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Holiday with Hollywood - our top destinations for film set locations

  • Published 22 December 2017

From small screen to silver screen, the setting of a show can dramatically affect the mood and atmosphere, so here's our list of some of the most iconic locations from our favourite films.

The world is vast and unbelievably beautiful, offering cinematographers an infinity of opportunities to create masterpieces without even needing to resort to CGI. From bustling metropolises to untamed wildernesses, and everything in between, some of our favourite scenes from the big screen are made iconic by their locations, so we’ve created a run-down of some of the best places for you to head to really feel the cinemagic.

(Right) Mount Sunday, near Christchurch New Zealand, was the setting for Edoras in the The Lord Of The Rings trilogy

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Monaco's Port Hercule played host to the one that got away - Xenia Onatopp
The mystical region of Meteora provided a stunning setting for For Your Eyes Only

One scene that really captures the essence of the James Bond franchise takes place in the tiny principality of Monaco, where in 1995’s Goldeneye, Bond tries and fails to stop villain Xenia Onatopp from stealing a Eurocopter Tiger helicopter from right under the noses of the French military. Sprinting through Port Hercule (above), the Monegasque police prevent Bond from approaching the helicopter, meaning Onatopp can fly away across the Mediterranean. 

An iconic part of many Bond films are the high-speed ski chases. In both A View To A Kill (1985) and The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), the slopes of St. Moritz in Switzerland stand in for other less-accessible locations as 007 flees Soviet agents down the mountainside, accompanied by his famous theme music of course. A short distance to the west near the town of Locarno sits the Contra Dam – the site of one of the franchise’s most famous stunts. Taking place in Goldeneye, Bond bungee-jumps off the dam in the film’s opening scene – a sequence voted the best movie stunt of all time by Sky in 2002. 

Heading to the opposite side of the world now, the villain of 2012’s Skyfall is Raoul Silva, whose base on an island in Macau was based on Gunkanjima – Battleship Island – an abandoned mining facility off the coast of Japan. The same film also features several scenes in Shanghai, though much of the filming took place in London, including the scene in which Bond swims in an ambiently lit pool in his skyscraper hotel room, for which the Virgin Active pool in Canary Wharf was used.

A visually stunning scene loved by many takes place in For Your Eyes Only (1981). Bond, alongside Melina Havelock and Milos Columbo, breaks into an abandoned monastery atop a Greek cliff in order to recover a stolen ATAC military communications system. The scene was shot on location at the Agia Triada Monastery (above) in Greece’s Meteora UNESCO World Heritage Site – a collection of six monasteries perched perilously atop sheer cliffs – a worthy site to visit for any intrepid explorer, film buff or otherwise.

Feel Good Classics

Udaipur's majestic Lake Palace has proved the ideal site for capturing the unique Indian atmosphere on screen
The atmospheric Cliffs of Moher provide the perfect fantasy setting

For many films it’s their atmospheric settings that make them so memorable, as much as the characters and plot. Romantic comedies are world-favourites, and many have iconic scenes of reuniting lovers, tearful goodbyes, or bold musical numbers. 

This is certainly true of the hit 2011 film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which takes place in the city of Jaipur, India. Scenes for the hotel itself were shot at the Revla Khempur Hotel in nearby Udaipur, while the Pink City itself largely needed no stand-in, with many scenes filmed in and around Jaipur’s City Palace and the Marigold Market. A final scene of the film sees the cast head to the Lake Palace Hotel in Udaipur, a location also used for the James Bond film Octopussy (1983), which floats serenely on the waters of Lake Pichola – a picturesque location well worth a visit (above).

Surely few scenes are as world-renowned as the final moments of Sleepless In Seattle (1993), in which leads Annie and Sam finally meet on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building. The iconic skyscraper was the tallest building in the world for 40 years, and perhaps most famously is featured in the 1933 hit King Kong, as well as its 2005 remake.

Closer to home, a number of beloved films have taken place within the UK. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) features a number of well known locations around London, and Bridget’s flat can even be seen in Borough Market, where it is now The Globe pub. The 1987 hit romantic comedy The Princess Bride sees a number of scenes shot in the British Isles, with Haddon Hall in Derbyshire standing in for Florin Castle, and the Cliffs of Moher in County Kerry Ireland (above) taking the role of the Cliffs of Insanity for the iconic scene in which Westley tricks Vizzani into drinking from a poisoned chalice.

Musical Numbers

The Aegean paradise of Skoplos proved the ideal setting for Mamma Mia
Paris' iconic Moulin Rouge has been a staple of the city's culture for decades

While musicals are all about the audio, none would be truly complete without breath-taking and captivating visuals too. From the Salzburg backdrop of The Sound of Music (1965) and the fairy-tale castle of the Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), both of which used the Bavarian hills, to Les Misérables’ (2012) Parisian suburbs, mostly filmed in Greenwich and Winchester, the backdrops to the world’s favourite musicals have been just as inspiring as their soundtracks.    

