The best travel movies of all time

StaffUpdated 19th March 2020
(CNN) — Movie theaters around the world have closed amid the coronavirus outbreak and the need for social distancing to stop the spread and flatten the curve.
Fortunately, there's never been a better time to catch up on classic oldies and cherished favorites.
Since we're all more or less house-bound with a walk here or there thrown in for good measure (and mental health), the CNN Travel team is traveling via our favorite wanderlust films.
No, watching "Romancing the Stone" is not the same as going to Cartegena (Colombia has changed a lot since Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner traipsed through it in the 1984 rom-com).
Nor will tuning into 2001's "Y Tu Mamá También" make you think you're actually on a road trip in Mexico and not on your couch in Brooklyn, but great films do have something in common: the power to transport.
Below, read our picks for best travel movies that take you along for the ride:

'Barcelona' (1994)

In 1994's "Barcelona," the Spanish city, acting as backdrop to the tangled love lives of a feckless American naval officer and his highly strung cousin, looks like pure heaven.
In 1994's "Barcelona," the Spanish city, acting as backdrop to the tangled love lives of a feckless American naval officer and his highly strung cousin, looks like pure heaven.
Mary Evans/Castle Rock Entertainment/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection
This may look like a period piece from the early 1990s, but director Whit Stillman's witty, wordy comedy about foreigners abroad stands the test of time -- not least because the appeal of the movie's main star, gorgeous Barcelona, is utterly timeless.
The Spanish city, acting as backdrop to the tangled love lives of a feckless American naval officer and his highly strung cousin, looks like pure heaven.
Warm nights, amazing architecture, sunshine, cafes, bars, parties, conversation, coastal escapes and beautiful people. The movie also presents possibly the best argument ever for falling in love with someone of a different nationality.
"What's really terrific is that when we act in ways which might objectively be considered incredibly obnoxious or annoying," ruminates newly married lead character Ted, "They don't get upset at all, they don't take it personally, they just assume it's some national characteristic." -- Barry Neild
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'Thelma and Louise' (1991)

It was the movie that catapulted Brad Pitt to rock-star status, and true, there's a lot to dissect in the now-infamous roadside motel scene, where a hair dryer is much more than a styling tool. But Pitt is not the star of this film.
"Thelma and Louise," at its core, is a tale of female friendship, and the screen is dominated by the film's two lead females: Thelma (Geena Davis in a career-defining role) and Louise (Susan Sarandon, tough as nails and defiant from the get-go).
The pals from small-town Arkansas hit the road on a weekend quest in search of fun and freedom from their jobs, their men and their boredom. When the carefree adventure takes a dark left turn, Thelma and Louise bind together, demonstrating the lengths women will go to save each other.
The car chase scenes offer a fresh, new perspective with the women behind the wheel of a 1966 Ford Thunderbird, owning the open desert road.
Filmed in California and Utah with the best Grand Canyon scenes filmed south of Dead Horse Point State Park, watch "Thelma and Louise" if you've never been out West and watch it if you have and yearn to return.
It'll take you on one hell of a road trip with a devastating conclusion. Hey, maybe staying in isn't so terrible after all. -- Stacey Lastoe
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' (2001)

Locations in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" are inspired by real places, as graduates of English private schools (called public school in the UK) will tell you.
Locations in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" are inspired by real places, as graduates of English private schools (called public school in the UK) will tell you.
Warner Bros.
When Harry Potter runs through a column at King's Cross railway station in London to get to Platform 9 3/4, we know it isn't real — that magical station to another place that isn't actually free of human worry or tragedy. And yet we want to visit.
We've gotten close at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida, where my Ravenclaw got onto the platform to catch the train, found the right wand at Ollivanders and had a glass of butter beer.
The movie's locations are inspired by real places, as graduates of English private schools (called public school in the UK) will tell you: Black robes for formal hall dinners, darting down narrow old streets to visit tea houses and sandwich shops, discovering books that are hundreds of years old (perhaps under glass at the Tate).
Preliminary discussions for a London trip to do the studio tour, visit King's Cross and catch a Shakespeare play are on hold for now, so we'll make some tea and scones and settle into another viewing. -- Katia Hetter
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'Grand Budapest Hotel' (2014)

