Movies are more than mere entertainment and travel movies very often provide people with an avenue to visit places they have never been to (and never will), and connect to cultures, languages, food and places they have never heard of. But it’s not always about visiting places through the silver screen. As you go through our list of the top travel movies, you will see how these cinematic pieces are also a get way for people to connect with their inner self, their ambitions, fear, and grief and learn to over come it or live with it.
Lord of The Rings
“The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the road has gone And I must follow, if I can”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien
The setting is a wheat field, half brown and half green, there is a scarecrow behind. Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins are on the edge of the Shire. “This is it.”, says Sam. “I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”
The greatest feat of the Lord of the Rings movies is that they encapsulate the sense of adventure, excitement, nervousness, the feeling of being torn apart between missing home and wanting to explore unseen lands in a way that barely any other travel movies have. The trilogy invokes a deep sense of wanderlust using a combination of stunning landscape cinematography, visuals, music and the plot.
There are over 180 real life places from New Zealand that we see in the movies. Tongariro National Park with Mount Ngauruhoe stood for Mordor and Mount Doom respectively, a farm in Matamata is the set for Hobbiton, the woods around Mount Victoria, Kaitoke Regional Park, Hutt River, Harcourt Park all serve as key places in the journey from Hobbiton to Rivendell and Isengard.
As far as travel movies go, Kedi is one of the most unique, intimate and pure biographies of a city. That city happens to be Istanbul and Kedi means “cat” in Turkish. In our detailed look at Istanbul we talked about how cats are omnipresent throughout the city. They come out of everywhere, aren’t shy (or judgy for that matter) to come and sit on your lap in a restaurant.
This 2016 documentary-film was directed by Turkish director Ceyda Torun and looks at Istanbul and the people through the eyes of seven different cats that live in the vibrant city. According to a New York Times article from 2019 there are more than 125,000 non-pet cats living in the streets of Istanbul. Religious Islamic beliefs mixed with the good natured locals keeps these cats well fed, clean and even celebrated in the heart of Istanbul.
Despite the spotlight being fixed upon the seven cats, the city of Istanbul is interwoven into the story, very intimately, and locally, a feat that very few travel movies manage to achieve. In this regard Kedi becomes one of those heartwarming travel movies that manages to draw us to Istanbul even more than we already are.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
If we were to categories films strictly, would Home Alone 2 be counted in the travel movies genre? Perhaps, not. But personally, and I believe many people would share this sentiment with me, it is one of the most impactful travel movies made on New York. Impactful not in a somber, complex interpersonal way rather in a light hearted yet deep manner: it makes the city a part of your core memory.
The first iteration of the Home Alone series was mostly restricted inside a home in the suburbs of Chicago. However, the second part aptly named “Lost in New York” is set during holiday season in the city that embraces the festive season unlike any other. For most millennials like me, growing up in the early 90s and 2000s the landmarks and visuals as young Macaulay Culkin romps around the Big Apple were very instrumental in developing a sort of fairy tale attraction towards New York, something that still lingers on in our psyche to this day.
If you would love to save some money during your next visit to the Bug Apple, then check out our list of top 20 cheap but nice hotels in New York.
“Various shots of the empty, cobble-stoned, other worldly streets of Bruges, Belgium. It’s winter, and a freezing fog covers everything; the Gothic churches, the narrow canals, their odd little bridges. We could be in any period of the last five hundred years. We happen to be in the present day. RAY speaks over all this.”.
These are the opening lines of the script of the film “In Bruges” by director Martin McDonagh. McDonagh says the inspiration for this film came from the time when he was stranded in Bruges. While watching the film you cannot help but feel the presence of Bruges slowly envelope the characters and you, the audience visually, as well as spiritually.
