Classic movies that will inspire you to travel
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Film has the ability to transport you to places you have never heard of and make you wish that you were there. I love visiting locations I have seen in old movies, more often than not they're still as chic today as they were back then.
This is my ultimate list of old movies that will inspire you to travel to dazzling, far-flung locations, to re-live the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood, on location.
1. To Catch A Thief (1955)
One of the most glamourous pictures of them all. Alfred Hitchcock delivers a highly charged romantic crime caper between two of Hollywood’s brightest stars, Grace Kelly & Cary Grant, set against the spectacular backdrop of the French Riviera in the 1950s. Sweeping shots of Nice, Cannes and Eze confirm why France was, and still is, the world’s most popular tourist destination. This was the director’s first movie filmed in Vista Vision (higher resolution, widescreen), making it even more palatable for modern audiences to sit back and soak up those views. Legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head created Kelly’s iconic wardrobe for the film. Head later said it was her favourite of all the films she had worked on. The two leads positively sizzle, and the South of France has never looked more inviting. No wonder Kelly fell in love with the place, and after watching this film, you will too.
If you want to discover the filming locations of To Catch a Thief in minute detail, check out the Hitchcock Zone.
2. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)
A gorgeously over the top melodrama that combines ghostly folk tales, unrequited love, and furious flamenco. According to the legend, the Flying Dutchman was condemned to wander the seas eternally unless he could find a woman who loved him enough to make the ultimate sacrifice for him. Ava Gardner is at her beautiful peak as sacrificial lamb Pandora Reynolds, in this stunning film set in the lovely seaside town of Tossa Del Mar on Spain’s Costa Brava. The movie opens with a sweeping shot of the waves pounding the beach of Tossa del Mar, as the camera slowly pans upwards to reveal the stunning cove with a castle on top. The succulent technicolour cinematography was created by Jack Cardiff, whose name will pop up many times on this list. He was a favourite of Brit super directors Powell & Pressburger, and he succeeded in capturing some of the most captivating footage ever shot on film. Read more about visiting and staying Tossa del Mar in the Ultimate Ava Gardner Travel Guide.
3. Second Chance (1953)
The last line of this movie is “what a beautiful disaster!” Which sums it up perfectly. This 3-D technicolour noir/romance produced by Howard Hughes’ RKO studios, was filmed on location in Mexico and stars Robert Mitchum and the lovely Linda Darnell. The scenery is striking and the two leads are very watchable (do classic Hollywood leading men get much sexier than Bob Mitchum? I don't think they do...) but the film lacks real oomph until its final act, a nail-biting finale involving a cable car dangling by a thread, high above a mountain. Second Chance is a thoroughly entertaining, pulpy romp, which is all style over substance (a typical Howard Hughes movie then). The middle of the film features a long sequence showcasing a typical Mexican fiesta with fireworks and a suggestive dance scene that’ll have you on TripAdvisor as the credits roll, planning your trip to Mexico.
4. The Red Shoes (1948)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s haunting tenth collaboration, featured stunning cinematography from Jack Cardiff (him again) that made London, Monte Carlo and the Cote d'Azur dance and sparkle along with Moira Sheerer, the captivating leading lady in this truly epic and artful film. Celebrated film critic Roger Ebert said of The Red Shoes, “the film is voluptuous in its beauty and passionate in its storytelling. You don't watch it; you bathe in it.” Powell knew the French Riviera well; his father owned a hotel in Cap Ferrat when he was a child, and this film certainly acts as a love letter to those familiar places he frequented as a young man. Filming locations included the always chic seaside town of Villefranche-sur-Mer, and the magnificent Villa Leopolda (which also featured in Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief eight years later).
5. Around the World in 80 Days (1956)
The public flocked to see the spectacle of Around the World in 80 Days, produced by Elizabeth Taylor’s ill-fated third husband, Mike Todd. Adapted from the 19th century novel by Jules Verne, David Niven plays intrepid traveller Phileas Fogg, alongside Mexican comic Cantinflas as his valiant valet, plus a host of stars in cameo roles, including Noel Coward, Buster Keaton, Marlene Dietrich, and Frank Sinatra. Locations are as far flung as India, Thailand and Japan and each destination on Mr Fogg’s itinerary is showcased in dazzling Todd-AO 70 mm format, a rival to Cinemascope at the time. It is the ultimate on-screen travel odyssey, with Niv and Cantinflas as your intrepid guides.
