Did you know that if you look up the phrase “China Travel Guide” on Amazon, it will give you nearly 3,000 options to choose from? Here’s a quick breakdown of the best China travel guide books that I’ve used based on over a decade of traveling around the country. Hopefully you’ll find it useful as you plan for your trip to China!
The key to finding the right China travel guide book is understanding what kind of traveler you are.
Are you a backpacker?
Do you prefer luxury travel?
Is this business travel?
Will you be spending most of your time in one or two Chinese cities or would you prefer to traverse the country?
If you’ll be spending most of your time in one or two cities, you can also check out my review of these top Beijing travel guide books, top Shanghai travel guide books or a review of all the best Hong Kong books.
For every other traveler who needs a more comprehensive look at traveling to China as a whole, continue scrolling down or use the table of content links below to find the best guide book.
I hope you find these recommended best China travel guide books for 2020 useful!
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to purchase one of the guides listed below. Thank you for your support!
#1 Lonely Planet China – Recommended
Any list of guide books would be incomplete without the Lonely Planet China. There’s a reason for this, though:
They are just that good.
If you’re in the planning phase and don’t know exactly where you want to go in China, this is the most thorough guidebook that covers the most area.
- Who is This China Travel Guide? The Lonely Planet China is suited for budget backpackers who are wanderers. They don’t know where they will be next week so they rely on this book to figure that out.
- Pros: Incredible attention to detail, 190 maps as well as language guides in languages including Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, Uyghur and Portuguese.
- Cons: limited pictures and no dedicated subway maps (except for Beijing). It’s also one of the largest and heaviest travel books on China – so consider buying the ebook instead.
#2 DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: China
For those who like a set itinerary before they ever set foot on an airplane, look no further than the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide series on China.
The visual appeal of this book sets it apart from all the others, with detailed maps, beautiful pictures and 3D illustrations to help you fully appreciate the major landmarks.
- Target Audience for this Travel Guide? Budget travelers who don’t like to stray too far from the beaten path. You want to see the major tourist attractions, but you also want to be an informed traveler who appreciates the history and architectural beauty.
- Pros: Beautiful maps, including country maps, city maps and subway maps. Pictures and 3D illustrations of the most popular travel destinations.
- Cons: DK China has a limited selection of hotels and restaurants, especially when compared to the Lonely Planet. Only covers the most popular tourist destinations.
#3 National Geographic China
Written by the same author as the Lonely Planet, National Geographic China tries to take it a step further by offering “insider tips” and spending more time on the history and relevance of each site instead of just the travel information.
They describe this guide as being geared toward those travelers who want a focus on more “experiential travel”.
- Who is this China Travel Book Aimed at? You value the history of the sites you visit and wish to know about them prior to arrival instead of learning while walking around.
- Pros: Colorful layout and well-researched history for each location, something you expect from National Geographic.
- Cons: Doesn’t really cover “off the beaten path” locations
#4 The Rough Guide to China
Would you rather sleep in a dorm than in a hotel? Eat at a hole-in-the-wall instead of a well-established restaurant? Do you prefer to blaze your own trail?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, consider grabbing a copy of the Rough Guide China.
- Who Should Buy This China Travel Book? Backpackers who want to beat their own path through China. You spend less time in the city and more time in the countryside.
- Pros: Extensive language guide and a bank of information that is more detailed than any other guide on the market.
- Cons: By far the largest and heaviest guide, beating the already-large Lonely Planet by 200 pages.
#5 Frommer’s China
Not everybody who travels to China fits the stereotypical 20 year-old who is trying to “see the world”.
For those mature travelers who have been around the block a few times and might have a few extra dollars to spend on their travels, consider Frommer’s China guide. While Frommer’s offers a more current guide on the major cities in China, this older guide covers the entire country.
- Who is This China Travel Book For? Those who are traveling with kids or who would consider themselves more “mature” travelers.
- Pros: Easy-to-read pages with bigger fonts (Lonely Planet is tiny!); helpful guides to food and popular dishes; ratings based on being kid-friendly or even overrated.
- Cons: No pictures; This guide also hasn’t been updated since 2012, so some of the information is outdated.
Before You Travel to China…
A word of caution. There’s one thing that all of these China travel guide books have in common: they’re all very good at telling you where to go, what to see and what to eat.
Unfortunately, they’re pretty bad about teaching you how to travel to China.
For example, they’ll tell you to take a high speed train to travel between Shanghai and Suzhou, but they won’t tell you how to buy train tickets or what you need to know about a Chinese train station. They’ll tell you how much an entrance ticket costs but they won’t explain the best ways to pay for things in China.
That’s why I recommend you combine your purchase of these China travel guide books with another book – Travel to China: Everything You Need to Know Before You Travel to China.
It’s an easy-to-read, practical guide that will answer most of your China travel questions by walking you step-by-step through everything you need to consider before you physically get on the plane.
The book is available both as an ebook download and a paperback you can take along with you.
Oh, and full disclosure – I wrote this book so I’m a bit biased as to how helpful I think it will be to you 😉
Conclusion | Best China Travel Guide Book 2020
As you can see, there are plenty of excellent options when it comes to China travel guide books in 2020. Once you’ve made your decision on which brand is right for you, the next decision is whether to buy a physical book or a digital book.
I know there are plenty of people who appreciate holding a physical book in their hands, but there is also a lot of value in being able to highlight and search with an ebook!
If you’re in the planning stages of your trip to China, make sure you visit the TravelChinaCheaper Start Here page that details a lot of free information for you to consider. You could also read through some of our recommended must-read books on China.
Finally, if you want specific guides for the major cities in China, check out the options for city-specific travel guides below. Enjoy and leave a comment if this was helpful!