They’ll inspire you to turn off the TV and hit the road.
1. Top of the Lake
Filmed in and around the New Zealand town of Queenstown, Top of the Lake is an often dark, moody series set against the imposing grandeur of the New Zealand landscape. And despite the show’s somber subject matter — an investigation into the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old — the spectacular setting provides moments of transcendent brilliance.
Make the trip: In real life, Queenstown attracts almost 2 million visitors per year and is especially popular with outdoor/adventure travelers. During the colder months, Queenstown is an established destination for winter sports enthusiasts. Plus, the town’s history as a gold-mining camp means there are plenty of cultural sites to visit and learn from.
Rather than inspire wanderlust with grand scenery, Portlandia delves into the charming oddities that make the city of Portland tick. From independent bookstores to hipper-than-hip concert venues to wooded respites outside the city, the eccentricities of this eclectic city are brought front and center in a variety of sketches that showcase the humor in urban life.
Make the trip: While Portlandia plays up the city’s hipster reputation, there’s more to the city than just chic eateries and boutiques (although you can certainly find those). Portland also plays host to sites like the world’s largest indie bookstore, Powell’s City of Books, Chinese and Japanese gardens that visitors can wander through, and the famous desserts of Voodoo Doughnut.
3. The Returned
The alpine landscapes of The Returned, known in its native France as Les Revenants, can be found in the country’s Haute Savoie region, specifically in the areas around Lake Annecy. The small village setting provides the backdrop for an affecting story about what happens when those who are presumed dead mysteriously return to their homes. It’s not a zombie show in any traditional sense, but the atmosphere provided by the setting lends the show just enough of a creepy aura to make it work.
Make the trip: Annecy is a medieval town with historic charm and numerous canals that have led to it being called the “Venice of the Alps.” Among the most popular destinations in Annecy are its Château d’Annecy and Palais de l’Isle, two structures dating back hundreds of years and still standing as reminders of the Annecy of yesteryear. Just as with The Returned, this region is all about bringing the past back to life.
This British whodunnit may have a depressing premise — a boy in a seaside village is found murdered, and the dirty laundry of various townspeople is revealed in the subsequent investigation — but damn, the setting is beautiful. Set along England’s Jurassic Coast, the small harbor town of West Bay plays home to the fictional Broadchurch, and the series makes great use of the stunning visuals provided by the coast’s imposing cliffs. It’s an idyllic setting, which is why the decidedly un-ideal premise of the program makes for a perfect juxtaposition.
Make the trip: The Jurassic Coast stretches for almost 100 miles in the county of Dorset, England, and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Given the coastal location, the area is popular with beachgoers, although those looking to venture more inland will find various museums and gardens to peruse. And if you can’t make the journey to England, head to the coast of British Columbia, Canada, where the U.S. remake Gracepoint was filmed.
5. The Affair
The Affair’s setting in the town of Montauk, on the eastern tip of Long Island, provides a gorgeous backdrop for the multifaceted tale of two adults who spend a summer engaging in an affair together. The main characters traipse down beaches, walk along the town pier at the edge of the water, and gaze out upon the ocean. They also have psychological breakdowns and spend a lot of time professing their crippling ennui, but at least they’re doing it in a beautiful place. Oh, and the series recently won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, so now’s a good time to get watching if you haven’t already.
Make the trip: Montauk is known as a summer beach getaway, with all types of water activities popular among visitors, especially surfing. The small-town charm makes it a wonderful place to simply wander around, though, if you’d rather stay away from the water. The town is replete with boutiques and restaurants, so you can enjoy your fair share of unique crafts and fresh fish all day long.
6. Marco Polo
Netflix went all out for this series about the famed Italian traveler Marco Polo and the time he spent in East Asia with Mongol leader Kublai Khan. The costumes are sumptuous, the sets are gorgeously intricate, and, most importantly, the surrounding countryside is unbelievably stunning. Filmed in Kazakhstan and Malaysia, with pieces of backstory filmed in Italy, the show makes the most of the largely desolate countryside with plenty of scenes of characters charging their horses along the land and kicking up dust in front of the shadows of a craggy hillside. The stunning locations are perhaps better than the show itself.
Make the trip: Although filmed elsewhere, the series is meant to take place largely in Mongolia and China; Kublai Khan rules from the city of Khanbaliq, in the area that has become Beijing. But to get a better experience of the type of landscape portrayed in the show, the best option is to visit the Mongolian Steppe. The nation is the world’s least densely populated country, so it shouldn’t too difficult to encounter the type of wide open spaces that you see on the show. And if you want the urban experience of a place like Khanbaliq, you can spend time in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator.
7. Game of Thrones
The fictional lands of Westeros and Essos contain multitudes of stunning terrains, from icy winter wonderlands (well, except for the White Walkers) to arid deserts to lush cities along the sea. The scope of the show is so huge, it’s as if your wanderlust begins to feel wanderlust; the setting changes greatly from one moment to the next, all the while remaining mighty and beautiful. And unlike the characters themselves, you don’t have to risk your life traveling overland and across seas to get from one area to the next.
Make the trip: You’ll probably need to make multiple trips to fulfill all of your GoT wanderlust, but that’s OK. The series has filmed everywhere from Croatia to Northern Ireland to Iceland in order to capture the stark contrasts between the various regions of Westeros and Essos. The fictional King’s Landing has been filmed for the past few seasons in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, a walled city that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The home of House Stark, Winterfell, was actually filmed in Northern Ireland at and around an 18th-century castle, Castle Ward. And with so many other locations standing in for Westeros and Essos, you’ll be traveling for a while trying to reach them all.