6. And God Created Woman (1956)
This 1956 film, set in sultry St Tropez, made Brigitte Bardot an international star. The film’s director and Bardot’s husband at the time, Roger Vadim, said “it was the first time on screen that a woman was shown as really free on a sexual level, with none of the guilt attached to nudity or carnal pleasure.” Bardot made quite the splash with 1950s audiences and the film is often credited, alongside To Catch A Thief, with putting the South of France on the international tourist map. The French Riviera has it all, and its simple charms are captured beautifully in this movie; sparkling Azure seas, pretty Provençal gardens (you can almost smell the bougainvillea), rolling vineyards, pastel coloured ports, and chic French interiors. This is the France that dreams are made of. Much of the film was shot along the iconic waterfront, which, rather astonishingly, has changed very little since.
7. Funny Face (1957)
Join Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire on a lavish, love-happy Paris holiday set to the lilting music of George Gershwin. Hepburn’s ‘ugly duckling’ Greenwich bookseller is transformed into a Paris model by nifty on his feet Astaire. Photoplay magazine described this frothy concoction as a “combined fashion show, Cinderella story and travelogue” all rolled in to one. The ‘Bonjour Paris!’ musical number features a montage of pretty much every major Parisian landmark you can think of, and while the majority of the film was shot on the lot at Paramount in California, Audrey and Fred did spend some time soaking up the romance of Paris, shooting at the Place de l’Opéra, the Champs Elysée and of course, the incomparable Eiffel Tower. The famous wedding gown finale was filmed at the Coye-la-Forêt estate, just north of Paris.
*See also An American in Paris and Gigi if you are after more Paris-set musical action.
8. Notorious (1946)
One of Hitchcock's finest (and darkest) outings, Notorious sees Cary Grant’s government agent convince Nazi offspring Ingrid Bergman to infiltrate her father’s network to root out his old friend, a suspected ex-Nazi officer, played by Claude Rains. This is one of the most erotic films of the classic era due to the intense chemistry between Grant and Bergman. The film begins in Miami before switching to the glamour and the heat of Rio de Janeiro. While most of the action in Notorious was filmed on RKO sound stages, the establishing shots of Rio and the infamous, censor-defying, 60 second screen kiss that takes place on a hotel balcony overlooking Copacabana Beach – will inspire you to plan a tropical, retro getaway adventure of your own.
8. Roman Holiday (1953)
Audrey Hepburn plays a princess (said to be based on Queen Elizabeth II and her glamourous sister, Princess Margaret) who whisks herself off for an incognito jaunt around Rome, only to fall in love with debonair reporter Gregory Peck in the process. Their jaunt around the city astride a Vespa scooter is the stuff of Hollywood legend, and has been copied by couples exploring the city ever since (it’s worth noting that the traffic has increased a fair bit since then…). The Trevi Fountain, the Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita), and the Palazzo Colonna all feature in this classic movie, directed by William Wyler, making it a stunning travelogue of 1950’s Rome.
10. The Loves of Carmen (1948)
Rita Hayworth plays Prosper Merrimee’s wanton gypsy harlot Carmen, in Charles Vidor’s 1948 classic. When the film came out, Hayworth had just started dating international playboy Prince Aly Khan, after divorcing Orson Welles and enjoying high profile affairs with Howard Hughes and the Shah of Iran’s brother. To the audiences at home, she was Carmen. Hayworth was a professional dancer before becoming an actress and she sizzles during her flamenco routine. The film was shot at Columbia Studios in LA and the Alabama Mountains near Lone Pine, but it’s the sumptuous odes to Spanish culture, the over the top outfits and the authentic set dressing that make it worthy of inclusion in this list of movies that inspire travel.
11. Mogambo (1953)
Among all the jungle pictures ever produced in Hollywood, pride of place still has to go to John Ford’s Mogambo. Clark Gable is torn between two of cinema's most beautiful women, Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner, in this remake of one of Gable’s biggest early hits; Red Dust (Gable reprised the leading role he had played 20 years later, an unusual achievement that I don't think was ever matched by any big name actress of the time - I wonder why?) Most of the action was filmed on location in Kenya and Uganda with lots of vivid technicolour jungle shots of wild African animals. The crew set up camp near the Kagera River, then a second camp was erected close to the Uaso Nyiro River. They stayed at the New Stanley Hotel during filming and were known to visit the Mount Kennya Safari Club for drinks and entertainment. If you've never thought about going on a safari before, you will after watching this beautiful film.
If you’re hankering for more classic jungle adventures to inspire your travel plans, check out Bogie & Hepburn in John Huston’s classic The African Queen, watch swashbuckling Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines or try a bit of naughty pre-code Tarzan (but beware, this was filmed decades before the animal welfare act was introduced and some of the animal scenes can be upsetting to watch for modern viewers).
