7 Bucket-List Destinations for Movie Lovers and TV Buffs

See recent posts by Michele Tymann

How often are you watching a movie and wish you could visit the beach where the protagonist goes surfing, or the quaint town where a couple falls in love? Maybe you want to walk down the same road as your favorite character, or hang out in the pub where the friends on your favorite TV show spend most of their time. While many shows are filmed on stages, plenty more are shot on location all over the world. We’ve compiled a list of seven vacation destinations that are hotbeds for movie and television show shoots, with locations you can actually visit in real life. So if you consider yourself a movie or TV buff, consider adding these locales to your vacation bucket list. 

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1. Iceland

Ron Kroetz/Flickr

Ron Kroetz/Flickr

The number of tourists visiting Iceland each year has grown exponentially the last few decades due to its vastly untouched landscapes, from beautiful glaciers to surreal waterfalls. These are the things that also make Iceland an ideal filming location for fantasy movies and television shows. You know the scene in “Batman Begins” where Christian Bale trains with Liam Neeson in Tibet? Those “Tibet” scenes were actually filmed at Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Iceland, and a stop on many glacier tours in the winter months. Two of Iceland’s other glaciers were used to portray planets in 2014’s Interstellar: Máfabót glacier was used for Miller’s water planet scenes and Svínafellsjökull glacier portrayed Mann’s ice planet. Jökulsárlón, a glacial lagoon known for being speckled with icebergs, has been used as a stand in for Siberia in James Bond’s “A View to Kill,” as well as Korea in James Bond’s “Die Another Day.”

It’s not just Iceland’s ice that attractions filmmakers. Skógafoss waterfall has been used as a filming location in “Thor: The Dark World,” as well as “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” in which it stood in for Afghanistan. Other scenes from “Walter Mitty” were also shot in Iceland. The town Stykkishólmur on Snæfellsnes peninsula was used to portray Greenland, and the movie credited Iceland as itself for the portions that were intended to be depicting Iceland. These days, perhaps the most famous filming project Iceland is known for is Game of Thrones. Not only were all the above the wall scenes shot in Iceland, but much of Arya and the Hounds travels in Westeros, and the epic fight between the Hound and Brienne, were shot in Þingvellir national park. And don’t forget the infamous cave scene between Jon Snow and Ygritte that was shot in the Grjótagjá cave near Lake Mývatn — just be aware you can’t go swimming in it.

2. Thailand

Arayaburi Resort - Phi Phi Island/Oyster

Arayaburi Resort – Phi Phi Island/Oyster

With some of the most stunning beaches and island formations on earth, Thailand is a no brainer as a shooting location. Perhaps the most famous is Ko Phi Phi Leh, which provided the beach for Leonardo DiCaprio’s backpacker character in “The Beach.” Part of the Koh Phi Phi archipelago, the beach, Maya Bay, is easily accessible and stunning. (But if you visit, make sure to do so in a way that won’t interrupt the nature of the island, since the influx of tourists after the movie premiered harmed the ecosystem there.)

Another Thai island that is famous for it’s beautiful views is Khao Phing Kan, which has been featured in two James Bond films: “The Man with the Golden Gun” and “Tomorrow Never Dies.” Chiang Mai has lent its surroundings to various films including “American Gangster” and “Rambo IV.” The country has also acted as a stand in for Vietnam for multiple films about the Vietnam War: The country’s capital, Bangkok, famously represented Saigon (today known as Ho Chi Minh City) in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

3. New York City

Katz's Deli/Oyster

Katz’s Deli/Oyster

Can you have a roundup of bucket list movie and television show filming locations and not mention New York City? Pretty much every landmark in the City That Never Sleeps has been a centerpiece for filming in at least one movie or show. Grand Central Station has been featured in movies such as “Armageddon” and “Superman: The Movie,” and Times Square is a backdrop in “Borat,” “Hancock,” and “Spiderman.” The firehouse headquarters from “Ghostbusters” is located in the TriBeCa neighborhood of Manhattan, and Katz’s Deli is the famous restaurant of the iconic “When Harry Met Sally” line: “I’ll have what she’s having.” New York City has also been the setting of hundreds of films including cult classics like “Manhattan” and “The Warriors,” to more recent films like “The Avengers” and “Birdman.”

