Movies have always been about escape. For about two hours, we site in the dark, our eyes glued to the screen as we escape from reality, escape from everyday life and escape from the familiar world around us. From mythical lands to far off islands and from futuristic cities to places yet to be discovered, movies can transport us, temporarily, to places we’ve only dreamed of.
But the journey doesn’t have to end when the credits roll; there are dozens of movie locations you can visit in real life. And while the plotline of your adventure may be different than the one on the silver screen, in this version you’re the star. If you are ready for your close up then check out some of the most famous and beautiful movie locations in the world, and how you can go there too.
1 – Tunisia: Star Wars and Raiders of The Lost Ark
You wouldn’t think of Tunisia as being one of the most obvious movie locations, but the desert landscape and the strange dwellings of southern Tunisia were perfect for Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars. If you’re a massive Star Wars fan then Tunisia might just be for you.
Travel to Tozeur and rent a 4 x 4 and feel like you’ve landed on planet Tatooine. A trip to Matmata should also be at the top of your list as it is home to 700 troglodyte homes – the homes, still inhabited by Tunisians, are dug into the landscape to protect them from the oppressive desert heat.
The main attraction in Matmata is the Sidi Driss Hotel. This was where the scenes from Skywalker’s childhood home were shot. May the force be with you.
2 – New Zealand: Lord of the Rings
The stunning scenery in the Lord of The Rings trilogy really put New Zealand on the map as a backpacker location – perhaps it should really be called Land Of The Rings. Kiwi director Peter Jackson didn’t have to look far to find the perfect location for the magical ‘middle earth’ in the three movies.
The Lord of the Rings was filmed over 274 days, using 350 purpose-built sets in more than 150 locations over both islands. It is the first time an entire feature film trilogy has been filmed all at once, making it one of biggest productions in movie history.
The rolling hills of Matamata were chosen to house the hobbit holes of Hobbiton and the village now presents itself to visitors with a sign saying ‘Welcome to Hobbiton’.
Tongariro National Park is home to three volcanoes; one of these, Mt Ruapehu, was transformed into the dark and fiery realm of Mt. Doom where the ring was forged. Visitors can also ski on Whakapapa Ski Field on Mt Ruapehu, which was used for Middle Earth’s snowy slopes.
Queenstown, New Zealand’s adventure capital, was the setting for numerous scenes including the Eregion Hills, and the Pillars of Argonath. Tourists can also 4X4 across the Ford of Bruinen, which was filmed at the Shotover River near Arrowtown or walk the serene forest of Rivendell which is in Kaitoke Regional Park.
3 – Greece: Mamma Mia
The most uplifting things about Mamma Mia apart from the classic Abba tunes and all-star cast dancing around to big show stopping numbers, are the beautiful blue waters, narrow cobbled streets and whitewashed houses of Greece.
Mamma Mia was filmed on the islands of Skopelos and Skiathos, two of the Sporades Islands. Skopelos is about a half-hour hydrofoil from Skiathos, and you can either fly to Skiathos airport or take a ferry from Athens. Skopelos is where most of the locations can be found; that beautiful church where the wedding takes place is Agios Ioannis Prodromos Monastery, which is perched on top of a 100-metre promontory.
Kastani Bay and beach is where the song Does Your Mother Know was performed and it’s at Glysteri, on the northern coast of Skopelos, that Amanda reads the diary to her friends. It’s also where Sophie, Bill, Harry and Sam leap from rocks into the sea during Our Last Summer.
4 – Thailand: The Beach and The Man With The Golden Gun
Danny Boyle’s film The Beach has made the island of Phi Phi Leh one of the most visited places in Thailand. The Beach is a story about a backpacker in search of a fabled idyllic beach he has heard about on the Khao San Road in Bangkok, and what better place to film it than the paradise beach of Hat Maya.
Everyone who visits Thailand seems to come back with the classic long tail boat photo from the movie location and you can catch a daily passenger ferry from both Krabi and Phuket.
