From Iceland to New Zealand: the world’s most iconic filming locations

From Iceland’s dramatic landscapes to the world’s largest desert in Abu Dhabi, planet Earth’s most incredible destinations have often been key features on both the big and small screens – providing a unique backdrop for surreal and unforgettable storytelling. Discover the filming locations of five iconic franchises, where you could walk in the footsteps of your all-time favourite characters.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland. Image: iStock/IdealPhoto30

Game of Thrones: Iceland & Croatia

The blustery landscapes of Iceland, full to the brim with geysers and waterfalls, lava beaches and glaciers, are the most iconic of the real-life settings of Game of Thrones. Explore the dramatic terrain of one of the world’s happiest countries (which couldn’t be less true of its fictional sister, Westeros) and even visit some of the filming locations, like the Bloody Gate in Þingvellir National Park, and a certain settlement-era lodge in the Þjórsárdalur Valley which was the site of a horribly haunting massacre (if you know, you know).

While Iceland’s dream-like landscapes reflect the land of the Starks and the White Walker territory north of The Wall, you’ll find the balmy climes of real-life King’s Landing in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Wander the Old Town walls and narrow cobbled streets, and follow the path of Cersei’s walk of shame. The Red Keep is depicted by impressive Fort Lovrijenac, which you’re bound to recognise from the Battle of the Blackwater. Wandering the fort’s walls will have you feeling like a Lannister in no time.

Hobbiton, New Zealand. Image: iStock/DVrcan

The Lord of the Rings: New Zealand

Very few places will have you feeling like you’re really in your favourite film or TV show, but New Zealand achieves that and so much more. Not only can you head to Hobbiton and actually wander the unaltered set of The Shire, and even have a drink in the Green Dragon Inn (die-hard fans are warned, a tear may be brought to your eye at the sheer perfection of it all), even the natural landscapes bring Lord of the Rings vibes by the tankard-full.

The undulating hills of the North Island’s Waikato and South Island’s Tasman regions will have you feeling like you’re in The Shire over and over, but the uber-dramatic Tongariro National Park and its phenomenal scenery are something else entirely. With flat, barren plains and one particularly towering volcano, the landscapes of Mordor will unfold in front of your eyes.

Ong Jemel, Tunisia. Image: iStock/IdealPhoto30

Star Wars: Tunisia, California & more

With a franchise of a whopping 12 films filmed across 15 countries, fans of Star Wars won’t have to travel to a galaxy far, far away to experience the movies’ alien worlds. With settings spanning five continents, you’re pretty much spoiled for choice when it comes to travelling to these unforgettable sets.

If you want the most iconic experience, Tunisia should be at the top of your list. Sets here span the first two trilogies and include the dusty desert-scapes of Luke and Anakin Skywalker’s homes. Onk Jemal shows off the telltale square houses of Mos Espa on Tatooine, while the interior of the Lars Homestead comes to life at Sidi el Driss Hotel, a traditional Berber troglodyte house turned movie set.

In A New Hope, California’s Death Valley took the place of Tunisia, with its rocky canyons creating the perfect real-life Tatooine, and, more recently, the Rub’ al Khali desert in Abu Dhabi was used for Rey’s reveal in The Force Awakens. If you want an excuse to visit even more countries, you’ll also find filming locations in Iceland, England, Guatemala, Italy and even the Maldives.

The Jacobite steam train over the Glenfinnan viaduct, Scotland. Image: iStock/simonbradfield

Harry Potter: Scotland & Oxford

For most of the world, almost all of England is synonymous with Harry Potter, from our accents to pretty much any old historic building. However, if you want to visit the real Potter landscapes, a few specific locations are on hand for best feeling those wizarding feels. In Oxford, head to the Bodleian Library to see the Hogwarts Infirmary from The Philosopher’s Stone, and the Duke Humfrey’s Library, where Harry crept away from Argus Filch.

Glencoe in Scotland was where Hagrid’s Hut was built in Prisoner of Azkaban and provided the setting for the impressive covered bridge, while the viaduct at Glenfinnan makes up part of the Hogwarts Express route. If you’d rather stay around London, Kings Cross Train Station has a (not real) Platform 9 ¾, and the Warner Bros. Studios at Leavesden is a centre for all things Harry Potter, featuring hundreds of sets, props, costumes and more from every film.

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan. Image: iStock/Astalor

Indiana Jones: Jordan & Hawaii

Indiana Jones is another iconic movie series, one that sees Harrison Ford venture across the world in pursuit of historical artefacts and in evasion of Nazi villains. This journey takes him to incredible places, including South America, the Middle East and Hawaii. One of the biggest, best and most memorable scenes throughout the trilogy sees his character exit to the ever-inspiring Raiders March theme song, galloping in front of Al-Khazneh (‘The Treasury’), one of Petra’s most elaborate temples. This ancient Nabatean structure is iconic for both travel-lovers and movie fans and makes a true once-in-a-lifetime visit, especially at night, when the whole milky way lights up behind it.

Another epic scene, where Indiana hotfoots it away from the rolling boulder, was not in fact filmed in Peru – where our explorer has ventured off to – but in Hawaii’s Hule’ia National Wildlife Refuge. These picturesque wetlands and their forested hillside are no longer open to the public, in order to protect local wildlife, but you can view it from the Menehune Fishpond overlook.

Words by Rosie Mulford

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