There’s no denying the power of pop culture. The general population for the most part has always been fascinated by film, literature and music, but the tourism industry has definitely noticed a spike in popularity for locations featured in major films in recent years and found ways to capitalize on the mania. With such large successes like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Da Vinci Code, the Harry Potter series, and even the Twilight Saga, some countries have launched campaigns centered around film tourism.
While a few of these locations were previously unknown and some were already famous, all of them experienced a resurgence of tourist interest following the releases of widely popular films, novels or music.
The Louvre, Paris & Roslin Chapel, Scotland: The Da Vinci Code
Producers of the film had to pay the Louvre $1.5 million to shoot there in order to capture some of Leonardo DiVinci’s most renowned paintings referenced in the book. In 2008, the museum reported a record of 8.2 million visitors, a 22% increase from previous figures, largely attributed to the popularity of the film.
Roslin Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir William St. Clair, a Grand Master in the Knights Templar, an ancient order of benevolent knights. In the years following the releases of the book and film, tourist visits to the chapel increased 5-fold and the site is included in several “Da Vinci Code” tours.
Abbey Road: The Beatles
Abbey Road is known for this iconic image above, the cover of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album. Thousands visit this small crosswalk in the city of Westminster, London to snap photos in attempts to recreate the famous image. The Abbey Road street sign was stolen so often that the local city council needed to mount it higher than normal, and the wall next to the zebra crossing is repainted every three months to cover up fans’ graffiti.
Forks, Washington: The Twilight Series
This small town with only a population of 3,500 people has seen a 600% increase in tourism since the release of the Twilight saga (2000 – 2010). The movies weren’t actually filmed in Forks, but there are still a bunch of Twilight tours around the area. This one’s actually kind of funny to me – I’d definitely recommend Olympic National Park (which was still part of the movies) instead 😉
Moulin Rouge, Paris: Moulin Rouge!
The Moulin Rouge has been a world famous tourist destination for decades, being the birthplace of the can-can dance. Dozens of films, books and documentaries have been centered around the iconic Parisian cabaret, constantly rejuvenating it with each passing year since its creation in 1889.
Edinburgh, Scotland, Alnwick Castle, England & King’s Cross Station, London: Harry Potter
There’s no denying the power of Harry Potter mania. There are tons of Harry Potter themed tours in England and Scotland that touch on the making of the films and books. Author JK Rowling was known to have started writing the series in Edinburgh cafes, Harry had his first broomstick flying lesson at Alnwick Castle, and a sign was put up at King’s Cross Station in London to mark the fictional entry to board the Hogwart’s Express.
New Zealand: Lord of the Rings
New Zealand’s gorgeous landscape was the perfect setting for The Lord of the Rings’ Middle Earth. There are more than 150 locations around the country that were used to shoot the film and you can even still see what remains of Hobbiton. Tourist centers provide free “Middle Earth” maps and New Zealand is currently negotiating the construction of a museum to showcase some of the 40,000 props and costumes used in the films. Termed “Tolkien Tourism,” the annual number of tourists rose from 1.7 million in 2000 to 2.4 million in 2006.
India: The Life of Pi
The Life of Pi was so popular that the Indian government launched a tourism campaign centered around some of the beautiful scenery depicted in the film. The movie boosted tourism in Puducherry, which is sometimes referred as the “French Riviera of the East” given its rich history as a European colony (mostly with French influence).
The Stanley Hotel, Colorado: The Shining
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado is so creepy, horror novelist Stephen King was inspired to write his famed novel The Shining after his stay there. The hotel has long been believed by many to be haunted since opening in 1909, and has hosted a variety of famous figures: Titanic survivor Margaret Brown, John Philip Sousa, Theodore Roosevelt, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and a string of Hollywood personalities. The hotel does have a lighter side – it also served as the location of “Hotel Danbury” in 1994’s Dumb and Dumber.
Salzburg, Austria: The Sound of Music
The 1965 film about the Von Trapp family was insanely popular and a huge international success. Since its release, 300,000 people visit the homes, sites and locations from the film in Salzburg each year. Some of the spots you can see from the film are Mirabell Gardens and Pegasus Fountain, Leopoldskron Palace, Hellbrum Palace, Nonnberg Convent, St. Gilgen and Wolfgangsee, and Mondsee Church. The city is well-known for its baroque architecture, is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps, and also the birthplace of iconic classical composer Mozart.
The Mississippi River, United States: Mark Twain
Mark Twain couldn’t have captured episodic American adventurism better than his collection of stories based near or on the Mississippi River. His most famous novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a story mostly based on a journey down the river in an attempt to free a runaway slave during the American pre-Civil War era. The novel is a reflection of American culture at the time, exhibiting themes of independence, escape, freedom and adventure. Unsurprisingly, you can catch a Mark Twain-themed cruise and visit a few of the locations from the books.
Kyoto, Japan: Memoirs of a Geisha
Tourism in Japan has always generally done pretty well, but the country experienced a resurgence of interest after the publication of Arthur Golden’s novel Memoirs of a Geisha in 1997, and the film produced by Steven Spielberg followed in 2005. Popular sites to visit are Yoshimine-dera Temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine, Heian Jingu Shrine, the bamboo forest in Arashiyama and the geisha district of Gion.
Notre Dame, Paris: The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Construction of the Cathedral of Notre Dame began in 1163 to become the “Parisian Church of the Kings of Europe” and took almost 200 years to complete. It was desecrated during the French Revolution, with much of its religious imagery damaged or destroyed (however, there have been various restorations throughout the 20th Century). There was no real “hunchback” of Notre Dame, but Victor Hugo’s famous novel renewed interest in the cathedral, saved it from being demolished, and even inspired a campaign for its restoration in 1845.
The Painted Ladies, San Francisco: Full House
“Painted Ladies” refer to Victorian and Edwardian-styled houses and buildings painted in three or more colors to enhance their architectural details. It was first used in San Francisco and many buildings around the city display this architectural style (about 48,000 between 1849 and 1915 in fact). This particular row on Steiner Street near Alamo Square became recognizable worldwide as the setting of Full House, due to the high popularity of the family sitcom. Although the show wasn’t filmed here (only the opening sequence was), tourists still love to visit this park and catch great views of the city.