Movie Locations

From the March/April 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler

Hawaii, it’s time for your close-up. Moviegoers are abuzz over Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, filmed in the United Kingdom, and The Descendants, with George Clooney as a flustered father sputtering around the 50th state. Sure, Spielberg and Clooney lure cinephiles to the multi­plex, but so do vistas of the British countryside and Kauai shoreline. Actors may score the accolades, but there are landscapes with as much presence and compelling beauty as any celluloid star.

Movies move us both emotionally and physically. Locations depicted on screen often see a boost in tourism. The most well-known example is New Zealand, which saw hordes of visitors with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mississippi tourism officials say The Help also lured crowds to the state. “We want to visit the places our favorite movie characters do and experience just a smidge of what they did on screen,” says Thom Geier, senior editor at Entertainment Weekly, who notes that even films lacking box office oomph can inspire travel: “Who can remember the plot for The Tourist, anyway? But Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie’s hotel room balcony—with that view of St. Mark’s Square in Venice—is unforgettable.” (It’s the Hotel Danieli, if you must know.)

We canvassed production designers, cinema professors, location scouts, and our own DVD collections in search of the most memorable destinations on the silver screen.

The envelopes, please …

Best Inducement for Taking the Kids to Europe

England Visit Oxford University’s Christ Church college, real-life inspiration for the Great Hall of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series. In April Warner Bros. opens a “Making of Harry Potter” tour at Leavesden Studios, northwest of London, in homage to the decade-long series. See costumes, props, and entire sets, including Dumbledore’s study and the Great Hall itself.

Top ‘Hood to Burn Off Cheesesteak Calories

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Yo, Adrian! Fresh salami! In Rocky, persistent pugilist Rocky Balboa made his daily training rounds with a morning run through the outdoor Italian Market on Ninth Street; you’ll still find cheese and meat vendors there, with Mexican and Asian influences that have flourished since the 1976 film. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, run up the 72 stone steps, throw your arms in the air, then run down and pose with the Stallone statue, a prop from Rocky III.

Compelling Blend of Beauty and Grit

Mumbai, India In Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal (Dev Patel) can triumph on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? because of his experiences growing up in Mumbai’s Dharavi, among the largest slums in Asia. Director Danny Boyle’s captivating portrait of the ramshackle community turned it into a destination as relevant as the Taj Mahal: A handful of tour companies now specialize in Dharavi expeditions that focus on the challenges facing India.

Molto Romantico View From a Pensione Window

Florence, Italy The young lovers in the 1985 A Room with a View first cross paths at the “Pensione Bertolini,” now the Hotel degli Orafi. To drink in the view that brought George and Lucy together, request Room 414, with its terrace overlooking the Arno River.

Great Untouched Islands

Galápagos, Ecuador With Master and Commander, a 2003 nautical adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars, Peter Weir became the only director to shoot a feature film on the mysterious and volcanic South American archi­pelago filled with exotic animals. He spent months justifying his plans to Ecuadorian government and park officials; all equipment was hand-carried and removed from the islands each night.

Super Scenic Spot for a Love Triangle, North of the Border

Vancouver, Canada The adaptation of the first installment of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga was filmed in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula; with the sequels, production moved north. Twi-hards can seek out the woods where the wolves and vampires run, and the theater where Bella went to the movies with Jacob and Mike in New Moon. It is in a heritage building in New Westminster.

Super Scenic Spot for a Love Triangle, South of the Border

Oaxaca, Mexico In Y Tu Mamá También, wealthy teens Julio and Tenoch meet a sultry older woman at a wedding, and the three embark on a road trip in search of a beach, “La Boca del Cielo.” The sublime seaside scenery for this 2001 movie was filmed at Playa Cacaluta, near Huatulco in the state of Oaxaca.

Supreme Dunes for a Double Feature

Tunisia When Luke Skywalker stares out at the two suns of Tatooine in the first Star Wars (1977), he’s standing amid the golden dunes of Shott el Jerid, a salt lake in the Tunisian Sahara. The opposite shore was base camp for Count Almásy (Ralph Fiennes) in The English Patient, the 1996 Best Picture Oscar winner.

