Great Britain: travel books to read before you go


This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet’s guide to Great Britain.

There’s nothing like a good book to set the mood for your own trip. The choice of books about Britain can be daunting, so here’s a list of our favourites to add an extra dimension to your planning or help you penetrate that famous British reserve a little while you’re on the road.

Notes from a Small IslandNotes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson, although based on travels in the 1970s, is still incisive. This American author really captures the spirit of Britain three-and-a-half decades ago. When he pokes fun he’s spot on, so the locals don’t mind.

The EnglishThe English: A Portrait of a People by Jeremy Paxman examines the evolution of English national identity in recent years, through the sharp and often cynical eyes of Britain’s favourite blunt Yorkshireman and TV news presenter.

CoastingCoasting by Jonathan Raban records a journey around Britain in an old sailing yacht, and is a brilliant and very readable meditation on the people and culture of this island nation.

LondonLondon: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd is the definitive description of Britain’s biggest city as a living, breathing organism.

The Thistle and the RoseThe Thistle and the Rose: Six Centuries of Love and Hate Between the Scots and the English, by Allan Massie, takes a historical perspective on the often stormy relationship between Britain’s two largest countries.

Adrift in CaledoniaAdrift in Caledonia by Nick Thorpe is an entertaining and insightful tale of travelling around Scotland by hitching rides on a variety of vessels, from canal barge and rowing boat to steam puffer and square-rigged sailing ship.

On Borrows TrailOn Borrow’s Trail by Hugh Oliff retraces the journeys through Wales made by 19th-century writer George Borrow, combining a rich synopsis of the original observations with modern photos and colour illustrations.

Two Degrees WestTwo Degrees West by Nicholas Crane describes a walk in a perfectly straight line (two degrees west of the Greenwich meridian) across Britain, wading rivers, cutting through towns, sleeping in fields and meeting an astounding selection of people along the way.

Great British Bus JourneysGreat British Bus Journeys by David McKie is a wry and witty travelogue showing that ‘unknown’ towns and villages can be just as fascinating as tourist hot spots.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found on