Top 10 Travel Destinations for the Ultimate Movie Buff

Traveling to far-flung movie locations is nothing new: there’s actually a whole field of people who dedicate themselves to such pursuits, and they’re usually called "set-jetters." The good news is that there are hundreds of great locations to visit; the bad news is that a lot of them are in New York or Los Angeles, two cities that are horribly overused in movies and overrated as tourist destinations. Yet it’s possible to see the world and get your pop culture fix at the same time, as long as you know where to look and what to watch. Some of these destinations can be reached via road trip, but the rest are going to take a serious plane ride (or two). Don’t let that stop you, though. They’re all worth the journey.

  1. Ft. William, Scotland: The Harry Potter universe has been an unstoppable cultural juggernaut since the first book hit shelves in 1997, and the arrival of the film series in 2001 only added to the public fervor. There are loads of tourist destinations tied to the movies — Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station remains a favorite — but your best bet for a great experience is to head to Fort William, Scotland, and board the Jacobite steam train. The round trip runs more than 80 miles through the countryside that was used to illustrate Harry’s annual journey to Hogwarts. so you get your blast of movie-fan nostalgia along with a scenic ride and lengthy trip.
  2. Kauai, Hawaii: That so many movies gravitate toward Hawaii isn’t a surprise, given the gorgeous beaches and jungles that can easily sub for any tropical or faraway location on film. Any trip to the islands will yield hundreds of film locations, but for sheer iconic value, you can’t beat the island of Kauai, which was used for the opening exteriors of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indiana Jones travels to find the golden statue. The island was also home to the bulk of filming for Jurassic Park, which makes it a gold mine for Spielberg fans.

  3. Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon: There isn’t much in northern Oregon. The Timberline Lodge, on Mount Hood, is closest to the small city of Government Camp. But the lodge is a mecca for horror fans (and others) because its exterior was used to portray the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s classic The Shining. Visitors should be warned that the lodge isn’t the real (that is, fictional) hotel: there’s no giant hedge maze in which to run from a homicidal maniac, and the interiors seen in the film were all shot on a set in England. Still, for sheer size and beauty, it’s worth a visit. But just to be on the safe side, stay out of room 237.
  4. Downtown Chicago: Chicago: good sights, good music, and enough food to give you a heart attack (twice). The city’s been home to a number of film shoots over the years, but a pair of comedies takes the cake for movie buffs looking to make a pilgrimage to the Windy City. For starters, there’s The Blues Brothers, shot in and around Chicago, from Wrigley Field to the 95th Street bridge to the South Shore Cultural Center, the outside of which posed on film as the Palace Hotel Ballroom. Then there’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which treated Chicago like a giant playground as it bounced between museums and restaurants. You can catch a Cubs game and relive the vicarious thrill of watching Ferris ditch gym class, or you can go to the Art Institute of Chicago and trip out on some Seurat. Or, if you’re up for it, you can hijack a parade. Your call.
  5. Philadelphia: Sure, it was once the nation’s capital, and it’s heralded as a birthplace of modern democracy. But more important than that: Rocky trained here! The steps leading up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art became national icons when Sylvester Stallone jogged up them triumphantly in Rocky, and the bronze statue of Rocky that was placed at the top of the steps for use in Rocky III is still around, just moved to the bottom. If Rocky isn’t your thing, you can cruise around the locations used in The Sixth Sense, as long as you don’t wear red.
  6. Seattle: You know you like Sleepless in Seattle. You know you do. It is pointless to pretend otherwise. A trip to Seattle will let you roam the same rainy streets once trod by Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. True, the film’s climax takes place in New York, but give Seattle some love. The city’s been home to dozens of other films, as well. Cameron Crowe’s Gen-X-ish Singles shot all over town, and the apartment building that figures in the story is always worth a visit. The Pike Place Market is another classic landmark that’s appeared in several films.
  7. Vienna: No one needs convincing of Vienna’s place in world culture or history (major player in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, birthplace of Schubert, home of Falco). But the Austrian city has also seen its fair share of film productions, with The Third Man among the most cherished. The 1949 film starring Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles is a fantastic film and a classic of film noir, and since the story is set in Vienna, much of the action takes place against the backdrop of real places. True, it’s not like the movie is the excuse you needed to see Vienna — it’s a stunning city — but it’s always fun to explore landmark locations like this one and know that someone like Welles walked the same roads.
  8. Tunisia: Located on the northern coast of Africa, Tunisia has seen a variety of rulers in the past that have contributed to its eclectic cultural heritage, from the Romans to Spain and France. But the desert locations will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s seen the original Star Wars (in other words, everyone): the region doubled for the desert planet of Tatooine at the beginning of the film. Buildings in Matmata were used for Luke Skywalker’s home, where he spent his days whining and fixing things and whining, and a variety of dunes and canyons were used for the Jawa locations. Interestingly, the canyon where R2-D2 was captured was used again by another George Lucas production starring Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Ark, for the scene in which Indy threatens to destroy the ark with a bazooka.
  9. Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara is an easy drive up the coast from Los Angeles, and though it’s only a couple hours away from the heart of the city, it might as well be a different world. The performing arts venues and tourist attractions have always brought in travelers, but the wine culture of the region got a big boost from the 2004 comedy Sideways, which is set in the area’s wineries and restaurants. The movie’s scenes play out in real places, too, like The Hitching Post II, a local steakhouse. The film’s success actually led to a spike in wine country tourism, though that’s settled a bit now, making a trip to the region much more manageable for oenophiles or Paul Giamatti groupies.

  10. The Phi Phi Islands: Danny Boyle’s 2000 film The Beach is a Gen-X reworking of Lord of the Flies, with techno music and militant pot farmers filling in for a wrecked airplane and murderous children. The tale revolves around a supposedly hidden paradise that’s almost impossible for tourists to reach, and the filmmakers brought the location to life on the Phi Phi Islands in Thailand. Shot on the island of Koh Phi Phi, the film makes a believable case for these islands as a paradise on Earth, albeit one that requires some work to get to. The island is less developed than those around it, and even the popularity of the film hasn’t done much to change the island, which is a good thing. Sometimes, it’s OK to preserve things just the way they are.