Good travel films give the viewers a window into another city, another country, another culture. The visual medium draws you in and gives you a taste of what it is like to be there in person. A lot of these flicks are inspiring travel stories themselves. As the character(s) go on an internal journey to grow and solve the problem of the plot, it often makes sense for them to go on a physical journey as well. Some of these, though, don’t involve characters traveling much (or at all) but are fantastic showcases for where they are set. Watching them, you can armchair travel around the world and feel like you’re there. Maybe they’ll inspire you to actually visit, giving you a new fantastic destination for your next trip. Here are some of the best travel movies in many different genres.
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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
A definitive travel story, this beautifully shot film follows office schlub Walter Mitty as he travels to Greenland, Iceland (where it was filmed), and the Himalayas in search of an elusive photograph.
The Lord of the Rings Series
I mean, c’mon, New Zealand basically is Middle Earth now, right? This fantasy epic (and the prequel series, The Hobbit) really showcase the stunning scenery of those beautiful islands Downunder.
A true classic movie with some big-name stars, Audrey Hepburn’s incognito princess and Gregory Peck’s journalist see the sights of Rome by Vespa, giving viewers a great feel for Italy’s Eternal City.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
Drag queens driving a bus named Priscilla across the Australian outback. Need I say more?
Before Sunrise Series
Vienna, Paris, & Greece
Set 9 years apart from each other, these three walk-and-talk movies really make the various cities they are (mostly) set in another character in the story. The series starts with Before Sunrise, where after meeting on a train, two young travelers spend the night wandering around Vienna, Austria together. The sequel, Before Sunset, finds Jesse and Celine in Paris, France, while the third installment, Before Midnight, takes them to Greece.
Crazy Rich Asians
Has any book or film more prominently made people want to visit Singapore than Crazy Rich Asians? New Yorker Rachel travels to meet her boyfriend’s family in Singapore, only to discover they are unimaginably wealthy. Shot on location in that island country, the film depicts Singapore very well.
You somehow might be able to guess where this film takes place… Bruges, Belgium is one of my favorite cities. Its old-world charm is on full display in this rough yet funny hitman-on-the-run story.
The Trip Series
England, Italy, & Spain
A funny, fictional “documentary”, these unusual films follow British comic actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon as they drive around northern England, Italy, and Spain sampling the local cuisine, ribbing each other, and doing riotous celebrity impressions.
James Bond Series
Take your pick. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, one thing all James Bond movies do well is showcase beautiful locations around the world. From the beaches of the Caribbean in Dr. No to the ski slopes of the Alps in The Spy Who Loved Me to that crazy Madagascar parkour sequence in Casino Royale, you can find incredible stunts and stunning scenery in just about any Bond film.
Mamma Mia! Series
This energetic musical based on the songs of Abba (and the sequel!) utilizes its Grecian setting to the max. It’s bright, cheery, and fun, and will make you want to visit the Greek islands.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
This family road trip comedy shows off the American West and US national parks Monument Valley & the Grand Canyon in a lighthearted, crazy way. Other movies in the series do the same for Las Vegas and several European destinations.
Out of Africa
Also on my travel books list, this sweeping tale is based on the memoir by Danish baroness Karen Blixen (played by Meryl Streep) as she struggles to maintain her coffee plantation in Kenya.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
This psychological thriller about wanting to be someone else is a very beguiling film, showing off the lakes and countryside of Italy.
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Another road trip film, it follows two young Mexican men and the slightly older woman they meet on their travels. Though the subject matter may be tough, the beauty of Mexico is on full display.
This thriller was a huge boon to Thailand’s tourism industry. In fact, they eventually had to close the titular Beach due to the negative impacts of too many inconsiderate travelers. You can still enjoy it in the movie, though, and Thailand has plenty of similarly gorgeous beaches to enjoy in real life!
This quirky French romance brings the elegant charm of Paris to life. A shy waitress does little secret things to make those around her smile. The color palette is unique and adds to the whimsy of the film and the lure of the city in which it is set.
Lost in Translation
Not only does this stylish film really make use of its Tokyo setting, but it also explores the ups and downs of living abroad in a completely different culture. Lonely expats Scarlet Johanson and Bill Murray are unusual friends who help each other through.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
British retirees looking for an affordable living situation take a chance on moving to India in this lush and colorful film. It’s a fish out of water tale that helps bring the streets of Jaipur, the Pink City, and Indian culture to life.
Into the Wild
Another true tale based on a book, this is a doomed survival story of a troubled young man who walks into the Alaskan wilderness and never comes back. The natural beauty of the USA’s northernmost state is the majestic backdrop for his struggles.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Ok, this is an animated movie, so it was obviously not shot on location. However, the animators really studied the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro and the nearby jungle, so its depiction is pretty accurate. If you’re looking for a travel inspiration film kids will love, try this tale of a bird-out-of-water pet macaw trying to get back to his owner and cushy suburban life after being bird-napped. There’s a sequel, too 🙂
The Endless Summer
A true classic documentary, this film helped usher in the rise in surf culture in the 1960s. It follows three young men as they travel to surf spots around the world, following the warm weather: the endless summer.
