The best iPhone travel guide apps – group test review

California Essential Guide, National Trust, mTrip London, CultureKey Barcelona, AA Pub Guide 2011, and TubeMap rated
Photo of The best iPhone travel guide apps – group test

Since your iPhone is probably your constant companion, it makes sense to take it with you on the road whether you’re planning a day trip, a weekend away, a city break abroad, or something more substantial. Many of the apps in the travel category are free as well – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth having. Get your hat and coat and come with us…

APP OF THE MONTH: California Essential Guide
PRICE: £2.99 inc. VAT
Media-rich electronic guide to over 200 destinations in – probably - sunny California, hosted by the cheery, apple-cheeked Veronica Hill and lavishly illustrated with photographs and video clips (these are on YouTube, so you’ll need at least a decent 3G connection).

The Eseential Guide’s initial screen lets you browse everything as an alphabetical list, but there are plenty of filters you can apply here so you only see for example, amusement parks or museums or beaches or RV parks, day trips (it takes these from your current location) ghost towns, guided tours, outdoors, pet-friendly attractions and so on; after that you can sort results by distance, cost or geographical region. Don’t want to use the list?

The offline map view works well, as does the photo browser - we particularly like the thumbnail view where photos aren’t captioned, because your eye is drawn to what’s interesting without actually knowing what it is. Individual entries are packed with useful information and live links for calling ahead or visiting relevant web sites but while you can recommend attractions to friends via email there’s no support for Twitter or Facebook. That said, Veronica pops up all over the app with up-to-date information and advice and this is a great way to get a sense of what California has to offer.

iPhone travel apps - National Trust

National Trust
A directory of National Trust-run properties, attractions and events in England and Wales that’s been well designed to work on the iPhone. There’s a map-based view which shows places to visit based on your current location, or you can just mosey round the map with your finger; multiple locations are indicated with purple pushpins - zooming in reveals individual points of interest.

Each entry includes lavish photos, address, opening times, prices, facilities, access and directions as well as tappable phone and e-mail details. You can build a favourites list of places to visit and there’s a neat What’s On feature which lets you choose a location, then search for upcoming events anywhere in a 10 to 40 mile radius that are happening today, tomorrow, this weekend, in the next month and so on.

Fun to browse, useful and accurate, this is brilliant for members and non-members of the National Trust alike who want to plan days out in some of the country’s most beautiful locations.

iPhone travel apps - National Trust

mTrip London
PRICE: £3.99 inc. VAT
All-in-one trip, sightseeing and accommodation planner for the iPhone, part of a series of city guides that sets high standards. Pick your start and end dates, choose a hotel, book it online if the rooms are available and after that, plan your itinerary by browsing through the guide which lists attractions, restaurants, hotels, bars & nightlife, shops and more and then adding them to specific days, either in the morning or afternoon.

Alternatively, let mTrip do the heavy lifting and use the ‘Genius’ feature to pick excursions for you, based on your preference for museums, monuments, parks and places of religious interest; set your pace and choose between top attractions that everyone wants to see and alternative ones which are more off the beaten track and the app will generate an itinerary for you, starting at your hotel.

Parts of the interface aren’t as slick as they could be - the landscape cover view is very sensitive , the tube map is hard to read, and some of the general info text is unconvincing – but overall this is an excellent guide to England’s capital city.

iPhone Travel apps - CultureKey Barcelona

CultureKey Barcelona
Proof that a good iPhone app doesn’t have to be stuffed full of whizz-bangs to work well, this is a simple, free audio-based guided tour of some of Barcelona’s main tourist and cultural attractions. The tour information itself is concise, well delivered and well-paced (there’s a text version you can read as well) and can be launched from a list of nearby attractions or directly from the map by tapping one of the location dots; visited attractions are marked in blue, unvisited ones in green. Each destination on the itinerary has a
selection of photos and the narration can be paused, rewound or fast forwarded to suit. Where most travel guides deliver lots of pictures and video content, the CultureKey series scores by concentrating on
selecting a limited number of good attractions and then describing them well. The notion of an audio-only guide like this is interesting and the result, refreshingly effective.

iPhone travel apps - AA Best Pub Guide

AA Pub Guide 2011
Essentially an electronic version of the AA’s printed guide, a well-established way to find pubs either in your local area or wherever you’re visiting.

The latter’s made easier on the iPhone because it can use your location settings to determine where you are and deliver results accordingly. The results list is presented simply - though not all entries have a photo and there’s no way to add your own – and when you tap an entry you get an address, more information about the beers on sale, simple directions and then a selection of links for detailed directions from your current location courtesy of Google Maps, plus buttons to call, email or visit the pub’s web site if there is one.

You can filter pubs by whether they serve food or if kids and pets are welcome, and if you can’t decide just shake the phone to get a nearby pub at random. It’s possible to search for pubs in other locations but not by specific pub name – and with only 2,000
entries, many favourites are bound to be absent; disappointing too to see that the conversion still leaves buttons labelled ‘click’ instead of tap. Doesn’t require a network connection to work though, which is a plus.

iPhone Travel apps - TubeMap

Handy electronic map of the London tube system featuring a zoomable map (natch) route planner (offers both fastest and fewest changes options) station finder, plus live information and live departures. 

Live info’s good for planning ahead – it takes in now, later and ‘the weekend’ – and is divided by line, while departures gives you up-to-the-minute, platform-by-platform news about next trains and where they’re heading.

You can even follow London Underground’s tweets (which suggests that the app itself might not be quite as up to date as it looks). For free, it’s great value; the routing works well (though start, change and destination stations aren’t highlighted clearly enough on the main map) and for someone trying to make sense of London’s higgledy piggledy underground system, it’s invaluable.