Bruges is one of the most well preserved medieval cities in Europe and it is a surprise that it is not regularly a subject of a lot of travel movies. However, in the film this beautiful city with its Catholic imagery act as a symbolic purgatory for our protagonist. Along with famous locations like Minnewater bridge, Huidenvettersplein, we also get to see magnificent paintings like Death and the Miser by Jan Provost, The Judgement of Cambyses by Gerard David, and The Last Judgement by Hironymus Bosch as the two leading characters visit the Groeninge Museum.
Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck, and the eternal city of Rome. The setting of one of the greatest travel movies of the 50s couldn’t be more iconic. Not only did it bag three Oscars (and 10 nominations) at Academy Awards in 1954 but also sparked an immediate wanderlust among a generation.
The movie launched the ever charming Audrey Hepburn as a big star and her effortless chic style would go onto become a rage, with Edith Head also winning an Oscar for best Costume Design. So, travel and fashion, you couldn’t make a better combo for the genre of travel movies. There are some iconic landmarks like the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Roman Forum and some lesser known gems like G Rocco Café, the apartment courtyard at Via Margutta 51, and the beautiful Galleria Alberto Sordi. If you want to enjoy Rome thoroughly, then check out our list of top 20 things to do in Rome.
The Indian film industry has produced some classic travel movies throughout decades. One among such is the 2013, Kangana Ranaut starrer Queen. While there have been many Indian movies that have been set in picturesque European towns and major US cities, Queen breaks the trope in a good natured, humorous and heart warming way while still staying within the mainstream boundaries.
A heartbreak, a trip, personal growth. At a glance the story may seem like a run-of-the-mill stereotype that many travel movies are guilty of delivering. But breaking the mold, the story follows a young girl Rani whose fiancé leaves her a day before their marriage. Carrying a broken heart Rani leaves alone for her honeymoon trip and what follows is an innocent girl who hasn’t seen much outside her city navigating through Paris and Amsterdam. Scoring 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.1 on Imbd, Queen is one of the few travel movies that encourages young women to break from their constraints of doing the expected and growing into their own.
Secret Life of Walter Mitty
“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”
Next entry on our list of the best travel movies is a film that has polarized the opinions of critics but the fans seem to absolutely love it. Ben Stiller has had a quirky, stellar career and the same can be said about this film, which not just stars him but also was co-directed and produced by Stiller.
Interestingly, the movie was shot on film using ARRICAM Lite (LT) Camera instead of digital camera and uses Hawk V-Lite Lenses. These technical choices make the scenes in the movie, specially the landscape scenes feel more natural letting in more light unlike the digital camera which can have a touch up, manufactured look like some travel movies do.
Despite the movie having Stiller’s character Walter Mitty travel to Greenland, the stunning locations in this movie are from Iceland. The small fishing village of Gardur, the capital of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Grundarfjördur near the Kirkjufell mountain, and Höfn near Vatnajökull glacier all feature in this movie.
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants
Four friends awaiting to join their senior year in high school, summer holidays, a pair of jeans and some sweet wanderlust inspiring scenes from Greece. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants has everything that travel movies want in their storyline and despite sounding like a teenage flick, it is genuinely touching at times.
The movie revolves around four lifetime friends who miraculously find a pair of jeans that fits all of them despite them being of different sizes. We follow Lena Kaligaris in her holiday in none other than stunning Greece. The 2008 sequel also sees all the friends go to Greece (before Blake Lively’s character goes to Turkey which are also filmed in Greece). Filmed mostly in Santorini, it remains one of the most loved travel movies by the “90s kids generation”.
Looking for a vacation in Greece? Check out our curated lost of the top 20 Greek islands for your holidays.
Travel movies are great mediums of grieving and overcoming or at least learning to live with the grief. The 2010 movie “The Way” is one of such travel movies and it becomes even more poignant after the difficult period of pandemic that we had. Emilio Estevez who also stars in this movie along side his father wrote and directed it for his grandfather and not just features stunning landscape views but also a genuine story of uplift after a tragedy.
