Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

Set-jetting

Movie and TV set locations worth the trip

BYKim Jakubowski
Over the past five years, a new phenomenon has propelled an unprecedented number of travelers to destinations that once were considered obscure. It’s called the “Game of Thrones Effect,” and countries like Iceland and Croatia are reveling in it. But Game of Thrones’ directors are far from alone in their talent for picking set locations that double as desirable vacation spots. From Downton Abbey and Princess Bride to Lord of the Rings and Stranger Things, here’s our list of movie and TV filming locations worth seeing offscreen.
 
Game of Thrones
With landscapes as dramatic as the series’ murder-obsessed plot and as alluring as its actors, it’s not shocking that tourism has escalated at the show’s filming sites. Tour guides in these locations have been eager to ride the trend with countless GOT-themed excursions.
 
Iceland’s otherworldly Lake Mývatn — surrounded by lava fields, impressive craters, and Goðafoss, one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls — depicts the area beyond The Wall. Visitors can enjoy a soothing soak in the mineral-rich geothermal water of the Mývatn Nature Baths.
 
Northern Ireland’s scenery also plays a starring role. The region is home to the Dark Hedges (known as The Kingsroad in the series), a haunting avenue near Stranocum (a small village in County Antrim) lined with centuries-old beech trees.  
 
Southern Spain is a filming site for the series’ more temperate southern kingdoms, with the Alcazar — an intricate 11th century palace in Seville — representing both Dorne’s capital and its Water Gardens, and Cordoba’s Roman Bridge depicting the Long Bridge of Volantis.
 
The Adriatic city of Dubrovnik, Croatia — adorned with beautiful baroque architecture and lined with ancient walls — assumes the role of King’s Landing, capital of Westeros.
 
Stranger Things
Since the launch of last summer’s supremely binge-watchable ’80s throwback series, who among us hasn’t imagined unspeakable horrors escaping from the government’s local lab every time a light flickers? Bellwood Quarry in Atlanta, Georgia, is arguably the series’ most recognizable site, featured in two pivotal scenes involving a corpse and feats of telekinetic super strength.
 
Zombie-smitten viewers also may recognize the quarry as the survivor camp from season one of The Walking Dead. It’s also earned screen time in The Vampire Diaries, the Divergent series, and the first Hunger Games movie. The quarry is not currently open to the public, but fans can view it via a bus tour. There also are tentative plans to develop the area into Atlanta’s largest park.  
 
Downton Abbey
England’s stunning Highclere Castle is a must-see for devotees of the aristocratic Crawley family and their cadre of servants. The Victorian castle’s exterior was the star of the PBS drama, and fans who worship the Dowager Countess’s clever insults will delight in exploring several rooms where interior scenes were filmed. Even visitors unfamiliar with the show will appreciate the site’s history, architecture, sprawling gardens, and Egyptian exhibit (the castle was once home to Lord Carnarvon, the man who discovered King Tut’s tomb). The castle is open about 70 days a year, and tickets for tours often sell out, so be sure to check availability on the castle’s website before planning your trip.
 
Harry Potter
Muggles traveling to London can get a taste of what it’s like to board the Hogwarts Express by visiting King’s Cross Station, the location for Platform 9¾. The station’s tribute to wizarding students is marked by a sign and a photo-op-conducive luggage cart careening into the wall. To explore Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron, head to London’s Victorian-era Leadenhall Market, where scenes from the first film were captured.
 
Those eager to wander Hogwarts’ halls can visit Gloucester Cathedral, the filming site for various Hogwarts interiors. A view of Hogwarts’ exterior will require a pilgrimage to several filming sites across England and Scotland, including Durham Cathedral (a World Heritage Site), Alnwick Castle, and Glen Coe, filming location for Hagrid’s Hut and the bridge leading to Hogwarts.
 
Jurassic Park
The 4,000-acre Kualua Private Nature Reserve on the northeastern side of Oahu is likely the world’s most famous working cattle ranch. The northern half of this verdant paradise, Kaʻaʻawa Valley, has earned the nickname “Hollywood’s Hawaii Backlot” for its role as a filming site for more than 50 blockbuster movies and TV shows, including Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, Pearl Harbor, Godzilla, LOST, 50 First Dates, and Hawaii Five-0. Check out our episode on Oahu for a sneak peek into what to expect on a tour of the ranch.
 
