In 1888, French inventor Louis Le Prince shot Roundhay Garden Scene – a brief clip that’s thought to be the earliest surviving film. And ever since, our continent has attracted movie-makers from around the world.
With its rich culture, varied landscape, legendary landmarks, and sprawling cities, Europe has set the stage for some of the most famous films in history.
Below, we talk about some of the best spots to visit if you want to tread in the footsteps of the stars of the silver screen…
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Just outside the village of Schwangau in Southern Germany, high atop a forested peak, looms the striking Neuschwanstein Castle.
Seemingly pulled straight from the pages of a fairytale, construction began on this neo-Gothic castle in 1869. It was originally intended as a private residence for King Louis II of Bavaria (or, as he was also known, ‘Mad King Ludwig’). However, the project was halted following his death in 1886 – after which, it was opened to the public.
As well as being a must-visit for fans of stunning architecture, Neuschwanstein Castle is also an ideal destination for cinema lovers. It made a remarkable appearance in the 1968 film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as the cruel Baron Bombhurt’s castle.
2. Bir-Hakeim Bridge, France – Inception (2010)
If you’re a film buff and you find yourself in Paris, you might want to visit the Bir-Hakeim Bridge.
Built early last century, this two-level bridge provides a crossing over the Seine for pedestrians, motor vehicles, and passengers of line six of the metro.
Strolling under its steel arches is certainly a sight to behold – especially in the evening when the whole thing is lit up. Plus, it provides a perfect vantage point to take in the city’s centrepiece: the Eiffel Tower.
Thanks to its distinctive architecture, the Bir-Hakeim Bridge has been a favoured spot among movie-makers for decades. Although, perhaps most famously, it featured in Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending action thriller Inception – when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dom Cobb is teaching his new recruit, Ariadne (Elliot Page), how to build dreamscapes.
3. Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland – the Harry Potter series
From Alnwick Castle – where some of the outdoor scenes of Hogwarts were filmed – to King’s Cross Station – home of the iconic Platform 9¾ – there are plenty of set locations from the Harry Potter films to visit here in the UK. But, for many fans of the wizarding world, Glenfinnan Viaduct is the most impressive.
Nestled amongst the rolling glens of the Scottish Highlands, this spectacle of engineering was featured in a handful of the Harry Potter films as part of the route that the Hogwarts Express takes to the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Built in the late 19th century, the 21-span viaduct still plays host to a working steam train (The Jacobite) twice a day. While it won’t take you to Hogwarts, it’s the exact same style as the famous locomotive. So if you’re looking for an immersive Harry Potter adventure, why not hop on board at the nearby towns of Fort William or Mallaig?
Or, if you’re more of an outdoorsy type, you can take in the stunning scenes from one of the many walking trails surrounding the viaduct.
4. Trevi Fountain, Rome – La Dolce Vita (1960)
In the heart of Italy’s Eternal City, at the foot of the grand Palazzo Poli, sits the Trevi Fountain. It’s an elegant baroque fountain that depicts the Titan God Oceanus and various other deities and creatures from Roman mythology.
While the site has been used as a source of water for a millennium, the fountain as we know it today was built in the mid-1700s and has been a favourite location for filmmakers.
It plays a role in a variety of movies – such as Roman Holiday and Angels and Demons. But. it’s perhaps most famously known for its role in Federico Fellini’s sultry and surreal La Dolce Vita, when Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg wade into its waters for a nighttime dip.
But before even then, the American film Three Coins in the Fountain started a tradition of throwing money into the pool. Amazingly, around 1.5 million euros in discarded cash is collected from the waters each year and given to charitable causes.
5. Church of Agios Ioannis, Greece – Mamma Mia! (2008)
Greece’s quaint island of Skopelos isn’t as popular with tourists as its larger neighbours – like Mykonos, Corfu, and Crete. However, its dazzling crystal waters, ivory beaches, and towns with charming whitewashed buildings and terracotta roofs can offer visitors a classic and unforgettable Greek experience.
One of the main draws of this Aegean island is undoubtedly the Church of Agios Ioannis, where scenes from 2008’s Mamma Mia! were filmed.
According to local legend, the church was built after a fisherman saw a light high atop the rock. When he investigated, he discovered an icon of Agios Ioannis (St John). But when the townspeople transported the icon to a nearby church, it disappeared and was discovered again atop the rock. Instead of moving the icon back down again, they decided to build a church around it.
Perched on a 100m rock stack, this dinky chapel is open to visitors throughout the year and offers sweeping vistas of the island. So why not follow in Meryl Streep’s footsteps and walk the 110 steps to the top? You certainly won’t be disappointed.
6. Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory, Poland – Schindler’s List (1993)
Travelling gives us an opportunity to visit magnificent places like natural beauty spots and grand works of architecture. However, it can also help us to discover more about important historical events and the struggles experienced by people around the world.
One such place that’s certainly worth a visit is Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory in the district of Zabłocie in Kraków. It was here that Schindler, a member of the Nazi party, employed and housed thousands of Jews during WW2, to help spare them from some of the monstrosities of the concentration camps.
Schindler’s heroic actions were dramatised in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film Schindler’s List, with some of the exterior shots of the factory being filmed at the location. Nowadays, it houses two museums: MOCAK, an art museum, and Schindler’s Factory Museum. It’s an informative place to learn about the struggles the Jewish people of Kraków faced under Nazi rule.