There was much controversy over the filming however, as there were allegations of vandalism after imported palms were planted to make the beach even more idyllic.
In the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun, the ‘baddy’ Scaramanga’s island hideout is Khow-Ping-Kan, one of a chain of tiny jungle-covered limestone pillars in Phang Nga Bay at Phuket. ‘James Bond Island’, which used to be an undiscovered paradise, is now littered with tourists taking the boat trip out to the marooned island in the Andaman Sea.
5 – South America: The Motorcycle Diaries
The Motorcycle Diaries focuses on the journey of Che Guevara on a 1939 Norton 500 across 5,000 miles of South America, with his friend Alberto Granado. If you don’t know who Che Guevara is, he’s the Marxist revolutionary that you see on all the posters, who overthrew the Batista dictatorship in Cuba.
The young Che Guevara and his buddy, seeking fun before graduation, travel west from Buenos Aires, Argentina, through Patagonia and into Chile, north along the Andes to Machu Picchu and finally to the Guajira Peninsula in Venezuela in order to do their medical residency in a leper colony.
The movie is as much about the landscape and the Latin American identity as it is about the origins of the legend and symbol of rebellion, Che Guevara. So if you’re brave enough and want to re-create their epic journey, why not do it on a motorbike…
6 – Salzburg, Austria: The Sound of Music
Always fancied running over a hilltop singing at the top of your lungs like Maria? Pictured yourself having a first kiss in a pavilion, riding around on a bike in Salzburg wearing a set of curtains or getting married to the Colonel in that beautiful cathedral? Then visit Salzburg, where the Rogers and Hammerstein musical starring Julie Andrews was filmed.
There are various tours and excursions, but Panorama Tours is the original – their buses were used by the film crew and the cast driven around in their limousines. You’ll have the opportunity to visit Nonnberg Abbey where Maria was becoming a nun, Hellbrunn castle where the glass pavilion from the scene You Are Sixteen Going On Seventeen was reconstructed, Mondsee cathedral where Maria and the Baron got married, and Leopoldskron Castle, the front side of which was used for the Von Trapp family home.
7 – Tokyo: Lost In Translation
The critically acclaimed film Lost in Translation was shot almost entirely in Tokyo and in many ways the location is the star of the movie. Starring Scarlett Johansenn and Bill Murray, Lost In Translation tells the love story between and American actor who is having a mid life crisis whilst shooting a whisky commercial in Japan and an equally depressed woman who has accompanied her husband on a business trip.
The Oscar-nominated film was almost entirely shot in the two districts of Shinjuku and Shibuya. The Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku where Charlotte and Bob meet is one of Tokyo’s best and most expensive hotels, and the bar where Bob drinks whiskey is the New York Bar on the top floor.
If you want to try great sushi and sake, go to Ichikan, where Bob and Charlotte enjoyed a Sushi dinner in the film. The neon lit building fronts that feature heavily in the film and the temple that Charlotte visits in the beginning are both in the Shinjuku district. Most of the other scenes were shot in the entertainment district of Shibuya, including the pictures of the busy intersection in front of Shibuya Station’s Hachiko Exit, which is surrounded by large and noisy advertising screens.
The Karaoke scene, where Bob sings ‘More Than This’ was filmed at Karaoke-Kan in Shibuya. Charlotte and Bob party with Japanese friends at Air in Daikanyama, which is still one of Tokyo’s hip clubs.
Read more about the intersection of Hollywood and travel:
- Movies that Inspire Travel
- 9 Modern Day Classic Movie Locations You Can Still Visit
- Celebrities Born in Surprising Parts of the World
- 13 Travel Horror Stories and Where They Took Place
Thailand, The Beach by René Ehrhardt on Flickr, Salzburg, Austria by abhijeet.rane on Flickr, Greece by val savarese on Flickr, Tokyo by Joi on Flickr, Patagonia by Ride to dine on Flickr, New Zealand and Tunisia by Victoria Brewood