2016 was a great year for travel books! Here’s my list of the best travel books of the year; those that will inspire you to travel, broaden your horizons, and become favorites you keep returning to.
Matt Goulding and Roads & Kingdoms’ second offering (I adored Rice, Noodle, Fish), this book explores the food culture of Spain with a heavy emphasis on the “pig” portion. Where Rice, Noodle, Fish felt like you were exploring with Goulding, in Grape, Olive, Pig he’s guiding you through his beloved adopted homeland. It’s much more personal, full of cultural insights, and yes, quite a few mouth watering descriptions of pork.
This is definitely the largest departure from a traditional travel book that I’ve included on this list. It’s also a fascinating read! Robert Moore’s On Trails goes beyond hiking and highways, into the very nature, purpose, and origin of trails. Weaving together history, philosophy and science, Moore circles around his subject, providing answers to questions that you probably hadn’t thought to ask. It’s also completely accessible to non-science types, and (though I know I’m not making it sound like it) not at all pretentious.
A peek into a part of the world often reduced to simplistic stereotypes, O’Neill’s story of her travels and studies of the Arabic language is compelling on so many levels. The quirks of language have always held a particular fascination for me, and All Strangers Are Kin explores language and culture with humor. You don’t need to be a language nerd to appreciate this book; O’Neill’s skillful storytelling also provides fascinating insights into everyday life in the Middle East.
You probably know McCurry from his famous Afghan girl photograph, and he’s still creating stunning photos. Steve McCurry on Reading is a compilation of photographs of people reading, taken over his nearly 40 year career. Simple, profound, and a must for book worms.
One of the best selling travel books of 2016, and for good reason! Atlas Obscura, if you’re not familiar, catalogs offbeat and little known attractions around the world on their website. I’m a regular reader (and occasional contributor), and I still found so much that was new and inspiring in the Atlas Obscura book. It features unique places all over the world, carefully organized by continent, then country, for easy browsing. I dare you to read this and not walk away with a serious case of wanderlust!
The Year of Living Danishly is an easy read, but deeply interesting and entertaining. British journalist Helen Russell chronicles her exploration of Danish culture after quitting her job to follow her husband to Denmark. Switching from a high-pressure job to freelancing, along with assimilating to a new country, Russell writes about her struggles and discoveries with an easy, self deprecating wit.
Page after page of stunningly photographed Japanese folk costumes. Yokainoshima is weird, wonderful, and my guests’ new favorite coffee table book (no one who picks it up can put it down!). The photography and staging really are so detailed and gorgeous, I’m amazed it’s not a $100 book (currently just $25ish on Amazon). Snag this gem before it’s out of print and the price skyrockets.
Part history of New York City, part guidebook from the creators of the Bowery Boys podcast. The authors dig into New York City’s history, neighborhood by neighborhood, unearthing the magic and wonder that too often gets lost in modern NYC– and tell you exactly where to find it. Fun to read even if you’re not visiting the city, but awesome for planning an itinerary as well.
Elaine Sciolino, the former Paris Bureau Chief of the New York Times celebrates her favorite street in Paris. From the storied history of Rue des Martyrs (featuring the likes of Degas and Renoir), to the current day characters living and working in the neighborhood, The Only Street in Paris is fascinating and endlessly inspiring.
If you can’t get enough Paris, Kate Betts’ My Paris Dream was also a great 2016 release.
The incredible story of the nomadic life of the author, starting in 1930s Brooklyn, spanning decades of exploration and study. Freely, the author of numerous other travelogues, is brilliant (he moved to Istanbul in the 60s to teach Physics), and well-read, making his memoir a pleasure to read.
Want more? See past book recommendations here!