THE BEST MOVIES ARE THE ONES WITH THE TRULY memorable settings, and the best settings aren’t stitched together with CGI. They’re taken from the real world and made into something more. Some real-world places have become inextricably linked to the movies that were shot there: in New Zealand, Lord of the Rings tours have become a pretty giant industry, and it’s hard to look at pictures of some of the more dramatic Hawaiian coasts and not think of Jurassic Park.
Movie fans are spoiled for choices when it comes to travel. No matter where you are in the world, you probably aren’t far from a place a movie was shot. But here are 15 of the absolute must-do’s for traveling cinephiles.
Namib Desert, Namibia — Mad Max: Fury Road
The stunning Mad Max: Fury Road was originally supposed to be shot in the Australian Outback (as the previous Mad Max films were) but the area that was set for filming had a sudden onslaught of rain that made the desert bloom with flowers. The set was moved suddenly to Namibia. And thank god it did — the resulting movie was beautiful. The Namib Desert is one of the more stunning places on earth. If you go here, though, be more careful than the film crew was: there are reports that they damaged the landscape.
New Zealand — The Lord of the Rings
Peter Jackson’s excellent Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with his less-excellent Hobbit trilogy, is basically an extended advertisement for New Zealand. There are actual, honest-to-God LOTR tours for fans, including tours of the still-standing Hobbiton film set in Matamata on the North Island.
Tunisia — Star Wars: A New Hope
The Star Wars universe is truly massive, and as such, you can go to a lot of places where the films were shot. But probably the most iconic spot you can still visit is Luke’s home on Tatooine, at the underground Sidi Driss Hotel out on the edge of the Sahara Desert.
Oahu, Hawaii — Jurassic Park
Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are set on the nonexistent island of Isla Nublar “off the coast of Costa Rica.” But Steven Spielberg chose to shoot the movie in Hawaii, as the state had a better infrastructure. You can tour the site of the Gallimimus scene at Kualoa Ranch and you can visit the huge waterfall from the helicopter scene in Oahu as well.
Petra, Jordan — Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The final scenes in the third (and final, regardless of what Steven Spielberg and George Lucas say) Indiana Jones movie are shot in the beautiful city of Petra in Jordan. This is a must-visit not only for film fans, but literally every traveler.
St. Vincent — Pirates of the Caribbean
The fictional city of Port Royal in the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie was built at the Wallilabou Anchorage in St. Vincent. Parts of the film set still remain, and at present the fifth POTC movie is shooting there. The hotel there maintains the set and keeps a museum for fans of the movie.
Brecon Beacons, Wales — The Dark Knight Rises
The Batcave from the third movie in Christopher Nolan’s excellent Dark Knight trilogy is, unfortunately, not a real place. But the waterfall that has to be driven through to get to the Batcave is. You can visit the Henrhyd Falls in Brecon Beacons, Wales.
The Stanley Hotel — The Shining
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s book used the Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon for the exterior shots of the haunted Overlook Hotel. But Stephen King based the Overlook on a real haunted hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.
The Stanley Hotel has had many reports of hauntings during its 100 years of existence. Stephen King came up with the idea for The Shining (the book, by the way, is even scarier than the movie), after a nightmare he had while spending a night in the Stanley Hotel.
Mansfield, Ohio — The Shawshank Redemption
Maine’s Shawshank State Prison is another figment of Stephen King’s imagination. But the giant, intimidating building that was used as the set for Frank Darabont’s excellent 1994 adaptation of King’s novella is very real, and it is actually located in Ohio. The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, Ohio, was an actual prison until it was ordered closed in 1990. It is now open for tours.
The United Kingdom — Harry Potter
You could do tour around the entire United Kingdom based on the locations of the Harry Potter books and films. Though most of the locations are fictional, they do have real-life sets you can visit. There is, of course, the famous Platform 9 and ¾’s in King’s Cross Station, which has a cart sticking half out of the wall where that platform would be, and you can visit the Great Hall in Oxford, and the Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, which the Hogwarts Express travels over. You can get a full breakdown of Harry Potter locations at Rick Steves’ website.
Monroeville, Pennsylvania — Dawn of the Dead
The best zombie movie of all time (maybe behind 28 Days Later) was shot in a still-standing, still-in-use mall. In most respects, it’s like any other Mall, but you can play Zombie Lazer Tag there.
Tribeca, New York — Ghostbusters
If you’re in New York, you can’t walk 2 blocks without stumbling across some old film set. But one of the most iconic locations in New York is the Hook & Ladder 8 from Ghostbusters, an actual, functioning firehouse in Tribeca. Take your picture in front of it — but don’t stand in front of the fire trucks.
Dyersville, Iowa — Field of Dreams
After shooting wrapped on Field of Dreams, the filmmakers left the baseball field for the owners of the property they built it on. It still stands, and you can still play baseball there.
Pasadena, California — Back to the Future
If you’re ever visiting Pasadena, California, check out the Gamble House — it was built David Gamble of Procter & Gamble, but was also used as the setting for Doc Brown’s home in Back to the Future. It’s amazing — you’ll wonder how Doc afforded it on a paltry inventor’s salary.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art — Rocky
Rocky is easily the most iconic movie set in Philadelphia, and locals are very used to the sight of visitors running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and doing that goofy little running dance Sly Stallone did in the original movie. If you’re too self-conscious to re-enact the scene yourself, just hang out and wait. Someone else will do it eventually.
Mountain Lake Hotel, Virginia — Dirty Dancing
Sadly, there is no Kellerman’s Resort in the Catskills of upstate New York. But you can still visit the filming location for the classic Dirty Dancing at the Mountain Lake Lodge
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