12. River of No Return (1954)
Monroe, Mitchum and the lush landscapes of Idaho, captured in Cinemascope, is the perfect mix of mid-century Americana. Marilyn and Bob embark on a death-defying voyage along the titular river in search of love, revenge, and gold. Scenes were filmed in Banff, Jasper National Parks and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada. And of course, the Salmon River in Idaho where the story actually takes place. During filming, the Banff Springs Hotel, a historic hotel that’s still going strong today, was the cast and crew’s accommodation of choice. The province’s drinking laws meant that it was the only place for miles that had any booze, so Mitchum was seen propping up the hotel bar most nights. Monroe also spent time here with Joe DiMaggio while she recovered from a leg injury she sustained during filming. The film has some disturbing elements (the attempted rape by Mitchum, which Marilyn just brushes off, has not aged well) but Otto Preminger’s first Western did produce some spectacular visuals, both of its glorious leading lady and of the exceptional north western mountain and riverscapes her character inhabits.
13. Summertime (1955)
This is David Lean’s favourite of all the many incredible films he directed. Katherine Hepburn plays an old maid who saves up for her dream trip to Venice, where she falls in love with Rossano Brazzi, and the city itself of course. It is a 1950s Eat Pray Love, set 12 years before Julia Roberts was even born. The beautiful cinematography, captured by Oscar-winning Bridge Over the River Kwai cinematographer Jack Hildyard, will make you feel like you have been to Venice, taking you to the colourful streets of Burano and Piazza San Marco and across the Ponte Chiodo bridge amongst many other delightful highlights of the city. Lean also fell in love with Venice during filming and he ended up buying a second home there that he enjoyed for the remainder of his life.
14. The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952)
Adapted from the novel by Ernest Hemingway, one of the most talked about travellers of the 20th century, the Snows of Kilimanjaro was one of the most successful films of the early 1950s, garnering praise from critics for its vivid, often nostalgic, cinematography used to perfection to show off the story's varied, and lovely locales. Gregory Peck is our hero, who tells his life story to Susan Hayward, as he lay dying at the bottom of Mount Kilimanjaro. His description of his time in Paris with his great love, played by Ava Gardner, is so wonderfully detailed, it will make you wish you were in Paris; “there are so many things that I’ve not written, which I’ll never write now. I’ve written only of that first time in Paris, a Paris I loved…” Filming took place in Nairobi, Cairo and the French Riviera. The producers were thrifty and borrowed the bullfighting scenes from archive footage taken from the 1941 classic, Blood & Sand.
15. The Quiet Man (1952)
The lush Irish landscapes on show in John Ford’s 1952 masterpiece, The Quiet Man, have been inspiring movie fans to visit the Emerald Isle for seven decades. Unsurprisingly, the movie picked up an Oscar for Best Colour Cinematography. The village of Cong in County Mayo and nearby Ashford Castle where most of the film is set, have become a pilgrimage site for John Wayne fans. Cong is now an affluent town and the castle has been turned into a 5-star luxury hotel. If you’re in the neighbourhood, don’t miss Pat Cohan’s Pub, which doubled for the pub in the film, they offer traditional Irish dishes with a twist and lots of Quiet Man memorabilia to gaze at while you eat. Other filming locations included stunning Lettergesh beach, where the horse race was shot, and Thoor Ballylee, Co. Galway, a fortified Norman tower house which has two claims to fame; it featured in the film and it was also the home of poet W.B. Yeats for a short time.
16. Beat the Devil (1953)
Filmed in dreamy Ravello on Italy’s picturesque Amalfi Coast, Beat the Devil played upon the popularity of Italian movies at the time (the influx of American productions in Italy was nicknamed ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’). The film follows a motley crew of petty criminals, led by Humphrey Bogart, who are waiting around in Italy to catch a boat to Africa, where they plan to make their fortune by buying up uranium-rich land. Misunderstood upon release, Beat the Devil has since become a cult classic and is just as well known amongst fans for the crazy shenanigans going on behind the scenes (during production, Bogart lost teeth in a car accident, John Huston fell off a cliff and Truman Capote lost most of his screenwriter’s fee to endless rounds of poker with Bogie and Huston). Ravello’s stunning central piazza, with its big white cathedral, and the various cafes surrounding it, features prominently in the film. Some scenes were also shot in nearby Atrani, a tiny fishing village east of Amalfi, that is still one of Italy’s best kept travel secrets. Bogie et al can also be seen hanging around the pool area of the Hotel Convento Luna, which is still open today.
17. Plein Soleil (1960)
If you’re looking for inspiration for a chic yacht holiday, look no further than René Clément’s French classic, starring the broodingly handsome Alain Delon in his first leading man part. This was the first film adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Delon’s Tom Ripley, a charismatic sociopath, mooches around the stunning landscapes of the Mediterranean as he plots to relieve his ‘best friend’ of his money and his girl. The film is a stunning homage to the dazzling landscapes of Italy and is shot in Rome (Ripley stays at the luxurious Excelsior Hotel on the Vittorio Veneto), Naples, Procida (a smaller island between Ischia and Naples) and Ischia.
