Before the Internet existed and websites like Fathom were even possible, travel writers Verlag Karl Baedeker, Eugene Fodor, and Arthur Frommer revolutionized the way travelers explored the globe. The modern guidebook was born, and planning a trip became a whole lot easier.
Fast-forward to today. The companies these pioneers inspired have become the standard bearers in the mass-market guidebook space. And while everyone at Fathom has a favorite mainstream travel guide, our hearts and loyalties are with the smaller, charming independents. (They speak our language, after all.)
We're pleased to announce the latest in our 24 Best series: The heavily researched and exhaustively debated list of the 24 Best Indie Travel Guides. These best-in-show volumes are written with passion and are the ones we rely on for in-depth research and inspiration. They're the ones we are happy to make space for in our carry-ons. Have a look. You'll like what you see.
ABOUT FATHOM LISTS
Fathom has three missions: To help you indulge your love of travel, whether you're on the road or staying home. To narrow down endless options (hotels, sites, destinations) to those that are special. And to find the best travel stories. These guidebooks help us deliver all of the above, through their insight, intelligence, adventures, and great writing.
And not 10 or 25 or 100? You'll see 24 a lot around Fathom. For a few reasons: We want to deliver a balanced but concise mix of options, and twenty sometimes isn't enough. And mainly because it's our lucky number.
What we love: Handsome, retro-inspired city guide maps designed around incredibly endearing themes like "It's Nice to be Alone in Paris" and "How to Find Old New York." The thoughtfully curated selections touch on old and new sites, appealing to tourists and locals alike. They're super affordable and nice keepsakes after a memorable trip.
Cities: Major players like London, Paris, and New York, as well as smaller spots like Austin, New Orleans, and Portland. See full list.
What we love: Explore New York City's culinary culture through local food obsessions like diners, doughnuts, and oysters. The indie travel maps pinpoint the city's best, give a thorough history, and make great gifts for the gastronomically inclined traveler. Their most recent release is a Paris croissant map.
What we love: A beautiful and curious compendium of Australian stylist and designer Sibella Court’s favorite New York City haunts. From haberdashery and hardware to the city’s best flower markets and non-traditional merchants. Find more of her global pics on Instagram under the hashtag #thestylistsguidetotheglobe.
What we love: Creator Marin Montagut hit the nail on the head with his whimsical series of field guides featuring hand-painted drawings and a charming selection of unconventional and rare spots. Each map folds to the size of a passport and is easily stowed in a carry-on or large pocket.
Cities: London, New York, and Paris.
Price: €12 Where to buy: Offline in NYC at Bookmarc and John Derian and in Paris at Colette and Merci.
What we love: The original indie travel guide? Maybe not, but they certainly were one of the first in our collection. The finely honed aesthetic is one you can count on time and time again. It's nice to know that no matter what city you're traveling to, Wallpaper will have dug deep and found the most sophisticated and well-designed options around.
What we love: It's hard to imagine a quiet side to four of the world's busiest cities, but Siobhan Wall accomplishes just that. From mellow museums to low-key cafes, she uncovers the peaceful and relaxing amid the hurried and harried.
What we love: A quality paperback stuffed with interviews, essays, local favorites, back-flap maps, and travel miscellany to guide you to a genuine experience and full understanding of your destination.
Cities: Austin, Nashville, New Orleans, San Francisco, and Detroit. (Brooklyn and Charleston are coming soon.)
What we love: We spent time with Deck of Secrets founder Michelle Matthews in Melbourne last summer and saw firsthand what incredible taste she has. Her themed decks (bars, restaurants, culture) contain 52 cards that have descriptions and information on one side and maps on the reverse. Draw a random hand, and let chance decide your itinerary.
Cities: Melbourne and Istanbul. (Milan is coming soon.)
What we love: They may not be indie, but Fathom founder Pavia Rosati has a soft spot for the series. The small guides consist of neighborhood-at-a-glance foldout maps with listings for key sites and eateries. They make figuring out a big city a breeze.
Cities: From Amsterdam to Washington, D.C. and almost everywhere inbetween. See full list.
What we love: Uncommon solves the problem that most guidebooks present (generic, boring, dry information and photos that don't really speak to the reader) by presenting a beautiful, edgy collection of literary pieces and itineraries written by locals in the know. Four sections — Relate, Review, Recreate, and Reroute — include intimate images, photos, and hand-drawn maps.
Cities: Stockholm, Malta, Dubai, and London (coming in June).
What we love: You can literally feel the love pouring out from the pages of these fabric-covered guides, like a caring friend is showing you around India. That friend is British expat Fiona Caulfield, who divides her recommendations into categories like Musts, Adventurous, Wildly Adventurous, Delicious, and Gorgeous; includes maps, quotes, and first-person anecdotes; and envelops them in pretty matching pouches.
What we love: The widely recognizable accordian booklets tucked into many a jetsetter's fancy handbag are tightly packed with sassy, matter-of-fact tips and authoratative recommendations on what's hot and what's definitely not in various international locales. Their motto pretty much sums it up — "stylish, brutally frank, and sometimes, frankly, brutal."
Cities: Heavy on Asian destinations (from Hanoi to Tokyo to Ho Chi Minh) along with the big cities in Western Europe, Americas, Pacific, and Middle East. See full list.
What we love: Funny, insightful, bite-size factoids and trivia about the people and characteristics that make a destination unique. Yes, they are filled with sweeping generalizations about the way people talk, express themselves, and feel, but the peculiarities come across as offbeat charm and help travelers get into the spirit of a place.
Cities: 30 cultures and counting, including the Americans, the Danes, the Estonians, the Kiwis, and the Russians.
What we love: A list of "hangouts" from a coolhunter in each neighborhood and companion apps help you pretend you're a local. The minimalist design and multi-scale maps get you where you want to go. Best yet, twice-a-year updates mean you're always going to the hottest things right now.
What we love: The pages brim with in-depth neighborhood info, invaluable tips on getting around by bike, and gorgeous illustrations, but it's really the front and back flaps that we dig. The front orients neighborhoods into a city-wide map and details a day-long itinerary by bike. The back offers weather stats (all-important to two-wheeled travelers), as well as other pertinent information. These guides are small but mighty.
What we love: A spirited pocket guide navigating readers through the old streets of Florence in search of the most distinctive shops — both legendary and little known. Besides colorful back stories and photos for each, there are eight walking tours as well as clear explanations for the city's famously confusing address system and sporadic store hours.
What we love: Elegant monochromatic guides filled with tips from the most cultured locals. If skipping the tourist spots in favor of secluded churches, hidden gardens, and free tours at dawn sounds like a dream come true or if you want to experience the classic sights with a more artistic and academic sensibility, these guides are for you.
Cities: Florence & Venice, London, New York, Paris, and Rome.
What we love: Regions of the world are expressed through the literary giants who left their marks (and words) on the places — Cervantes, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Twain. Trace the footsteps of poets who have lived, written in, or been inspired by various landscapes and cultures.
Cities: Florence & Tuscany, the French Riviera, Sicily, and Tangier.
What we love: Shopping, beautifying, and dining tips compiled with testimonies from fashion "editrixes, AAA-stylists, and CFDA-approved designers" who, as we all know, have incredibly discerning taste. Especially when it comes to late-night haunts, vintage shops, and naturopath facialists. Little hardcover books are filled with watercolor illos and wrapped in nice textiles, making them a tactile pleasure to carry around.
Cities: Harlem, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Paris.