We watch movies to get transported to other realms – the creativity of Hollywood allows audiences to see worlds beyond their imaginations. Despite the cutting-edge technology that powers CGI, where actors merely need to act in front of green screens, there are plenty of iconic films that were shot at real-world locations.
You’d be surprised at how certain locations were not transformed entirely for it to look otherworldly on screen – for example, how Crazy Rich Asians took advantage of Singapore’s iconic locations such as the Marina Bay Sands to add a striking flavour to the romance story.
Here are the places you should visit to explore the nooks and crannies of your favourite film worlds – from the vast sand dunes of Star Wars to the wizard halls of Hogwarts.
1. Matamata, Waikato, New Zealand – The land of the hobbits
Frodo Baggins and his hometown of The Shire have entranced fans for decades. Now that borders are open, and travelling is in full force, you can pay a visit to the whimsical home of the famous hobbits, the littlest people with the biggest hearts.
Within Matamata is the filming set, faithfully preserved after being used for the two movie franchises – the classic Lord of the Rings film trilogy from 2001 to 2003, and the trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit from 2012 to -2014.
For your own Middle-earth adventure, daily tours are available for visits to the original Hobbiton movie set, which can be booked here.
The tours will take you on a journey and provide deeper insight into the filming methodology of director Peter Jackson and his crew – you’ll get to learn how they turned this sleepy part of New Zealand into an incomparable part of Hollywood history.
You’ll also get to taste New Zealand cuisine that can satiate your palate after hours of walking and exploring.
Matamata is not only home to the incredible set, but it also provides a breathtaking view of nature as you can cycle and walk using trails in the forests. Not to mention, as recently announced, you can also now stay overnight in fictional Hobbiton!
Take a look at Bag End, where Frodo and Bilbo’s adventures began in the first films of each trilogy. Get lost among the hobbit holes and visit the Green Dragon Inn and the Party Tree.
Tours priced at S$89 (adults 17 years and over) and S$44 (children) depart daily from the Shire's Rest Cafe in Matamata.
Address: 501 Buckland Road, Hinuera, Matamata 3472, New Zealand
How to get to Matamata: Singapore is fortunate to offer direct flights to Auckland, one of New Zealand’s largest metropolitan cities. From there, you can take a bus ride to Matamata that will take just under three hours.
Alternatively, if you’re not a fan of bus rides, you can embark upon a longer air travel itinerary that will take you from Singapore to Christchurch, which will be your brief layover before setting off for the inland city of Hamilton. From there, Matamata is a simple 40-minute bus ride away.
2. Al-Khazneh, Petra, Jordan – The rustic playground of one Indiana Jones
Almost three decades ago, George Lucas decided to use the monumental Al-Khazneh (translated as ‘The Treasury’), the centrepiece of Jordan's ancient Nabataean city of Petra for one of his movies. It was used as the exterior of the fictional Temple of the Sun, portrayed in his film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
In the movie, Indiana Jones is after the Holy Grail, and what better place to "house" it than in a real-life place called ‘The Treasury’? The popular tourist attraction is a giant, ornately carved sandstone temple facade, which dates back to the first century AD
The ancient establishment is one of the newly-inducted Seven Wonders of the World, making it popular for tourists who not only want to see the set of the movie, but to experience rare history with their own eyes.
Built almost 2000 years ago, it still features intricate carvings that stand about 40 metres, making you feel minuscule as you stand at its entrance.
Address: 8FC2+VM5, Wadi Musa, Jordan
How to get to Al-Khazneh: The journey to this sacred ground will be ambitious in itself – first up, you can take a flight from Singapore to Amman, where you will make a quick pit-stop in Doha, Qatar. From Amman, you can take a bus ride that will last just under four hours.
3. Dubrovnik, Croatia — The mystifying grounds that set the stage for Game of Thrones
Also known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic Sea”, Dubrovnik has a long and rich history behind it – and you can sense it from its walls. Yet, the city remains a popular attraction for its more recent claim to fame as a pivotal set on fantasy television series Game of Thrones.
The entire city has plenty of sights to offer, with a stunning simplicity: beautiful 13th-century city walls, stunning crystal-clear waters, cobblestone roads and gothic architecture.
All of these were on full display on television when it was transformed into King’s Landing. If you haven’t watched Game of Thrones yet, keep a lookout for Dubrovnik from season two onwards, where filming for King’s Landing scenes continued after using Mdina, the fortified city of Malta, for season one.
If you want to snap some selfies in specific spots, head to the Old Town neighbourhood or the Walls of Dubrovnik, where members of the Lannister family spent much of the series brooding and plotting schemes.
Here’s a lowdown of all the iconic Game of Thrones set-pieces that were set in Dubrovnik:
King’s Landing Harbor, The Red Keep, Littlefinger’s Brothel, Steps of the Great Sept of Baelor (Walk of Shame), King’s Landing Market and the King’s Landing Gardens
If you’re aching to visit more places featured in Game of Thrones, maybe you could plan a trip to Ireland as well?
How to get to Dubrovnik: Flights to the Croatian city from Singapore will come with two stops–first in Istanbul, Turkey, and then in Croatia’s capital of Zagraeb. Best to plan this within a larger itinerary for a full Europe trip!
4. Oxford, England – The home of Harry Potter’s wizarding world
There are a number of locations throughout Oxford that have been featured in the classic film series, which has only endured in popularity over the decades.
The Christ Church Great Hall provided the inspiration for Hogwarts’ dining hall – it was substituted by a faithful recreation in the Warner Bros. studios for the films, but you’ll notice its similarities once you step inside.
The Bodley staircase, leading up to the Christ Church hall, was used in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when the new first years (including our favourite trio Harry, Ron and Hermione) walk up to Hogwarts for the first time and are welcomed by Professor McGonagall.
