Guidebooks to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

by ExperiencePlus! - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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Bradt Guidebooks or The Lonely Planet Guide to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?

A stack of various guidebooks to the Baltic region, including three gems on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by Bradt GuidesI’ve written elsewhere about Bradt guidebooks, notably their guide to Macedonia. With their fourth editions (2005) of the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania Guides Hilary Bradt again leads the field in providing very useful and current guidebooks to smaller countries that the larger publishers seem to ignore.

Bradt Travel Guides are produced by a small British publisher that has specialized in "ground-breaking" guides, to use their own description, to "new destinations – usually the first to be published about these places." Indeed, not only do they publish the first guide books to many countries that are off-the-beaten-path, but they demonstrate a real commitment to their readers by updating their series on a regular basis. In the case of these three countries, for example (which, it should be noted, are changing and developing their infrastructure for tourism very rapidly) this is the fourth edition to be published in ten years. Bradt is to be commended for this.

Lonely Planet guides, also among the best tourist guide books, are into their third edition (2003) for the Baltic countries where they cover three countries in about 400 pages. Compare that to the approximately 800 pages of Bradt guides and you have coverage, theoretically, that is twice as good (although, admittedly Lonely Planet packs more information per page than Bradt does).

I compared the Lonely Planet guidebook to Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania with the three individual country guides published by Bradt and found that both do an excellent job at providing background information for the traveler, including brief descriptions of geography, history and culture. Lonely Planet has a more encyclopedic approach. It is packed with information and replete with maps, sidebars, helpful hints and even a "highlights" section for each country, region and capital city. This helps you to prioritize your sightseeing by providing bulleted points on how you might spend your time.

To compare these two series I reviewed their coverage of several different areas, including the capital of Estonia, Tallinn, Lahemaa National Park in Estonia and the capitals of Lithuania and Latvia, Vilnius and Riga, respectively. I found that the publication dates will likely best determine which of these guides you’ll want to carry with you. Indeed, things seem to be changing so quickly in these three countries that current information is quite valuable. The Bradt guide to Riga, for example, lists fourteen hotels in the "tourist" or "mid-range" category, compared with only eight in Lonely Planet. Hotel descriptions are also more extensive in the Bradt guides. A fourth edition means that the authors have been around the block at least one more time to fill out their descriptions and that the content is relatively current.

This same fourth-edition characteristic carries into the countryside as well. South of Tallinn, Estonia, on the road to Tartu, for example, are the towns of Rapla, Türi and Paide. Bradt describes these admittedly off-the-beaten-path places in some detail while it appears that Lonely Planet has yet to discover them.

In the end, which guide or guides would I carry? If I were visiting all three countries in a hurry I would take the Lonely Planet guide. But if I were going to spend considerable time in any of the Baltic countries I would want Hilary Bradt with me. Would I take both? I might, but the current, 2005 Bradt guides are surely more useful in a pinch.

Read more about what you should look for in a guidebook in my essay, "A Guide’s Guide to the Best Travel Guide Books."

Read about the ExperiencePlus! ExpeditionPlus! bicycle ride from St. Petersburg, Russia through the Baltics and central Europe to Istanbul, Turkey in June and July 2006.