Of all its virtues, the one indispensable aspect of Lonely Planet: Britain--and indeed the whole Lonely Planet Guide series--is the unprejudiced frankness of the opinions that may always be relied upon. Of course, the guides are massively comprehensive and packed with all the hardcore information that any traveller will need but it's the fashion in which the information is dispensed that makes the guides unique. Take the very welcome new edition of Lonely Planet: Britain: what other guidebook would list (among the areas covered) "timeless villages, kitsch seaside towns, historic cities..."? Most guides would opt for "delightful" as an adjective for the seaside towns rather than the more honest one chosen by the guide. But this rigorously truthful approach to the subject would go for little, if it were not backed up by the usual invaluable selection of maps (147 in this edition), rigorously road-tested places to stay (from barns and B&Bs to upscale inns and even Georgian mansions) and a cutting-edge guide to the best of modern British cuisine, from multi-starred restaurants to the best of pub food.
Where the distinctive voice of the guide comes most into its own is in the sections on the cultural life and the individual character of each place: take Liverpool, for instance. While we are enthusiastically persuaded that the Walker Art Gallery (on the splendidly preserved William Brown Street) is one of the finest regional galleries in the country (with an important collection of Italian and Flemish paintings, along with canvases by Degas, CÚzanne and Matisse) and the river Mersey estuary is evocatively conjured up with its shining light, its fogs, its gulls and its mournful emptiness, we're still told about the city's contrast between grandeur and decay, along with a warning that Liverpool's economic collapse has given the whole city a sharp edge you do well not to explore. In fact, this unflinching approach almost always has the effect of making one even more keen to visit the cities discussed.
From Hadrian's Wall to the London Eye, it's all here, with a useful capacity to update the guidebook by visiting the Lonely Planet Web site for regular upgrades. An unmissable travel guide, for Brits and non-Brits alike. --Barry Forshaw [via]