Nothing beats watching a good movie. You get your popcorn and drinks, sit through the previews and then the room gets dark. The movie starts. We’re focused, excited, and maybe even a little hopeful. Then suddenly, there’s a moment. A scene in the movie that makes us curious. Oh, we know we should be paying attention to the words, to the action, to the love affair happening on screen. But our eyes are drawn to that beautiful blue of the ocean or distracted by the jaw-dropping scenery. We become lost in our reverie, see ourselves there, wishing we could have the same experience, or maybe a completely different one. It’s then, while sitting in the middle of that dark, crowded theatre, that the question enters our mind: I wonder where that is?
Movies can be pure escapism at times and a powerful medium at others. They can make us afraid, make us laugh, or even move us to tears. They introduce us to fantasy worlds and take us to corners of the earth that we’ve never seen before. Every so often a scene from a movie is so breathtaking, it leaves a lasting impression. Of course, there’s more to a scene than just a location. But remove the CGI, the music, and the actors. And what you’re left with is the place itself, and that’s what can personally resonate and make an impact. Here are 20 locations in movies that inspire wanderlust.
20 Monuriki Island, Fiji, Castaway
When the daily grind becomes too much to handle most of us dream of getting away from it all by finding our own little island somewhere, a piece of paradise where we can sit under coconut trees all day without a care in the world. While the movie Castaway, starring Tom Hanks, focused mainly on a marooned plane crash survivor and his fight for survival, there were just enough glimpses of the beauty of Monuriki, the island where it was filmed, to pique our interest in going there voluntarily.
Monuriki is part of the Mamanucas, an island group in the Fiji archipelago. While it is wild and uninhabited, it isn’t as isolated as it appeared to be in the film and is surrounded by other islands to the North, East and South.
The movie release in 2000 spiked interest in visiting Monuriki, resulting in a variety of tour options. There are day trips that take you to the caves where the movie was filmed or even the top of the long flat rock where Tom Hanks looks across the ocean. Better yet, go snorkelling in some that crystal clear water and see extensive coral reefs or just take it easy on one of the many white sand beaches
19 Loch Shiel and The MacAlpine Viaduct, Scotland, Harry Potter
When author J.K. Rowling, while sitting on a train from Manchester to London, thought up a story about a boy who discovers he’s a wizard and goes off to wizarding school, she had no way of knowing her idea would someday become a global phenomenon. The popularity of her 7 books eventually led to a series of films, theme park attractions and even a Broadway play. Both the book series and the movies created a generation of fans who dreamed of studying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in a big British castle.
The movies (in theatres between 2001 and 2001) were largely filmed on studio lots. However, some of the outdoor locations with breathtaking scenery (such as the image above from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) are lochs found throughout Scotland which have since increased in popularity with tourists. The wide shots of Hogwarts and Black Lake, filmed from various angles, is, in fact, Loch Shiel, in Glenfinnan, a hamlet in Lochaber area of the Highlands. It’s considered true, virtually untouched wilderness great for quiet walks with fresh air, and popular with canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Just 200 metres away you’ll see another familiar site from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the MacAlpine Railway Viaduct with its 21 arches, stretching across the landscape. Sad news for Potterheads, the Hogwarts castle in the movies was added digitally, but that doesn't matter, because it’s the real loch with its haunting mist in winter that truly makes this location magical.
18 Plaza de España, Seville, Spain, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
As any fan sci-fi fan will tell you, movies don’t simply entertain; they have the power to make us believe in magic, expand our imagination, and transport us to other worlds. The Star Wars movie franchise does exactly that - fusing CGI with the most remote locations on earth to create other planets before our very eyes. The Theed Royal Palace grounds on Naboo where Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) and Padmé Amidala (Natalie Portman) discuss Padmé’s political career, is a prime example. It’s a brief yet impressive scene made even more so by their surroundings. If the opulent and majestic-looking Palace seems somewhat European, it’s with good reason.
