With the internet brim-full of travel websites and detailed information available at the touch of an app, what do we look for in a guidebook these days?
Inspiration – in the form of enticing photos or travel tips from a trusted source – keeps many traditional travel guide publishers going in these digital times. Insight Guides offers visitors ideas aplenty in its stylish Select series of city guides, wrapped up in an attractive, portable package.
Between the Covers of Chicago Select
Like other titles in the series, Chicago Select is aimed at experienced travelers who want to get under the skin of the city. Its linen cover, which sports a graphic design rather than the usual glossy travel snap, feels exclusive to the touch. Measuring just over 4.5 x 6 inches, it slips easily into your hand or handbag.
Inside, you won’t find blow-by-blow descriptions of every museum or extensive restaurant and hotel listings. Chicago’s famous Field Museum of Natural History, for example, only gets a paragraph within a larger entry for the Museum Campus. On the other hand, you’re likely to discover a quirky shop, a hip art gallery or a buzzing local cafe or tavern tucked away off the beaten tourist trail.
Chicago Select is the kind of guide you can dip into on the plane en route to the city. There are more than 100 experiences to inspire your time in the city, and each themed entry covers just one or two pages, making it easy to skim for items of interest.
Getting “In The Mood” for Chicago
A key feature of Chicago Select is its opening section, called “In the Mood for…..” This 12-page round-up directs readers to activities and sights of interest mentioned throughout the book, such as history, bars, gourmet restaurants, views or shopping. So whether you’re there on a romantic getaway or a family vacation, you can quickly locate your personal highlights.
The bulk of the guide is divided into eight Neighborhoods, with each chapter featuring the author’s recommendations for the best things to do in that area. While the well-known visitor attractions get at least a mention, if not always a full page, the aim of this book is to suggest the lesser-known, unusual or off-beat sights and experiences that visitors can easily miss without a local connection.
Chicago Select steers the reader to places like the Rotofugi Designer Toy Store and Gallery in Lincoln Park, or the Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park. It tells you where you can take a stand-up comedy class, buy Mexican candy or design your own robot.
First-time visitors to Chicago may be frustrated by the guide’s lack of the usual travel-guide direction. There are no lists of must-see sights, or text that helps you organize your time or orient yourself to the city. The format can be a little hit-and-miss if you’re looking for extensive information on a particular museum, attraction or restaurant, and not all the key sights are covered in depth.
But for travellers seeking authentic local experiences and ideas for a fresh approach to the city, Chicago Select is a gem. It may not have room for in-depth essays on the city’s architectural, ethnic or culinary mix – read those elsewhere before you go – but it’s a great little companion to help you discover the city locals know.
More About the Chicago Select Guide
Each chapter of Chicago Select is accompanied by a good, easy-to-read map of the area and some fine photos – two of Insight Guides’ long-standing strengths.
The hotel section, while not extensive, does give suggestions and brief write-ups for accommodations in such categories as Landmark Hotels, Family Friendly, Rooms With a View and so on. The Essentials chapter at the back gives useful, basic information on airports, transportation, discount cards and other practical matters.
The Chicago Select guide sells for £9.99 in the UK and $15.00 in the USA. It is available from all major booksellers. For more information, visit the Insight Guides website.