The 10 Best Travel Movies to Enjoy for Pure Escapism
We love the way that films can transport you to another time and place, inspiring you to travel, even if only from the comfort of your own laptop and living room. If you're looking for a bit of escapism right now, Heather Cowper has selected 10 of her favourite travel movies that will inspire you to travel without leaving home.
1. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - Greece
Wish you were heading for the turquoise skies and sparkling seas of Greece? Then you should watch Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which must be one of the best travel films and musicals of recent years. Over the last 20 years I've been conducting a love affair with Greece, since my sister lives there with her family and I visit every year to enjoy swimming and long, lazy lunches Mamma Mia-style.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the sequel to Mamma Mia! and takes us back to Donna's student days, telling the story of how she met her three lovers, Harry, Bill and Sam.
We also follow her daughter, Sophie, who has restored Donna's hotel on a Greek island and is holding an opening party that reunites all the characters, although sadly Donna has since died and Meryl Streep appears only as a cameo at the end. During the final party, Donna's mother Ruby, played by Cher, also arrives and steals the film with her rendition of Fernando - she’s truly the epitome of a glamorous grandma.
Still, the plot isn't really the point here, as both Mamma Mia! films centre around the fabulous Abba songs that were adapted to tell the story. It's a testament to the sheer number of hits and prolific songwriting ability from Benny Andersson that they managed to make not just one, but two films out of all the Abba music!
Although much of the filming was actually done in Croatia, this is a film that will make you want to book your Greek island holiday, go sailing in the Aegean or watch the sunset from some impossibly pretty clifftop church.
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is available on Amazon Prime.
2. Paddington 2 - London
Longing to visit London again? Then I recommend you get your travel fix with the fun and family-friendly movie Paddington 2, sequel to the original Paddington film where the Brown family adopts the marmalade-loving bear from darkest Peru. In this second film we follow Paddington as he tries to buy an antique book from Mr Gruber's antique shop as a gift for his Aunt Lucy. It turns out that the book holds the key to discovering a hoard of hidden treasure and it's stolen by the Browns’ neighbour, an aging thespian played with great comedy by Hugh Grant.
Paddington is thrown into jail for the theft, while the Brown family race around London looking for clues that will clear his name. They eventually recover the book after an exciting chase through London and on the steam train to Bristol with plenty of slapstick comedy. I enjoyed spotting the scenes from Portobello Road where I used to visit the flea market as a teenager, the pretty pastel Georgian terrace of the Browns’ home in Wilson Gardens (actually Primrose Hill) and the chase along Regent's Canal in Little Venice.
It's all great fun, and the philosophy of good manners and kindness that Paddington learned from his Great Aunt Lucy prevails in the end.
Paddington 2 is available on Amazon Prime.
3. Amélie - Paris
So you hoped to visit Paris? Then I’ve got a treat for you.
Amélie Poulain is a waitress at the Café des 2 Moulins in Paris. Brought up as an only child and with few friends, she leads a rich imaginary life. A chance find of a box hidden in her apartment sets her on a path of planning a series of schemes to help neighbours and random strangers that sometimes has comic consequences. From afar she falls in love with Nino, a young man as quirky as she is. Being too shy to make the first move, she sets up a series of clues for him to follow. After a paper chase around Paris they finally meet properly and ride off into the sunset on the back of his moped.
Try this modern-day fairy tale that finds whimsical details in everyday scenes and characters. The bonus is that it's all in French (with subtitles) so you can brush up on your language skills and get ready for your next trip. The comedy in this film is complex and subtle so it's not for everyone, but it brought a smile to my face. It will make you long to explore the quaint streets of Montmartre, skim stones on Canal Saint-Martin and find the photo booths in Gare de l'Est.
Amélie is available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
4. PS I Love You - Ireland
Would you love to walk through the ancient landscapes of Ireland?
The film PS I Love You is a bittersweet love story between Holly (Hilary Swank) and Gerry (Gerard Butler), a married couple who first met in Ireland when Holly was on holiday. The films begins in New York where they now live. After Gerry dies of a brain tumour, a series of letters mysteriously arrive for Holly, written by Gerry before he died. The letters encourage Holly to look to the future and take her on a holiday with her girlfriends back to Ireland where she and Gerry first met, drinking Guinness, listening to Irish folk music and enjoying the beautiful landscape of lakes and purple heather in the Wicklow Mountains.
