11 movie locations you can visit in real life (and what to expect)

11 movie locations you can visit in real life (and what to expect)

    As a Southern California native, I’ve seen my fair share of filming locations. I’ve known Nakatomi Plaza (Fox Plaza in real life) since before I saw Die Hard, I’ve visited the Godfather set at the Academy Museum, and like all film buffs in SoCal, I’ve done the Universal backlot tour and nerded out, hard.

    While LA is rife with film history on every block, the coolest movie sets are further out of the way. After all, it’s not called Pirates of Pasadena or Raiders of the 405 – and these locations can be a liiiittle hard to reach for most travelers.

    Some sets become fully closed off to visitors (remember the Goonies house?) Others are run-down, overcrowded, or otherwise feel less like a fantasy and more like reality (boo!). 

    And yet, these are the spots that grace a whole lotta other travel blogs that still proclaim they’re worthwhile “filming locations you can visit in real life!” But luckily for you, we aren’t other travel blogs. 

    We gathered 11 film sites frequently found on such lists, and we hit the books. From quick stops in busy cities to a sci-fi planet in the middle of the desert, we did tons of research (including first-hand accounts from JFC staff) to decide whether or not a place is worth the hype.

    Here’s the low-down on what to expect at each of these iconic locations, the best way to visit, and whether or not it’s worth a detour on your next vacay.

    Platform 9 ¾ (The Harry Potter Series)

    Muggle tech hasn’t quite caught up to magic just yet, so there’s no actual Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station in London. What you can visit is a photo op designed to make it look like you’re vanishing into the wall between platforms en route to Hogwarts.

    While your most wizardly friends are definitely going to smash like on that photo, it’s not always a quick stop – the line can often take up to an hour or more.

    How to Visit Platform 9¾: During the day, prepare to wait in line. You can buy a front-of-the-line pass if you’re so inclined, but they’re an eye-watering £20, which is around the same price it’ll cost you to visit more regal London attractions like St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey. Ouch. 

    Since it’s just a prop, you can technically go up to it any time, and the crowds (and the need for line passes) die down in the wee hours. If you’d rather not pay, go late at night when the trains have stopped running and you might have it all to yourself. 

    Or, you can visit the recreation at Warner Bros Studios up the road in Watford. Nobody will ever know the difference…

    Our Verdict: For a set that is just half a trolley attached to the wall, we think the time investment  is a bit much. 

    If you’re a hardcore Potterhead, consider flying up to Scotland. Here you can take the train that inspired the Hogwarts Express through misty moors, past the glassy Loch Shiel, and across the iconic Glenfinnan Viaductjust like the wizard kids on their way to school.

    Maya Beach (The Beach)

    Maya Beach in Thailand has been known as “the beach from The Beach” ever since The Beach filmed on its beach. The DiCaprio flick portrayed Maya as a beautiful (and deathly kept secret) escape from the busy world, and it certainly looked the part.

    Unfortunately, reality imitated art too well this time. Just like in the film, those eye-candy karst cliffs and warm turquoise waters drew way more attention than they could handle. Fans came in droves, clogging up the sand, leaving trash, and destroying plant life. The Thai government had to close the place in 2018 to give it time to recover.

    It reopened in 2022, but it’s still busy and you’re not allowed to swim. Sorry, you won’t be able to splash around like Leo.

    How to Visit “the Beach from the Beach”: If you must visit Maya Beach, take a boat from Phuket or Krabi. Tours make this a bit easier but they’re not required. To deter crowds, boats no longer dock directly at Maya so you’ll have to hike across the island (no leap of faith required). 

    As always (but especially since Maya’s been wrecked in the past), remember to be a good visitor and leave no trace

    Our Verdict: Thailand definitely has many places close to the film’s portrayal of beauty and isolation, but this isn’t one of them. If you really need a dose of vitamin sea, Phra Nang Cave Beach in Krabi is a lot quieter and offers the same cliffs and glowy green tides without the wall of tourists blocking your view.

