Bucket List

9 Cinematic Destinations You Can Actually Visit

From Middle Earth to Tattooine, the beloved cinematic universes from Hollywood’s best works are not completely fictitious.

By Jenn Nguyen December 17, 2015

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The Shire is a real place—and you can really visit.

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Cinephiles, make a quick New Year's resolution to travel more, then grab your passport and pack your bags: Those beautiful mise en scènes you see in films are not just limited to the silver screen. From Middle Earth to Tattooine, the beloved cinematic universes from Hollywood’s best works are not completely fictitious. Turn the airport runway into your own red carpet for your next vacation and check out these global landmarks from the world’s most famous flicks.

Kaitoke Regional Park, New Zealand 

New Zealand’s beautiful, vast plains were transformed into Middle Earth for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Kaitoke Regional Park—just a 50-minute drive away from capital city Wellington—is the location for fictional Rivendell, the ethereal Elvish paradise from the fantasy epics. You can hike through the canopied woodlands or kayak on the Hutt River gorge. Still not ready to leave J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary realm? Visit The Shire (yes, The Shire) at Hobbiton Movie Set.

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The "Cliffs of Insanity" are actually quite lovely, especially at sunset.

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Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

The cult classic film The Princess Bride includes scenery from the Emerald Isle’s distinctive Cliffs of Moher—or rather, the “Cliffs of Insanity,” as fans of the movie would know. The landmark got its moniker from the namesake fortress that once was on the southernmost point of the Cliffs. You can take in the gorgeous views of the precipices, which reach as high as 702 feet, while strolling down the coastal walk.

Public Square, Cleveland

If you happen to be comic book nerd and find yourself in “The Forest City,” check out the Ohio town’s Public Square, which you might recognize from one of the epic battle scenes in The Avengers. Cleveland’s principal plaza includes the 1855 Old Stone Church, a 125-foot tall Civil War monument, and the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland (Another interesting cinema factoid: Horseshoe used to be the Higbee’s department store shown in the holiday movie A Christmas Story). 

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Sorry; no grails here, holy or otherwise.

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Petra, Jordan

If you’re seeking adventure and yearning to explore ancient civilizations, look no further than the ruins of Petra, Jordan - which were the backdrops for Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade. The rusty-hued edifices of “The Red Rose City” date back to as early as 312 B.C. and were home to Arab Nabataean settlers. Al Khazneh, or “The Treasury,” is arguably the most recognizable temple from this UNESCO Heritage site and was originally constructed to be a mausoleum.

Hellbrun Palace, Austria

Musical faithfuls cannot forget the iconic The Sound of Music number when Rolfe and Liesl sing “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” in the gazebo. The gazebo’s exterior shots were actually taken at its original home in Schloss Leopoldskron, before its eventual relocation to Hellbrun. You can take a tour of Hellbrun’s palace park and, if you so choose, even sing the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s tune in the gazebo itself.

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Accio pudding!

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Christ Church College, Oxford, United Kingdom 

Although the film adaptations of the Harry Potter literary series were primarily filmed on their own Warner Bros. set, Christ Church College of Oxford University doubled as the movies’ Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The school’s famous hall, with its intricately arched windows and high-vaulted, cathedral-esque ceilings, served as inspiration for the Hogwarts own great hall. Completed in the 1520s, the Christ Church’s hall is a great example of Renaissance-era architecture and is regularly used as a university facility today.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The Khmer site’s ornate, lotus-shaped towers can be seen in the action-packed scenes of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Angkor Wat’s intricate structures were originally built in the early 12th century as Hindu temples for King Suryavarman II, but were eventually completed to serve Buddhist worshippers. Spanning approximately 401 acres, it is the largest religious monument in the world and welcomes up to 2 million tourists each year. 

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In a galaxy not so far away...

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Hotel Sidi Driss, Matmâta, Tunisia

Still pretending you’re a long-lost Jedi? You can stay at Luke Skywalker’s childhood homestead in Tatooine for the night (or longer) if you so choose. Located in the village of Matmâta in southern Tunisia, Hotel Sidi Driss’ cavernous sandstone structure reflects the classic Berber architecture of the region. In 1995, French artist Phillip Vanni restored some of the original artwork and decorations seen in 1977’s A New Hope, so you can feel at home in the Star War’s universe (sorry, lightsabers not included).

Canaima National Park, Venezuela

If towering heights and long hikes don’t scare you off, revel in the natural wonders of the tepui rock formations at Canaima National Park. The tepui were the inspiration for the breathtaking Paradise Falls animations in Pixar’s Up. The film’s artists traveled to Canaima and studied three well-known tepui: Mount Roraima, Kukenan, and Auyantepui - the latter of which is home to Angel Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall at 3,212 feet high.


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