Finally, Holly meets another twinkle-eyed Irishman who turns out to be a childhood friend of Gerry’s and she starts to fall in love again. Although I found the plot a bit improbable at times, I couldn't help enjoying the romance, charm and wild landscapes of Ireland, especially as I visited the Wicklow Mountains near Dublin and walked across the bridge where Holly and Gerry fell in love. Perhaps the film will inspire you to visit Ireland and discover the romance for yourself.
PS I Love You is available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
5. Out of Africa - Kenya
Are you longing to see the wild open spaces and wildlife of Africa? Out of Africa is the true story of Danish writer Karen Blixen's early life in Kenya. Based on the book by the same name, it's a love letter to the country where she arrived as a new bride but had to leave behind when her coffee farm failed.
Set between 1914 and 1930, Out of Africa stars Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, with Robert Redford as her lover Denys Finch Hatton. But the real star of the film has to be the stunning landscapes of Kenya from a time when the country was still a British colony and an adventurer's paradise.
After Karen's marriage to her husband Baron Blixen breaks down, she falls in love with Denys Finch Hatton who shares her love of literature and storytelling and provides a distraction from the worries of running her coffee farm. Together they go on safari, seeing the unspoiled African bush at a time when things are starting to change and the wilderness is being fought over by the colonial powers.
Although it's a film that's full of romance and a love affair between Karen and Denys Finch Hatton, there's a poignant ending when Denys is killed in a plane crash and Karen has to sell the farm that she has grown to love and return to Denmark. I loved the spirit of freedom captured in the film, when Karen and Denys fly high over the Great Rift Valley, something I was also able to experience on a trip to Kenya.
I also felt a connection to Karen Blixen when I visited her home in Denmark, just outside Copenhagen, filled with pictures and souvenirs from her time in Africa. If you do travel to Kenya, you can also visit Karen Blixen's old home there, which is now in the Karen suburb - named after her - which was developed after her coffee farm was sold.
Out of Africa is available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.
6. Bride and Prejudice - India
Do you love the vibrant colours and exotic charm of India? Then you can visit with this Bollywood-style version of Pride and Prejudice for some east-meets-west escapism.
The film loosely follows the plot of Jane Austen's novel; it’s set in modern-day India with Lalita as the character of Elizabeth, one of five daughters in a middle-class Indian family.
The family lives in Amritsar in Northern India and are introduced to Darcy and Balraj (the Mr Darcy and Mr Bingham characters) at a mutual friend's wedding. The film follows the Pride and Prejudice plot, with dislike and misunderstandings that culminate in both Lalita and her sister finally falling in love and winning the hearts of their future husbands, complete with lots of colourful Bollywood-style songs and dance routines along the way.
I especially loved the delicious comedy of the Mr Collins character Kohli, a cousin from the USA who has come home to find a traditional bride and, encouraged by Lalita's mother, hopes to marry one of the five sisters. The film is mostly set in Northern India and in Goa, with some scenes in California and London when Lalita's sister runs away and is rescued by Darcy.
This is a film that had me singing along to the Bollywood numbers and attempting some of the dance moves. Try screwing in a light bulb and patting the dog at the same time and you'll get an idea of what it was like!
Bride and Prejudice is available on Amazon Prime.
7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty - Iceland
Longing for the wide-open spaces of the Himalayas and the barren beauty of Iceland? Watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will transport you everywhere from the urban cityscape of New York to the wild places in the world.
Our film's hero Walter works for Life Magazine. He's quiet and unassuming, but good at his job of turning the photographic negatives sent to him into stunning magazine covers and features. Behind the meek appearance burns a passionate heart that longs for adventure and an imagination that transforms Walter into the superman figure he longs to be.
While Life Magazine is closing down, he falls in love with his co-worker Cheryl, but doesn't know how to approach her, even though in his daydreams he wins her heart through acts of heroism. Then a leading photographer, Sean O'Connell, sends in a photograph that's destined to be the final magazine cover, but the negative seems to be lost. Walter embarks on an adventure to find the illusive photographer and the missing photo.