18. The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
Humphrey Bogart is the disenchanted, ex-alcoholic director, Ava Gardner is the flamenco dancer he propels towards stardom, with tragic consequences. The Gardner character was an amalgamation of the experiences of Gardner herself (with Howard Hughes) and those of actresses Rita Hayworth (who had been pushed into stardom somewhat against her better judgement) and Judy Garland (whose trials and tribulations at the hands of a ruthless studio system and a long succession of disappointing men, are well-documented). While the script is a little heavy-handed, the cinematography is enchanting, as are the two leads. Although set mainly in Spain, the movie was filmed in Rome, at the famous Cinecitta Studios, with some location shoots taking place in San Remo, Portofino, and Tivoli.
19. Now Voyager (1942)
Bette Davis transforms from archetypal frumpish spinster to a well-travelled woman of the world in this epic weepy, asking Paul Henreid the immortal question, “Oh Jerry, why ask for the moon when we can have the stars?’ It is perhaps the most beloved sob story of all. The plot revolves around Charlotte Vale, played by Davis, a painfully shy single woman, still living with her overbearing mother. Vale comes to life when her psychiatrist encourages her to go on a cruise, using travel as a way of unlocking her true self. Not only does she find herself (cue: classic movie makeover) but she also finds handsome Paul Henreid. Their erotically chaste love affair plays out in the brooding staterooms of their cruise ship and then later on the streets of Rio de Janeiro and nearby Sugarloaf Mountain. The novel on which the film is based was set in Europe, but as WWII was in full swing, the producers decided to relocate to South America instead. The title of the movie is taken from a Walt Whitman poem called ‘The Untold Want’ which could (and should) be used as a mantra for travellers:
“The untold want by life and land ne'er granted,
Now, voyager, sail thou forth, to seek and find.”
20. La Dolce Vita (1960)
Half the world sat up and took notice when Fellini’s vaguely trivial and exaggerated masterpiece hit cinemas. La Dolce Vita was only mildly received in Europe, but the Americans went mad for it. Presumably on the grounds that, as they began to wake up to tourism, this movie proved to them that old Europe was as decadent as they had always dreamed it could be. The audience follows Marcello Mastroianni’s paparazzo photographer over seven nights and seven sun rises, as he captures the lives of Rome’s rich and famous on the streets of the vibrant Via Veneto. Anita Ekberg frolicking in the Trevi Fountain is part of the fabric of cinema, as is Nino Rota’s glorious soundtrack, a perfect addition to your vacation playlist.
21. The Sun Also Rises (1957)
Another of Hemingway’s novels that explored the lives of the lost generation of youth, post WWII. The title of The Sun Also Rises comes from the epigraph by Ecclesiastes. ... “the sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose.” This epigraph expresses the idea that one generation fades into another, and the sun will continue to rise, while each generation passes on. Ava Gardner, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn chew the scenery, and what spectacular scenery they have to chew on, as they filmed against the backdrops of Pamplona, Paris, Biarritz, and Mexico. The cinematography is striking. The film itself can be a little heavy-handed in places, as many of these big budget epics tended to be in the 1950s, but it’s worth watching to observe one of Errol Flynn’s greatest acting performances (playing a drunk not too dissimilar to himself) and to enjoy the beautiful scenery and lovely locales on show.
22. Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
Frank Sinatra croons the set up for this film in the Oscar-winning title (which includes a stunning montage of Roman fountains); “three coins in the fountain, each one seeking happiness, thrown by three hopeful lovers, which one will the fountain bless?” This light hearted rom-com follows three American women, played by Jean Peters, Maggie McNamara, and Dorothy McGuire as they head to Rome to find work and love. It was a huge hit when it was released; the fashion and dialogue were considered the epitome of cool elegance at the time. The famous New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther praised the visuals in the film, describing it as “a nice way to take the movie audience on a sightseeing tour of Rome, with a flying side trip to Venice, through the courtesy of CinemaScope.”
23. South Pacific (1958)
An intoxicating Rodgers & Hammerstein musical set in Hawaii during the Second World War, starring Mitzi Gaynor and Italian stud of the moment Rossano Brazzi (he pops up in The Barefoot Contessa and Summertime too). Hanalei Bay, on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, served as one of the principal filming locations, while a second unit filmed aerial views of the Fijian Islands. Emil Kosa Jr, 20th Century Fox’s Art Director for more than three decades, produced matte paintings of distant views of the magical island of Bali, to be used as background for shots filmed in the studio. It’s such a beautiful film, capturing the exotic beauty of a far-flung island. There is absolutely no doubt that it will have you gagging for a tropical holiday before the end credits start rolling.
And that's it! If I have missed out your favourite classic movie that inspires you to travel, why not drop me an email and tell me why it should be included. Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org