Digital wizardry can twist and turn any setting into a formidable movie backdrop, but some locations are as stunning in person as they are on the silver screen. Directors, producers, and set designers scour the planet for their perfect locations, and sometimes they land in a place you would never expect. From old seaside towns to sleepy tropical islands, all sorts of sites were made famous by Hollywood – and they’re still a big draw for fans. Check out these seven famous movie settings for a deeper look into your favorite films.
Angel Falls, Mount Roraima, Venezuela (Up)
The Paradise Falls in the movie Up don’t exist – but they’re inspired by a real, jaw-dropping waterfall in Venezuela. Angel Falls, located in the Canaima National Park in the southeastern part of the country, is the tallest waterfall in the world, and certainly one of the most awe-inspiring. A long, crashing stream of water flows over the sheer cliff face, surrounded by plenty of thick jungle and the sounds of the rainforest. It takes some time to find this lost world, but visitors won’t be disappointed.
Laie Point, Hawaii (Forgetting Sarah Marshall)
On the eastern tip of Oahu you’ll find the tropical oasis of Laie Point, where Peter Bretter went to forget Sarah Marshall. The state park is a beautiful expanse of green, with lush palm forest, and ending at a sheer cliff side over deep blue water. If you’re looking for a thrill, take the dive off the jagged point with the other locals that gather here. If the crashing waves are too much for your sensibility, enjoy the stroll along the coastline and take in the textured landscape.
Lake Lure, North Carolina (Dirty Dancing)
The cult classic may have been set in the verdant Catskills, but it wasn’t filmed there. Most of the movie’s scenes were actually filmed in the astounding landscape around Lake Lure in North Carolina. There’s still a strong association with Dirty Dancing in this little lakeside community, which holds a Dirty Dancing Festival every summer with an outdoor screening, a “lake lift” competition, and games like watermelon carrying. Die-hard fans will have the time of their lives.
Matamata, New Zealand (The Hobbit)
Image: Troy Wegman / Shutterstock.com
After the celebrated Lord of the Rings trilogy was unleashed on the ravenous masses, New Zealand jumped to the top of many bucket lists. The terrain runs from jagged mountains, through thick forests, and into rolling hillsides, one of which was (and remains) the site of Hobbiton. A little detour to Matamata on the North Island will bring you to the hobbit holes of “the shire”, still adorned with their cute mailboxes and other front stoop accessories.
Northumberland, England (Harry Potter)
The rolling hills of Northern England are home to quite a few castles, but Alnwick castle was chosen as the star for the Hogwarts scenes in two of the Harry Potter movies. Even without the dash of wizardry, it’s a sprawling, blooming, magical space, with a selection of ponds and gardens (including the “poison garden” that holds some of the deadliest plants in the world). Of course, the stony medieval structure is a highlight; the picture-perfect backdrop for magical meetings is equally beautiful for visiting muggles.
Ko Phi Phi Le, Thailand (The Beach)
The rippling turquoise waters and lush green islands in The Beach almost seem like CGI, but they are very real – and just as lovely in person. In Thailand’s Krabi province, in the clear blue bay, sits an island known as Phi Phi Le, a sandy paradise that provided the backdrop for the majority of the film. However, if you venture to this little corner of the country, you’ll have your pick of several similarly idyllic islands – some are easily accessible, and some are left in their wild state.
Dubrovnik, Croatia (Game of Thrones)
With its ever-changing epic scenery, it’s pretty obvious that the Games of Thrones series has been shot in several locations, but it was the imposing castle and surrounding old town of Dubrovnik that served as the setting for King’s Landing. The medieval city was chosen for its sun-baked stone buildings, impeccably preserved since the city’s medieval heyday, as well as the imposing cliffs and natural harbor. Fans can take a Game of Thrones walking tour through the city to soak in all the sites.
One of the best ways to really experience the setting behind the film is by taking a guided tour – you’ll get some neat insight into the movie as well as the landscape. Just be wary of self-proclaimed “expert” guides, who may prey on excited tourists!