Mamma Mia (2008) is one of the most beloved musicals thanks to its all-star cast and lively soundtrack, as well as the stunning Greek locations – ostensibly the fictional island of Kalokairi. Truly iconic is the scene in which Tanya serenades the flirtatious Pepper with ‘Does Your Mother Know?’, which was filmed on Kastani Beach, on the northern Aegean island of Skopelos. It’s in the nearby church of Agios Ioannis (above) that the famous final scene takes place, with the clifftop site providing the perfect backdrop to Meryl Streep’s dramatic solo in ‘The Winner Takes It All’.
An equally lively and widely-adored musical is Sister Act (1992), in which Whoopi Goldberg takes refuge disguised as a nun in St. Katharine’s Convent, San Francisco, for which the Catholic Church of St Paul in Noe Valley was used as a filming location. The iconic final scene of Sunshine on Leith (2013) meanwhile was filmed on-site in Princess Street Gardens in Edinburgh, with more than 500 people taking place in the grand finale outside the National Gallery of Scotland. 

Of course we couldn’t talk about musicals without mention the vibrant showstopper that is Moulin Rouge! (2001), set in the Montmartre district of Paris. The eponymous Moulin Rouge (above) is a world-renowned cabaret venue, opened in 1889 and famous as the birthplace of the can-can dance. Fortunately, unlike in the film, it is still open and thriving today, and its bright and lively atmosphere is every bit as thrilling as it appears in Baz Lurhmann’s classic.    

Fantasy Favourites

there’s still plenty of wonder and wilderness out there to transport audiences to new worlds

When it comes to fantasy films, the imaginations of cinematographers have created some truly remarkable landscapes, and though sometimes the limits of our home planet have proved inadequate for the likes of James Cameron and J J Abrams, there’s still plenty of wonder and wilderness out there to transport audiences to new worlds. 

Famously, the six adaptations of J R R Tolkein’s works have extensively used New Zealand’s landscapes as settings for the fantastic lands of Middle Earth. Just outside Hamilton, the original set of Hobbiton from the The Hobbit trilogy is open to visitors, while Mount Sunday near Christchurch is easily recognisable as the setting for the city of Edoras, capital of Rohan.

While it may not have made it to the silver screen, the Game of Thrones universe certainly deserves to feature in this list, since its backdrops and landscapes are some of the most stunning to have graced the world’s televisions. The best place to head for fans of George R R Martin’s work is Croatia, the location for many scenes from the hit TV show.  Many will recognise the old city of Dubrovnik (above)  – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – as King’s Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, as many outdoor scenes were filmed there, while the nearby island of Lokrum was used as the setting for a garden party attended by Daenerys in Season Two. 

Other parts of Croatia were also used, from the cellars of the ancient city of Split, which were used to represent the underground passages of Meereen, while Meereen’s outdoor scenes were filmed nearby in Klis Fortress, and the Croatian city of Šibenik took the place of Braavos for many exterior shots.    

Action Scenes

High-speed chases, daring shootouts and thrilling stunts all make for good cinema, and often these take place in real-life places where you can go and get a taste of the action for yourself. Whether authentic-looking sets are used, such the fabricated version of Rome’s St Peter’s Square for Angels And Demons (2009), or whether film crews made use of the real deal, such as Greenwich’s Old Naval College in Thor: The Dark World (2013), it’s still thrilling to be able to point out the places where are favourite heroes and villains have crossed swords.

A recent scene that’s got everyone talking takes place in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011), when Ethan Hunt heads to Dubai to scale the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building (above). Another Dubai setting for the film was the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray Hotel, which was used to represent a Mumbai hotel where the film’s antagonists are negotiating a high-risk arms deal. 
The Day After Tomorrow (2004) of course features plenty of iconic New York landmarks, from the well-known shot of the ice-encrusted Statue of Liberty to the scene in which all the glass is blown out of the Empire State building. While these shots were filmed using CGI, a large part of the plot takes place in the New York Public Library, which was actually used as the filming location.

When it comes to car chases, many have been cleverly filmed on sets or using computer-generated images to avoid public disruption or danger that would be caused by filming on site. A notable exception to this is The Italian Job (1969), for which the streets of Turin were closed off to allow the film crew to shoot the iconic Mini chase. Taking a more relaxed tone, the opening scene was filmed on the St. Bernard Pass, near Breuil-Cervinia, which makes for a very scenic drive, particularly if the sun’s shining and ‘On Days Like These’ is playing on the radio.

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