Set in a luxury ski resort in the fictional East European Republic of Zubrowka in the 1930s, "Grand Budapest Hotel" is anchored by a murder investigation peppered with stolen art, prison escapes and a secret concierge society.
Set in a luxury ski resort in the fictional East European Republic of Zubrowka in the 1930s, "Grand Budapest Hotel" is anchored by a murder investigation peppered with stolen art, prison escapes and a secret concierge society.
Fox Searchlight Pictures
One of the most satisfying films of director Wes Anderson's oeuvre, "Grand Budapest Hotel" is a wonderfully bizarre tale interwoven with whimsical backdrops, colorful characters and plenty of delicious, dark comedy.
Set in a luxury ski resort in the fictional East European Republic of Zubrowka in the 1930s, the plot is anchored by a murder investigation peppered with stolen art, prison escapes and a secret concierge society.
Concierge Gustave H. -- a role played to perfection by Ralph Fiennes -- is at the center of this madcap adventure, and he's got a weak spot for hotel guests who tick a few key boxes: wealthy, old and female.
"You're looking so well darling, you really are," he says to one of his departed guests-with-benefits. "They've done a marvelous job. I don't know what sort of cream they've put on you down at the morgue, but I want some."
Though the hotel doesn't actually exist, much of the film was shot in the beautiful German town of Goerlitz, famed for its medieval streets. -- Karla Cripps
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'The Razor's Edge' (1946 and 1984)

Bill Murray (second from left) stars in the 1984 remake of this movie about a man's physical and spiritual quest, adapted from the W. Somerset Maugham novel.
Bill Murray (second from left) stars in the 1984 remake of this movie about a man's physical and spiritual quest, adapted from the W. Somerset Maugham novel.
Everett Collection
"The Razor's Edge," has been twice adapted from the epic W. Somerset Maugham novel about a man's search for the meaning of life.
Like the book, the films follow the main character, Larry Darrell, from the Chicago suburbs to the European battlefront of WWI, the coal mines of the UK, the streets of Paris and on to India and up into the Himalayas.
It's as much a geographic adventure as it is an inner, spiritual one. Of the two adaptations, I prefer the 1984 Bill Murray version.
The book was his favorite and Murray agreed to make some movie his friend Dan Aykroyd wrote about ghost hunters, only if the same studio would make "The Razor's Edge" first. They did.
And even though it was a box office dud, watching the film always inspires me to see the world but also uncover something deeper in it. -- David G. Allan
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'The Trip to Italy' (2014)

Enjoy a mental escape to the gorgeous Italian countryside with the witty Rob Brydon (left) and Steve Coogan in one of the top buddies-take-a-trip films of all time.
Enjoy a mental escape to the gorgeous Italian countryside with the witty Rob Brydon (left) and Steve Coogan in one of the top buddies-take-a-trip films of all time.
Everett Collection
The plot of "The Trip to Italy" is not really a plot at all.
In this film, you're a fifth wheel tagging along on an extraordinary road trip with two old actor friends from the UK, Englishman Steve Coogan and the Welsh Rob Brydon, playing fictionalized versions of their famous personas.
The route is from Piedmont via Rome to Amalfi, back to Naples and finally the tony island of Capri. Retracing the footsteps of romantic poets Byron and Shelley, they drive a convertible Mini Cooper through breathtaking country and alongside harrowing seaside cliffs.
The goal of the trip is, as Brydon says, "beautiful countryside, beautiful wine, beautiful women, beautiful food."
When you're not belly laughing at their impressions and mutual insults, you'll feel a surprising sense of melancholy and loss of youth as the leads wrestle with their own mortality.
The contrast of this palpable emotion with the magnificent setting is what makes this movie truly special. And the fact is you can actually take this trip yourself one day -- from ordering the tagliatelle with meat ragout at Trattoria della Posta in Alba to enjoying a "very Jules Verne" (quoting Coogan) seafood lunch on the sea-view terrace at La Cantina in San Fruttuoso.
What Coogan says about a bite of pasta could also be applied to the film itself, "This is as good as it gets." -- Brekke Fletcher
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'Easy Rider' (1969)

Peter Fonda, left, and Dennis Hopper star in "Easy Rider," a decidely different take on the great American road trip.
Peter Fonda, left, and Dennis Hopper star in "Easy Rider," a decidely different take on the great American road trip.
Silver Screen Collection/Moviepix/Getty Images
Get your motor running and head out on the highway with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, who set out on a different great American road trip fueled by sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.
This low-budget motorcycle film helped usher in a cinematic era of gritty realism set to popular, topical music (notably Steppenwolf's "Born to be Wild"). This is about as opposite of 1956's big-budget "Around the World in 80 Days" as you can get.
The two antiheroes take a West-to-East journey from California to New Orleans to catch Mardi Gras. Watch the American landscape transition from the desolate beauty of the desert Southwest to the lush greenery of Louisiana's Gulf Coast. The only thing that stays the same is America's seedy underbelly.
The trippy LSD sequence in New Orleans' St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 -- filmed without permission by the way -- is especially memorable.
This is a good escape until we can once again go out looking for adventure and whatever comes our way . -- Forrest Brown
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'The Lizzie McGuire Movie' (2003)