    Café des Deux Moulins (Amélie)

    Café des Deux Moulins in Paris was made famous by the French film Amélie, inspiring hordes of fans to trace the heroine’s steps and crack into a crème brûlée (which really is that good). Still, some visitors are left with a bad taste in their mouth.

    While the café keeps much the same decor as in the flick, opinions across the web are pretty mixed. Peruse reviews and you’re sure to find several unhappy patrons complaining about lukewarm drinks, dirty spaces, and rude staff. 

    Long-term customers say the place has gone downhill recently, so perhaps it used to feel more like the Parisian fantasy of the film. Times are hard for dreamers, it seems.

    How to Visit the Amélie Café: Deux Moulins is located in Montmarte, in northern Paris (about 4 km north of the Louvre, for reference). It’s also home to the Moulin Rouge, so you can step into more than one film while you’re there. 

    You can make reservations on their website, but likely won’t have to – a quick check at their waitlist announces: “Il n’y a pas d’attente! Venez!” (“There is no waiting! Come!”)

    Our Verdict: As an eatery, Deux Moulins seems like a mediocre café in a city full of incredible ones.

    However, super fans of the film seem generally pleased with the experience – bathroom gnome included. So if you live and breathe Amélie, stop in for that crème brûlée, but save some room for cafés with more history and character.

    The Cullen House (The Twilight Saga)

    The Twilight books are set in the real-life town of Forks, Washington, chosen by the author for its crazy amount of rainfall – up to 3x the statewide average of an already-rainy state. Sensibly, most of the scenes were actually shot a few hours further south in Oregon, where you’re less likely to have your filming equipment wash away in a storm.

    That gorgeous home used as the Cullen house is right in Portland, but you’re better off admiring it from the screen. The owners don’t appreciate the attention and have posted signs around the property warning looky-loos to stay back. (Trust me – this writer drove there and had to immediately turn around!)

    How to Visit a Twilight House: For a proper Twilight experience, consider renting the Swan House on Airbnb. The home in St. Helens (around 30 miles north of Portland) still looks exactly as it did in the movies, including the interior. Just remember that you’ll have to book way in advance if you want to sit longingly in Bella’s actual window.

    CC image courtesy of hiimniko on Flickr

    Our Verdict: Sorry Twi-hards, JFC doesn’t condone trespassing on private property. Stick to the houses that actually want visitors.

    Rocky Statue & Steps (Rocky & Rocky III)

    Commissioned by Sylvester Stallone for the franchise’s third installment, this triumphant bronze statue of Rocky Balboa is quite the spot for Philly tourists desperate to mimic the pose for their Facebook photos. While it might be cool to walk by, getting that pic will often require waiting in a long line.

    Only 200 feet away, you’ll find the city’s other iconic Rocky site: the famous steps from the first movie. These are a little easier to visit because they go right up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is definitely worth a stop anyway. They’re marked with Stallone’s Converse-clad footprints.

    How to Visit the Rocky Steps: The museum is in downtown Philly, about 15-20 minutes from the airport. If you get there before it opens at 10am, you might have more room to yourself (and won’t be too tired yet to actually do the run up).

    Our Verdict: Skip the statue but climb the steps and do your best Rocky Balboa impression as you head into the museum. 

    Hobbiton (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)

    Hungry enough for second breakfast?

    The Shire set from The Lord of the Rings in New Zealand draws around half a million visitors annually, making this one of the most beloved film sites in the world. 

    There's just way more to Hobbiton than you'd imagine: each of the 44 hobbit homes is uniquely designed for its imagined owner, with props that give you hints about their lives. Every corner has something to discover, from playable games and functioning gardens, to an entire table of cheese.

    The set isn’t open to wanderers (lost or otherwise), so all visitors must book a tour. You’ll have plenty of time to look around and take photos, finishing with a drink at the Green Dragon Inn. 

    We wonder if the bartenders are tired of people asking if “it comes in pints”!

    How to Visit Hobbiton: Simple! You can book a tour online. Just remember to book far in advance, as they do fill up quickly. The site is a couple hours from Auckland, and there’s a range of buses to pick from if you’d rather not drive.