The Lord of the Rings
The Shire — lush, idyllic home to the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies — is located on the pastures of the Hamilton-Waikato region south of Auckland, New Zealand. Daily tours of the 12-acre Hobbiton movie set are available, including intricate hobbit holes and the Green Dragon Inn.
 
The impressive volcanic features of Tongariro National Park, New Zealand’s oldest national park and a World Heritage site, set the scene for Mordor. Here, advanced climbers can summit Mt. Ngauruhoe. One of New Zealand’s most active volcanoes, it plays the infamous and imposing Mt. Doom, where Frodo and Sam trekked on their mission to destroy the ring.
 
Star Wars
Your aircraft need not reach lightspeed to transport you to a galaxy far, far away. In fact, several scenes from the original trilogy were filmed within road trip distance for Arizonans. Filmmakers chose the Imperial Sand Dunes in California, just 20 miles west of Yuma, for a crucial Return of the Jedi scene that pits Jabba the Hut against Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber-wielding acrobatic skills. In the same film, the forest moon of Endor, home to the fierce, furry Ewoks, was shot in Redwood National Park.
 
Scenes on Naboo in Episode II: Attack of the Clones were filmed in Seville, Spain, at the Plaza de España, a sweeping, Renaissance-inspired structure built for the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929. Star Wars wasn’t the first film credit for the plaza, as it also appeared in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962. The site and surrounding park have earned UNESCO World Heritage Site recognition.
 
Fans of the series’ most recent installment, The Force Awakens, can join Game of Thrones followers in Iceland, where Krafla Volcano and the Lake Mývatn made for picturesque battle scenes between The First Order and The Resistance.
 
Princess Bride
The western coast of Ireland in County Clare is home to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the most iconic landmarks in the country. These cliffs might also be recognized by devotees of the cult classic Princess Bride as The Cliffs of Insanity. Wesley scales these cliffs by hand in pursuit of Princess Buttercup’s kidnappers, a heroic feat that travelers, upon seeing the 700-foot plunge into the Atlantic from the cliff’s edge, will find inconceivable.
 
Goonies
The classic 1980s adventure was filmed on location in the seaside town of Astoria, Oregon. Were the movie true to scale, the kids would have biked a marathon to get from Mikey’s house (which is no longer open to the public) to the movie’s gorgeous scene at Ecola State Park’s Cannon Beach (scenes from Twilight and Point Break were also filmed here). The rock used to navigate the map is the 235-foot tall Haystack Rock, a designated marine garden and seabird nesting refuge, as well as one of the largest “sea stacks” on the Pacific coast.
 
Jaws
Amity Island, fictional home to everyone’s favorite homicidal shark, was filmed in Martha’s Vineyard, an upscale resort island off the coast of Massachusetts now known for its status as a presidential retreat.
 
The Shining
The ornate, 108-year-old Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, was the inspiration for Steven King’s chilling 1977 novel. Director Stanley Kubrick, however, was reportedly nauseated by the idea of shooting his interpretation of the story inside “a wedding cake.” Though the hotel never saw Kubrick’s camera crew, it honors the movie’s legacy and the hotel’s haunted history during its daily historic tours and nightly ghost tours. Guests seeking their own paranormal experience can inquire about upgrading to a haunted room at check-in.
 
The Wizard of Oz
Turns out Dorothy’s house wasn’t uprooted from Kansas — the entire movie was filmed in an indoor studio in Culver City, California. Nevertheless, the small town of Liberal, Kansas, has devoted itself to recreating the film’s setting. At Dorothy’s House in the Land of Oz, located on the grounds of the Seward County Coronado Museum, guides sporting ruby slippers lead tourists from a replica of Dorothy’s house down a yellow brick road. The road leads to a 5,000-square-foot exhibit that features displays of the Emerald City, the wizard’s chambers, and cast memorabilia.
 
Liberal isn’t the only small town in Kansas bringing the tale to life. The town of Wamego is home to the Oz Museum, which contains thousands of Oz-related relics, from playbills to early copies of L. Frank Baum’s books. After touring the museum, oenophiles can treat themselves to “Drunken Munchkin” and “Witch Gone Good” wines at the nearby Oz-themed winery.
KIM JAKUBOWSKI is the associate editor of Highroads.
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Interested in booking a trip like this?
Call your local AAA Travel agent at 1-888-870-9392 or visit AAA.com.
Welcome to AAA Highroads
To enjoy customized local content, please enter your ZIP Code below.
Zip Code
AAA Arizona proudly serves AAA members in the state of Arizona
×