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I have always been a big fan of the Lonely Planet series of travel guides. I love how substantial they feel, and how good they look on my bookshelves. However, I did occasionally get frustrated that the books could be a bit word-heavy and that I didn't always get the best out of them and have dabbled in other brands without finding my ideal format. Lonely Planet was founded by husband and wife team Tony and Maureen Wheeler in the early seventies and they now publish a whole host of travel books and guides covering various countries, regions and cities, as well as a whole host of 'coffee-table' style books (of which I own far too many).
This Lonely Planet guide to Istanbul is the 7th edition and was published in February 2013. As the most recently published book at the time of my trip, this helped sway my decision. It is written by Virginia Maxwell, who has contributed to a number of LP's Mediterranean guides, as well as previous editions of this book.
Since my last LP guide, they have improved considerably for me, and taken on board the criticism which is often levelled at them for being to 'wordy' and not having enough pictures. The book is all in colour and has pictures throughout rather than on half a dozen glossy pages. One of my bug bears (not just with LP, Rough Guides were guilty of this too) is the grey maps being difficult to read and follow. The maps in the back of this book are all in colour, making significant buildings clearer to spot, and orientating yourself simpler. There is also a large fold out map at the back, which as well as showing the city in one go, also has a tram map and a map of the Grand Bazaar along with colour photos and grid references to the top attractions.
At the front of the book is a red trimmed section designed to help you plan your trip. It contains the basics, plus suggested itineraries, guides to food, travelling with kids and seasonal attractions.
Next up is the Explore section which breaks up the city into the different neighbourhoods. Within each neighbourhood chapter would be sub-headings listing (where applicable) the top sights, other sights, eating, drinking and nightlife, entertainment, shopping, activities. The Sultanahmet district somewhat wins on Top Sights and I really like how they have approached these attractions. Places like the Aya Sophia and the Topkapi Palace have colour plans and cutaway 3-D style images, accompanied by colour photos. I used this book in both places to find my way around and to point out the highlights, so I didn't miss anything important. I was very impressed by this aspect of the book. I felt, for me, that they got the mix of text, pictures and diagrams just right, so it was like having a mini-guide book spread over 2-3 pages. Obviously the level of coverage depends on the attraction. At the end of this section is the 'Sleeping' part with hotel recommendations. I like that this is kept separate, as in these internet dominant days, I tend to already know (or have least researched) where I am staying before I rock up there. Keeping it separate means it is not in the way as you browse the chapters. I didn't really use the Eating sections either, as we were not in any parts where it was hard to find something suitable to eat at any time.
The third section is Understanding Istanbul which discusses the history of the city, the contemporary city and the architecture. This section has always featured in Lonely Planet guides and makes for good background reading if you are interested. Although I must admit that I tend to read it on the plane home, I probably would get more out of it if I read it sooner, as it puts a lot of the histoty that you learn about in the city, into perspective. The text is perfectly accessible and clearly written, with a timeline running along the bottom of each page.
The last section is the 'Survival Guide', which includes information on the local airport and public transport network, plus things you may need to know about such as opening hours, currency etc. There is also a section of basic phrases with phonetic pronunciations. At the very back is an index and the maps as previously mentioned.
I was very impressed with this new look Lonely Planet guide. I have used it more than any other city guide book I have had. The text is spot on to just the right level of information for me to be happy to access on the move, with a good mix of maps and colour pictures. It was also browsed by others in my party and they all garnered the information from it that they wished. The information regarding admission prices were spot on and I really think it helped add to my trip. On the strength of this book, Lonely Planet will be unreservedly my first choice next time I am looking for a guide book (providing it is recent enough and in this new format)