The city has also been home to many television shows over the years. The “Seinfeld” crew spent many episodes hanging out at Tom’s Restaurant on the Upper West Side, where it was used as a stand in for Monk’s Cafe, and Monica and Rachel’s apartment in “Friends” is located at the corner of Grove and Bedford Street in Greenwich Village (well, the building used in the exterior shots is, anyway). The various “Law and Order” series have been filmed in Manhattan’s Foley Square, and Evil Corp Headquarters in the new hit “Mr. Robot” is located at 135 E. 57th Street. With hundreds more film locations located in the Big Apple, you could base an entire vacation around movies and TV shows in New York City.

4. Austria

Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel/Oyster

Viennese Giant Ferris Wheel/Oyster

The hills are alive with the sound of music in Austria. Many of the scenes from the iconic musical were shot on on location in and around Salzburg, including the famous “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” song and dance, which was shot in Hellbrunn Palace Gazebo. There’s also Schloss Leopoldskron, which represented the lakeside terrace and gardens of the Von Trapp family villa.

“The Third Man,” which was named the Best British Film by the British Film Institute, was shot in Vienna over the course of six weeks, and you can now get in the mind of Harry Lime on the Third Man Tour sewer tour, at the Riesenrad (the Giant Ferris Wheel), and in the Third Man Museum. Before leaving Vienna, you can trace the footsteps of Jesse and Celine’s late night stroll through various landmarks from “Before Sunset.” 

Elsewhere in Austria, the Bregenz Opera House, a 7,000-seat open-air amphitheater on the shores of Lake Constance was the setting for the scene in “Quantum of Solace,” where James Bond stalks the villains at a performance of “Tosca.”

5. Ireland/Northern Ireland

Dora Meulman/Flickr

Dora Meulman/Flickr

This year marked the 30th anniversary of “The Princess Bride,” and the Cliffs of Moher provided the setting for the infamous “Cliffs of Insanity,” which Vizzini, Fezzick, and The Man in Black scale after they kidnap Buttercup. Another movie shot here was “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” — the cliffs are setting of the cave where Harry and Dumbledore apparate to while hunting horcruxes. Not too far from the Cliffs of Moher is Skellig Michael, and island off the coast of Kerry where Rey meets Luke Skywalker in the final scene of the “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” If you visit, you should note that scaling the cliffs is not for the faint of heart, and the boat trip over can be rough.

The Ireland scenes from period piece “Brooklyn” were shot in Enniscorthy, and the beach scenes were shot at Curracloe Beach in County Wexford. Heading north, scenes from the popular show “Game of Thrones” were shot in Northern Ireland: The Kingsroad sequences were often shot on a beech tree lined road known to locals as the Dark Hedges in Stanocum. Scenes of the Wall and Castle Black were shot at Magheramorne Quarry, and scenes at Pyke, the castle at the Iron Islands, were shot in Ballintoy Harbour. 

6. New Zealand

Joshua Eckert/Flickr

Joshua Eckert/Flickr

If you’re a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” or “Hobbit” movies, New Zealand should definitely be on your bucket list. The country’s landscape makes it feel fantasy land, which is why it’s been the setting of so many fantastical films in recent years. Matamata, on the North Island, is where Peter Jackson built the Hobbiton set. Tongariro National Park had three active volcanoes, one of which — Mount Ngauruhoe — was used to represent Mount Doom in the films. Mangawhero Falls was where they built the Ithilien Camp, and Kaitoke Regional Park was the home of Rivendell. Paradise Island’s stunning views were featured in “The Hobbit” as Beorn’s house.

Peter Jackson continued filming New Zealand after the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy with the 2005 remake of “King Kong.” The scenes on Skull Island were shot at the surfing beach Lyall Bay, while a large-scale set was built above Shelly Bay on the Miramar peninsula. Jackson’s “King Kong” was the most expensive movie ever made at the time, but it went on to gross 2.5 times its cost.

7. Hawaii

Cindy Devin/Flickr

Cindy Devin/Flickr

It’s easy to get “Lost” in Hawaii — just hope you don’t get there via plane crash. The kick off scene to the epic television show was shot on Mokule‘ia Beach on Oahu, and the survivors’ camp was shot at Papaʻiloa Beach. The “Hawaii Five-O” reboot has also been shot entirely on Oahu, too. Over on the island of Kauai you can immerse yourself in landscapes found in films like “Jurassic Park” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or check out modern day Hawaii in the form of the Academy Award-winning “The Descendents.” Whatever you decide to do while there, you might want to avoid any three hour tours near Moloa‘a Beach where the pilot of “Gilligan’s Island” was filmed.

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