15 best travel coffee table books
Find inspiration for your next trip with our pick of the best travel coffee table books
Whether you’ve just come back from a holiday or are dreaming of leaving it all behind and taking a year off, travel never ceases to tempt those of us who have been bitten by the wanderlust bug.
One of the ways we love to escape without actually booking a flight is by losing ourselves in a wonderful travel tome. There are countless travel coffee table books to delve into that don’t just look great on your shelf or table, but that have the power to educate us, inspire us and broaden our horizons.
We searched for the very best travel books available to buy now. We chose a wide range of travel books, so whether you’re fascinated by history, maps, wildlife, nature or simply love dreaming of luxury hotels, you’re guaranteed to find at least a couple of books to enthral you.
We made sure to include a range of budgets, so whether you’re looking for an affordable handy guide you can stuff into your backpack, or a truly stunning weighty volume you can keep on your bedside table, we’ve got you covered.
Born to Ice by Paul Nicklen: £52, Amazon
If you follow National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen on Instagram, you’ll be used to seeing absolutely spectacular images of the polar regions of Antarctica and the Arctic. Raised in the Arctic, Nicklen has spent a lifetime in both the North and South Poles, taking millions of pictures both of the regions’ dramatic landscapes and the fascinating creatures that live there. This weighty tome, Born to Ice, is a curation of the photographer’s favourite images, and it’s impossible to stop turning the pages once you start.
There are stunning photographs on every single page – whether of polar bears taking a snooze in the snow, fluffy penguin chicks hiding in between their parents, or majestic natural scenes with orcas lurking in the background. Whether you’re a devoted conservationist or simply enjoy wildlife photography, you won’t fail to be moved by this extraordinary book capturing a rapidly changing but magical environment. There’s an inspiring foreword by Leonardo DiCaprio, too.
Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel: £17.85, Hive
Travelling in 2018 is as simple as holding your smartphone and booking a flight. But people have always been travellers, long before apps like Skyscanner and Citymapper made the process so simple. Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel, with a foreword by Simon Reeve, delves into the history of human travel. It takes an in-depth look at human travel as far back as 3000BCE right up until the current day with the ambitious plans to establish a human settlement on Mars.
Along the way, there are fascinating photographs, detailed historic maps and lucid explanations, encompassing every travel development you could think of, from medieval pilgrimages and naval expeditions, to the jet age and the hippie trail. A wonderfully-written, user friendly guide to convey the excitement of travel through the ages.
The World's Sexiest Bedrooms by Polly Brown and Sarah Jappy: £29.95, Mr & Mrs Smith
Obsessed with gorgeous hotel rooms? Us too. And there are few places so qualified to suggest the world’s best than luxury boutique hotel website Mr & Mrs Smith. The World’s Sexiest Bedrooms, launched in celebration of the brand’s 15th birthday, celebrates the world’s 35 most romantic bedrooms, with over 200 photographs of decadent retreats in a range of destinations including Chile, Vietnam, the UK and the Maldives.
We loved the range of hotels, from sumptuous baroque palaces in Venice, to hipster hideaways in New York, and found the book to not only have its fair share of travel inspo, from snowy scenes to postcard-pretty beaches, but seductive interior design images to enthral decor fanatics too, all shot by photographer Polly Brown. As well as gorgeous, envy-inducing photographs, there’s an absorbingly-written explanation on each hotel so you can close your eyes and almost transport yourself there. Plus, every book comes with a £30 Mr & Mrs Smith voucher, so if you were planning to book a holiday with the brand, getting this fun tome thrown in too is a no-brainer.
Inside North Korea by Oliver Wainwright: £40, Taschen
What is it like to travel to North Korea? Most of us will have wondered what the Hermit Kingdom is really like to visit. While it is possible to travel there, the ethics of a trip there are debatable. But thanks to journalist Oliver Wainwright, who wrote and took the photographs for Inside North Korea, it’s possible to take a glimpse inside the mysterious place.
