Scoop Review of Books

Up and About in Paris and London

Lonely Planet London and Paris Special Collector’s Editions

Reviewed by Judith Nathan
To celebrate its 40th anniversary Lonely Planet has issued collectors’ editions of its London, Paris and New York City Guides. Each consists of a specially designed limited edition cover for its latest guide. While this may appeal to an armchair traveller whose OE or mid-life travels relied on the Lonely Planet, what really matters is what’s between the covers.

Both the Paris and London guides are organised into four sections: Plan Your Trip, Explore, Understand, and Survival Guide which has good information on transport and a useful A- Z directory. At the back of the book, as well as a set of one-page maps, there is also a detachable folding map of the central area. Starting with “Plan Your Trip’ is much better than starting with background facts, now confined to the Understand section. It includes topics such as What’s New, Need to Know, With Kids, Top Itineraries and For Free and summarises (with page references) much of what is covered under Explore such as best Eateries. There is a useful “If You Like” section with slightly different subheadings for each city such as Art, Royalty, Views, Music, Walking, Churches and others that would be really helpful for planning a personalised trip.

Each volume has a mass of detail. In the case of the London guide this has resulted in a book that not only has larger pages than our well-thumbed second (2000) edition of the guide first published in 1998, but almost 100 more of them. Do we really need to know Best Big Museums, Best Small Museums, Best Speciality Museums, Best House Museums, Best Quirky Museums, Best Free Museums, Best Non-Free Museums, and Best-Located Museums? Some of the extra pages are mere embellishments, for example four-page inserts of photos of exhibits at leading museums and galleries. These are lovely to look at but add to the bulk for someone on the move. Wouldn’t that person be more likely to rely on an ebook or some favourite websites than a 460 page book?

The format has lots of lists and some repetition, and, as always with any guidebook, some surprising choices. For example in Plan Your Trip, London’s Top 16 (16 what, and why 16?) include lots of museums but not Buckingham Palace, St Pauls’ Cathedral or Hampton Court; however in the Explore section, London’s Top Sights include all three. In both books, Explore is the core section to which others are cross-referenced. Each is organised into ten geographical sub-sections as well as a subsection on day trips from the city and another on accommodation. Each neighbourhood has its map, detailed information on five top sights and mention of many others, along with best places to eat and drink and, where relevant, entertainment and other topics. For London the neighbourhoods range from the City to Richmond and Greenwich and the Docklands while the Parisian volume has a similar spread. Parisian day trips comprise Versailles, Chartres, Fontainebleau and Giverny and Disneyland while London’s comprise Brighton, Windsor, Oxford and Bath.

As usual, these Lonely Planet Guides are thorough and comprehensive guides to two of the world’s great cities. Leafing through the London volume reminds us how much we still have to see despite several recent visits, while the Paris volume whets our appetite to return after 30 years, confident this book would have all we needed to know to make our way around.