Films and TV shows have the incredible power to transport us to amazing locations around the world, and beyond to galaxies far, far away. But while the on-screen drama may be fantasy, many of those awe-inspiring sets are places you can visit in real life.

In celebration of our new book, A Spotter’s Guide to Film and TV Locations, we travel not only across the world, but back in time, to take a look at the real-world locations that star in some of our favourite films and TV shows from the last seven decades.

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Hovs Hallar straddles the divide between heaven and hell © Hugo / Getty Images

The fabulous 50s

Hovs Hallar, Skåne, Sweden – The Seventh Seal, 1957

Look at this beach scene: quite pretty, huh? No doubt some people might even see in it the glory of God’s creation. Not Ingmar Bergman, though. He sees the perfect spot for a nice game of chess with the sardonic figure of Death in an existential drama about the search for meaning in a godless universe.

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  • Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy – Roman Holiday, 1953
  • San Francisco Bay, California, USA – Vertigo, 1958
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Fairy-tale castles aren't just the preserve of angelic princes and princesses © Ingmar Wesemann / Getty Images

The swinging 60s

Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1968

Ludwig II of Bavaria’s romanesque-revival hilltop castle could hardly look more like the home of a fairy-tale princess if it was painted pink and had the Disney logo suspended above it. Indeed, it was the model for Sleeping Beauty’s castle in both Disney’s 1959 film and his Californian theme park.

But film-loving children probably know it best as the home of Baron Bomburst, ruler of Vulgaria. Whether or not this was intended as a slight on Ludwig and Walt’s taste in castles, movie history does not record.

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  • The Potter Schoolhouse, Bodega, California, USA – The Birds, 1963
  • Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, California, USA – Star Trek, 1966-69
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Thailand's karst outcrops make for the perfect villain's lair © indahs / Getty Images

The psychedelic 70s

James Bond Island (Khao Phing Kan), Thailand – The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974

Khao Phing Kan rarely goes by its given name, and has been locally known as James Bond Island ever since Christopher Lee’s supervillain Scaramanga hid his ‘solex agitator’ in the limestone karst tower off its shore. Why Scaramanga also built a funhouse and hall of mirrors on the island is anyone’s guess, but it’s best not to question the logic of the Roger Moore–era Bond films too closely.

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  • Doune Castle, Stirling, Scotland – Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975
  • Hotel Sidi Driss, Matmâta, Tunisia – Star Wars, 1977
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Are you brave enough to venture into Mad Max territory? © Yury Prokopenko / Getty Images

The awesome 80s

Silverton, New South Wales, Australia – Mad Max 2, 1981

Welcome to Silverton, population as of the last census: 89. Either there’s something about the light here, or it looks like the very definition of a typical outback township, because films including The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994), Wake in Fright (1971) and Mad Max 2 were all shot in and around it.

Mind you, Mad Max 2 is set in a ‘maelstrom of decay in which ordinary men were battered and mashed’, so think twice before you visit.

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Murder and intrigue couldn't have a more beautiful setting than Ischia © Leo Patrizi / Getty Images

The naughty 90s

Ischia, Gulf of Naples, Italy – The Talented Mr Ripley, 1999

With its pastel-washed fishing villages reflecting in the azure waters of the Bay of Naples like some unspoiled, lesser known Portofino, the island of Ischia looks like just the sort of place the international idle rich of the 1960s might have picked as a playground in which to loll around in cream linen suits and Wayfarers, smoke, listen to jazz and contemplate life. Or identity theft and murder.

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City of God takes you to the heart of life in Rio's favelas © Christophe Simon / Getty Images

The noughties

Favelas of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – City of God, 2003

Fernando Meirelles’s tense gangster drama doesn’t make you want to visit the favelas of Rio, exactly, so much as it makes you thank the heavens you weren’t born into the same cycles of poverty and violence as its characters. But rarely has a film captured the distinctive energy and the life of a city so well. And there isn’t a film with a funkier samba soundtrack to be found anywhere.

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  • Park Hyatt Hotel, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan – Lost in Translation, 2001
  • Long Beach, California, USA – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, 2004
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Live life like the other half at Highclere Castle © Mathew Lloyd / Getty Images

The twenty-tens

Highclere Castle, Hampshire, England – Downton Abbey, 2010-15

Part of the appeal of Downton Abbey lies in its nostalgic celebration of a vanished era of deference and rigid social order in which, whether aristocrat or servant, everyone at least knew their place.

That’s the theory anyway. It’s worth remembering that the British aristocracy hasn’t gone anywhere, and although you can visit the vast 17th-century stately home that played Downton Abbey on certain days of the year, it still belongs to the Earl of Carnarvon.

Carry on set-jetting...

  • St James Theatre, Broadway, New York – Birdman, 2014
  • Wadi Rum, Jordan – The Martian, 2015

Want to add more star power to your travel plans? We've got over 100 classic moments from the world of cinema and television in our Spotter's Guide to Film and TV Locations.

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