The book takes a fascinating look at North Korea’s architecture, revealing everything from the history of its gargantuan monuments to its pastel-tinged museums and buildings that, according to Wainwright, “could be straight out of a Wes Anderson movie”. Both the unexpectedly colourful photographs and the insightful written explanations make for a truly illuminating account of the world’s most secretive country.
The Travel Atlas: £40, Lonely Planet
The first atlas from guide book publisher Lonely Planet, The Travel Atlas is a thick tome that’s an incredibly useful companion when planning an adventure. Inside, you’ll find detailed maps of every country on earth, as well as helpful suggestions for how to travel in that destination, including everything from transport and how to get there, to the top things to see and do. More popular tourist destinations, such as France or the USA, have more comprehensive suggestions.
There are also helpful planned itineraries for up to two-week trips, plus a handy section for cities at the back – a perfect no-nonsense way to plan a city break. We loved using the atlas to plan an upcoming holiday and found it a supremely useful, uncluttered and straightforward alternative to the overload of confusing and contradictory travel articles and guides you’ll usually find when trying to plan something online.
Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio 28: £25.00, Natural History Museum
Every year, the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition captures the public’s imagination with astounding nature and wildlife photography, and this year is no exception. This portfolio contains all 100 winning photographs from the 2018 competition, which were selected from more than 45,000 entries from both amateur and professional photographers.
The book is stuffed with incredible natural images, from fascinating close-ups of bees and treehoppers in Ecuador, to lone polar bears strolling on top of glaciers in the Russian Arctic. There are varied photography genres in the portfolio, including underwater, urban wildlife and young wildlife photographers. While every page offers the chance to admire superb photography, many pictures also tell a damning tale of threatened species and vulnerable environments. A truly fascinating read.
The Hidden Tracks: Wanderlust off the Beaten Path explored by Cam Honan: £40, Waterstones
Love hiking? Then this book is a must for you. The Hidden Tracks, by seasoned adventurer Cam Honan, takes readers on a journey through some of the most exciting under-the-radar hikes and walking trails in the world. Honan, who has hiked in over 50 countries and trekked more than 90,000 km, journeys through unfamiliar landscapes as varied as Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni and the Yukon’s Kluane National Park.
As well as stunning photography and descriptive writing about the history, geography and practical challenges of each location, there are also handy insider tips to help future hikers inspired by Honan’s travels, such as when to go, what to bring, and helpful hints on everything from how to avoid bear encounters (yikes!), to choosing accommodation. Guaranteed to inspire even the most reluctant of hikers to pack their backpack and set off on an intrepid adventure.
The Journals 1768 - 1779 by Captain James Cook: £120, The Folio Society
For a historical tome that’s as eye-catching as it is interesting, treat your bookshelf to this luxurious three-volume set of the private journals of Captain Cook from 1768 to 1779. Published this year to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the legendary explorer’s first voyage, this collection of Cook’s three pioneering voyages isn’t just beautiful to look at, with its turquoise cloth-bound presentation and slipcase, but is a must-read for anyone interested in the life and work of the famous and controversial 18th century navigator. There are maps and colour images, and the collection also comes with a chart of the captain’s voyages, also smartly bound in cloth.
A Year Off by Alexandra Brown and David Brown: £18.99, Abrams and Chronicle Books
Have you ever dreamed of quitting the rat race and taking a year off - and then swiftly jolted back to reality? If so, A Year Off will give you the inspiration and the courage to make it happen in real life. Penned by couple Alexandra and David Brown, who decided to travel the world together after only knowing each other for a few months, the book is part memoir, part guide and part essay, telling the tale of the couple’s journey round the world together accompanied by beautiful photographs.
We loved reading the personal story of the Browns and their travel ups and downs, as well as the hands-on, useful advice for taking a step of this kind – from route planning, how to tell your boss you’re leaving and how to cope once it’s all over and you’re back at home. It’s also not as hefty as the other books on this list – perfect if you’ve only got a small coffee table or would rather keep your book collection on a shelf.
Maps of London and Beyond by Adam Dant: £30, Amazon
If you know someone who is obsessed with maps, we can’t think of a better gift than this giant coffee table book, Maps of London and Beyond. Artist and cartographer Adam Dant’s maps are far from the usual maps you might find in an atlas, however. London’s past, present and future are wittily depicted in a series of hand-drawn maps that reveal so much more than geography.
