Lonely Planet Writer

21 ambassadors choose the books and films you should check out before visiting their country

For many of us, a thrilling story with a spectacular foreign setting can immerse you in a place in a way like no other and many travellers like to seek out the best a country has to offer in literature and film before setting foot off the plane.

Woman reading book while relaxing on deck chair at back yard
These book and film choices might help immerse you in a culture before you go. Image by Morsa Images

To help with the process, language company Babbel asked 21 foreign ambassadors in Washington DC which books and films they would recommend to visitors to their home countries. Now you’ll never be stuck for something for your to-read list.

Read The Tobacconist by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins. Set in Vienna in 1937, this follows the lives of ordinary people that will be changed forever by the German occupation.
Watch Third Man, 1949. An atmospheric British noir drama showcases Vienna in classic black and white.

Read Ali and Nino by Kurban Said.
Watch The 2016 film adaptation. A timeless romance set in Azerbaijan in the early 20th century, it tells the story of a Muslim boy and Christian girl who fall in love, despite the difference in their backgrounds.

Read Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck. Written by the Queen Mother of Bhutan, this is a mix of personal memoir, folklore, history and travel diary.
Watch Travellers and Magicians, 2003. The first feature film in the world shot entirely in Bhutan, this follows a young man who journeys across the country as he dreams of a new life in the United States.

Read With Faith and Goodwill: 150 years of Canada-U.S. Friendship, edited by Arthur Milnes. A collection of historical essays and photographs documenting the unique shared history between the two countries.
Watch any of the films from National Canadian Film Day’s Top 150 which the ambassador says “provides a list as diverse as the country itself.”

Read La Casa de los Espíritus by Isabel Allende. Spanning four generations, ‘The House of the Spirits’ is considered a prime example of Latin American magic realism. English translations are also available.
Watch No, 2012. The story of how an advertising executive spearheads a campaign against dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988.

Read One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Probably Colombia’s most famous novel, it follows the Buendía family as they found the town of Macondo.
Watch Colombia Magia Salvaje, 2015. A spectacular documentary showcasing Colombia’s wildlife.

Read Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg. A Scandinavian mystery, you’ll also learn about Greenlandic and Danish culture.
Watch A Royal Affair, 2012. Based on the true story of how Queen Caroline Mathilde’s love affair with the king’s doctor changes the country forever.

Read The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk. A coming-of-age tale that mixes in Estonia’s national myth and legends.
Watch Lotte and the Moonstone Secret, 2011. A much-loved children’s movie, there is even a children’s theme park you can visit afterwards.

Read Moomin books by Tove Jansson. These fairy tales have a unique place in Finnish culture and there is even a hugely popular park dedicated to the creatures.
Watch Tale of a Forest, 2012. A stunning documentary on Finnish nature and the myths that spring up from the landscape.

Bank of Lake Simpele in Parikala on midsummer's eve, Finland.
The documentary showcases Finland’s spectacular scenery. Image by Dylan Fogarty-MacDonald/Getty Images

Read Tschick (Why we took the car) by Wolfgang Herrndorf. A classic roadtrip novel between two unlikely friends.
Watch Good Bye Lenin!, 2003. Hugely popular outside of Germany too, the ambassador calls this “THE movie about the Fall of the Wall. Close to the facts, and yet very funny.”

Read Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis. An epic tale documenting the struggles between Greeks and Turks on the island of Crete in the 19th century.
Watch Zorba the Greek, 1964. An English writer’s boring life is transformed by a trip to a Greek island and an encounter with the gregarious Zorba.

travel book picks
Bibliophiles will have plenty to choose from. Image by Elena Dijour/Shutterstock

Read Independent People by Halldór Laxness. When an an ordinary sheep farmer decides to pursue an independent life, the result is an epic novel from the master of Icelandic fiction.
Watch Sigur Rós: Heima, 2007. Follow hometown heroes Sigur Rós when they return to Iceland to play a series of free gigs.

Read TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. Intertwined stories of Alcock and Brown , Frederick Douglass and the Irish peace process.
Watch Once, 2007. A charming musical about when a busker met an immigrant.

Read Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. An account of the last days of the British Raj and the success of the Indian independence movement.
Watch Monsoon Wedding, 2001. Family drama, secrets and stories come out in the preparations for an arranged marriage.

Read Selected Poems by Louise Bennett. The ambassador says it “captures the Jamaican dialect in a humorous and compelling way, providing unique and invaluable insights into the Jamaican culture.”
Watch Cool Runnings, 1993. The true story of Jamaica’s famous bobsleigh team as they participate in the 1988 Winter Olympics.

Read In the Name of the Father (And of the Son) by Immanuel Mifsud. A man reads his father’s World War II diary, changing the way he views his relationship with him.
Watch Limestone Cowboy, 2017. One man thinks he is Malta’s next Prime Minister and his family have to deal with his delusions.

New Zealand
Read The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera. A Maori tale of a woman who develops the ability to communicate with whale.
Watch Hunt for the Wilderpeople, 2016. When a child and his uncle go missing in the New Zealand bush, a national hunt gets underway.

Woman with headphones using digital tablet in airport
You’ll need a film to watch in the airport. Image by Hero Images

Read The Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbø. A cynical, disillusioned police detective solves crimes in Oslo.
Watch Kon-Tiki, 2012. Explorer Thor Heyerdahl crosses the Pacific on a raft to prove South Americans settled in Polynesia.

Read I Saw Her That Night, by Drago Jančar. The life and mysterious disappearance of Veronika Zarnik, a young woman from Ljubljana.
Watch Valley of Peace, 1956. A Slovene boy and German girl escape to a valley where there is no war after losing their families in an air raid.

Ler Devagar Bookstore in Lisbon
Ler Devagar Bookstore in Lisbon. Image by Alex Butler/Lonely Planet

Read Nordic Ways by András Simonyi. An anthology of essays describing life in all five Nordic countries.
Watch A Man Called Ove, 2015. This Oscar nominated film tells the story of a grumpy old man who strikes up an unlikely friendship with his new neighbours.

United Kingdom
Read Atonement by Ian McEwan. A child’s lie turns into a tragedy set against the backdrop of England’s most dramatic moments in the 20th century.
Watch Life of Brian, 1979. The ambassador calls it a good “starting point for any visitor to the UK is understanding the British sense of humor and Life of Brian is arguably the funniest British film of all time.”

Keep an eye out on Babbel for more ambassadors adding their recommendations.