14 Travel Movies That Will Make You Feel Like You Went There
With real-life travel at a standstill, get engrossed in films that take you to exotic locales—right from your sofa.
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Movies that transport you
If you love to travel, you might be feeling particularly restless as the world endures various quarantine efforts due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Even once restrictions are loosened, it might be a while before many of us travel for pleasure. Luckily, we can fulfill our wanderlust in the foreseeable future with films that virtually transport us to exotic locations, gorgeous European cities, and pristine tropical paradises. Some movies have action sequences that breeze through global destinations, such as the James Bond or Jason Bourne films. Then, other films have compelling storylines in which the locations are almost characters, too. Let’s take a look at films with locations you can visit vicariously from the comfort of your own home. Next, these are movies with locations that you can actually visit.
Discover a hidden, unspoiled beach off the coast of Thailand with Leonardo DiCaprio as a backpacker who’s given a map to the secret lagoon. The adventurous journey, which involves a long ocean swim and a jump down a waterfall, leads him to a group of young travelers, like himself, who just want to revel in the island’s many pleasures. But paradise is lost when the community runs afoul of sharks, armed cannabis growers, and each other. From the bustling party atmosphere of Bangkok and Ko Pha Ngan to the natural wonders of Thailand’s isles, you’ll feel like you’ve lived the backpacking lifestyle. Watching the 1999 movie is the only way to visit the real beach, currently, as where the movie was filmed, Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Le is closed until at least June 2021. It’s one of the places that have been ruined by tourism.
Another 1990s cult classic, this film features Ethan Hawke as an American traveler who falls for a young French woman (Julie Delpy) as they spend one night together strolling the streets of Vienna. The couple walks over bridges, through parks, and along canals, stopping in a traditional Viennese cafe and riding the Wiener Riesenrad Ferris wheel, as they fall in love with each other—and we fall in love with Vienna itself. If you like the film’s breezy, conversational style, also check out the 2004 sequel Before Sunset, which takes viewers to Paris, and 2013’s Before Midnight, which follows the couple on vacation in Messinia, Greece.
Speaking of Greece, no trip to the country could be more fun than this singalong-able 2008 movie musical, with Meryl Streep having the time of her life as the ex-pat owner of a small inn on a fictional Greek island. Her daughter’s getting married, which means big parties and tons of guests—including the three men who may be her father. Jump off of docks into crystal-clear water, dance on the beach, skip through olive groves and take a day sail on a 50-foot sailboat in this delightful film set to music by ABBA. Filmed largely on the island of Skopelos, the movie features the stunning, real-life Agios Ioannis Kastri chapel, the exterior location of the film’s wedding, up 200 steps on a huge rock outcropping. The sequel, though, 2018’s Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, was filmed in Croatia.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
A group of British seniors retires to a hotel in Jaipur, India, in this 2012 film. The hotel turns out to be dilapidated, if charmingly historic, building run by an enthusiastic Indian manager (Dev Patel). While he tries to find a way to keep the hotel running, the elderly visitors (who include Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith) find new life as they explore the city and meet the local people. Viewers get immersed in the vibrant, crowded city of Jaipur: the colorful flower market, the old colonial Viceroy Club (filmed at Castle Kanota, now a hotel, outside Jaipur), and the massive stone “stepwell” with patterns of staircases leading down to the water. If you want to go back for more, take a return trip to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Known as the Pink City, Jaipur is actually one of the world’s 50 most beautiful cities, ranked by travel experts.
The English Patient
This sweeping romance and 1997 Best Picture Oscar winner takes viewers to the Sahara desert of Northern Africa just before World War II, as a Hungarian cartographer and explorer (Ralph Fiennes) recalls his affair with a British woman (Kristin Scott Thomas). Viewers are treated to the Islamic architecture and medina, or old town, of 1930s Cairo; although less-developed Tunisia actually stood in for Egypt for filming. Contrasting with this exotic locale, the movie flashes forward to Italy at the end of the war, where a badly burned man is cared for by an army nurse (Juliette Binoche, who won an Oscar for her role) in a crumbling Tuscan villa, filmed at the Sant’Anna in Camprena monastery, now an agritourismo (a farm/bed and breakfast). As the mystery of what’s happened unfolds, we’re taken across two continents in the midst of war—it’s hard to get more carried away by a film than that. See every Oscar winner ranked from best to worst.
Travel to Hawaii with down-on-her-luck hotel maid and aspiring pro-surfer Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) on Oahu’s North Shore in this 2002 movie. Things get complicated as she begins a romance with a vacationing professional football player, who pays her an exorbitant amount for private surf lessons. Life in Hawaii isn’t quite the paradise you’d expect as Anne Marie struggles with her identity, her finances, and her confidence as an athlete. The film features the real Hawaii, and the surfing shots are some of the most gorgeous of any fictional film ever.
