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BlogTravel buzzWhere to travel based on your favorite holiday movies
Travel buzz

Where to travel based on your favorite holiday movies

Dec 08, 2023 by Adam Amundson

Travel inspiration can strike at any moment. The clink of an Aperol spritz at a bar easily transports us to the Italian Riviera, and the deep chime of a bell can bring back Big Ben’s tolls in a heartbeat. One of our favorite ways to be inspired to travel, though, is through the sights and sounds of film—especially during the holiday season. Watching our favorite films becomes a tradition that we look forward to revisiting as we curl up on the couch with a warm cup of cocoa. There’s always a certain scene that makes us laugh, cry, or perhaps inspires us to plan a journey across the globe. In the spirit of the season, we’re diving into a few of the best holiday movies and showcasing similar holiday destinations that’ll inspire your travels in 2024 and beyond.

THE FILM:

Love Actually

This 2003 romantic comedy follows 10 separate stories of love that unfold over the month leading into Christmas. An all-star cast of notable Hollywood names includes Liam Neeson, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, and the late Alan Rickman. Their characters’ stories unfold against a backdrop of London’s most iconic sites, all bathed in the beauty of the holiday season. The gift-giving, gut-wrenching heartache, and Christmas music make this one of the best holiday movies of all time.

Tours that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the film:

You might experience your first dose of Love Actually travel inspiration when you land at Heathrow International Airport on any of our London tours. We can’t promise you’ll run into Hugh Grant (we wish!), but you will get to witness those heartfelt holiday hellos and goodbyes. You might even hear some carolers serenading you with the songs of the season if you visit on any of our December departures.

Looking for more film nostalgia? Pop over to 10 Downing Street in Westminster during your free time on our London & Paris tour. You’ll get the chance to see the real-life office of the fictional Prime Minister Grant played in the film. (Disclaimer: Scenes depicting 10 Downing in the movie were shot on a studio set.)

Soak up even more of the holiday spirit on our Highlights of Scotland & England: Edinburgh to London tour and our London: The City Experience tour. The itineraries will take you to Trafalgar Square and St. Paul’s Cathedral, where soaring Christmas trees are erected each holiday season. Talk about travel inspiration!

Lastly, fans of Love Actually should head to the South Bank during free time on our New Year’s Eve in London with Paris & Rome tour to see City Hall. In the film, the building serves as the record company office where aging rock star Billy Mack (played by Bill Nighy) hopes to find fame and acceptance. Be sure to soak in views of Tower Bridge while you’re there, too.

Visit London on tour

THE FILM:

The whole Harry Potter series

The eight films of the Harry Potter series follow a group of young wizards throughout their education at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. The series takes place during the school year, with pivotal moments captured during the holiday break, and all that winter magic makes them some of the best holiday moves. We’ll always remember the films for their celebration of the holiday spirit—from the moment Professor Flitwick decorates the tree in the grand hall during Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, to the Slug Club Christmas party in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and every magical moment in-between.

Tours that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the film:

The Harry Potter series covers a lot of ground, whether that’s by train, broom, or flying car. While the setting of Hogwarts is purely fictional, the author has confirmed that she pictured the setting in Scotland. Here are a few places on our Scotland tours and Ireland tours that served as filming locations for some of the series, and which offer travel inspiration for fans.

On our Scotland for Solo Travelers: Highlands, Aberdeen & Edinburgh tour, you’ll travel through the famed Scottish Highlands, from Glencoe to Inverness. The winding lochs and medieval ruins are home to Glenfinnan Viaduct and Loch Shiel—although we don’t expect you’ll see a flying Ford Anglia zipping around the viaduct like in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. To experience the changing colors of the holiday season, travel through the Highlands on any of our fall departures.

More travel inspiration can be found just a stone’s throw away in Northumberland, England. Here, Harry Potter fans can visit Alnwick Castle, which served as the outside of Hogwarts in the first two films of the series, and is where the young wizards learn to fly in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Feel like popping by? Add the Edinburgh extension to our Edinburgh & the Castles of Scotland tour, and use a free day to travel there for a peek.

One of the most legendary landscape scenes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince occurs with the help of a little movie magic (but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real spots to visit). As Harry and Dumbledore venture away from the safety of the castle in hunt of a horcrux, the two are shown standing on a rock in the middle of the sea that is facing a large, open cave in the side of a cliff. Both places (the rock and the cave) are real, and you can find them on our Ireland tours.

Spot the rock where the two characters stand on our Grand Tour of Ireland when you travel around the Ring of Kerry and take in unsurpassable views of the island nation. Then, prepare to stand in awe at the Cliffs of Moher on our Ireland: Traditions of the Emerald Isle tour or our Ireland for Solo Travelers tour. Gaze down at the mighty Atlantic Ocean as you stand hundreds of feet above on the cliffs. There, tucked into a tiny inlet in the side of the cliffs, is the cave where Harry and Dumbledore had an epic battle.

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THE FILM:

The Polar Express

This 2004 Christmas film, based on a 1985 children’s book by the same name, tells the story of a young boy who boards a train bound for the North Pole to visit Santa Claus. While this film is set in 1950s Michigan, it’s not the depiction of the Mitten State that inspires us to travel. Instead, we find the film’s wanderlust comes from the journey on the train, and the “lights of a strange ocean liner sailing on the sea.” If this is your favorite holiday film, you’ll want to see the northern lights for yourself on one of our tours celebrating winter travel.