The Theed Palace of Naboo is the Plaza de España in Parque de María Luisa in Seville, built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. Popular with locals and tourists alike, this Renaissance-style city square has two towers, a 500-metre canal and horse and carriage rides to keep your interest.
More exciting are the historical touches. Just beneath the walkway seen in the film are 48 alcoves for each province of Spain with a regional tableau and map. There are also four bridges which crisscross over the canal, representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain: Castille, Aragon, Navarre and Leon, and the Plaza is full of the 'azulejos' (painted ceramic tiles) that the city is famous for. Definitely an old-world experience.
17 A Mei Tea House, Jiufen, Taiwan, Spirited Away
Say ‘Miyazaki’ to an anime fan, and watch their eyes bug out in excitement, bigger than any of his characters. Considered a legend in the Japanese animation world, Hayao Miyazaki is the artist and director behind some of the most internationally successful anime films of the last two decades, including Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Though he claims the majority of his work is aimed at children, his 2001 effort, Spirited Away, captured the imaginations of people of all ages and is Japan’s highest grossing movie to date. The story centres around a 10-year-old girl who works at a bathhouse inhabited by spirit beings in order to free her parents trapped there after turning into giant pigs (sounds strange we know, but delightfully so). Though set in Japan, much in the movie is similar to Jiufen, an old mining mountain town in the North-East of Taiwan. Under Japanese rule between 1895 and 1945, traces of Japanese culture still remain in Taiwan, including the architecture of older buildings and Japanese ryokans and bathhouses.
Miyazaki’s trip to Jiufen inspired him, and this is evidenced by several scenes in the movie of food stalls, narrow and meandering streets lit by red paper lanterns and steep stairways, all reminiscent of downtown Jiufen. The entire town is charming, but where fans flock to first is A Mei Tea House, the place on which the bathhouse in the movie is based. Rumour has it that Miyazaki visited this 3-floor establishment, once a writer and artist haven and drew some sketches for his future film. A building with a long and interesting history and a stunning view from the mountaintop, it’s now a tourist trap to be sure, but one worth falling into.
16 Blue John Canyon/Homestead Crater, Utah, The United States, 127 Hours
Based on a true story, 127 Hours is a story about an explorer out on his own for a hike when tragedy strikes. While it leaves us to ponder what we would do if faced with a similar situation, the landscape in the movie nonetheless implores us to seek our own adventure and explore the natural wonders around us. Most of what we see in the film is Blue John Canyon, in Wayne County Utah, in an area called Robbers Roost. Southwest of the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park. ‘Lower Bluejohn’, the route that was taken by the main character Aron Ralston, isn’t recommended for people without rappelling or downclimbing experience, so beginners might want to think twice before attempting to trace his exact steps but you could always choose an easier path. The good news is,
unlike other entries on this list, because the canyon is remote, it isn’t overrun with tourists, not even March through May, the best time of year to visit. If the smooth lines and rust coloured rocks didn’t impress you, maybe the natural pool that Aron shows to two girls in the movie will.
‘The Homestead Crater’ is a crater formed over 10,000 years by melting snow on the Wasatch Mountains that seeped deep into the earth. Whether you stay at the resort nearby or not, you definitely won’t regret swimming in a natural hot spring 2 miles below ground beneath a limestone dome, though.
15 Hobbiton and The Shire, New Zealand, The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit Films
With seemingly endless breathtaking scenes of New Zealand’s snow-capped mountains, freshwater rivers, and lush forests serving as Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, selecting one of these as the reason to visit seems like an obvious choice. Instead, this entry on the list is less natural wonder and more man-made wonderful.
