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Reel Escapes: Visit the best movie destinations on the planet.

  • February 8, 2024
  • 12 min read
Reel Escapes: Visit the best movie destinations on the planet.

Ever dreamed of experiencing the excitement of cinema first hand, wandering through legendary movie locations on an unforgettable adventure? If so, then read on….

The silver screen has a profound power to transport us to new worlds, firing up our imaginations and leaving us with a yearning to explore. However, what if you could step out of the cinema and into the scenes themselves? Here, EyeOnLondon, takes you on an adventure, inspired by legendary movies that will have you packing your bags and booking your next trip.

Sicily: Cinema Paradiso (1988) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

“Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt.” – Alfredo

Picture yourself in the sun-drenched beauty of Sicily, where the warmth of the Mediterranean sea mingles with the culture of its ancient towns. Stroll through the charming streets of Cefalù, the Sicilian backdrop for Cinema Paradiso’s nostalgic tale of friendship and film. Let yourself be captivated by the bustling markets and historical landmarks, just like Salvatore chasing after Alfredo. Then, follow in the footsteps of Tom Ripley, traversing the chic piazzas and glamorous villas of Mongibello, channelling your inner thrill-seeker as you explore the island’s hidden coves and dramatic landscapes.

Fun Fact: The iconic Cinema Paradiso theatre is actually a composite of two structures: the exterior is the Teatro griego in Taormina, while the interior shots were filmed at Palermo’s Teatro Politeama Garibaldi.

  • Accommodation:
  • Cefalù: Hotel La Kalce, website: Hotel La Kalce – Tel: +39 0921 422629
  • Taormina: Grand Hotel Time, website: Grand Hotel Timeo – Tel: +39 0942 627 0200
  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: April-June or September-October for pleasant weather and clear skies.
  • Getting there: Fly into Palermo or Catania and take local transport (train, bus) or rent a car for flexibility.

Wadi Rum, Jordan: Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

“The desert is an ocean in which no oar is dipped, and on this ocean the Bedu go where they please and strike where they please.” – T.E. Lawrence

Journey into the vast and awe-inspiring desert of Wadi Rum, where the echoes of T. E. Lawrence’s daring adventures still resonate. Hike amidst the sandstone cliffs that rise up from the red sand, their shapeshifting beauty mirroring the ever-changing tides of the Arabian Peninsula. Imagine yourself riding through the dunes on camelback, retracing Lawrence’s footsteps and feeling the desert wind whip through your hair. At night, gaze up at the star-studded sky, a canopy reflecting the one that guided Lawrence across the sands. During the day hire a jeep, go sandboarding, rock climbing, or even take a hot air balloon ride for breath-taking views

Fun Fact: Despite being set in Arabia, the film was primarily shot in Wadi Rum, Jordan, and southern Spain due to political restrictions in Saudi Arabia at the time.

  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: March-May and September-November for pleasant temperatures and clear skies. Avoid peak summer heat.
  • Getting there: Fly into Amman and take a taxi, bus, or join a tour to Wadi Rum.

Valletta, Malta: Gladiator (2000)

“What we do in life echoes in eternity.” – Maximus

Step into the alluring world of Malta, an island nation brimming with history and dramatic scenery. This is the very same land that served as a stunning backdrop for the epic film ‘Gladiator,’ transporting audiences to ancient Rome. Relive iconic scenes as you explore Valletta’s Grand Harbour, where Maximus Decimus Meridius triumphantly returned, and wander through the ancient streets of Mdina, transformed into the Roman city of Aequitas.

Gozo, Malta’s sister island, reveals a different side of the story. Here, dramatic cliffs and serene beaches provided the setting for unforgettable moments in the film. Stand where Maximus battled in the iconic Azure Window (though sadly, no longer standing) or relax on the shores of Ramla Bay, picturing him seeking solace.