Breaking the trope of traveling to Spain for a fun getaway in so many travel movies, we follow California doctor Tom who travels there to identify the body of his son Daniel. Overcome with grief, Tom decides to take the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage to the Cathedral de Santiago to scatter the ashes of his late son.
We meet him in the Pyrenean foothills of France in Saint Jean Pied de Port where we see the train station, the restaurant Oilllarburu, Hotel Continental, and Porte Notre Dame. He then crosses the border to enter Roncesvalles, a Camino town in Spain. One of the best travel movies about grief we are shown stunning landmarks from Navarra, La Rioja, Burgos, León, Lugo, A Coruña, and Galicia.
Another cult classic in our list of best travel movies that inject you with an urge to travel and the first of a three part series. All of the movies in the Before series spark a strong sense of travel as the cities play more part than being mere aesthetic backdrops. In the 1995 movie Before Sunrise we see Vienna, the capital of Austria, play a major role in sparking the conversation and connection between our two lead characters.
We start with Jesse and Celine who met off-screen somewhere outside Budapest and they land on Westbahnhof Train Station. From here the city of Vienna is laid bare right in front of our eyes. We see the Zollamssteg Bridge, the Votivkirche Church, the Cemetery of the Nameless, the Wurstelprater Amusement Park, Kleines Café, and the Gardens of Palais Schwarzenberg.
Paris, Je T’aime
Paris, Je T’aime Or “Paris, I love you” is quite different from other travel movies in our list as it is a collection of 18 montages from 22 different directors set up in the City of Light. While watching the movie, it becomes quite evident that unlike many travel movies, this doesn’t necessarily project Paris as a perfect dreamland rather the city serves as a platform for the mini stories to be told. While the most popular tourist destinations serve as a break between different stories, places like the Tuileries station, Le Marais, the adult shops in Pigalle all take you deeper into the Parisian life and tell the stories of ethnically and also sexually different casts, a cast as wide spectrum as the city itself.
The Lost City of Z
There are loads of things that different people can relate to with the next entry in our best travel movies list. A son trying to prove that he is not like his father (whose military career came crashing down via alcoholism) , a researcher trying to prove his theories, and a man coming to grips that his dreams seem further away while his age passes swiftly. Charlie Hunnam stars as explorer Percy Fawcett as we engaged in his mission to find the city of Zed in the Amazons. Despite the story being set in Brazilian rainforests, we are treated to stunning scenes from jungles near Santa Maria in Colombia, Don Diego River in Tayrona National Park and surprisingly in Northern Ireland.
As mentioned earlier, grief has always played a huge part as the driving force for the plot in many travel movies. Wild which came out in 2014, is also based on one such story of grief based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found. Cheryl whirlpools into a destructive life of heroine after her mother dies of cancer and barely hangs onto her bleak life. What beings her back is the 1,100 mile trek of the Pacific Crest Trail.
We see Reese Witherspoon play Cheryl, the novice hiker with absolutely no prior experience of hiking huff and puff along the grueling Pacific Crest Trail, the totality of which takes around 5 months of snow free season to hike for average hikers.
Jean-Marc Valleé, the director’s insistence of shooting in actual site of the trail brings us some stunning locations, specially from Oregon. We start at the Mojave desert, go through Mount Hood, sleep around Lake Carter and finally end our journey at the border of Oregon-Washington border at the Bridge of Gods.
Under the Tuscan Sun
The adjective “Tuscan” has become a sort of cultural, lifestyle symbol and featured in everything from rap songs (Drake at his peak in 2013) to perfume bottles ( Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford). Not to mention the plethora of other goods from bathroom tiles to food which have managed to stand out from the crowd due to their “Tuscan” origin. While there have been many travel movies made on Italy, the 1996 book “Under the Tuscan Sun” and the 2003 movie of the same name have had a huge role in this marketing distinction. And you know what, complex deep travel movies are great but sometimes all you need is a movie about restoring a cute villa and stunning shots from Cortona and Florence.
