20 of the best travel films

Anna Smith
Photograph: Anne Marie Fox/AP

REAL-LIFE ADVENTURES

Wild (2014)

Cheryl Strayed decided to walk the Pacific Crest Trail to face her demons, and her memoirs were turned into this uplifting film starring Reese Witherspoon as the inexperienced hiker who turns her life around. Director Jean-Marc Vallée was adamant that the movie be shot entirely on location: the journey starts in the Mojave Desert, heads up to Mount Hood – the highest point in Oregon – and the magnificent Crater Lake, before culminating in the iconic Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks on the Oregon/Washington border.
Netflix, Google Play, Sky Store.
Read the Guardian review


Tracks (2013)

Another memoir adaptation, Tracks stars a young Mia Wasikowska as Robyn Davidson, who spent nine months trekking across the Australian desert on camels. Her journey begins in Alice Springs and takes her across scorching outback to the Indian Ocean, via sights such as Uluru and Coffin Bay. It’s an inspiration for would-be solo travellers, given that Robyn was only accompanied by her dog and, at some points, a photographer (Adam Driver).
Amazon, Google Play, Sky Store
Guardian review

Into The Wild (2007)

Graduate Christopher McCandless gave away all his possessions and money to charity and hitchhiked across Northern America to Alaska, where he attempted to live in the wild. This poignant account of his journey is directed by Sean Penn and stars Emile Hirsch in many of the real locations visited by Christopher, aka “Alexander Supertramp”. Feast your eyes on peaceful Lake Tahoe, camping at Beard’s Hollow, kayaking down the Colorado River and run with wild horses … There’s plenty to envy until things take a darker turn.
Sky Cinema, NOW TV, Amazon
Guardian review

Lion (2016)

If you fancy a good cry as well as a virtual trip to India, then Lion is for you. Based on a true story, it tells of a young Indian boy, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) who accidentally boards a train to Kolkata and becomes homeless. After being adopted by an Australian couple, the older Saroo (Dev Patel) searches his memory – and the evolving internet – in an attempt to locate his childhood home and find his family. This is a film with plenty of compassion as well as armchair travel, with locations including Tasmania as well as India.
Netflix, YouTube, Google Play
Guardian review

Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)

A cheerful comedy-drama about a divorcee rediscovering herself, this memoir adaptation features scenery as charming as the central performance from Diane Lane. Frances Mayes’ pals send her on a tour of Tuscany, where she ends up falling in love with a ramshackle house and buys it on a whim. She meets a plethora of interesting people, including Polish builders and an eccentric old British actor, and becomes a major fixer-upper. The film was shot in and around the town of Cortona, near Arezzo: think gorgeous little houses cut into the hillside overlooking glistening waters.
Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Sky Store
Frances Mayes on writing Under the Tuscan Sun


HIKING TALES

Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)

Go tramping in the New Zealand bush with this adorable comedy-drama directed by Oscar-winner Taika Waititi. A winning family adventure, it sees grumpy foster uncle Hec (Sam Neill) following his cheeky young charge Ricky (Julian Dennison) into the wilderness for a trek that turns into a gripping adventure – and an opportunity for the pair to try out their survival skills. Most of it was filmed around the Auckland area, and includes jaw-dropping scenery that Hec describes as “majestical”.
BFI Player, Amazon, Google Play, Sky Store
The landscapes behind Hunt for the Wilderpeople


The Way (2010)

Follow in the pilgrims’ footsteps with this touching, meditative drama starring Martin Sheen as a grieving father who decides to walk the ancient spiritual trail after the death of his son (played by Sheen’s son, Emilio Estevez, who also directs). The route to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia takes in sensational landscapes as well as a variety of entertaining characters, including James Nesbitt as an Irish travel writer.
Amazon Prime Video, YouTube/Google Play, Sky Store
Guardian review


ROAD TRIPS

On the Road (2012)

Based on Jack Kerouac’s novel set in the late 1940s/early 50s, literature’s most famous road trip did not make it onto the big screen until 55 years after the book was published. Sam Riley is the writer who heads to Denver, North Carolina, San Francisco and Mexico by car and occasionally bus. Head here to vicariously experience a hedonistic road trip with sexually fluid bohemians played by an array of Hollywood’s hottest, including Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge and Kirsten Dunst.
Amazon Prime Video, Sky Store
Guardian review

Captain Fantastic (2016)

This film immediately plunges the viewer into the forests of the Pacific Northwest: you’re greeted by lush green trees, the sound of birdsong and the sight of a deer munching its way through the bush. Said deer is short-lived, however, as a pack of children led by Bodevan (George MacKay) slaughter it and take it home for tea with their father (Viggo Mortensen – who’s also in On the Road). It’s a chance to live out your off-grid fantasies, before the family are plunged back into society on a road trip with entertaining consequences.
Netflix/Amazon, Sky Store
Guardian review


TRAIN TRIPS

The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

Three brothers have madcap adventures on a train in this quirky, colourful film that could only have been made by Wes Anderson. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman are the warring trio who bicker and bond their way through a scenic rail journey in India. Though the film was shot mainly in Rajasthan, the fictional route also convincingly takes in the Himalayas – and reminds you of the wonders of train travel abroad.
Amazon, YouTube/Google Play, Sky Store
Guardian review

Before Sunrise (1995)