Since 2012, travellers have been able to visit Hobbiton in The Shire, that warm and welcoming place featured prominently in several of the films. Yes, it’s a movie set built on private land in Matamata on the north island, but 1000 tourists a day visit for a reason. The magic is created through the details, some of which are not even seen in the movies. Nothing is shoddily made and looks exactly as you see it on screen. The 44 hobbit homes and The Green Dragon Inn where the hobbits party are made of real wood and stone, and the tour follows the path of Gandalf’s cart ride, from the bridge where he arrives in Hobbiton to Bag End, on the top of a hill where Bilbo Baggins lives. The illusion of being in a real village is maintained by the extensive distance it covers - not a car or regular home in sight for miles. Of course, no one is stopping you from going the more conventional route and visiting The Putangirua Pinnacles, for example, the filming location for the 'Paths of the Dead' scene in Return of the King. But if you’re a die-hard fan of all things hobbit - from the books to the movies, seeing the one and only Shire with your own eyes is unforgettable.
14 Engyo-Ji Temple, Hyogo, Japan, The Last Samurai
A civil war veteran and a samurai warrior who meet in a clash of tradition versus modernism is a basic synopsis of this complex and historical film. Of course, there’s more to the story, but let’s stick to the travel aspect. Many locations in the movie, such as the 19th century Japanese village, were actually filmed in New Zealand, but Shoshazan Engyo-Ji Temple, where Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) and Moritsugu Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe) meet, is one place that really is where it claims to be.
Engyo-Ji is a Buddhist temple complex atop of Mount Shosha at the outskirts of Himeji city, in Hyogo prefecture. A wooden structure completed in 966 (yes, you read that right) as a place for monks to train, like most temples it’s a place steeped in history.
What we see in the film is mostly the three halls of the Mitsudo and its surroundings: the Daikodo (main hall), Jikido (lodging and dining hall, which also houses century-old temple treasures) and Jogyodo (gymnasium). A bus, a cable-car, then a 20-minute walk means getting there is no easy feat, but its slight remoteness is also part of what makes this temple so special. A visit in September, surrounded by a forest of fall colours feels like the quintessential Japan we all want to experience.
13 Rue Lepic and Café des 2 Moulins, Paris, France, Amélie
It isn’t hard to find a reason to go to Paris, the difficulty is actually in choosing just one place to visit. Take the film Amélie for example, full of moments that make us want to say 'au revoir' to own city and escape to Montmartre, where much of the story takes place. It sells us on an envisioned Parisian lifestyle that, like the film, feels like a dream. But if there’s one part of the movie which captures the 'je ne sais quoi' of Paris while imploring us to go, it’s Rue Lepic, that charming and lively street located in the 18th district that Amelie walks down every single day to her workplace, Café des 2 Moulins. Though it’s been more than about 10 years since the film’s release, not much has changed in the neighbourhood, and you can still expect to find many of the small shops and places made famous by the film, including Au Marche de la Butte. But it’s the art deco-style cafe at the junction of Rue Lepic and Rue Cauchois that is the main attraction we're discussing here. Sit outside and people-watch as you sip on a café noisette, or crack the top of a crème brulée just like Amelie in the film.
12 Fortune Celebration Temple, Shijiazhuang, China, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Many consider the most beautiful scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to be the fight in the bamboo forest. Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat ) and Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi) battling it out surrounded by a sea of green bamboo as a gentle wind blows is a truly haunting image. However more impressive still is the location of the final scenes on Mount Cangyan, in Shijiazhuang of the Hebei province.
It’s about a four-hour drive from Beijing but if you're already in Shijiazhuang, at about 20 dollars it’s not an expensive trip. Built into the mountain is the Fortune Celebration Temple, the majestic looking place we see in the film, first erected during the Sui Dynasty.
In the scene we also see glimpses of the other buildings that make up the complex; the Tablets House, the Hall of the Heavenly Kings and the Hall of the Giant Buddha. As Jen stares out over the beautiful mountains covered in mist, she stands on a bridge over a narrow gorge. It may seem like CGI but it's a real place you can visit. At 52 meters above ground and 15 meters in length, the bridge isn't for the faint of heart. A cable car will take you to the summit, or if you want to get your cardio in, walk up the more than 360 stone steps, like Jen in the movie. Escape the noise of the city in the breathtaking landscape that surrounds you, just don’t look down!
