Becky Hart | Feb 9, 2024
Our favorite movies often take us to places that don’t exist in the real world. While filmmakers might use CGI to create some of those destinations in a studio, there are still plenty of sites that truly exist. It's time to get off the couch and visit these international filming locations for yourself.
Dune director Denis Villeneuve reportedly said that the only way he would make these movies was if he got to film in a real desert. He got his wish. We can’t help but think that that might have helped the movie win the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
Once Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet) arrives on Arrakis, the terrain becomes, well, not very welcoming. To create a planet where the people have had to evolve just to survive, filmmakers turned to Wadi Rum in Jordan.
Wadi Rum is a protected nature preserve in southern Jordan and a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can do a driving tour on your own; however, with few signposts and a desert landscape that doesn’t give you many navigational cues, joining a tour is a popular option. The sense of being completely immersed in another culture and world — it's fascinatingly similar to Mars in some respects — can be disorienting for some travelers.
Scenes shot in Wadi Rum might look familiar. This region has been used in many other films, most notably Star Wars: The Rise of Walker and Rogue One, The Mummy, and The Martian. Crews returned to Wadi Rum for Dune Part II as well.
Ninety minutes from Abu Dhabi is the Empty Quarter, or Rub’ al Khali, the largest sand desert in the world. Its secluded location is the perfect setting for the fictional Fremens people, sandworm battles, and all manner of cinematic excitement.
What will you find in Rub’ al Khali? Sand dunes. Big ones. You’ll want a 4x4 vehicle and a professional guide to see them. One of the largest dunes is Moreeb Dune. At nearly 1,000 feet (300m) high, you’ll need some stamina, water, a hat, and sunblock to get to the top. The views are worth the effort, though, especially at sunset. That might be why Dune filmmakers chose it for some of their aerial footage.
The outlier on this list is Norway, which is decidedly not a desert. Rather, Kinn is a green island off the western coast of Norway. The main appeal of visiting Kinn, aside from seeing the homeland of House Atreides, is the nature.
Kinn features seacoasts and walking paths waiting to be to be explored. Only a handful of people live on the island full-time, so if you’re considering going off the grid, this could be a great place to start.
At least until we improve space travel, there are two ways to explore a galaxy far, far away: with a trip to Disney or by grabbing your passport to travel to one of these Star Wars filming locations.
Hardangerjøkulen Glacier, Norway
In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Episode II, filmed in 1980), we’re transported to a brutally cold planet Hoth. Luke is riding his tauntaun, and then … it all goes downhill from there.
The good news is that the real-life Hoth is in Norway and, if you visit in the summer, the conditions won’t be as extreme as when Luke was on his scouting mission. George Lucas created Hoth on Hardangerjøkulen Glacier in central Norway. To get there, take a train from Bergen to Finse. You’ll then need to hike to see the glacier itself. Hire a guide, as any kind of traversing on ice can be risky, and having an expert at hand is always a good idea.
p>You could probably create an entire Star Wars itinerary just with sites in Tunisia. The franchise re-visited this African country several times throughout the decades: A New Hope (1977), The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and Revenge of the Sith (2005).
First up is Ajim, Tunisia, on the Mediterranean island of Djerba. Along with Naftah, Ajim is one of the stand-ins for Tatooine. You’ll recognize buildings used for the spaceport and Obi-Wan's house. Naftah, Tunisia, is another Tatooine shooting location. Its expansive desert was key to creating this otherworldly setting.
Matmata, Tunisia, is yet another Tatooine come to life. Look for the Hotel Sidi Driss, which was used as Luke Skywalker’s home. If you’re going to hang around for a bit, book a guestroom. The décor is still done up as if Luke were going to return any day.
If you were ever going to live on one of the planets created in the Star Wars franchise, most of us would pick Endor, home of the Ewoks. Thankfully, we don’t have to go to another planet to see that home. Endor was re-created in Redwood National Park in northern California.
This family-friendly national park is renowned for its giant trees. Make it part of a road trip that takes you along the Pacific Coast Highway, and you’ll return home with out-of-this-world stories that will last a lifetime.
As an 80s kid, Indiana Jones played an important role in my childhood. What better way to celebrate a bit of nostalgia than by visiting some of the filming locations of this cinematic franchise.
Indiana Jones has found himself in Peru a few times, but Harrison Ford? Not so much. The Peruvian jungle in Raiders of the Lost Ark — remember the famous boulder scene? — was actually the Hulē'ia National Wildlife Refuge in Kilauea, Hawaii. The refuge is now closed to the public to protect endangered birds, but you can see it via helicopter tour or from an overlook at Menehune Fish Pond.
The rest of Kilauea is certainly worth exploring, too. Named for the active volcano on the island of Kauai, it sits along the coast so you can enjoy plenty of beach time. Garden Island Chocolate gives tours and tastings.
When Indy went to South America in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the movie crew was actually in Hilo, Hawaii, on the Big Island. Scenic drives are a great way to see the varied terrain from beaches to rainforests. Don’t miss Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, less than an hour’s drive from Hilo.
You know Indy isn’t going to die, but watching him hang from that rope bridge and seeing it all come crashing down, you can’t help but feel the dramatic tension. Although the characters are supposed to be India, many Temple of Doom scenes were filmed in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Described by some as “a city of delightful chaos,” Kandy is a mixture of Buddhism and British colonialism. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth is one of the most popular destinations, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. The temple houses one of the Buddha’s teeth, which is considered the most important Buddhist relic in Sri Lanka.
There are also the Kandy Lake and Udawattakele Forest Reserve for those looking for some quiet time in nature.