However, Malta’s attraction extends far beyond the world of cinema. The country is saturated in culture, and for the history buff there is ample opportunity to explore ancient temples like Ħaġar Qim and Mnajdra, or marvel at the medieval architecture of Mdina and Valletta. Roam through picturesque villages, bask in the genuine hospitality, and uncover a fascinating culture waiting to be discovered. Whether you’re tracing the footsteps of Maximus or forging your own path, this island nation offers something for everyone, ensuring your adventure is as epic as the film that brought it to the world’s stage.

Fun Fact: Oliver Reed, who portrayed Proximo in the film, passed away before completing all of his scenes. To finish his remaining scenes, the filmmakers used CGI technology to superimpose his face onto body doubles and to complete his character’s arc. This was one of the earlier instances of using CGI to recreate an actor’s performance after their death in a major motion picture.

  • Relive the glory:
  • Fort Ricasoli: Explore the imposing fort built by the Knights of St. John, transformed into a gladiatorial arena in the film. Imagine Maximus battling Commodus’ forces amidst these historic walls.
  • Valletta Ditch: Stroll along the fortified walls overlooking the Grand Harbour, picturing Maximus’ dramatic chariot race.
  • Hal Saflieni Hypogeum: Descend into this eerie underground necropolis, possibly predating the pyramids, and contemplate the island’s ancient mysteries.
  • Beyond the gladiatorial ring:
  • Blue Grotto: Witness the mesmerising light show as sunlight reflects off the turquoise waters within this natural cave.
  • Mdina: Wander through the “Silent City,” a fortified medieval town boasting charming streets, grand cathedrals, and panoramic views.
  • Gozo: Take a day trip to Malta’s sister island, known for its rural charm, hidden coves, and megalithic temples.
  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: April-June or September-October for good weather and manageable crowds.
  • Getting there: Fly into Malta International Airport and take a bus or taxi to your destination.

Bruges, Belgium: In Bruges (2008)

“Maybe that’s what hell is, the entire rest of eternity spent in f***ing Bruges.” – Ray

While Ray’s take on Bruges might be a tad dramatic, it’s like saying every rose has a thorn, right? But fear not, amidst the medieval charm and cobblestone streets, you’ll find plenty of reasons to ditch the eternal damnation narrative and embrace Bruges’ quirky character. Take a journey through the quaint canals of Bruges, a city that seems frozen in time. Follow hitman, Ray (Brenden Gleeson), and his sidekick, Ken (Colin Farrell), as they wander the streets and picturesque squares, their dark humour juxtaposed against an idyllic backdrop. Explore the towering Belfry tower, offering panoramic views of the city, and step inside the stunning Church of Our Lady, home to Michelangelo’s, Madonna sculpture. Bruges’ melancholic beauty and hidden alleyways will leave you wanting to linger long after the credits roll.

Fun Fact: The famous scene where Farrell dives into the canal was actually filmed in a replica set built on a soundstage, as the real canals were deemed too murky and potentially hazardous.

  • Accommodation:
  • Bruges: Hotel De Orangerie, website: Hotel De Orangerie – Tel: +32 50 34 16 49
  • Bruges: The Charm, website: The Charm – Tel: +32 497 45 90 58
  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: Spring (March-May) or fall (September-November) for an agreeable temperature and moderate crowds.
  • Getting there: Fly into Brussels Airport and take a train or bus to Bruges.

Rorke’s Drift, South Africa: Zulu (1964)

“Because we’re here, lad. Nobody else. Just us.” – Colour Sergeant Bourne

Visit the dramatic landscapes of KwaZulu-Natal, where the epic battles of the film unfolded. Unmissable is the Isandlwana Battlefield, the site of the British defeat, and the Rorke’s Drift Museum to learn about the Zulu warriors’ resilience. Walk the scenic trails of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Mountains, following in the footsteps of Zulu regiments.

Fun Fact: In ‘Zulu,’ Michael Caine, who portrayed Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, wore his own watch during filming, which he had received as a gift from Sean Connery.

  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: April-October for dry weather and pleasant temperatures.
  • Getting there: Fly into Durban or Johannesburg and take a bus or car to KwaZulu-Natal.