A train to Vienna is the romantic setting for this cult drama starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. After meeting on the journey, they spend the night walking around the city together. Their frank, naturalistic exchanges are involving and funny, and it’s easy to fall in love with the Austrian capital as the pair jump on trams and ferris wheels along the banks of the Danube. Director Richard Linklater followed this with Before Sunset and Before Midnight, but this remains by far the most romantic in the series.
Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Sky Store
Guardian review

LIFE-CHANGING ADVENTURES

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

A daydreamer finally lives out his travel fantasies in this whimsical adventure based on James Thurber’s short story. Walter (Ben Stiller) works a dull desk job at Life magazine, and goes on a globe-trotting treasure hunt in search of a missing negative by legendary photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). Walter’s travels take him to Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas, and although some of the locations are stand-ins, the film captures the wonder of globe-trotting in a cosy, feelgood format.
Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Sky Store
Guardian review

Patagonia (2010)

The psychological benefits of travel are at the heart of this tender drama that explores the links between Wales and Argentina. A Cardiff couple travel to Patagonia where they are guided by a Welsh-Argentine guide (Matthew Rhys). Meanwhile, an older woman journeys from Argentina to Wales to discover her roots. It’s a moving watch with a fun backstory: Rhys found out about the production when travelling through Patagonia on horseback, where he bumped into the director, Marc Evans, who was scouting for locations.
Amazon, iTunes, Google Play
Guardian review

Black Mountain Poets (2015)

Rural south Wales provides a handsome setting for this con artist comedy from writer-director Jamie Adams. Alice Lowe and Dolly Wells star as sisters on the run who resort to posing as a pair of famous beat poets at a retreat in the Black Mountains – what could possibly go wrong? As they camp out in nature, the remote location forms a backdrop for their potential redemption, as well as plenty of improvised humour.
YouTube, Google Play, BFI Player
Guardian review

HISTORICAL TRAVELS

Meek’s Cutoff (2010)

You wouldn’t want to re-live the journey these characters make, but the landscape looks remarkable from the safety of your sofa. Loosely inspired by an infamous incident in 1845, it sees a small group of settlers travelling across the Oregon High Desert and becoming increasingly less confident in their guide, Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood). Kelly Reichardt’s western shows the gender dynamic slowly shifting as the stakes get higher, and she’s assembled an excellent cast lead by Michelle Williams, Shirley Henderson and Zoe Kazan.
Amazon Prime
Guardian review

The Lost City of Z (2017)

Explorer Percy Fawcett had a compulsion to travel, undertaking hugely risky journeys in the Amazon in to prove his theories about a disappeared civilisation – theories that were ridiculed by his contemporaries in the early 20th century. James Gray’s film stars Charlie Hunnam as Fawcett, Sienna Miller as his wife, and Robert Pattinson as his right hand man, who helps him navigate the rainforest, which looks tantalisingly beautiful despite the dangers that unfold.
Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, Sky Store. Also showing on BBC2 Friday 27 March at 11.05pm
Guardian review

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

An ambitious adventurer makes an eventful jungle voyage in Werner Herzog’s German-language classic inspired by the life of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald. Notoriously volatile actor Klaus Kinski’s wild eyes glint with lunatic abandon as he dreams of building an opera house in Iquitos, in the Peruvian Amazon, and navigating the Pachitea river in a huge steamboat. The shoot (famously as troubled as the events it depicts) took place in the wilds of Brazil and Peru, where Herzog and cinematographer Thomas Mauch vividly captured the cast’s period costumes against the sights and sounds of the jungle.
BFI Player, iTunes
Guardian review

CITY BREAKS

2 Days In Paris (2007)

2 Days in Paris

Julie Delpy writes, directs and stars in this whipsmart dramedy that puts a humorous spin on the notion of a romantic city break. She plays Marion, a photographer who lives in New York and decides to spend two days in the French capital with her neurotic boyfriend Jack (Adam Goldberg). It takes in plenty of famous spots, including the Père Lachaise cemetery, the Pasteur metro station and – should you be missing the Eurostar – the Gare du Nord.
Amazon Prime
Guardian review

In Bruges (2008)

Who knew a film about a couple of hitmen could showcase a city’s charms so beautifully? The Irish contract killers hiding out in Belgium have very different goals: while Ray (Colin Farrell) just wants to get drunk, Ken (Brendan Gleeson) would prefer to see the cultural sights. And so Martin McDonagh’s bitterly funny black comedy takes in architectural delights such as the Belfry of Bruges as well as canal trips through the medieval city.
Amazon, YouTube, Google Play Sky Store
Guardian review

Roman Holiday (1953)

Take a trip back in time to Rome, circa 1953, where a princess (Audrey Hepburn) is trying to stay incognito. After she’s befriended by an American reporter (Gregory Peck), he realises her identity, but keeps his a secret in an attempt to get a scoop. Romance follows, along with iconic black and white shots of the Eternal City. Look out for a meeting on the Spanish Steps, a tour of Colosseum and Vespa ride through the city traffic.
Sky Cinema, YouTube, Google Play
Guardian review

Rental prices generally between £1.99 and £3.49 depending on household subscription status. Netflix and BFI Player films are included in a monthly subscription and are subject to change. Most films also available on DVD/Blu-Ray

Anna Smith is a film critic and host of the podcast, Girls On Film