This bawdy teen comedy is about four friends on a quest throughout Europe during the summer between high school and college. While it reinforces somewhat negative and usually inaccurate stereotypes of various European countries and cultures, if you know these are careless cliches and take them as parody, it’s actually a pretty funny movie. And it does show off several popular tourist cities and attractions very well.
France & Spain
Real-life father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez star in this movie about a father who tries to complete his son’s journey when the son dies while walking the famed Camino de Santiago from France to Spain. The spiritual trek is one you can actually do and this film will make you want to.
A lovely movie about two people who share an unusual connection riding bicycles around the titular Danish capital in search of answers. Copenhagen is a beautiful and bike-friendly city you will want to cycle around after watching this film.
The Motorcycle Diaries
Based on the memoir of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, this film follows his motorcycle journey through Argentina, Peru (including Macchu Picchu!), Chile, Colombia, and Venezuela. It’s a fascinating true story of a future revolutionary icon and will make you dream of your own South American travel adventure!
P.S. I Love You
Half tear-jerker, half rom-com, this film follows a new widow as she travels to her late husband’s home country of Ireland, following instructions in letters he wrote to her before he died. It’s another emotional and physical journey (based on the book by Irish author Cecelia Ahern) with the lovely scenery of the Emerald Isle on full display.
Lawrence of Arabia
This classic film is another based on a true story, British officer T.E. Lawrence’s experiences in Arabia during World War I. An epic in storytelling and scenery, it was filmed in large part in Morocco, Jordan, and Spain.
Robert Langdon Series
Paris, Rome, & Florence
As with the best-selling books, the movies based on Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series make art and architecture an integral part of these dramatic mysteries. They are filled with real places and artworks travelers can see. From Paris, France in The Da Vinci Code to Rome, Italy in Angels & Demons and Florence, Italy in Inferno, you’ll know what to sights to see if you visit.
Anne of Green Gables Series
Prince Edward Island, Canada
There are many adaptations of L.M. Montgomery’s fantastic books. My all-time favorites, though, are the Kevin Sullivan ones (especially the first two!). I guess these are technically mini-series or TV movies but they really made me want to go to Prince Edward Island, so I’m including them. The classic Canadian story of plucky orphan Anne Shirley, her imagination, and her temper is brought to life with PEI on full display. The first one stands alone. The sequel is a good continuation, though the third does deviate from the books a lot more. There is also a fourth one by Kevin Sullivan with a different cast.
Sierra Leone/South Africa
This film is an intense drama about conflict diamonds. It illuminates a violent business while showing the beautiful African landscape. Set in Sierra Leone, it was mostly filmed in South Africa and Mozambique.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Another film based on a book, the story follows Swedish hacker Lisbeth Salander as she runs afoul of some very bad men and helps a journalist solve an old mystery. It shows off both the Swedish capital of Stockholm and the vast, frozen countryside. I’m partial to the original Swedish version starring Noomi Repace (and its two sequels!), though the English-language remake with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig is pretty good, too.
Though it’s set in the Caribbean, this wild, romantic adventure comedy was shot in Queensland, Australia. It follows rival salvage teams/treasure hunters searching for sunken Spanish gold and will make you want to go sailing and/or scuba diving!
The Italian Job
Starring Michael Caine, the original 1969 Italian Job really makes use of its setting Turin, Italy. With Mini Coopers squeezing through Turin traffic at top speed, this heist film is a fun take on an old-world Italian city. The 2003 remake does highlight Venice, Italy at the beginning but moves the majority of the film to Los Angeles, though it also showcases that city well.
A Far Off Place
The desert of Africa is one of the stars (and antagonists!) of this heartwarming Disney tale of two young American teenagers and their bushman friend forced to cross the Kalahari to survive. Filmed in Namibia and Zimbabwe, the movie features a very young Reece Witherspoon and Ethan Embry!
La La Land
Los Angeles, California, USA
From its opening number on a packed LA freeway to a song & dance through the Hollywood Hills and main characters who are an actress and a musician, this modern musical shows off is titular city Los Angeles, California and its main industry in a beautiful and entertaining way. Filmed all over the city, LA is really the third star of this flick.
Notting Hill, London, England
Perhaps the most specific destination on this list, this classic romantic comedy brought London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to worldwide notice. The sequence following hapless bookshop owner Hugh Grant walking down Notting Hill’s main street as the seasons change really highlights the unique flavor of that area. You’ll want to make a point of going there on any visit to London.
The Painted Veil
Most of this romantic drama takes place in China during a cholera epidemic in the early 1900s. Between Shanghai and the rural village where the second half of the film is set, there are some beautiful shots of the Chinese countryside that will make you want to venture outside the big cities on a visit to that Asian nation.
Road to Your Heart
This South African movie follows a classic road trip formula. An ambitious, arrogant young businessman man driving to Cape Town for his father’s funeral ends up traveling with a free-spirited woman who has a secret. The film does a good job showing off the extraordinary South African scenery as well as different walks of life within that country.
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