Huesca, Spain: Pan’s Labyrinth’s (2006)

“The world is filled with wonders.” – Ofelia

Explore the Huesca region, where the film’s haunting beauty comes to life. Visit the Boltaña Castle, transformed into the film’s academy, and explore its Medieval architecture. Go walking in the Hayedo de Ordesa beech forest, experiencing the otherworldly atmosphere depicted in the film. For a unique experience, join a guided tour exploring the film’s filming locations.

Fun Fact: During the filming of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” director Guillermo del Toro created a set environment that was both immersive and practical. The faun’s labyrinth was built as a real set, allowing actors to interact with physical elements rather than relying solely on CGI. This approach contributed to the film’s visually stunning and tactilely authentic atmosphere.

  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: Spring (March-May) or autumn (September-November) for comfortable temperatures and manageable crowds.
  • Getting there: Fly into Zaragoza or Barcelona and take a train or bus to Huesca.

Machu Picchu, South America: The Motorcycle Diaries’ (2004)

“I knew that when the great guiding spirit cleaves humanity into two antagonistic halves, I would be with the people.” – Che Guevara

Hire a motorbike and take an adventure along the iconic route Che Guevara and Alberto Granado travelled, from Argentina to Peru. Visit historical sites like the Machu Picchu ruins and the cities of Buenos Aires and Cusco. Soak up the local culture, volunteering in communities or attending traditional festivals.

Fun Fact: During the filming of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” the actor Gael García Bernal, who portrayed Che Guevara, actually learned how to ride a motorcycle for the role. He underwent extensive training to ensure authenticity in his portrayal of Che’s iconic journey across South America.

  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: May-September for dry weather and enjoyable temperatures.
  • Getting there: Fly into major cities like Buenos Aires or Lima and connect to smaller towns by bus or train.
  • Planning: Consider joining a guided motorcycle tour or planning your own itinerary with proper safety precautions.

Tokyo, Japan: Lost in Translation (2003)

“Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.” – Bob Harris

Get lost in the blinding streets of Tokyo, experiencing the bustling energy and neon lights depicted in the film. Visit the Shibuya Crossing for a quintessential Tokyo moment, and explore hidden bars and alleyways in districts like Shinjuku and Ginza. Enjoy karaoke or a traditional tea ceremony for a more meaningful cultural experience.

Fun Fact: The famous whisper at the end of the movie, where Bill Murray’s character, Bob Harris, whispers something to Scarlett Johansson’s character, Charlotte, was never revealed in the film. Director Sofia Coppola intentionally kept it a secret, leaving it up to the audience’s interpretation.

  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: Spring (March-May) or autumn (September-November) for comfortable weather and pleasant crowds.
  • Getting there: Tokyo is a major international hub with direct flights from most cities.

Phi Phi Leh, Thailand: The Beach (2000)

“Never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay the welcome.” – Richard

Phi Phi Islands

While the film’s depiction of Maya Bay sparked controversy due to over-tourism, there are responsible ways to experience its beauty. Opt for sustainable tours with limited visitor numbers and prioritise eco-friendly practices. Explore alternative, less crowded islands like Koh Lanta or Koh Phi Phi Don for a perfect day out at the beach. Remember, responsible tourism ensures the long-term preservation of these idyllic destinations.

Fun Fact: The production team built a massive set on the island of Phi Phi Leh to represent the movie’s fictional paradise. This set included a pristine beachfront, lush jungle, and even a lagoon. After filming, the set was dismantled to restore the island to its natural state, but some environmental damage was reportedly caused during the construction and removal process, leading to controversy and discussions about sustainable filmmaking practices.

  • Practical Tips:
  • Best time to visit: November-April for dry weather and calmer seas.
  • Getting there: Fly into Phuket and take a ferry or boat to Maya Bay, or your chosen island. Due to its popularity, accommodations and transportation to the island can book up quickly. Plan and book your trip well in advance to secure your preferred dates and accommodations.

Don’t let these movie destinations remain just dreams. Start planning, research responsible travel practices, and pack your bags! Remember, the most enriching journeys are often unplanned detours and unexpected encounters. So, grab your camera, capture your own story, and let the magic of cinema guide you to your next unforgettable adventure!

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Emma Trehane

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