The Best Non-Fiction Travel Literature

01 Sep 2016 Jules Verne
Books lined up on a wooden bookshelf Ma sitting on a lounger with a book folded in his hands looking out over water Open book with out of focus lights in the background

Discover our pick of the best reads

Travel around the world has inspired some incredible true stories with a wealth of themes. Discover our pick of the best reads.

Our namesake, Jules Verne, is best known for his fictional travel narratives, in which he brings countries and cultures to life. The books on our list of the best non-fiction travel literature capture the same spirit and engage with some of our favourite destinations.

The Innocents Abroad – Mark Twain

Published in 1869, this is a classic of the travel writing genre. It’s written in Twain’s characteristic irreverent tone, and made up of short articles he sent to his American newspaper during his travels. These capture sharp-witted insights into a journey which took Twain and his companions through Europe and the Holy Lands. Laying bare the injustices and inequalities he experienced, Twain gives a fascinating glimpse into the complicated past between East and West. The book paints a strong picture of the countries as Twain saw them, creating both interesting parallels and stark contrasts with travelling in these areas today.

The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia – Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux’s sprawling 1970s railway odyssey has rightly become a modern classic of the travel literature genre. The book whisks the reader along on a journey that loops from London to Tokyo and back again, taking many of Asia’s most famous trains: the Orient Express, the Trans-Siberian Express, the Mandalay Express and the Frontier Mail (many of these can be experienced with VJV). Theroux brings his travels to life with his wry wit and sense of adventure. Readers will be longing to take a long train ride after being enchanted by his tales.

Under the Tuscan Sun: At Home in Italy – Frances Mayes

Unlike many of the other books on this list, this travel narrative focuses on location. Francis Mayes, the acclaimed poet, cook, and travel writer, relocates to Tuscany in Italy and captures the region’s spirit in her travel book. Her beautiful, simple writing reflects the flavours of the recipes included in the book, using local ingredients like golden olive oil, white beans and pecorino cheese. This book is packed with the flavours, sights, sounds and smells of the Italian countryside, perfect for seasoned travellers and first-timers alike.

Shadow of the Silk Road – Colin Thubron

One of the most modern books on this list, this narrative follows the ancient route of the Silk Road from the heart of China to the port of Antioch in modern-day Turkey. The book dives into the rich history of the trade route, which circulated not only goods, but also ideas, religions and inventions. This past is masterfully juxtaposed with the complex realities of Asia today –  the many incarnations of Islam; the political, cultural and ethnic borders; and the people who inhabit society’s  margins. The exquisite prose of this beautifully wrought book will capture readers from start to finish.  

The Voices of Marrakesh: A Record of a Visit – Elias Canetti

Another classic of the genre, this is a sharply drawn account from Elias Canetti, a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. First published in 1968, the book describes every day Marrakesh, Morocco, carefully capturing the languages and cultures of the people who throng the city’s busy streets. Opening up the hidden worlds within souks and cafés, this book will leave you longing to visit this magical city.

Find more travel inspiration through other posts in our Jules Verne Reads series