The Darjeeling Limited
A Hollywood movie about three brothers, all of whom are at terribly peculiar points in their lives, taking a train in India to renew the bond between themselves and “find enlightenment and spirituality”. When I put the movie this way, it can sound like a huge eye roll of a film, yet another run of the mill spirituality in India kind of movie. However, this is a Wes Anderson movie, and things are quirky, weird, cinematically pleasing and touching. To understand why it qualifies on list of the best travel movies take a look at this scene:
The three brothers (who are meeting a year after their father’s funeral) are sitting at a long diner table inside the train. There is an Indian man there too. They open up to each other about personal stuff and considering that it is the first class it is obvious that the Indian man can understand them and they know that. However, the man presents no obvious reaction to their talk, no eye raises, no smirking, no frowns, no smiles, he just keeps reading his newspaper.
While the brothers are on a tumultuous journey with their tumultuous relationships among each other and tumultuous lives, the man is without obvious reactions of judgement, but he is very much present. The man is very much like the land of India in the film, ever present, more than just a chaotic, picturesque backdrop but without interference breaking the exotification trope that so many travel movies commit.
The Eagle Huntress
Taking a break from popular destination of Europe and India, we travel to a remote location that many travel movies seem to skip over: Mongolia. We follow 13 year old Khazak girl Aisholpan and her mentor and father Nurgaiv who are preparing for the Golden Eagle Festival in Ölgii (the capital of Bayan-Ölgii province of Mongolia). A tradition reserved for boys, we not just see how the young girl trains and rises to the occasion but also stunning landscape of the Mongolian steppe.
Into The Wild
Perhaps one of the most famous travel movies that has sparked wanderlust in an entire generation, the 2007 movie Into the Wild has become a cult classic. Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless who after graduation sells all his possession and starts a journey, or more of a quest, which ultimately takes him to Alaska where he attempts to live off the wild. Starting from Georgia, we are treated to the great American outdoors in South Dakota, Arizona, Nevada, even Mexico and California. Along with the Pacific Crest Trail which made an appearance above, we are also treated to scenes from Lake Mead, Beard’s Hollow in Oregon, golden grain farmlands in South Dakota, rafting in Colorado River, before the atory ultimately takes a dark turn in a bus in Alaska.
If you would like a taste of rafting and or other adrenaline pumping sports, check out our list of the Top 20 most extreme adventure sports.
Imitiaz Ali’s Tamasha followed a lot of expectations because of his stellar directorial works in Rockstar and Highway. Now, depending upon whom you ask, the movie can be a hit or a miss, but it is a complex study of the urban youth’s life who is struggling to differentiate what part of his life is reality and what is just an artifice. Whatever side you pick, it is undeniable that it gives us some major wanderlust through beautiful scenery and dance numbers in Corsica and a plot that most Indian travel movies don’t delve into.
Lost in Translation
Even among a plethora of travel movies barely any comes close to inspiring the almost lyrical, poetic, aching wanderlust of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Bill Murray plays the role of Bob Harris, a Hollywood star who is in Tokyo for a whiskey commercial while Scarlet Johansson plays Charlotte who is also in Tokyo with her husband. From Park Hyatt Hotel (which offers some stunning and lonely views of the city), the neon coloured streets of Shinjuku, famed crossing of Shibuya to Kyoto’s Zen temples, we get a story of loneliness and people in one of the best travel movies of all time.
Midnight in Paris
This is not the first film in our list and neither will there be any shortage of travel movies made on Paris. However, Midnight in Paris will more or less be the most popular among them. Most of the film is set with the Latin quarter of Paris as the backdrop but some scenes are also set a day trip away from the capital like Claude Monet’s home in Giverny. We also travel to the Palace of Versailles, The Rodin Museum, Hotel Le Bristol, a lunch in Le Grand Vefour, and Saint Etienne du Mont.