Tours that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the film:

Live out your own Polar Express adventure aboard the Arctic Train as you ride Norway’s northernmost passenger railway in search of the northern lights. On the Northern Lights Train excursion offered on our Northern Lights of Norway: Oslo to Tromsø tour, you’ll head off into the darkness in search of the “strange lights” that the conductor referenced in The Polar Express.

You’ll do so much more than see the aurora borealis by train on this tour, though. Whether you add the Norwegian Fjords Northern Lights Dinner Cruise excursion or just opt to enjoy the included journeys into the wild searching for the northern lights with the indigenous Sámi people, this tour will have you rejoicing in the holiday spirit.

Do the northern lights inspire endless travel inspiration for you? Fans of The Polar Express may also wish to discover The Land of Fire and Ice on our Iceland: Reykjavik & the Northern Lights tour. On this trip, you’ll journey to otherworldly landscapes in search of the phenomenon that sends green, yellow, and violet light dancing across the night sky. Enjoy some of Iceland’s most magnificent natural wonders as you travel along the Golden Circle before heading out of the city to chase the lights.

Experience the northern lights on tour

THE FILM:

Home Alone

This 1990 flick is about a young rabble-rouser who mistakenly gets left at home in Chicago while his family flies to Paris for Christmas vacation. It’s widely considered one of the best holiday movies. While we don’t recommend leaving your small children at home with a stack of firecrackers and a BB gun, we do recommend exploring the City of Light during the holiday season. (Just make sure everyone in your group is accounted for before heading to the airport!)

Tours that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the film:

Remember when Macaulay Culkin’s character, Kevin, worked up the nerve to go to the grocery store by himself in the film? (This is when he delivered the line, “I got you milk, eggs, and fabric softener!”) We can almost imagine him gallivanting around Paris with that same confidence, with a baguette tucked under his arm. He’d probably hit all the major sites—and so can you on our Paris: The City Experience tour. Enjoy every moment during your extended stay in Paris as you go from the Arc de Triomphe to the Louvre.

The McCallister family visited Paris to spend time with their uncle in the film, but there’s even more to see on a holiday vacation to this dreamy destination. Our Grand Tour of France is your chance to see the Paris sites they never made it to in Home Alone, and so much more. Stroll along the French Riviera and explore the coastal city of Nice before you work your way to wine-rich Bordeaux (we know Kate McCallister would have loved a big, bold red after she found out her child missed the flight). Finish your tour with a float down the Seine on a river cruise with the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower in the distance.

The Christmas theme runs deep in Home Alone, but perhaps no moment better represents the spirit of the season than when Kevin confronts his fears and sits next to his scary neighbor at the local church to listen to the choir sing. Live your own movie moment on our New Year’s Eve in Paris with Rome tour. We suggest spending some of your free time inside Notre Dame listening to the choir on the first day of 2025 (the famous cathedral is scheduled to reopen in December 2024).

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THE FILM:

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

To the north of Whoville, high atop Mount Crumpit, lives the Grinch: A cantankerous fellow with a heart “two sizes too small.” After making a Santa Claus outfit and stealing all the presents from the children in Whoville—with the goal of ruining Christmas for all—the Grinch is surprised to hear the village below break into song as the sun rises on Christmas. Realizing that the holiday season means more than gifts, the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes larger, and he slides down the mountain in his sled to return all the presents to Whoville.

While Mount Crumpit isn’t a real place, every time this movie plays, we’re reminded of the Matterhorn rising above the clouds in Switzerland. Maybe a trip to the Alps will allow you to live in your own holiday Whoville delight.

Tours that will make you feel like you’ve stepped into the film:

What better way to keep an eye out for small villages like Whoville than on our Switzerland by Train: Lucerne to Zurich tour? Not only will you pass the Matterhorn, but you can also go to “the top of Europe” on a visit to Jungfraujoch, more than 11,000 feet above sea level. If it’s the holiday feast you’re seeking, a walk around idyllic Interlaken will offer plenty of opportunity to pop into a shop for some local delicacies.

We imagine the Grinch got tired of his mountaintop cave after his rapid heart-growth. Maybe he decided to trade in the cold and snow for the lush alpine meadows surrounding the mountains. Visit both the Matterhorn and the meadows on our Switzerland, Alsace & the Black Forest tour, which literally takes you “over the river and through the woods” as you travel from lakeside Lucerne to the Black Forest, the cuckoo clock capital of the world. We think the Grinch would have loved a cuckoo clock in his new forest cabin.

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This holiday season, keep your mind open to inspiration as you watch the small screen. We’ll see you on one of these tours in the year ahead.


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About the author | Adam Amundson
Adam believes that we learn about ourselves when we experience new cultures—whether that’s a riverside stroll in Portugal, dinner in a Sicilian cave, or popping a bottle of Champagne with his wife on the Garden of the Eiffel Tower. When he’s not writing about all the amazing places to visit across the globe, he’s likely out for a run, grabbing cocktails with friends, or going for walks along the docks with his rescue pup, Fenway.

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