Only a setting as beautiful as Lost’s could make a viewer contemplate the idea of traveling to a secret island abandoned by sketchy scientific researchers and inhabited by a mysterious, and sometimes deadly, black smoke monster. So much awful stuff befalls the characters on the show, from death to imprisonment to violence, and yet you can’t help but wonder if all of it would be worth it for such a stunning island locale. It’s probably not, but hey, you never know.
Make the trip: If you want to capture the Lost experience without the whole “plane crashing onto a deserted island that’s actually inhabited by deadly monsters and weird energy centers that cause people to travel through time” thing, don’t worry — it’s actually quite accessible, having been largely filmed on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Numerous tour operators offer specialized Lost itineraries that will take you to sites ranging from the beach where the plane crashed to the compound where the Others lived.
The Scottish countryside features prominently in Outlander, a sci-fi romance about a woman who accidentally time-travels from the 1940s back to the 18th century and must figure out a way to survive in her new world while she searches for a way home. And while people have discussed the everything from the beauty of the show’s costumes to its feminist sensibilities, what we should really be talking about are the engrossing Scottish locales in which the series takes place.
Make the trip: The journey through time undertaken by Claire Beauchamp Randall originates at a group of standing stones. These types of stones are actually relatively common around Scotland, including the cemetery of Clava Cairns near Inverness, the city from which Claire’s accidentally journey begins. The city itself is home to cathedrals, museums, and castles — although visiting the castle used as the location for the show’s fictional Castle Leoch, called Doune Castle in real life, requires a trip of a few hours.
Throughout its four seasons (although, let’s be real, that last one was only half a season), Treme brought viewers into the lives of various citizens of New Orleans in the years after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. And although the show was often heavy, it also included countless moments of color, levity, and, above all, music. Despite the hardships faced by the characters, the city of New Orleans itself remains stunningly resilient.
Make the trip: The Tremé neighborhood is considered the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States. You can visit numerous locations mentioned and seen in the series (both in Tremé and in other neighborhoods), from Congo Square, a historic gathering place for musicians, to Preservation Hall, a concert venue that has played host to both local jazz musicians and world-famous rock bands.
OK, so the show is set in Ancient Rome, which isn’t really somewhere you can visit. But with some of the best preserved ruins in the world, modern Rome can still help cure the travel bug you’ll be feeling after watching this show. The costumes and sets are some of the most sumptuous you will ever see, and the Roman landscapes, both urban and countryside, will leave you in need of a Roman holiday.
Make the trip: Again, unless a time-travel machine is invented in the near future, you’re not going to be able to truly experience the environment being portrayed on Rome. But modern Rome has some incredibly preserved ruins from the time period, including the famed Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Basically, if you can’t find things to do in Rome to cure your wanderlust, you’re clearly doing something very, very wrong.
12. Breaking Bad
You don’t have to start cooking meth in order to get the Breaking Bad experience. Although the show takes place largely in various nondescript suburban locales or seedy Albuquerque, New Mexico, settings, there are also fantastic panoramas of the wide-open landscape of the American Southwest. From open plains to rocky outcroppings, the stunning natural topography in the Albuquerque region becomes a hallmark of the show.
Make the trip: If you want to come as close to the real Breaking Bad experience as possible, there are tour operators in the city who will take you around to locations made famous on the show, from Walt’s car wash to the site of Los Pollos Hermanos. If you’re hoping to enjoy the city without the meth-y vibes, check out the museums and art galleries that offer insight into the city’s colonial history.
13. Downton Abbey
This British period drama revolves around the residents and staff of the Downton Abbey estate as they navigate the challenges and changes of life in the early 20th century. But no matter what major events are shaping the characters’ lives, from world-altering events like World War I to more personal moments of struggle, what remains constant is the beauty of the incredibly lush grounds and gardens that provide the backdrop to many of these scenes. If any show feeds into the archetype of the “English Countryside,” it’s Downton Abbey.
Make the trip: Although the show’s set in the northern English county of Yorkshire, much of Downton Abbey’s filming takes place in the south, closer to London. The home of the Crawley family is actually played by Highclere Castle, which allows visitors to tour inside the castle walls as well as stroll through the surrounding gardens. If you want to experience life away from the castle, you can travel around the village of Bampton, where many of the other scenes are shot.
An extremely new series (it only premiered in late January), Fortitude is already can’t-miss for television wanderlusters. The show is a murder mystery set in a remote Arctic town, with snow-capped mountains and shimmering glaciers providing a backdrop for all of the action. Despite the murder and general sense of distrust among many of the town’s residents, there’s no denying that the show’s setting provides an element of wonder and magic that brings a sense of levity to the proceedings. It’s hard not to feel a sense of awe just looking at the landscapes on your screen.
Make the trip: The series is inspired by the über-remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a Norwegian territory home to under 3,000 people, although much of the filming actually takes place in the small Icelandic town of Reyðarfjörður on the country’s eastern coast. Getting to Svalbard itself is the more difficult of the two prospects, but visitors can experience everything from snowmobiling to dogsledding on the island’s wintry terrain. If you choose Iceland, you can head to Reyðarfjörður and check out the small town’s museum dedicated to World War II, or you can head to the country’s capital of Reykjavik, which offers many more urban amenities if the thought of going too remote makes you uncomfortable.