11 Manawaiopuna Falls, Kauai, Hawaii, Jurassic Park
Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster film Jurassic Park, captured our imagination and made us believe, even if just for a little while, in the possibility of a modern-day world where dinosaurs could still exist. From the first few moments of the film, we’re instantly enthralled, not only by the bird's eye view of a mountainous, lush coastline but particularly by the 400-foot waterfall that serves as the backdrop where the main characters first set foot on land. Jurassic Park and 2015’s Jurassic World take place on Isla Nublar a fictional island West of Costa Rica but is in reality, Kauai, Hawaii's fourth largest island.
Manawaiopuna Falls, sometimes referred to as Jurassic Falls, is in the middle of nowhere and only accessible by helicopter and a guided tour. It's also on privately owned land which they try their best to prevent from being damaged. No swimming is allowed here and you have to wear a protective covering on your shoes when visiting to keep the area's nature as unspoilt as possible. But hearing, feeling, and experiencing the pristine nature makes up for all the trouble of getting to this remote beauty we’d all love to see with our own eyes.
10 Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Lost in Translation
While the previous entry on this list about Japan looked at a more traditional location, this time it's modern-day Tokyo that’s the focus. Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation is about two people who lead very different lives crossing paths in that concrete jungle known as Tokyo. The loneliness they share in common is only enhanced by being strangers in a strange land, and Coppola captures the feeling of being alone even when surrounded by a sea of people. Despite their sadness, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) manage to have some fun. Their exploration of the city also becomes ours; the idea that anything can happen at any given moment giving birth to excitement and adventure.
Many scenes from the movie were filmed in Shibuya, a shopping and club district of Tokyo, famous for its giant intersection which hundreds of people cross at once.
A second area used was Shinjuku, particularly Kabukicho, an entertainment and partial red-light district on Yasukuni Dori. Woven into the subtext of the film is the notion that if you let it, Tokyo with its towering buildings and constant frenzy will swallow you whole. Yet something about those narrow alleyways and neon-lit streets of Kabukicho made us want to be lost in translation too.
9 Tam Coc – Bich Dong, Vietnam, Kong: Skull Island
We’ve seen him before. From the original in 1993 to the 2005 version, big-budget movies about King Kong are nothing new. In the most recent blockbuster to feature the giant gorilla, 2017’s Skull Island, we’re taken to his island home, and if some of the landscapes seem familiar it’s with good reason. Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, one of the three main filming locations, also appears in Jurassic Park, Godzilla and the TV show Lost. Coombah Lakes Conservation Park in Queensland Australia is another location that appears in the film. It’s the scenes in the third location however, which show nature in its rawest and most awe-inspiring form. The provinces of Quang Ninh (Ha Long Bay), Ninh Binh, Quang Binh in Vietnam are featured heavily in the film. The beauty of Halong Bay, a destination popular with tourists is on display through many aerial shots in the movie. But Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wanted to film in places not seen on screen before and to that end, filmed in protected parts of the Bay typically off-limits as well as the caves of Tràng An and the Tú Làn, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. “It became my mission,” Vogt-Roberts said, “to put this country on screen and to let the world know how spectacular it is.” Consider it mission accomplished.
8 Cortona, Tuscany, Italy, Under the Tuscan Sun
This movie about a woman named Frances Mayes (Diane Lane) who, during a tour of Italy, buys a rural Tuscan villa does an excellent job of showcasing Italy, with every scene giving us a reason to visit. Two towns were featured in the film, Positano, which sits along the Amalfi coast, and Cortona in the southeast of Tuscany. Truthfully, you couldn’t go wrong spending time in either one, but the small town life and rustic imagery in the film hold more appeal. Cortona, an Etruscan city that sits high on a hill with spectacular views of the regional landscape. Except for scenes involving villa Bramasole, the home Frances purchases and fixes up, we see lots of daily life moments in the central plaza, more specifically Piazza Luca Signorelli, and Via Santucci.
While the fountain isn’t there (it was brought in especially for the movie) the narrow, medieval streets are, full of life and old-world charm.
