Visiting Downton Abbey: five special movie and TV tours

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Everyone loves movies, and most people love to travel. So why not put the two together to create a kind of travel that takes you where the movie magic happens? In the past few years, a number of travel companies have done just that.

These days, there are movie and TV tours all over the world that let you walk through the landscapes and set foot in the buildings where your favourite stories came to life. In some cases they’re right where you expected, in others, somewhere you’d never have guessed: who knew The Game of Thrones was filmed in Croatia?

While it’s sometimes hard to figure out the locations, it’s not hard to find the tours themselves. There are a surprising number, especially in major cities like New York and London, and new ones are popping up all the time. Here are some of the most intriguing movie and TV tours around the world.

The Real Downton Abbey – London, England

The Saloon Highclere Castle

As the hit TV series Downton Abbey winds down to its last few episodes, Insight Vacations is going to keep the experience alive for a lucky few travellers. Departing Aug. 11, 2016, Insight’s special British Royale Luxury Gold event will take a group of 40 Abbey aficionados on a one-time, 10-day itinerary that visits the real Downton Abbey.

The famous house – really called Highclere Castle, in Hampshire — has been the home of the Carnarvon family since 1679. Visitors will get complete access to the staterooms where Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith and Elizabeth McGovern made their magic, as well as the areas “below the stairs”, where much of the action in the series takes place.

The tour also includes a chance to hobnob with aristocrats at one of London’s exclusive clubs, reserved seats for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and a welcome from Jane Percy, the Duchess of Northumberland, for an exclusive tour of Alnwick Castle. All very grand — though your own place may look a little … er, plain when you get home.

Game of Thrones Walking Tour – Dubrovnik, Croatia

The Game of Thrones has been just as big a hit as Downton Abbey, but while the Abbey is truly set in England, Thrones is actually filmed in and around Dubrovnik, Croatia. If you’re willing to make the trip to Dubrovnik, Viator will take you on a three-hour Game of Thrones walking tour to see where all the dark deeds took place.

You’ll be shown around the fictional city of King’s Landing by a knowledgeable guide (some have been extras on the series) and explore Dubrovnik’s UNESCO-listed Old Town. You can climb the city walls and visit Lovrijenac Fortress to learn about the evil exploits of King Joffrey, Viator says. You’ll also learn about the noble families in the TV series, while you “follow in the footsteps of Ayra Stark and hear insider gossip.”

If you want to see even more, you can add on a one-and-a-half-hour trip to Trsteno Arboretum, which stood in for the King’s Landing palace gardens in the third Game of Thrones series. The gardens are said to be impressive, and you can see a bit of the countryside while you indulge your fandom.

The TCM Classic Film Tour – New York

Manhattan movie poster

Love old movies? If you spend hours watching film classics on TCM, you may be interested in seeing the places they were shot all those years ago. A lot of them took place in New York, and On Location Tours will take you to see them on a special TCM Classic Film Tour.

You’ll see the Empire State Building (though without the giant ape from King Kong); the spot where Marilyn Monroe’s skirt blew up in that famous scene from The Seven Year Itch; and Holly Golighty’s apartment from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And you’ll tour Central Park to see the locations where they’ve shot dozens of films over the years. The tour also visits the Dakota Building, seen in films like  Rosemary’s Baby. And there’s a photo op in front of the Queensboro Bridge, featured in that memorable scene from Woody Allen’s Manhattan (seen here).

If you’d prefer something more modern, On location Has a tour called When Harry met Seinfeld (you get to visit Monks diner and the coffee shop from When Harry Met Sally), plus others that take you to sites featured in Sex and the City and Gossip Girls. The company has tours in Boston, too – hello, Cheers.

A day in Hobbit land – Auckland, New Zealand

If you’re fond of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies, sooner or later you have to go Down Under to the place where they’re filmed – New Zealand. When you get there, you can see the home of the Hobbits in all its diminutive glory by taking InterCity’s Hobbiton Day Tour from Auckland.

The tour takes you to Matamata, the rural town that’s home to the famous Hobbiton movie set, where Sir Peter Jackson filmed the Rings and Hobbit movies. The set, created on a working sheep and beef farm among the spectacular Kaimai mountain ranges, is a marvel, and it’s been carefully preserved since the movies wrapped.

Intercity promises you’ll see Hobbit holes, the Mill and the Green Dragon Inn, and hear how they painstakingly turned a piece of New Zealand farmland into the wonky landscape of the Shire – though the lovely New Zealand landscape is a bit of Middle Earth all by itself.

Cherchez Les Movies – Paris

Paris scene

New York, Hollywood, London – they’re all famous movie settings. But Paris has been the mise-en-scène for hundreds of movies too, and you can see their locations by taking Le Movie Tour, offered by a company called Set in Paris. The three-hour drive through the centre of Paris takes in the most famous filming locations, the company says, as well as some celebrity hot spots (perhaps even the literary cafés I wrote about here).

Along the way, you see the places where they shot films like The Bourne Identity, Ratatouille, Sex and the City, Julie & Julia, The Da Vinci Code, The Devil Wears Prada and — of course — The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You can even act out scenes from famous movies, like sitting on the steps where Gil waited for Hemingway in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.

Even without the movie locations, a drive around central Paris is filled with great moments and great sights: the Eiffel Tower, Place Vendôme, the Palais Royale, Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre. But a movie tour of Paris does seem fitting — after all, this is where the world’s first movie was shown.

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There are other movie and TV tours out there, of course, including many that take you to the studios where a lot of the classics were made — like the Universal Studio tours in Hollywood and Florida, and the Harry Potter studio tours in England, for example. But while those are fascinating in their own way, there’s something a bit more impressive about seeing places in the real world that have been a piece of cinema history; it’s as if you’re seeing the movie world come to life.

If you’ve been on a movie or TV tour that was worth the time and effort, leave a comment and let us know. I’m sure there are some good ones I’ve missed. And if you can’t afford to go see them yourself — well, you can always go to the movies …

Photos of Highclere Castle courtesy of Insight Vacations

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Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

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