The reader is taken on a journey of the capital’s history and culture that extends far beyond road names, covering everything from the city’s riots to the cartography of the pocket square. This book will provide even the most unaccustomed of map readers with hours of entertainment and intrigue.
California Crazy by Jim Heimann: £26, Amazon
Whether you’re a West Coast regular or have yet to explore California’s treasures, you can’t fail to be intrigued by the state’s curious roadside architecture. This colourful book, California Crazy, takes readers on an entertaining trip around California through an architectural lens, looking at the history and influences behind some of the state’s quirkiest constructions. We loved the historical photographs of eccentric buildings and the people they attracted, as well as the interesting written explanations behind the curious rise of such eye-catching and often eccentric architecture. A must-read for fans of architectural history.
Natural Wonders of the World: £29.99, Amazon
No matter how well-travelled you are and how many of the world’s wonders you’ve seen with your own eyes, you’ll be bowled over by Natural Wonders of the World, which gathers together the world’s most spectacular places with stunning photographs and illuminating writing. It’s the perfect guide to making sure all your geographical knowledge is up to scratch, with simple, digestible explanations on our planet’s history and landmarks, starting with the structure, history and geography of the earth, and journeying through every continent and the natural glories to be found in each of them.
We loved the detailed but simple explanations and beautiful photography throughout, whether of magical phenomena such as the Northern Lights or of famous landmarks such as Victoria Falls. A must for anyone who appreciates the glory of nature and wants to learn more about how it all works.
Lonely Planet's Amazing Train Journeys: £19.99, Lonely Planet
There’s nothing quite as romantic and exciting as travelling by train. We’re not talking crammed commuter trains or jolting morning tubes, but old-fashioned, magical train travel, where you can enjoy the journey rather than counting down the minutes till you arrive at your destination. Lonely Planet's Amazing Train Journeys charts 60 of the world’s best train journeys: from scenic trips that only last the morning, to lengthy adventures that make the train your home, with your own bedroom and delicious meals in smart carriages.
As well as detailed descriptions and amazing photographs of each journey, there is also practical guidance to help you plan a similar trip, including ticket information, timetables and what to look out for as you gaze out from the window. If you’ve dreamt of an epic train adventure, this is the perfect guide to help you be both inspired and organised.
Travel Writer’s Field Guide by Phoebe Smith and Daniel Neilson: £15.99, Travel Writer’s Field Guide
If you’ve ever read the travel pages of your favourite newspaper or followed a travel blog and wondered why it’s not you seeing the world and sharing your stories, this could be the book for you. Travel Writer’s Field Guide is a handy book, penned by two expert travel writers, to help anyone who’s interested in travel writing make it happen. The book offers guidance on everything from coming up with stories to pitching to editors, with chapters on blogging, life on the road and how to avoid travel cliches. A seriously useful guide for anyone who wants to make travel writing into a career.
Earth View: Extraordinary Images from the Landsat NASA/USGS Satellites by Tim Dedopulos: £25, Carlton Books
To look at the extremes of our planet from a truly different perspective, all you need to do is go a bit higher: high enough to look down from the point of NASA's Landsat satellite programme. Or instead, simply look at the extraordinary pages of Earth View, which features over 200 high definition satellite images of the world, from incredible natural scenes such as endless deserts and volcanic islands to manmade phenomena, both beautiful and shocking. Each picture is accompanied by a written caption to explain the often mysterious patterns that look so unfamiliar from above.
The Verdict: Travel coffee table books
We were bowled over by Paul Nicklen’s Born to Ice, with every single photograph in this heavy tome moving and inspiring us. It’s not cheap, but the magic of every single picture makes it a sound investment. If you want to buy a book as a guide, we loved Lonely Planet’s The Travel Atlas, finding it an incredibly useful companion when planning upcoming trips. And if you love to learn, Journey: An Illustrated History of Travel is a fantastically-priced, truly interesting guide that will take you through the history of the human race’s love of exploration.
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