The Divinity School is another spot where Oxford University and Harry Potter meet. It was used as a filming location in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and in subsequent films as the Hogwarts Infirmary.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes – Oxford’s cobbled streets might be beautiful but they can be tough on your feet.
Address: Christ Church, St Aldate's, Oxford OX1 1DP, UK
How to get to Oxford: As with tradition, flying from Singapore to the UK is fairly easy. However, as Oxford does not have its own airport, you’ll need to take a flight to London before embarking on a train ride to Oxford, which will take only an hour.
5. Death Valley National Park in California, USA – The galactic desert of Star Wars
In the breathtaking world of Star Wars, audiences get to see lands beyond their imaginations. They may look like earthly terrain, but once the aliens, robots and Jedi appear, we are intrigued by the enchanting and familiar.
However, despite recent Star Wars efforts being almost entirely CGI, there are plenty of real-world locations that have been featured extensively in its films.
Most notably, all the way in the United States, is the Death Valley National Park. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds – it’s the main location where scenes of the planet Tatooine were shot.
It goes all the way back to the first film, Star Wars: A New Hope, where our heroes were stranded and surveying a land filled with danger. These were mainly shot in the park’s Golden Canyon and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
While the park does not feature unique props and buildings from the film, it is vast and worth a day of exploration.
You can hike at the Desolation Canyon, where geology experts often congregate to study and observe its diversity of rock formations.
There’s also the Dantes View, which offers an unparalleled view of the entire park. The park’s name may sound devilish, but it is nothing short of heavenly. Just be sure to pack with enough food and water!
Address: Death Valley, California, 92328
How to get to Death Valley: Getting to the US usually requires long travel periods. In this case, a 19-hour flight from Singapore to Las Vegas, where you will have quick pit-stop in San Francisco. From there, you can plan with friends to take a fun road trip down to Death Valley, which will take you just over two hours to arrive.
6. Suwa, Japan – The quaint town in Your Name
Despite its fantastical elements, anime has had a long-standing tradition of recreating – to an impressively meticulous degree – real-life locations in its stories.
In the massively popular anime film Your Name, it centred the little-known town of Itomori, which added a quaint charm to its enthralling story of two teenagers who switch bodies.
While Itomori exists as a town, the fictional Itomori in the film was instead modelled after the city of Suwa. Specifically, its massive lake – which was featured in the landscape of the film’s most captivating moments – is known simply as Suwa Lake, where it’s surrounded by mountains.
You can visit Tateishi Park, which plays host to the awe-inspiring lake, along with other humble natural wonders. It’s the perfect place to unwind and soak in the scenery – and you can use the time to think about the people who matter most in your life, as the film’s characters do.
Address: 3 Chome-5 Akiya, Yokosuka, Kanagawa 240-0105
How to get to Suwa: There’s a reason why Japan remains a popular destination amongst Singaporean travellers – aside from its wondrous culture and way of life, it’s only a seven-hour flight away from here. To get to Suwa, you can take a scenic train ride from Tokyo that will last under three hours.
7. Hyderabad, India – The stage for the blockbuster action of RRR
This year, there was no other Indian film that broke boundaries and connected with audiences better than RRR.
The three-hour epic film deals with two impassioned citizens, who lie on the opposite sides of the law in colonial-era India.
RRR features numerous stunning action sequences, not least with the help of CGI magic and expert camerawork. However, if you want to experience a piece of the film’s magical setting, you need to look no further than Hyderabad.
While the city itself has a modern splendour, you can pay a visit to Ramoji Film City, where a good portion of the film was produced.
While it’s first and foremost a production facility for working film crews, it also opens its doors to the public every year. It features an amusement park and several film sets and props restored from past films, like a full-fledged railway station from India’s past, first featured in action-comedy Chennai Express.
The studio also offers a “Film City Tour”, where a tour guide will show you the different sets that have been emblazoned in Bollywood history.
Address: Ramoji Film City, Hyderabad, Telangana, 501512
How to get to Hyderabad: A direct flight from Singapore to Hyderabad will last under five hours – which means you’ll get to spend most of your time on the plane rewatching the three-hour RRR!
8. Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom – The exotic battleground of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
While we’ve reached two decades since the Tomb Raider films stormed into cinemas, you can look no further beyond our region to feel immersed in its naturalistic thrills. Cambodia’s historic temples, Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm, were used as central settings for the action-packed movie.
Both temples are rooted in the country’s rich heritage and enormous history. You can find majestic and intricate carvings, along with majestic thitpok trees (or, as they’re known in English, silk cotton trees) in the stately interiors of Bayon Temple.
Ta Prohm, on the other hand, has seen better days – but, all the more, it made the perfect setting for Lara Croft’s apocalyptic adventures. In recent years, it has undergone extensive conservation and restoration efforts in order for tourists to visit its grounds safely.
Both temples, along with other iconic sights, can be found at the Angkor Archeological Park, a sprawling complex that covers over 400 km². You may also be able to spot areas that were featured in films like the melancholic drama In the Mood for Love and 1992 documentary Baraka. As the park is large and all-consuming, you may want to book a guide for a proper tour.
Address: Angkor Archeological Park, Krong Siem Reap, 17000, Cambodia
How to get to Siem Reap: Out of all the entries in this list, this country is the easiest to get to – it’s only a two-hour plane ride from Singapore to Siem Reap International Airport.
If the past few years have shown us, it’s that there’s nothing like spending a night out at the movies. Those trips can inspire a sense of comfort among us – so what better way to immerse yourselves in your favourite film worlds than visiting the places that inspired them? We hope you have started marking out your itineraries. A whole new adventure awaits!
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