Iconic movie locations to see in Europe
My hands were shaking as I clasped the rough stone railing of the Charles Bridge and peered down at the black waters of the Vltava River rushing below. The iconic twin-spires of the Týn Church loomed against the night sky as fog edged in over the city.
I spun slowly, taking in my surroundings. The hewn cobblestones beneath my feet, the ancient statues and casts of saints perched along the bridge, the murmur of a rough, sharp language I didn’t speak swirled around me.
I was here, finally here – in Prague. Where Vin Diesel (he of the “xXx” franchise) met Anarchy 99 and unleashed a fast and furious ploy to win the girl and save the world. Hollywood, for me, had come to life.
There is something undeniably thrilling about visiting a filming location in person. The intangible comes to life as reality and fiction meet you on the same physical plane. There is a renewed sense of wonder and awe as you realize you’re standing in precisely the same spot where the scene of a famous film played out. Where celebrities, stars and a trove of production assistants and equipment turned reality … into something more.
The best news is that there are so many filming locations that weren’t manufactured on the studio backlot – and can actually be visited. And many of them are in Europe!
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a city made for movies. From the iconic Powder Tower that stands guard at Charles Bridge, to numerous Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque palaces, gardens and buildings – the architecture and urban landscape of the city lends itself perfectly to the silver screen. Spy-style meetings and plots from “Mission Impossible” and “Casino Royale” unfolded near the Vltava River, while “The Illusionist” came to life in the Prague Castle and beautiful Divaldo na Vinohradech theater, as Edward Norton launched his career as a magician. It’s also more economical to film in Prague than it is in many other European cities, and with a wide range of architectural styles – Prague is often used as a “stand-in” city for filming.
Oxford has brought several movies to life, including the “Harry Potter” film franchise, notably the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Hogwarts’ dining hall was based on the actual dining hall in Oxford’s Christ Church College and Cathedral, and the Great Hall staircase of Hogwarts is in fact in Christ Church. With 38 colleges, some of which date back to 1096, Oxford contains plenty of Gothic backdrops to create parallel universes with movie magic.
Alnwick Castle, England
As one of Britain’s most iconic castles, the Alnwick Castle in the English countryside is no stranger to film crews. Second only to the Windsor Castle, the Alnwick is the second largest inhabited castle in England. With its spacious grounds and unencumbered views, the Alnwick has brought several time periods to life. Harry Potter and other First Years learned to mount their brooms and fly here, while several Robin Hood franchises launched on the grounds, (“Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood”). The castle has even welcomed a few ‘Autobots’ as ‘Bumblebee’ and ‘Hot Rod’ did their part to save the world in “Transformers: The Last Knight”.
Few skylines are more recognizable than Paris, and movie studios have been filming in and around the city for decades. If you’ve seen a blockbuster film in the past ten years, there is a very good chance some of the scenes were shot in Paris. For example, The Pont de Bir-Hakeim Bridge famously featured in “Inception” when Ellen Page realizes the effects of bending space too much.
With a multitude of statues, a 540 foot sculpted façade, and iron beams that support a large glass ceiling – the Gare du Nord train station has set the stage for several movies, including “The Bourne Identity” and created vignettes for “Hugo”, an orphaned inventor’s son who lived in the train station’s clock.
The mystery of Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” unfurled underneath the Louvre Museum’s iconic glass pyramid – and in 2015 alone, the museum hosted 120 productions, and averages four to five film shoots per year.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
For stunningly gorgeous landscapes, it’s no surprise that film crews head to Scotland’s awe-inspiring Isle of Skye. With sweeping vistas, waterside views and unique geological features – the western edge of Scotland produces some serious big screen magic. The lush green landscape of the Fairy Glen was the perfect place to bring Neil Gaiman’s ethereal “Stardust” to life, while the otherworldly geological feature – The Old Man of Storr, was the perfect backdrop for “Prometheus”. Rock pinnacles, wind-gnarled trees, and valley-carved lakes brought “Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Macbeth”, and quite fittingly, “The Land that Time Forgot” to life.
The capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region, Seville is famous for more than its flamenco dancing. With Moorish-inspired architecture, intricately detailed plazas, bell towers and cathedrals, Seville has represented Cairo, Demascus, Jerusalem and more as the film industry fell in love with this beautiful Spanish city. The sprawling Plaza de España has yielded the perfect filming perspective in numerous movies, notably the “Stars Wars” franchise, as well as “Lawrence of Arabia” and served as the Wadiya Palace in Sacha Baron Cohen’s “The Dictator”.
Movies hold such fascination for a variety of reasons, but the most memorable ones always succeed in one arena; they evoke an emotional response with their audience. As the story unfolds on the silver screen, we often feel a potent sense of love, fear, awe, wistfulness and wonder. A pivotal piece of this cinematic experience is the filming location.
Locations are carefully chosen for a reason – as something there must enhance or advance the story. Whether it’s in the natural beauty, unique architectural or a distinct detail, Europe is packed with movie magic, just waiting for you to explore.
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