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Best China Travel Guide Books: Choosing the one for YOU

What is the Best China Travel Guide Book?

So you're looking for the best China China travel guide on the market. One look at the travel section of your local bookstore and you'll realize that competition in the guidebook business is fierce.  The mistake that most people make is that they end up buying a guidebook based on name recognition (Lonely Planet, Frommer's, etc.) without taking into account their individual needs for that trip.

Before you buy your travel book take a moment to look over this China Travel Guide comparison chart - get even more details by clicking on the book title.

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 10.12.41 AM Read the DK China review Fodor's China Guide The Frommers China complete travel guide The Rough Guide China travel guide Gorilla China guide cover Fodor's Seeit China guide cover

Pages Weight (lbs.) Color Maps Subways Target Traveler Planning Pricing Info (USD)
Disclosure: The following links to Amazon are affiliate links. If this guide is helpful, please consider using them. Thanks!
LONELY PLANET 1032 pgs 1.8 Budget Poor Hover for LP Pricing
DK EYEWITNESS 672 pgs 2.2 Mid-Range Helpful Hover for DK Pricing
FODORS 800 pgs 1.6 Budget Decent Hover for Fodor's Pricing
FROMMERS 896 pgs 1.5 Mid-Range Poor Hover for Frommers Pricing
ROUGH GUIDE 1140 pgs 1.5 Budget Decent Hover for RG Pricing
GORILLA BUSINESS 332 pgs .8 Mid/High Helpful Hover for GB Pricing
FODOR'S SEE IT 448 pgs 1.2 Mid-Range Helpful Hover for Fodor's Pricing

 


Lonely Planet China

Lonely Planet China travel guideLonely Planet stands out as one of the most recognizable travel guides all over the world - I've personally used them for many years myself.  In addition to the China guide, LP also offers guides for China's Southwest, Tibet, Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.New editions of the LP guides are released almost every year, and I like that they also publish an ebook version of their guide which could cut down on the added packing weight.

Check Lonely Planet prices on Amazon.com

Target Traveler:

Budget travelers, backpackers, people who know what they want to see

Top Features:

  • Mind-numbing detail you won't find anywhere else
  • Hundreds of  maps of every part of China
  • Helpful language guides in Mandarin, Cantonese, Portuguese, Tibetan and Uyghur.
  • Excellent ebook options for travelers.

What it Lacks:

  • Very few pictures aside form the first chapter.  Lonely Planet is very text heavy, so don't rely on this book to show you where to go as much as tell you.
  • No dedicated subway maps for Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, although the subway stations are indicated on the map.

Summary:
The maps are good but are almost unreadable because there is so much information crammed inside.  Same goes for the language guide.  How many travelers are going to need to know the phrase "How long can I park my car here"?  I mean, really. The Lonely Planet's greatest strength is also its Achilles heel: so much information! The book is an animal to carry around (almost 2 inches thick) and tries to cater to every type of traveler, which it proves is difficult but possible.  Thankfully they now have an ebook option that is much lighter and allows you to only purchase the sections of the book where you will be traveling.

Aside from this, however, there is a reason that the Lonely Planet is such a popular travel guide.  They meet a need and do it well.

List Price: $31.99
Current Price: $21.31
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DK China Eyewitness Travel

Click to get pricing for DK Eyewitness Travel Guide ChinaThe DK Eyewitness Travel guides "truly show you what others only tell you" according to their own promotion.  I love the visual appeal of these books, which is unrivaled among China travel books in my opinion.  Their photos are beautiful and are helpful for those who don't quite know exactly what they want to see in China.

Unfortunately DK does not offer an ebook option for the China guide, but there is a Kindle version for their Beijing and Shanghai, Top 10 Beijing and Top 10 Hong Kong guides.

Check DK prices on Amazon.com

Target Traveler:
Mid-range budget, drawn to popular tourist spots, needs ideas for places to go.

Top Features:

  • Incredible pictures, maps, and 3D illustrations
  • Subway maps for Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong
  • Pleasant, colorful design backed by great travel advice

What it Lacks:

  • Restaurant and Hotel selections sparse for smaller regions
  • Only scratches the surface of available destinations in each region
  • No eBook version available for download.

Summary:
On the other hand, if you want a ton of hotel and restaurant options for each and every city, there isn't quite as much detail as you may desire. The details sections are enough to get you by if you're willing to only choose from a handful of options.What the DK Eyewitness China guide lacks in information is tries to make up for with pictures and beautiful illustrations.  If you're a traveler who wants to visit someplace different but needs ideas on which places would fit their desires, this guide will help you plan.

List Price: $30.00
Current Price: $20.91
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Fodor's China

Fodor's China Guide
Fodor's claims that having this Fodor's China guidebook along is like "having a friend in China".  It provides a good balance between the necessary details and helpful tips and illustrations.  Also available from Fodor's is a more compact guide called Exploring China. The good news is that this 7th edition is finally in color, something that they hadn't done before.

Check Fodors prices on Amazon.com

Target Traveler:

Low/mid budget, travels outside the big cities, has a general idea of what they want to see.