But when all is said and done and we’ve seen Tuscany in all its glory, we’re left to wonder: if Frances can travel, buy a house, find love with a local and changes her life, why can’t we do the same?
7 Kardamyli, Greece, Before Midnight
In a similar vein to Under the Tuscan Sun, Before Midnight has love as the main theme with a small European town serving as a backdrop. Though a few scenes were shot in Pylos, famous for the ruins of the Mycenaean Palace of Nestor, Platsa, and Koroni we’re most drawn to Kardamyli, a small village between the Messinian Gulf and the Taÿgetos Mountains.
The third film of a trilogy (the other films being Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) again stars Ethan Hawke (Jesse, the American writer) and Julie Delpy (Celine, the French activist) exploring their relationship as forty-somethings while on holiday in Greece with their family. We may or may not envy their relationship, but we all want that idyllic setting, in a Mediterranean stone house in Kalamitsi Bay with a garden full of olive trees and wildflowers, next to the clear blue sea. It’s what we imagine a perfect greek holiday to be; long walks through a quaint village by day, discussions over wine and Mediterranean fare with friends by night. The historic house which you can visit but not stay in belongs to the late author and scholar, Patrick Leigh Fermor and is considered one of the most beautiful properties in Greece. More beautiful still is the evening sun setting slowly behind the mountains at the Kardamyli pier. A poignant moment in the film, and truly memorable scenery.
6 Wadi Rum - Jordan, The Martian
Mars has been the topic of numerous science fiction books, shows, and movies in popular culture for decades. We are fascinated with the red planet for two reasons. One, the possibility of there being life somewhere in our solar system besides earth. The other, because its atmosphere is similar to earth’s, humans could someday live there. This idea has been fueled by NASA in recent years, announcing they have a goal of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s. Until we can buy a one-way ticket, we’ll have to be satisfied with Mars-like locations here on earth like the ones we see in the 2015 film The Martian. Presumed dead, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind during a mission to Mars, the fallout being his survival alone on the planet while holding out hope of rescue.
While humans can’t live on Mars just yet, this film convinces us of otherwise with stunning landscapes that appear otherworldly. The terrain, in reality, is a UNESCO world heritage site located in Jordan called Wadi Rum.
This location is often used by Hollywood directors for films set on Mars, which include Red Planet (2000), Mission to Mars (2000) and The Last Days on Mars (2013). Of course, there’s a lot of fiction in this science-based movie (A one-way trip to the planet is 180-days and would expose you to 15 times the amount of radiation safe for humans) but it opens our eyes to what could be one of our travel destinations in the not-too-distant future.
5 Angkor Wat, Siem Riep, Cambodia, Tomb Raider (2001)
Besides the main character of Lara Croft, both the original Tomb Raider and the recent reboot share travel as a common thread. In the 2001 version, Lara (Angelina Jolie) is on a mission to find and rejoin the two halves of "the triangle," which controls time before they fall into the hands of a secret society that plans to use it during a rare planetary alignment to control the world. Convoluted plot aside, it’s Lara’s quest destination to the Angkor Wat temple complex which instills a sense of adventure and exploration. When she follows a little girl through the Ta Prohm, a 12th-century temple, we wish the camera would linger that much longer in every passageway or on every detailed carving. Other locations filmed around Angkor were enhanced or completely fake (there is no Buddhist town floating on water in front of the main temple like we see in the film). But not much Hollywood magic was needed to convey the 'frozen in time' feeling. The sunlight peeking through the ruins and the stones covered in moss, choked by giant banyan roots is all authentic. And while Ta Prohm has become so popular it’s now sometimes referred to as the “Tomb Raider Temple”, you can never go wrong with a visit to an ancient kingdom.
4 Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Eat, Pray, Love
If there is one film on this list that summarizes what travelling can do for us, it’s Eat, Pray, Love. Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts), recently divorced, uses travel as a catalyst for change and personal growth. Her 1-year trip takes her to Italy, India, and Indonesia, and challenges the limits of her comfort zone.
