireland guide the #1 best-selling guide on Amazon.com. We like Rick’s books because it’s the most comprehensive book about general Ireland stuff – and about the sites he covers. Because Rick Steves is a historian, his commentary on sites that he does cover is so thorough and rich, which makes the visiting experience so much more meaningful. His commentary on Dingle alone is worth the price of the book. He writes as if he is right there with the visitor, leading and guiding the tour. He also offers excellent commentary on the Burren, Galway and a near 40 page chapter on Irish history, language and slang.
Another perk of this book is that there is a pull-out map in the back. Several guidebooks have maps included but this book has the country map on one side and then a blow-up of 5 cities including Galway, Dublin, Belfast, Derry and Dingle AND the map can be used while still attached to the book, so it can be kept with the guidebook and not lost.
What we don’t like is that if Rick doesn’t like the site, he doesn’t include it. So you may want to look up a particular site and find that it’s not included. But the quality of what he does include is too good to not have the book. So a second guidebook that more like an encylopedia (covers most all of the sites) is needed. Which is why we recommend the next two books from Frommers and Lonely Planet.
Rick Steves Ireland 2015 is worth the $22.99 retail price just for the commentary on Dingle, Galway, Belfast and the Burren, which is no wonder it is rate #1 in Amazon.com’s travel books on Ireland for general interest. It’s also rated (today 1/13/15) as #1011 in ALL books listed on Amazon (estimated to be in the millions). If you follow the consumer, this is the book people are buying.
#2 Frommer’s Guide to Ireland 2015
Before this year, we weren’t big fans of Frommer’s. But they’ve outdone themselves with this year’s guide to Ireland. There’s great information about the country, the culture and what to expect as well as a comprehensive listing of most interesting general sites throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. It’s both comprehensive and diverse with suggested itineraries, maps and a whole section with the “Best of…” lists including Best Castle, Best Natural Wonders, Best Literary sites and Best Museums. This guidebook has serious “personal” appeal. It seems they’ve written it in a “peer perspective” rather than an authoritative perspective. It’s what people want these days .. the personal recommendation of peers. The book also has a compact, tear-out map that has a “town key” so you can easily locate the region of most towns. This would be our #1 recommendation for a comprehensive (all includsive guide) to Ireland.
#3 Lonely Planet’s Ireland Guide
Personally, I love Lonely Planet’s publications and love Fionn Davenport (one of their Ireland writers) even more. This guide is included in the Top 3 not because it’s more comprehensive than any other guide, but because of the uncluttered, organized and casual layout Lonely Planet guides offer. They’re books are simple and easy to use. This book also features a What’s New (this year) list, Top 21 list, maps, suggested itineraries and a section on The Great Outdoors. In years past, Fionn Davenport offered such a unique, casual style – a great storyteller. Though the editors have tightened up on his entertaining, casual commentary, Fionn’s style still shines through. This is still the first guidebook I reach for when looking up sites in Ireland.
#1 Specialty Guidebook – Thin Places Focus
#1 Specialty Guide – Sacred Ireland, by Cary Meehan
It’s not often that we highly recommend an out of print book, but this year a buyer can at least obtain a used copy from book dealers out there. Even though the copies run $60 and above, this is the best resource for thin places and sacred sites of high energy. Last year there were none to be had. If you can snag a readable copy of this for under $100, do it. It reads like a guidebook with the sites grouped in counties and provinces with a map for each county showing the approximate location of the sacred sites. Even the smallest stone circles, standing stones and holy wells are mentioned. It was in this book that we found The Giant’s Ring in Belfast (not mentioned in any guidebooks I’ve seen), and it’s an amazing site – a large dolmen set into an earthenworked ring that now serves as a public park just outside the city centre. The majority of the sacred sites and megaliths in this book are not listed in any guidebooks or on maps. It would take someone years to pull together a list like this. Cary Meehan also writes from a mystical perspective so those seeking the thin places will greatly appreciate her commentary and includes directions (I never depend on these, but they’re a good estimation). If you love thin places, this guidebook is a gold mine. Grab a copy while you can.
Ireland Travel 101 by Pat Preston
If you ever wanted to pick the brain of an expert on travel to Ireland, you’ll enjoy this book by Pat Preston. For years she worked for the Irish Tourist Board and later had her own tour operation bringing visitors from America to Ireland. Sadly, Pat has passed away, but she left a worthy legacy in this guidebook. She begins the book with all the tips and information people want to know – how electricity works, how to get around, how to plan your trip, what to take… then she highlights various regions offering her personal recommendations for attractions, accommodations and food based on years of experience. I love the sections “If You Have More Time” as options for attractions and sites that are somewhat off the radar. I could do a whole trip with just those recommendations. A very worthy book to have in any travel library.
Ireland from the Mysterious World series, by Ian Middleton
This book is similar to Cary Meehan’s Sacred Ireland in that his lists megaliths and places of mystery. Ian Middleton is a great historian and has laid out the book well. There are also color photographs of the sites which are fabulous. The sites are laid out according to counties so it’s easy to pick add on sites in an area based on what the inventory is. This book offers a good inventory of mystical places. Where Cary Meehan focuses on the mystical nature of a site, Ian Middleton (in this book) focuses on the site’s connection to Ireland’s legendary past.
Biggest Guidebook Dud
Rick Steves’ Snapshot – Northern Ireland
As an ardent Rick Steves fan, I’m sadly rating his Snapshot of Northern Ireland as the Biggest Guidebook DUD. It has little merit as a guidebook or snapshot of Northern Ireland. It’s neither. It is possibly a snapshot of the Antrim Coast and Derry City with a feeble mention of Donegal and Belfast. In fact, there was so little focus on the sites in the country of Northern Ireland that Rick Steves included parts of Donegal (part of the Republic) in the site listings. This “snapshot” pretty much follows how the Irish Tourist Board markets Northern Ireland – Derry and the Antrim Coast with a little of Belfast for good measure.
Granted, this IS a “snapshot” book, a recent trend in guidebooks that pull out a section of the country guidebook and market it as a “pocket” copy of one region or area. But since Rick doesn’t cover the whole country in his Ireland 2015 guidebook, the snapshot is equally spotty for coverage. So it’s more a snapshot of a snapshot.
This term “snapshot” is misleading anyway. We believe that someone picking up this book would think that this is a snapshot of Ireland, highlighting one region. But this, in fact is a snapshot of Northern Ireland – – just a few sites – the ones the most people know about. It doesn’t reveal the rich unspoiled landscape of Northern Ireland which is way more than the Giant’s Causeway, Belfast and the walled city of Derry. When flipping through it, I personally thought … “Where are Lough Neagh – the largest freshwater lake in Europe and 2nd largest in the world? Where’s Navan Fort – amazing historic site, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh … and Slemish Mountain, Down Patrick, the Sperrin Mountains and Lough Erne with Devenish Island? That would be a snapshot.”
The one merit we will offer about this book is for the succinct descriptions of how Northern Ireland got to be a country, background on the culture, symbolism, some heroes and the lay of the land. Rick Steves, an excellent story-teller, tells it well just as he does in all of his books. Sadly, there is little else of value here.
We don’t rate this the Guidebook Dud because it isn’t well written and doesn’t have good information. We rate it a dud because it misleads the buyer to think this is a guidebook to Northern Ireland (a snapshot of a region of Ireland) when, in fact it’s just a snapshot of Northern Ireland, and already small country. I know Rick isn’t one for being comprehensive, but when you do a snapshot of a whole country and don’t mention the names of four (Tyrone, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh) of its six counties, it’s s little less than what people expect.