Top Features:

  • Great maps and diagrams, now all in color.
  • Fantastic location guide that names each location by Chinese character and corresponding pinyin
  • Useful "If you like [this], then go [here]" section to help travelers plan itinerary

What it Lacks:

  • There are plenty of pictures, but they're not that big.
  • Fodor's guides are only updated once every 2 years or so, which means that the information can easily be updated.

 

Summary:
It's a mid-size book that does a great job of educating travelers to be smart when visiting China and helps you figure out the kind of places that might be of interest for you to see and visit.Fodor's China is a cross between the Lonely Planet's dedication to detailed information and DK's liberal use of photographs.  Thankfully, they've also made the entire guide in color for this newest edition, something that they had failed to do with the previous six.

List Price: $29.99
Current Price: $16.82
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Frommer's China

The Frommers China complete travel guide
According to Frommers, "the best trips start here".  This is another medium-sized book similar to Fodor's, and just like Fodor's, Frommers China does not offer an ebook option. Also available from Frommer's: Frommer's Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong city guides.

Check Frommers prices on Amazon.com

Target Traveler:
Mid-range, periodically ventures off the beaten path, knows itinerary and may join tour group

Top Features:

  • Easy-to-read pages with bigger fonts
  • Useful "Popular Dishes" guide for eating in China and other language helps
  • Rates destination on whether they might be good for kids, a great value, or perhaps overrated

What it Lacks:

  • No Pictures: like Lonely Planet, Frommer's expects travelers to know what they want to see
  • It has subway maps for Beijing and Shanghai, but for some reason not Hong Kong.

 

Summary:

It's also one of the few guides that seems to cater to those traveling with kids. Each destination is rated on value and whether or not it might be good for kids to enjoy.Frommer's China guide seems to be the most comprehensive guide for the mid-range budget.  The bigger text almost confirms that this was published with the more mature traveler in mind.

List Price: $29.99
Current Price: $55.44
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The Rough Guide to China

The Rough Guide China travel guide
This is by far the largest of all the China guides, beating the Lonely Planet by almost 200 pages.  Very handy (and hefty) for the wandering backpacker.The Rough Guide is another one that has been made into a helpful ebook travel version, so this is one way to avoid the extra weight.

Check Frommers prices on Amazon.com

Target Traveler:
Low budget backpackers, wants off the beaten path, just wants to explore.

Top Features:

  • Extensive language section for those who need the basics
  • A colorful description of festivals in China
  • More information than you'll use in a lifetime

What it Lacks:

  • No suggested itineraries for travelers who don't know where they want to go.
  • Ad-free environment. Their "Store" is a glorified classifieds that can be quite annoying.

 

Summary:
This isn't necessarily recommended for anybody whose whole trip will be spent in hotels instead of dorm rooms.  If you're not roughing it, don't use the Rough Guide!If you have the extra space and the desire to lug around a couple extra pounds, The Rough Guide to China provides one of the most detailed views of China, which even includes pictures of the different dishes you might want to order.

List Price: $29.99
Current Price: $17.45
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Gorilla Guide's Business Travelers China

Gorilla China guide cover
Gorilla guides cater to the specific needs of the China business traveler. So whether you'll be traveling for only a couple weeks through China or staying here for years at a time, this is going to be a practical guide for etiquette, business tips and travel information.

Check Gorilla Guide prices on Amazon.com

Target Traveler:
Mid/High range budget, doesn't have much time to leave the city, can't really "plan" their trip.

Top Features:

  • China-specific industry tips and insight
  • Maps of the key business districts
  • Details on China business etiquette

What it Lacks:

  • Not meant for the casual traveler
  • Already a couple years old, which for China business is a long time

 

Summary:
Those who will be coming over for a short (1-2 week) business stay or even a year or two long stay on company business, however, might find this useful. Probably even more so than a Lonely Planet or a Fodor's just because it gets rid of all the backpacker tourist fluff.If you have a tourist visa, this probably isn't the book for you. The information in the Gorilla China Business Guide is far too specific to a business trip.

List Price: $23.65
Current Price: $14.48
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Fodor's See It China

Fodor's Seeit China guide cover
Only in its 2nd edition, Fodor's See It China is a scaled-down version of it's monster big brother, Fodor's China. It's a great smaller option for travelers who will be sticking to the bigger cities, but it's also worth noting that they haven't updated this guide in quite a few years. If you're looking to backpack further inland and need up-to-date hotel information, this might not be what you're looking for.

Check Gorilla Guide prices on Amazon.com

Target Traveler:
Mid-range budget, sticks to the cities, loves to look at photos.

Top Features:

  • As it claims, very practical: great advice on tipping, haggling, and counterfeit goods
  • Good selection of hotels and restaurants for each city covered
  • Includes a Beijing bus chart, which most other guides do not

What it Lacks:

  • Useful maps: the maps are a bit too confusing
  • In-depth coverage of history and culture

Summary:
If you're a first-time visitor to China and plan on staying within the major cities, this Fodor's See It China compact guide is a great companion.  The photos and practical tips will make planning your trip that much easier