    Our Verdict: Since opening to the public in 2002, Hobbiton has been at the top of every LOTR fan’s bucket list. You’d think it’d be at risk of overhype, but visitors consistently praise the spot for its beauty and details. Every review you’ll find online ends with “We never wanted to leave!”

    We think this one is well worth the stop for fanatics and casual fans alike. 

    Petra (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)

    Of course, Petra in Jordan has been around since way before Indiana Jones ever picked up a whip – over 2,300 years, to be exact – but you might recognize its treasury from the climax of The Last Crusade. The ancient town went from a few thousand annual visitors to about a million after the film was released.

    It’s such a popular site that an entire city has grown up within walking (or shuttle, or camel) distance. The city is much bigger than just the iconic treasury, so most visitors stay long enough to explore the caves, monasteries, and tombs.

    How to Visit Petra: It’s easiest to set up base in Wadi Musa, which is about a three hour drive from Amman. Options there range from five-star resorts to Bedouin-style tents.

    The region can get pretty crowded, so get there early (which should be easy if you’re already staying in Wadi Musa). Sunrise is both gorgeous and quiet, if you’re up for it. While prone to both highs and lows, the weather here stays mild in spring and autumn. 

    Just keep an eye out for rain – Petra gets flooded easily.

    You may want to pass on this one if you have trouble walking for long periods or across unlevel ground. It definitely requires a lot of hiking, but you can rent a donkey if you want to get off your feet and onto someone else’s.

    Our Verdict: Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the new seven wonders of the world. It’s one of the oldest towns in the world that’s still standing, and the Indiana Jones connection is just the cherry on top. It’s an obvious must for both cinephiles and archaeology enthusiasts.

    Tunisia (Star Wars Episodes IV, I & II)

    Scattered around the Tunisian desert, you’ll find several of the Star Wars sets used as the Skywalkers’ home planet Tatooine. Some were built by the film crew, some are natural formations, and many others are Berber homes and granaries that have stood for centuries. 

    Hopefully you don’t hate sand, because this trip is all desert. But if you’re willing to trek over dunes through the arid Sahara, you can find iconic locales like the Mos Eisley Cantina and Tosche Station (no word on whether they sell power converters). 

    You can even stay in Luke’s childhood home at the Hotel Sidi Idriss, which is particularly full of memorabilia and set pieces from the films. We hear it’s a bit of a bare-bones accommodation so don’t expect too many amenities – Luke was a farmer, after all. But this kind of troglodyte dwelling is pretty unique to the Berber regions and keeps you cool from the desert heat. Cave rooms come with just a bed, a hearty Tunisian dinner, and loads of friendly conversation. 

    How to Visit the Star Wars Sets in Tunisia: Most locations are free and can be approached with rented 4x4s, but they aren’t exactly clustered together and easy to find. Most are around 5-6 hours and over 400 km from Tunis.

    Your best bet is to book a multi-day tour. Some are solely Star Wars-focused, while some take you to other locations in Tunisia, so you can shop around and pick one with just the right amount of sci-fi for your group.

    Our Verdict: This one is for only the most hardcore Jedi.

    Star Wars enthusiasts will leave satisfied and ready to brag at the next convention. However, it might be a little out of the way for anyone else. While the area has historic value, archaeology fans will be plenty busy in Tunisia already.

    The Town of Twin Peaks (Twin Peaks TV show & Fire Walk With Me)

    Twin Peaks isn’t a real town, unfortunately, but many of the film sets are in real Washington towns in the Cascade Mountains. You can stay at the Great Northern Lodge, see the falls from the opening theme, and even order a damn fine cup of coffee from the Double R Diner (called Twede’s IRL).

    The area has really embraced their claim to fame, and you’ll spot signs and murals about the show all around town. We also hear Great Northern’s gift shop is packed to the gills with Twin Peaks souvenirs. And yes, you can pick up your very own pet log.

    While you’re in the area, you can also check out some gorgeous hiking trails like the ones by Mount Si, Mount Washington, and Olallie State Park.