Best City for Dream-Making and Heart-Breaking

New York City Audrey Hepburn’s socialite Holly Golightly navigates an idealized Big Apple in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), with stops at the Plaza Hotel and the posh jeweler.

Best Town to Hit the High Notes in Your Lederhosen

Salzburg, Austria The Von Trapp kids and Fraulein Maria begin “Do-Re-Mi” atop the Mönchsberg Cliffs on Winkler Terrace in the 1965 classic Sound of Music. Later, they take to the steps at Mirabell Gardens. Guided tours are available.

Best Spot to Pretend You’re a Parisian

Montmarte, Paris Like the title character of the Audrey Tautou romantic comedy Amélie, the neighborhood of La Butte is charming, curious, and eccentric. After describing the busy markets along Rue Lamarck to a blind man, Amélie escorts him to the Metro Lamarck-Caulaincourt, with its delightful double staircase. At Cáfe des 2 Moulins, where Amélie waitresses and schemes about her neighbors, you can order the crème brûlée, named for the do-gooder herself.

Best Backdrop for Lions and Longing

Kenya Out of Africa won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, in 1985. Visit the Karen Blixen museum, on the outskirts of Nairobi, or take a ride in a Waco biplane, similar to the Tiger Moth that Denys Finch-Hatton (played by Robert Redford) used to fly over the African savanna.

Top Region for a Grape-Stained Buddy Road Trip

California’s Central Coast Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church squelch middle-age malaise with a wine tour around Santa Barbara in the 2004 film Sideways. They stop at Sanford Winery in Buellton, top off at Foxen Winery in Santa Maria, and meet sexy Sandra Oh at Kalyra Winery in Santa Ynez.

Superlative James Bond Island

Jamaica In 1962’s Dr. No, Agent 007 first encounters Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress, with a diver’s knife tucked into her bikini) at Laughing Waters Beach, near Ocho Rios; not far away is novelist Ian Fleming’s former estate, now the luxury resort GoldenEye.

Top Hotel for Lost Souls to Connect

Tokyo, Japan Bill Murray has a chance meeting with Scarlett Johansson at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, atop Shinjuku Park Tower in Lost in Translation (2003). The hotel intensifies their sense of dislocation; when the depressive duo venture out, they drift into Shibuya, the entertainment district. Karaoke, anyone?

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Search Trips

Best Perch to Belt Abba Songs

Sporades Islands and the mainland of Greece Single mom Meryl Streep dances and jives around Skopelos and Skiathos, two of the Sporades islands in Mamma Mia! (2008); a wedding, on the northwestern tip of Skopelos, unfolds in a chapel with soul-stirring views of the blue Aegean. The breezy climax of “Dancing Queen” is set on the Pelion coast of mainland Greece, about 25 miles northwest of the Sporades.

Great Gorges to Look Absolutely Gorgeous

Northern Territory, Australia The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) follows two drag queens and a transsexual as they hit the road for a cabaret gig at Lasseters Hotel Casino in Alice Springs. As the grand finale, actor Guy Pearce and pals climb Kings Canyon.

Best Spots to Become One With the Universe

Haryana, India, and Ubud, Bali, Indonesia After filling up on pasta and gelati in Rome, Julia Roberts in 2010’s Eat Pray Love gets down to the business of finding herself at a gritty ashram in Pataudi, outside Delhi. Then she continues her spiritual transformation in a tiny cottage in Bali, surrounded by green rice paddies.

Worst Place to Forget Your GPS

Denali National Park, Alaska Park officials say the best thing to bring is “common sense” if you intend to visit abandoned Bus 142 on the beautiful but unforgiving Stampede Trail, where the real Christopher McCandless depicted in the book and 2007 movie Into the Wild starved to death. The six-million-acre park and preserve is home to Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Great Cameo by a Humongous Waterfall

Iguazú Falls, on the border of Brazil and Argentina The breathtaking break in the Iguazú River plays a starring role in The Mission, the 1986 film about a Jesuit priest. It’s a dream destination for a gay Hong Kong couple in 1997’s Happy Together. And, finally, it is a central location in the 2008 swashbuckler Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You can get there from major airports on either side of the border.

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