Armchair travel: 10 films that will take you on a virtual vacation

By Maeve Galea

A “virtual vacation”; a “Hollywood holiday”; “armchair travel”. Whatever you call it, the use of film to bring the world home has been around since Audrey Hepburn rode through the streets of Rome on the back of Gregory Peck’s vespa. And yet today it takes on a whole new meaning because, sadly, moving images are as close as we’re likely to get to international travel for a while. Of course it would be easy to get down in the dumps about this reality, but really there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night than sitting in front of a fabulous film and taking in the incredible sights of somewhere new through the director’s lens. Below, we’ve chosen 10 out-of-this-world movies that will make you feel like you’re anywhere but in lockdown…

The Grand Budapest Hotel

While this charming and eccentric film is set in a fictional European spa town in the made-up Republic of Zubrowka, director Wes Anderson was inspired by the real cities and landscapes of Eastern Europe. The film teems with the gothic exuberance and 19th-century opulence of Prague and the snowy mountaintops of the Eastern Alps. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a place of luxury and fantasy where guests can escape the realities of life, and for an hour or two, so can you.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

If you miss that magical feeling of freedom that you experience when you arrive in a new city , this film has it in spades. The sizzle of a sultry Spanish summer is eclipsed only by the sights and sounds of Barcelona in this story of holiday romance(s). The city bursts with art, music and the architecture of Antoni Gaudi, which acts as the dramatic backdrop to many of the film’s pivotal scenes.

Lost In Translation

Watching Bill Murray navigate the bright lights of Shinjuku without knowing a lick of japanese will remind you of all the times you’ve struggled to find your way in a foreign land. Scenes from the famous Shibuya Crossing will bring the excitement of Tokyo rushing back if you’ve visited, and will inspire some serious wanderlust if it’s still on your bucket list.


The streets of Dublin come alive in this Oscar-winning musical drama that follows the week-long love story between a busker and an immigrant. Shot on a shoestring budget, the film’s main characters were both first-time actors and many of the scenes on the streets of Dublin were filmed without permits, lending a feeling of authenticity to the city’s portrayal. Movies set in Ireland can often feel fake and full of overused tropes, but Once will inject a very real dose of Irish warmth into your day.

También la Lluvia

Set in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba and the surrounding Andean mountains, También la Lluvia (or Even The Rain) is the story of how a movie crew became embroiled in the Cochabamba protests of 2000 while shooting a film about the conquest of Christopher Columbus. The protests, which saw Indigneous groups rally against the privatisation of their water supply, are just one example of the ongoing effects of Spanish colonialism in the region and the abject poverty of the local people explored in the film. A powerful social commentary set against the country’s awe-inspiring landscape makes this a transformative and transportive experience.

Call Me By Your Name

While Andre Aciman’s novel of the same name was set on the Italian riviera, the film – awash with mouthwatering shots of the Italian countryside and architecture – was based in the northern province of Lombardy, close to Milan. Much of the film’s action takes place amongst the somewhat dilapidated glamour of a 17th-century villa complete with soaring timber ceilings and surrounded by an overgrown garden. It’s a setting that’s at once decadent and incredibly real. The stunning cinematography means the entire film feels like a holiday and the excitement of an Italian summer permeates throughout.

Not just for kids, the latest iteration of the Paddington Bear franchise is a tribute to the whimsy of London. Whether our fluffy protagonist is hiding amongst the stegosaurus skeletons of The Natural History Museum, rushing down bustling Portebello Road, or stepping out onto the Primrose Hill crescent lined with pastel terraces that he calls home, Paddington takes you on a sightseeing tour around the most magical version of London. It’s comforting and clever and as sweet and mushy as a marmalade sandwich.

While the movie that shot Dev Patel to stardom has been criticised for presenting a fairytale vision of poverty by bathing the slums of Mumbai in golden light, there’s no doubt that it captures the stunning motion and colour of India. Railways that cut through lush vegetation, majestic scenes of the glittering Taj Mahal and shots of bustling street markets will plunge the viewer headfirst into the heavy heat and hectic atmosphere of India.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Set in the cultural capital and student hub of Lille, which sits on the border between France and Belgium, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is the story of a teenage girl’s sexual awakening and her transformative experience of first love. ​The city’s cobbled streets and park benches provide a quintessentially French backdrop for this tale of teenage love, offering the viewer a snapshot of student life in northern France.

In this humorous and sometimes self-deprecating portrayal of small-town life in Argentina, a Nobel Prize-winning novelist returns to Salas, the fictional backwater town where he grew up. The depiction of rural Argentina emphasises the sheer vastness of the landscape with endless fields of yellow stretching towards the horizon, contrasted by the insular nature of the town with its decrepit colonial architecture that wraps around the central plaza. Beautiful, defiant and intense, much like the country it portrays, Ciudadano Ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) is less a movie about a holiday and more about the bittersweetness of coming home.



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