7. The Mirabellgarten, Austria – The Sound of Music (1965)
Thanks to its stunning views of the Eastern Alps, baroque architecture, and the surrounding lush green hills, Salzburg draws oodles of tourists every year. And, because it served as the location for 1965’s The Sound of Music, it has a special place in the heart of film enthusiasts.
Fans of the much-loved musical can learn more about the real von Trapp family’s story, which served as a basis for the film (and the stage show and book that came before it). But they can also visit some of the spots where the crew shot in 1964 – such as the Mirabellgarten.
The Mirabellgarten (or the Mirabell Palace Gardens) is an ornate garden featuring pristine floral displays, marble sculptures, and the fountain which Julie Andrews’ Maria and the children skip around while singing Do-Re-Mi.
If you’re a Sound of Music superfan, you can see the Mirabellgarten as part of the official guided tour, or just pop in for a visit while exploring the city.
8. Hardangerjøkulen Glacier, Norway – Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
To capture the barren ice planet of Hoth – where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the rebel forces defend themselves against an imperial attack in the Star Wars sequel, The Empire Strikes Back – George Lucas and his crew set off into the wilds of Scandinavia.
Filming for these scenes took place on the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier in Norway, near a tiny village between Oslo and Bergan called Finse. And the good news for Star Wars fans with an adventurous spirit is that you can visit this otherworldly location.
While you’ll need a moderate amount of fitness, the best and safest way to see the Hardangerjøkulen Glacier is certainly to take a tour, like this one from Geilo. Led by an experienced guide, you’ll explore the dramatic terrain using equipment like ropes and crampons – skirting along crevasses and ducking into ice caves.
While it’s not exactly cheap, a glacier tour is an unforgettable experience. And if you’re interested in other glaciers with a Hollywood connection, you could check out the Svinafellsjokull Glacier in Iceland, where Christopher Nolan shot scenes for Interstellar.
9. Notting Hill Bookshop, England – Notting Hill (1999)
If you love romcoms and would prefer to check out a cinematic spot that’s closer to home, then why not visit the Notting Hill Bookshop?
As you might expect, many of the scenes from the 1999 Richard Curtis rom-com starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts were filmed in the eponymous West London neighbourhood – and fans can visit the bookshop where unlikely lovers Will and Anna meet…sort of.
It’s a bit of a confusing story, but there are actually two bookshop locations to see in Notting Hill. The first one is ‘The Notting Hill Bookshop’, located on Blenheim Crescent. This store, when it was called ‘The Travel Bookshop’, served as the inspiration for the one in the film. Today, it’s still a working bookshop.
Richard Curtis, the film’s writer, originally wanted to shoot scenes inside the shop. But when the then-owners refused, the interior was recreated in a studio.
However, die-hard fans will instantly recognise that this isn’t the exterior used for the bookshop in the film either. But not to worry! You’ll find this only a short walk away on Portobello Road. It’s a gift shop now, so perhaps you can pick up a souvenir.
10. Piz Gloria, Switzerland – On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Of all the people that have played 007, Aussie actor George Lazenby was the only one who had a single outing as the debonair spy, but he certainly made it count!
1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a favourite among Bond fans, thanks to its thrilling action sequences and remarkable locations – the most iconic of which is Switzerland’s Piz Gloria.
While it doubled as a nefarious research facility owned by one of Bond’s arch-enemies in the film, in reality, Piz Gloria is a revolving restaurant and cable car station. Perched high atop the Schilthorn – a 2,970m summit in the Bernese Alps – it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains.
Meaning ‘Glorious Peak’ in Romansch, it’s also home to a James Bond museum. Snowsport enthusiasts can follow in the tracks of the super-spy by strapping on their skis and setting off down one of the runs that begin at the restaurant.
11. Savoca, Italy – The Godfather (1972)
When Francis Ford Coppola was searching for locations in Sicily to shoot his groundbreaking film The Godfather, he initially settled on the town of Corleone. This would’ve been fitting since that’s where the fictional family of gangsters at the centre of the movie hailed from.
However, due to issues involving organised crime in the area, the Oscar winner was forced to look elsewhere. And on the advice of a local Sicilian Baron, he settled on the picturesque, hill-top town of Savoca.
Fans of the 1972 film can walk the same streets that Michael (Al Pacino) walked during his two years in exile. Grab a granita (a Sicilian sort of sorbet) at Bar Vitelli, where Michael meets the father of his bride-to-be, and visit the Chiesa di San Nicolò (Church of Saint Nicholas), where he gets married.
12. The Belfry of Bruges, Belgium – In Bruges (2008)
The Belfry of Bruges is the city’s centrepiece. Looming over the Grote Markt, this 13th-century Gothic bell tower isn’t just a stunning example of medieval architecture, but it also offers panoramic views of the city and its suburbs.
To reach the top, which houses the carillon (an instrument with 47 bells which is played using a keyboard), you’ll need to scale the 366 steps – passing by the treasury, where city funds were traditionally kept.
Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, between 11am and noon is a good time to visit, as this is when the carillonneur plays the bells. Fans of Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy-thriller, In Bruges, will recognise the Belfry and market square, which were both heavily featured in the film.
From Bond villain hideouts to sci-fi alien landscapes, there are plenty of movie locations to visit in Europe.
For more ideas for filming spots to check out that are a little closer to home, have a read of our article; 13 film set locations you can visit in the UK.