Each place Liz visits is pleasing to the eye, but when she takes a bike ride past the lush landscape of Ubud in Bali, we want to know more about the serene looking location.
A collection of 13 villages, the region of Ubud is considered both the spiritual and cultural capital of Bali. With fewer resorts and more authentic culture, it’s little wonder that its popularity with tourists is increasing, and an Ex-pat community has started to develop. Tegalalang Rice Terrace which we catch a glimpse of in the film is located on the north-south road from Kintamani and a 25-minute scooter ride from the centre of Ubud will get you there quite easily. An early morning or evening visit is recommended unless you like baking in the midday sun. It also gives you the best chance of avoiding the hoards of tourist buses that arrive on the hour.
3 Iguazu Falls, Argentina/ Brazil, Black Panther
With the Black Panther phenomenon seemingly taking over at box offices around the globe, it’s hard to believe that superhero movies were once considered a trend for a niche market of overgrown comic nerds. The lucrative success of this type of movie proves the genre is here to stay, and the storyline in Black Panther demonstrates that a superhero film can operate on a deeper level.
Based on a comic book, it’s only natural that most viewers focus on the action, T’Challa’s (the main character) suit and how the plot fits into comic book canon. Simultaneously, the film also has a travel aspect which is found in Wakanda, the fictional African country where it’s set. Though shot in several locations, including Busan, and Atlanta, a pivotal moment in the movie happens in Warrior Falls, a loud and powerful body of water. Sadly, Wakanda doesn’t exist, but the waterfalls do, though not exactly as they appear in the movie. Close-ups and medium shots were filmed on a soundstage in the U.K, and the real falls, called Iguazu, are on the border of Argentina and Brazil. A chain of hundreds of waterfalls that span nearly 3km, Iguazu Falls are part of a national park, surrounded by distinct flora and fauna. You may marvel at T’challa’s strength in Black Panther, but the power of the attention-grabbing waterfalls is equally as impressive.
2 Maya Bay, Kho Phi Phi, Thailand, The Beach
In a sense, The Beach summarizes much of the quintessential backpacker experience. Travel to a new place (hopefully hidden from other tourists), in search of discovery and adventure. Make friends with random backpackers, who like you, are seeking excitement. You share stories. You share food. You feel part of a larger community and are happy to have had the experience. Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio), the main character in The Beach has a slightly more complicated story, involving a map, some illegal substances and a kidnapping, but we digress.
Good or bad, the movie put Thailand’s beaches on the backpacker map and inspired a generation of travellers to flock to Maya Bay on Kho Phi Phi Le, the small island off Phuket where most of the film was shot.
100-metre high Karst cliffs surround three sides of the bay and there are several beaches to choose from, though some only exist at low tide. The island is free of hotels and only accessible by boat on a day trip. With white sand, underwater colourful coral and exotic fish in turquoise water, if you’re looking for paradise on earth, then this just might be it.
1 Crema, Lombardy, Italy, Call Me by your Name
The award-winning coming of age film Call Me by your Name, set in 1983 was filmed in a small town called Crema and the surrounding countryside of the Lombardy region of northern Italy. There is no doubt that the film industry loves Italy, seen by the amount of films that have been made there over the years. But one goal director Luca Guadagnino had for this film was to make Italy look real, because “a lot of these Hollywood movies made in Italy look as fake as a chocolate coin”. Crema, which is a 90-minute drive from Milan, is a well-off town full of piazzas and historical buildings, such as the Crema Cathedral, completed in 1340. There is also plenty of ornate architecture and the classic narrow cobblestoned streets.
Biking to the same places as Elio and Oliver, the main characters in the film, is relatively easy. The lake where Elio and Marzia go swimming, for example, is Laghetto dei Riflessi, which is a 30-minute bike or car ride away from the piazza.
Wherever you choose to go you’ll have company, as tourism has spiked in Crema since the film’s success. And no wonder, because just like Elio and Oliver, audiences were seduced.