His quest takes him to Greenland, Iceland and finally Afghanistan in a series of escapades; he jumps from a helicopter, wrestles with a shark, escapes an erupting volcano, skateboards down a mountain and finally tracks down Sean, who is photographing snow leopards in the Himalayas.
The missing photo is found and turns out to be an image dedicated to the staff of Life Magazine, with the image of Walter himself on the cover. On his return to New York, Walter finally feels confident enough to approach Cheryl and the film ends as they walk off hand in hand. I enjoyed the film as a reminder that adventure lies within all of us and that the most unassuming people may be unsung heroes. As a bonus you get to enjoy the amazing waterfalls and scenery of Iceland!
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is available on Amazon Prime.
8. The Devil Wears Prada - New York City
Fancy the bustle of New York City? The Devil Wears Prada will transport you to the city's glamourous world of fashion but ultimately reassure you that there are more important things in life than a new dress or a workaholic lifestyle.
The two stars of the film shine. Anne Hathaway plays Andy, the young assistant to Meryl Streep, who plays Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway Magazine. The film is loosely modelled on Vogue, but there's so much comedy and Meryl Streep especially excels as the icy, demanding, dragon of an editor who is respected and feared - but occasionally reveals her softer side.
As I used to work in the fashion business, I loved all the rails of gorgeous clothes and the general fashion obsession of the film. However, it was also good to see that Andy eventually realises it's a gilded cage, reconciles with her long-suffering boyfriend Nate and is able to apply her journalist talents in a new job at The New Yorker.
The film locations take you to the vibrant streets and skyline of New York, conveying the energy and work ethic of a city that will make you also want to live, just for a moment, in the glamourous world of Runway Magazine.
The Devil Wears Prada is available on Amazon Prime
9. Memoirs of a Geisha - Japan
Planning a holiday in Japan? Try the romantic and poignant movie, Memoirs of a Geisha, that's set in the traditional Japan of the early twentieth century, covering the period between WWI and WWII.
Our heroine Chiyo is sold as a child by her impoverished family to become a servant in an okiya, a house that trains geishas in the Gion neighbourhood of Kyoto. As a child she is shown kindness by an older man, the Chairman, and falls in love with him, living for the chance to become a geisha that entertains him and other notable men in his circle.
Although she is just a household servant, Chiyo's character and poise catch the attention of Mameha, an already successful geisha who offers to educate her as a maiko (trainee geisha). The glamourous world of the geishas unfolds, showing these women as living works of art who are accomplished in conversation, music and dance, all to entertain wealthy businessmen.
With her new geisha name of Sayuri, our heroine achieves fame and success as the top geisha of her generation. WWII intervenes and she ends up working in the countryside, but is restored briefly to her former life after the war - and finally her love for the Chairman is returned.
The film will take you back to a romantic and traditional view of Japan. Although many scenes were recreated in a studio, it gives a taste of old Kyoto and a picture of Japan before the skyscrapers, bullet train and neon lights.
Memoirs of a Geisha is available on Amazon Prime.
10. The Way - Spain
Do you enjoy the freedom of the open road? The Way follows a group of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago (which translates to the Way of St James), a long-distance pilgrimage trail that runs through the French Pyrenees and northern Spain, ending at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
Martin Sheen plays Tom, an American who arrives in Spain to recover the body of his son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), who has tragically died in a storm at the start of his walk along the Camino. Taking his son's ashes, Tom decides to walk the Camino himself and complete the journey that his son was unable to make.
Along the way he joins up with other pilgrims, each with their own personal reasons for walking the Camino, ranging from getting over loss and broken relationships to finding a spiritual recharge. As he walks, Tom catches glimpses of his son and has a chance to reflect on their relationship, realising that Daniel had something to teach him in putting travel and life experiences over settling down with a steady job.
Although I've not personally walked the Camino, I have tried other long-distance hikes such as the Tour du Mont Blanc. I love the way the film captures the spirit of these trails, teaching you that it's more about the journey than the destination. Buen Camino!
The Way is available on Amazon Prime.