If you’re racking your brain trying to remember when Indy was in Glasgow, you aren’t alone. The Scottish city was actually a stand-in for New York City in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Filmed during outbreaks of COVID, moviemakers got creative about their locations. The latest in the franchise was shot in six countries with only a handful of the locations being the real deal.
Chances are that if you’re going to Glasgow, though, you want a Scottish experience, not one that feels like you’re in the Big Apple. Make sure your visit includes a stop at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which has exhibits on such a wide range of topics, you won’t know where to look next. The Glasgow Botanic Gardens, including Kibble Palace, are great for a peaceful walk and are free to visit.
The James Bond movie franchise has let us globetrot alongside the British spy for more than 60 years. These not-so-secret locations are ready for you to visit.
In The Man with the Golden Gun, James Bond (played by Roger Moore) squared off with villain Scaramanga. The moment — and location — was so iconic that the site in Phang Nga Bay became unofficially known as James Bond Island.
The Man with the Golden Gun certainly wasn’t the last movie to film there, though. Phang Nga Bay was also a location for Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.
Towering cliffs and vibrant emerald water continue to draw travelers. Because of this, it can get crowded during peak season. Still, there are plenty of caves to explore, chances to sail or go kayaking, and loads of seafood.
Casino Royale was set in several locations around the world, but when it came to the filming, much of it was done in Czechia. The Palace of Westminster? It was actually the library of Prague’s Strahov Monastery. Scenes supposedly in Miami, Florida? Those were in Prague, too.
The casino where Bond (played by Daniel Craig) plays a high stakes poker game is in Karlovy Vary, Czechia, despite the fact that in the book, it’s a French casino and in the movie, you’re supposed to believe they’re in Montenegro. The Grandhotel Pupp, built in 1701, and Kaiserbad Spa both served as the backdrop for the cinematic casino.
Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, loved Jamaica. He wanted somewhere warm to escape the English winter, so he eventually made his home there — on a villa he named GoldenEye. In fact, you can stay at Villa Fleming, which includes GoldenEye, just miles away from Ocho Rios today.
Knowing how the author was drawn to Jamaica, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many of the stories were set on the island, nor should it be a shock that filmmakers would use Jamaica as the backdrop to bring those stories to life.
Much of No Time to Die was filmed in and around Port Antonio, Jamaica. The movie opens with a then-retired Bond (again, played by Daniel Craig) in a secluded cabin on the coast of San San Bay. Additional scenes were filmed around the city where the crew supposedly became big fans of local jerk chicken.
And of course, you can’t talk about James Bond in Jamaica without mentioning that it was in Ocho Rios that Honey Ryder stepped out of the sea as the first Bond girl in Dr. No.
So glamorous and yet so relatable with all their family drama, worries about money … or maybe not. Visit these filming locations from Downton Abbey to get a taste of the Granthams’ life. Because not all of us can afford a real-life chauffeur.
The Granthams are a posh family, but a family nonetheless. This was the case for the Carnarvons, the family that has lived in Highclere Castle since the 1600s. The current Lady Carnarvon isn’t some stuffy old dame, though. Check out her podcast covering everything from the filming of Downton Abbey to the real family to history and art.
When you make your way to Highclere, join a tour of the property. There are more than 250 rooms in the castle, and while you’ll only get a chance to see some of the main state rooms, many of them still contain furniture from the set.
There’s also an Egyptian exhibit. Why? Because the 5th Earl of Carnarvon was with Howard Carter when the tomb of Tutankhamun was uncovered.
You can also explore the grounds where Lord Grantham walked Isis and Lady Mary and Matthew had so many dramatic moments. Finish your experience with a spot of tea in the shop.
When Bates when to prison for allegedly murdering his ex-wife, of course it looked all gloom and doom. In reality, though, fictitious York Prison is Lincoln Castle, about four hours north of London.
The castle does have dungeons and a Victorian prison, but it’s so much more. There’s also a Medieval wall walk, guided tours to talk you through centuries of royal visits to the castle, and one of four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta.
The Granthams celebrated two Christmases, including the series finale, at Alnwick Castle. It has stood for nearly 1,000 years, serving multiple purposes. Today, it’s the home for the Percy family, which has lived and cared for the castle for more than 700 years.
You can do a film tour of the castle on your visit, or meander through the grounds with a guide. It’s more than just gardens, as Alnwick was used as fortress over the years, and some of that history remains. There’s plenty to do with kids, including an activity and coloring book with the knight “Harry Hotspur,” the chance to learn about armor, or try your hand at archery.
Downton Abbey is hardly the only show or movie to film at Alnwick Castle. You might also recognize it from two of the Harry Potter movies, Transformers: The Last Knight, and more.
In Downton Abbey: A New Era, the family traveled to the Mediterranean after Violet (played by Maggie Smith) mysteriously inherited a French villa. Located between St. Tropez and Marseille in southern France, this mansion is available for rent — if you have the coin.
For $56,000 per week (as of December 2023), you can rent the 23-bedroom, 25-bathroom house sitting on more than seven acres. Villa Rocabella comes with a full staff of maids, chefs, concierge, and groundskeeper, as well as a motorboat for your private use. Here’s hoping you have a mysterious inheritance also coming your way to enjoy this lovely vacation home.
So many of our movies transport us to another planet. To make those places come alive, filmmakers go far and wide to some remote places. That’s part of the adventure when you want to see the filming locations for yourself. Just remember that there can be extra risk that comes with going off the beaten path.
And that’s why we recommend travel insurance. Protect your money, belongings, and health (because you might not bounce back from an illness or injury like your favorite fictional character) with the right coverage from Seven Corners.