GUIDEBOOK SMACKDOWN

Way Beyond Buckingham

Great-looking culture guides to London keep popping up. But are they any good? We asked three insiders to differentiate between the dodgy and the spot-on.

From left: Le Cool London Guide, Ideo Eyes Open London, and Wallpaper City Guide

*Top Pick!
A gold star goes to the guidebook that the Londoner finds the most useful.

THE JUDGES

Anna Brocklehurst
She lives in Hackney, East London, and makes her living as a communications consultant.

Laurence Belgrave
The actor, photographer, and writer has a flat in Maida Hill, a section of West London.

Kate Hunt
A painter and installation artist, she resides in Hackney, an up-and-coming corner of the city.

THE BOOKS

Ideo Eyes Open London, 2008 ($23)

Anna Brocklehurst: This guide tries so hard to be trendy that it's actually painful to read. It raves about one restaurant, Dans le Noir, where you eat in the pitch-black, without even a candle. Londoners wouldn't be caught dead at such an ostentatious place—there's a reason you can't see the food.

Laurence Belgrave: Only useful for insight into the culture of the cool, art-collecting crowd and their hangouts: Notting Hill and Brick Lane. Do visitors really want to shop for overpriced items in twee boutiques? Also, the pseudo-academic tone irritates the hell out of me.

Kate Hunt: The aim is to open your eyes to a new way of seeing London, but you're left feeling queasy by all the pretentious waffle: "The sincerity inside spills out to the street and captivates many a passerby." Eh? People, this is a café we're talking about here.

Wallpaper City Guide, 2008 ($9)

Anna Brocklehurst: * The writers know their subjects well and don't waste space with a lot of meaningless words. With a focus on design-minded shops and restaurants, as well as art and architecture, the guide is the most grown-up of the three. Plus, it fits into your back pocket.

Laurence Belgrave: Sanitized and lacking in sparkle. The overly polished photos look like they belong in a glossy real-estate magazine, and most of these establishments are really only of interest to a fashion designer jetting in from L.A. for the weekend.

Kate Hunt: All the interior shots of bars and restaurants make me quite uncomfortable. Row after row of empty chairs. Where have all the people gone? And where is the grimy side of London? This book avoids it, but most visitors won't.

Le Cool London Guide, 2008 ($27)

Anna Brocklehurst: This one's for travelers who want to experience a very different London and who don't mind slumming it a bit. My problem is with the scrapbook-style layout. There are so many photos splattered about that my eyes just wander over the pages.

Laurence Belgrave: * At first glance, the guide is a tangle of information and disjointed imagery, but stick with it and there's a payoff. Written in an edgy style and full of off-the-beaten-track places, it has a stethoscope up against the gritty heart of this city. And I love the purple hardback cover.

Kate Hunt: * Down-to-earth and fun to read. Although the diary entries sometimes make you feel like an overenthusiastic teenager is pulling you around, they provide a snapshot of city life from the perspective of an insider. The book makes you want to explore. I'd even give it to a Londoner.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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