The Motorcycle Diaries
If you want to take a trip across an entire continent, get your motor running on the extreme road trip of 2004’s The Motorcycle Diaries. The foreign-language film follows a young man (Gael Garcia Bernal), who would later go on to become the revolutionary Che Guevara, and his friend on a nearly 9,000-mile journey through South America, from Buenos Aires to Argentina, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and many places in between, in 1952. Along the way, they learn about the life of poor peasants, miners, and lepers, as well as the ancient civilizations that once inhabited Latin America, including the visually arresting Machu Picchu. From the mountains and jungles to deserts and even a swim across the Amazon river, few movies present such an expansive view of a region.
Midnight in Paris
So many of our favorite travel movies have been filmed in Paris, probably because the City of Lights is one of the most gorgeous and photogenic locations in the world. We love the quirky French film Amelie, for example, and the Meg Ryan comedy French Kiss. But the one that tops them all takes viewers not only to another place but another time as well. In 2011’s Midnight in Paris, vacationing writer (Owen Wilson) is magically transported to 1920s Paris every night at midnight, meeting Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. But even if you’re not a literary buff, you’ll still feel like you’re in this timeless city, strolling the banks of the River Seine, touring the gardens of Versailles Palace, browsing the bookstalls along the avenues, and walking down the steps of the Montmartre district in the shadow of Sacre Coeur church. If you like the time-travel theme, you’ll also like these other time-travel movies that will make you question everything.
Romancing the Stone
This lighthearted film finds a romance novelist (Kathleen Turner) living an adventure right out of one of her books, as she travels to the jungles of Colombia to deliver a treasure map and rescue her kidnapped sister. Along the way, she hooks up with a charismatic smuggler (Michael Douglas), swings on a vine over a river, goes over a waterfall, hurdles down a mudslide, and digs for the titular giant emerald. Oh, and then there’s the showdown in the old Spanish fort populated by crocodiles. It might not be realistic, but it sure is a fun way to virtually visit the current tourist hot spot of Cartagena—even though the film was really shot in and around Veracruz, Mexico.
Crazy Rich Asians
A New Yorker (Constance Wu) travels to Singapore to attend a wedding with her boyfriend, only to learn that he’s actually part of a super-wealthy and high-placed family in Singapore society. Filmed on location in Singapore, with some spots in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, standing in, the 2018 movie is a feast for the eyes, with all the bright colors and bustling activity of the modern city. You can practically taste the satays at the Newton Food Centre, where the characters chow down on “hawker” street food. The country’s opulence is on display at the wedding reception in the waterfront Gardens by the Bay, the mahjong parlor filmed at the historic Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, and other locations including Merlion Park and the Marina Bay Sands. Crazy Rich Asians is also one of the 30 feel-good movies to get you through the next 30 days.
Eat Pray Love
Eat Pray Love is a three-in-one, around-the-world excursion. The 2010 film focuses on a recently divorced woman (Julia Roberts) who eats pasta and gelato in Rome, prays at an ashram in India, and finds new love in Bali, Indonesia. Walkthrough the Eternal City’s famous Piazza Navona and lovely Borghese Gardens; then meditate at the beautiful Hari Mandir temple near Delhi. Not many movies had previously been able to film on Bali because of the lack of film industry on the island, so many viewers will experience the tropical beauty of locations such as Padang Padang beach for the first time. After you visit all three destinations, decide which is your favorite.
Out of Africa
Meryl Streep, circa 1985, gives an Oscar-nominated performance as real-life Danish author Karen Blixen, who moves to Kenya in 1914 with her husband and later embarks on an affair with a big-game hunter (Robert Redford). Like Blixen herself, viewers will find it hard not to be taken in by the gorgeous views over the grasslands and valleys, the idyllic picnic spots in the savannah, and the sense of danger on safari—there’s a scene with a tense face-off between Streep and a lion. You can also go on an African safari with virtual day trips you can now take online.
Go on a modern-day search for buried treasure—the real-life 1715 Queen’s Dowry—with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson in this light, Bahamas-set 2008 romp. You’ll definitely catch island fever while diving in turquoise water, exploring underground caverns, and finding buried loot along a huge expanse of white sand. Although don’t expect the plot of this film to be as deep as the water. Australia stands in for the Caribbean, but the scenery is stunning, and you’ll feel like you’re in a Bob Marley song (of which the movie contains a few). For more island adventure, check out Six Days, Seven Nights, and the 1977 thriller The Deep.
Italy is another destination filmgoers can’t seem to get enough of—you can head to Tuscany in Under the Tuscan Sun, Florence in A Room with a View, Venice in The Tourist, the Italian coast in The Talented Mr. Ripley, and countless others. But our pick is the 1994 romantic comedy Only You, which takes viewers on a whirlwind trip from Venice to Rome to the Italian countryside to the Amalfi coast, as a Pittsburgh teacher (a lively Marisa Tomei) searches for a man she believes is her destiny. The romance of Italy that viewers experience in the movie is enough to make you believe in fate—plus, Only You also pays homage to another great Italy-set romance, the Audrey Hepburn classic Roman Holiday. Locations in Italy, including the Trevi Fountain in Rome and the Rialto Bridge in Venice, also have some of the panoramic webcams that let you virtually travel the world.