In "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," American teenager Lizzie (Hilary Duff) is mistaken for a famous Italian pop star on a school trip to Rome.
In "The Lizzie McGuire Movie," American teenager Lizzie (Hilary Duff) is mistaken for a famous Italian pop star on a school trip to Rome.
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
While considering what film to pick, I debated the sun-soaked north Italian vistas of 2017's "Call Me By Your Name" or the dreamy Vienna strolls in 1995's "Before Sunrise."
But I think the ultimate cinematic balm is pure, unburdened-by-constraints-of-reality escapism, so I'm recommending millennial-favorite "The Lizzie McGuire Movie."
Here, American teenager Lizzie (Hilary Duff) is mistaken for a famous Italian pop star on a school trip to Rome.
What follows is a whirlwind, moped tour of the Italian capital's best sites, starting with (what else) a coin tossed into the Trevi Fountain and ending with naturally an iconic pop performance at the city's Colosseum. The film owes its basic premise to "Roman Holiday" (another CNN Travel recommendation) but there's a happier ending here.
And how could there not be? Lizzie and her friends are inexplicably staying in what appears to be a five-star hotel, her high school principal is played by comic genius Alex Borstein and viewers can revel in the comeuppance of would-be-love-interest-turned-backstabbing-lip-syncer Paolo ("Sing to me Paolo!")
If you didn't grow up watching this, you might be a bit bemused, but it's charming, sweet, and Rome glows.
Plus, we might be getting more Lizzie in the future (a revival's in the works), so why not catch up on the story so far? -- Francesca Street
Stream with subscription on Disney+ or rent on Amazon Prime and Vudo.

'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' (2011)

With this semi-lockdown thing going on in New York City, I originally wanted to suggest "Wild," a movie where Reese Witherspoon attempts to master the Pacific Crest Trail all while figuring out her life and learning what it means to be utterly alone in the world. Errr. No.
Instead, I offer "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," a movie that reminds us that traveling offers an opportunity to add a whole lot of color to our otherwise gray lives. May we all see those rainbows again someday.
Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith and friends play a bunch of British retirees (or pensioners) who move to a zany new kind of senior home in Rajasthan, India.
The owner, played by Dev Patel, has promised them a luxury hotel and endless possibilities, but the reality is a crumbling palace, heat and more heat. Those promised possibilities, however, do present themselves and mad romantic adventure entangles nearly everyone.
The movie is a joy, the audiences loved it, and the $10 million-dollar budget movie grossed $137 million and inspired a sequel. -- Channon Hodge
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'Aguirre, Wrath of God' (1972)

Filmed on location in the Peruvian rainforest on the Amazon River, close to Machu Picchu, the landscape in "Aguirre, Wrath of God," is a key character in this feverish tale of hubris and human folly.
Filmed on location in the Peruvian rainforest on the Amazon River, close to Machu Picchu, the landscape in "Aguirre, Wrath of God," is a key character in this feverish tale of hubris and human folly.
Everett Collection
If ever an opening scene were to establish the sublime ferocity of nature and humanity's humble role within, it's the wide shot that introduces German adventurer-director Werner Herzog's 1972 epic "Aguirre, Wrath of God."
An immense mountainside stands half-shrouded in cloud, a distant thread of movement troubling its sheer cliffs. Slowly, as the camera moves, we spot the people, an antlike column of Spanish 16th-century conquistadores trudging down ancient Inca steps in search of El Dorado, the legendary city of gold.
Filmed on location in the Peruvian rainforest on the Amazon River, close to Machu Picchu, the landscape is a key character in this feverish tale of hubris and human folly.
A still and implacable foil to the manic dynamism of Klaus Kinski's performance as the crazed commander Don Lope de Aguirre, it's apparent that, in this battle of wills, nature will always have the upper hand. -- Maureen O'Hare
Rent it on Amazon Prime.

'Roman Holiday' (1953)

In the 1953 fairy tale "Roman Holiday," lies a deep thread about duty and sacrifice -- qualities needed and displayed the world over in this time of crisis.
In the 1953 fairy tale "Roman Holiday," lies a deep thread about duty and sacrifice -- qualities needed and displayed the world over in this time of crisis.
Mondadori/Getty Images
Equal parts bittersweet and enchanting, 1953 fairy tale "Roman Holiday" features a doe-eyed princess (Audrey Hepburn) and a dashing newspaperman (Gregory Peck) in a romantic caper that has them strolling the Spanish Steps and ripping through the streets of Rome on a Vespa.
In a time when those streets are eerily quiet, the film might serve as a reminder that they will eventually spring to life again.
There's also a deep thread here about duty and sacrifice -- qualities needed and displayed the world over in this time of crisis. -- Marnie Hunter
Rent it on Amazon Prime.