    How to Visit Twin Peaks: Snoqualmie is along one of the few passes through the Cascades, so next time you find yourself road-tripping across Washington, you should be able to check this one off your list. Just head east on the I-90 out of Seattle and you’ll go right through these towns.

    Just don’t go in the dead of winter. Take it from this traveler, who once got stuck in Snoqualmie Pass during a blizzard: even if the Red Room scene didn’t scare you, the four feet of snow on the highway absolutely will. Locals call it “Snowqualmie” for a reason.

    Our Verdict: If you’re a fan of the show, it’s definitely a fun, quirky stop when cruising down I-90. It’s only about 30 miles from Seattle so if the weather and traffic aren’t bad (which is pretty often) it could also be a neat little day trip from the city.

    Skopelos (Mamma Mia)

    It’s rare for film sites to stay a well-kept secret, but this one has flown well under the radar.

    Often passed over in favor of hotspots like Santorini or Mykonos, Skopelos is a more laid back Greek island experience. You can shop around small towns for local honey and coffee, wander through monasteries, and even hike to a pirate graveyard. Aside from a few popular beaches, it’s usually pretty quiet and most people you’ll meet are locals. 

    Highlights from the film include Kastani Beach and Agios Ioannis Kastri, the famous church perched up on the cliffs from the wedding scenes (hunky fiancé not included).

    (Photo by JFC teammate Fran)

    For a Greek island even more off the beaten path (but not a film set), check out Mt. Athos from our list of weird places.

    How to Visit Skopelos: You can’t fly directly to the island, so you’ll need to take a ferry. Fortunately, the Greeks are super troupers when it comes to ferries. You can reach Skopelos from Agios Konstantinos, Alonissos island, Skiathos, Volos, Kymi and Skyros. Skiathos has its own international airport, but reaching the other ferries will require some island-hopping (not that that’s a downside!).

    Our Verdict: You don’t even need to be an ABBA fan to enjoy Skopelos. Feel free to reenact “Voulez-Vous” while you’re there, but we say the island is well worth a stop for the views and as a calm escape from typically hectic Greek islands alone.

    Titou Gorge (Pirates of the Caribbean)

    You might not find any buried treasure in Dominica, but you’ll definitely find plenty of natural ones – lush rainforests, white sand beaches, and huge waterfalls are everywhere across this super well-preserved Caribbean island.

    That’s probably why it was chosen for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. You see Dominica onscreen as the home of the cannibals (something else you won’t find there, thankfully) and the canyon beneath those round cages is the gorgeous Titou Gorge.

    This is not a voyage for the faint of heart. While beautiful, traveling through the gorge involves hiking, swimming, and praying to the weather gods. Armed with foam floaties, you’ll be led down the river, under a waterfall, over some rocks, and eventually to a warm, geothermal pool. 

    (Photo by JFC teammate Hannah) 

    How to Visit Titou Gorge: There’s no need to book in advance, but keep an eye on the weather, because if it rains too much, the gorge will be unsafe to swim. 

    If you arrive to the island by cruise ship, they’ll likely have excursions organized already. Just know that those trips tend to be busier, so you won’t get the same “wild jungle explorer” vibes. 

    If you’d rather go it alone, you can take a taxi or rental car from Roseau up to the trailhead (about a 12km drive).

    Our Verdict: If you’ve got the pirate’s spirit of adventure and don’t mind getting wet and cold, Titou Gorge rewards its visitors with a truly one-of-a-kind experience. We hear it can also make a good “starter” adventure for travelers looking for a rush but who aren’t quite ready for the most extreme thrills.

    The Last Word

    You might have noticed a common thread here – the best film sites to visit in real life are usually places that are worth a stop anyway. 

    It’s also nice when the location embraces their claim to fame. Appearing in an iconic film can be a huge burden and not everywhere wants (or is equipped) to handle it. But when owners and locals rally with the fans to make the spot special, that’s when the real movie magic happens.

    And when you need a flight to the deserts of Tatooine or the grassy hills of the Shire, keep an eye on that inbox for deals from your pal JFC :-)