From Scene to Seen: Finding Filming Locations Around the World, by Megan Harrison
Any destination becomes more special to me when a movie or TV show is filmed there.
I am fascinated by the places around the world chosen as the face of a film, or the places artists are called when creating their next project. While special effects and CGI can create entire universes, plenty of real-world locations are utilized in the creation and production of visual entertainment.
I follow an Instagram account dedicated to finding some of these destinations. The account owner travels around the world and prints out movie or television stills to hold up in direct alignment with the real location. It feels as if I am looking at a “regular” person, like me, taking a step into a film and standing in iconic scenes.
It makes the stories I love so much seem tangible.
I’ve had the amazing opportunity to study abroad this semester in Luxembourg, which means popular European cities are only short plane or train rides away. I had never been to Europe or traveled to this degree before in my life, which makes the experience so much sweeter. On top of the history, monuments and culture, I’ve been most excited to visit filming locations.
Inspired by the Instagram account, I made it a goal to visit as many filming locations as possible during my semester abroad. I research which movies or TV shows might be filmed in each country I visit, and I pick locations from media that I recognize. It’s been an incredibly rewarding part of my experience. So far, I’ve been to five filming locations, and I have more on the list in my remaining travels. I enjoyed seeing the differences between the location on screen and in real time, while being able to picture the stories unfolding right in front of me.
Shakespeare and Company Bookstore - Paris, France: Before Sunset (2004)
The Before Sunrise film follows Jesse, an American man, and Celine, a French woman, who meet in Vienna on Jesse’s last night in Europe. They decide to spend his remaining hours together before he returns to America. The two reunite years later when Jesse is an author speaking about his newly published book in Paris. A second film opens on Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookstore located on the Seine River near the Notre Dame. This bookstore is famous for many other reasons, but I remember hearing about it because of the film. This trilogy of movies are some of my roommate’s favorites, so I visited with her in mind.
The bookstore ended up being one of my favorite parts of Paris. It screamed authenticity, with books of every genre lining the shelves. There was a reading room upstairs, and a spiral staircase separated the floors. The exterior stood out with green and yellow lining and words of William Shakespeare etched in chalk on either side of the front door. I felt at home when perusing the shelves, and I smiled as the smell of old books and sunlight decorated the air. I purchased the script of the Before Sunrise and Before Sunset movies, as I felt it was only fitting. The book came with two mystery poems, sealed with a Shakespeare and Company stamp, that I have yet to open.
Cliffs of Moher - Ireland: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)
All photos by Megan Harrison
While the scene only covers a small part of the film, I was thrilled to find a Harry Potter filming location outside of London. This film marks the true start of the search for Horcruxes and Voldemort’s ultimate defeat. Harry and Professor Dumbledore begin this hunt by searching a cave at the end of this sixth movie. In the film, the landscape is dark and threatening: waves crash violently against the rocks as storm clouds surge overhead.
My visit to the Cliffs of Moher included much nicer weather, which is why it seemed almost funny. The picturesque views were more welcoming and bright than how they appeared in the movie. This destination was absolutely beautiful, the grass and water being the most vibrant I think I’d ever seen. Green and blue stretched out as far as the eye could see, and each cliff stood tall over the water. I walked the length of the site, standing opposite the main cliff to capture the scene filmed there.
Venice, Italy: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)
The second of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man films follows Peter Parker and his class as they take a class trip around Europe. He is quickly caught in the middle of conflict with mysterious elemental beings. These challenges follow him to many different countries, one battle taking place on the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy.
Holland’s Spider-Man films are my favorite, so I walked toward the city center bubbling with excitement. Upon arrival in Venice, I was shocked at the thought of a film crew setting up in the streets. Each alleyway and sidewalk were completely crowded with people — the Rialto Bridge included. The structure was pristine, and I admired the openings in the structure. I climbed my way to the center of the bridge, looking out over the water like Peter Parker did in the movie. I then dragged my friends to St. Mark’s Square, as that was where the entire Midtown Tech class stood for a class picture. The square had the same amount of sun (and the same amount of pigeons) as in the film, which overwhelmed me with a sense of wonder.
I also appreciated that one of the restaurants we later passed had Spider-Man painted on the window.
Dubrovnik, Croatia - Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019)
I will admit, I am not the biggest Game of Thrones fan.
I’ve yet to watch the show all the way through, only watching with my family from where they left off. Nevertheless, I quickly understood most of the plot and knew which family resided in which kingdom. King’s Landing, the home of the Lannister family, was one location I always recognized. Its consistent bright skies and deep orange rooftops made it the kingdom I was fondest of. So, upon traveling to Croatia, I excitedly pointed out to friends that we were staying in King’s Landing.
Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a marvel in itself. Croatia is one of the prettiest places I’ve been in Europe. The alleyways were lined with clean cut cobblestone that’s smooth under your feet. I walked the city walls, which gave a bird’s-eye view of the town similar to every opening shot of King’s Landing in the show. The orange of the rooftops complemented the light blue of the ocean perfectly as if a matching color scheme was part of the plan all along. My family, as big fans, quickly liked every photo I sent. When walking around the town’s main square after dinner, one of my friends pointed out a staircase that looked familiar. Upon turning my head, I realized it was the staircase from one of the show’s most pivotal scenes in the fifth season.
This aspect of my study abroad journey brings a unique hint of excitement to every travel plan I create. I step into each place and discover why a location is so crucial to telling a story on screen. It’s easy to think of the TV and film realm as a world that’s unreachable, but these visits brought me closer to my passion with every step. I am a firm believer in treating my life like it’s a movie, but finding places where I can step into one is cool, too.