See the World on TV: the Best TV Shows For Wanderlust and Cabin Fever
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Here's my wanderlusty guide to the best TV shows to virtually travel the world.
Let's face it. Most of us won't be traveling for a good long time. We're stuck at home. The anticipation of a vacation has been temporarily squelched. But are we really stuck?
In the era of streaming, we now have access to many international shows or shows set in exotic locations. We can travel vicariously, and swoon over drop dead beautiful locations, via TV.
If you've exhausted Netflix already, right now you can sign up for one month free of Amazon Prime. There are also great shows on Hulu and HBO.
Here are some of my favorite TV shows and movies that are travel related, take you to far off places, or use beautiful real life filming locations. These television thrillers, comedies, documentaries, and dramas will take you places. Or at least give you a vicarious travel thrill.
a typical French village
The Best Travel TV Shows For Treating Cabin Fever
1. A French Village, Hulu
A French Village is an absolutely riveting wartime show set in France in WWII. The show presents a nuanced depiction of the fictional French village of Villeneuve. Close to the French-Swiss border and just north of the puppet state of Vichy, the Nazis occupied the village from 1940-44.
The acting is first rate across the board. You'll see dramatizations of the treatment of Jews, the origin and development of the French resistance, police terror, and the effect of the Nazi occupation on martial and family relationships. If you want a serious historical drama, this show delivers.
the Eiffel Tower in Paris France
2. Call My Agent, Netflix
One of my all time favorite Netflix shows is set in Paris, Call My Agent. It's a charming dramedy about French agents representing temperamental movie stars. Some critics liken it to Curb Your Enthusiasm. But I think it's more of an endearing drama than a comedy, though you'll definitely be laughing at times.
The show explores the gossipy and backbiting French film industry. It mixes real French stars and fictional stars. You'll see Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Adjani, and Cécile de France.The agency itself is highly dysfunctional and falling apart. The show is captivating and the Parisian scenery can't be beat.
Inverary Castle in Scotland
3. Outlander, Netflix and Starz
Outlander is Starz' adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's book series. It's a heady mix of romance, adventure, and history. Outlander is the tale of a 1940s woman zapped back in time to 18th century Scotland, were she falls in love with a Scottish lord.
The Scottish scenery is gorgeous -- verdant rolling hills, craggy castles, foggy marshes. And don't forget the tartan! The show is shot mostly in northern Scotland. But the characters also travel to Slovakia, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cape Town, and Prague.
the sleepy town of Port Isaac in Cornwall England
4. Doc Martin, Netflix and Acorn
Doc Martin stars Martin Clunes as the cranky and stiff local doctor, Martin Ellingham. After developing a phobia of blood, he quits his prestigious job as a surgeon in London. He decamps to the quaint hamlet of Portwenn on the coast of Cornwall and becomes the local GP.
The delightful Cornish village of Port Issac is the principal filming location for the beloved British drama. The idyllic hamlet is a huge part of the quirky show's allure. With its rugged coastline and medieval center, Port Issac is the postcard perfect setting for the sleepy underground hit.
Here's my guide to the beautiful filming locations for Doc Martin.
Villanelle in the Place Vendôme in Paris in a frothy pink Molly Goddard dress and Balenciga military boots.
5. Killing Eve, Hulu
Killing Eve is a spy thriller that hopscotches across Europe. The show features twisty psychology and the ravishing and unstable psychopath Villanelle, played by Jodie Comer. The award-winning show manages to be feisty and funny, despite revolving around death, assassination, and multiple layers of secret spy organizations.
There are plenty of beautiful filming locations in and around London. But MI6 agent Eve Polastri and Villanelle also trek around Paris, Tuscany, Berlin, Bucharest, Rome, and (in the upcoming Season 3) Barcelona. Here's my guide to Killing Eve filming locations in Europe and my guide to filming locations in Paris.
Queen Cersei in the shipyards of Seville Spain
6. Game of Thrones, HBO
HBO's blockbuster hit Game of Thrones is one of the most watched shows in the world. Based on George R.R. Martin's book series A Song of Ice and Fire, it chronicles the violent dynastic struggles for the Iron Throne. Though Game of Thrones is a fantasy show, the production team is known for choosing dramatic real life filming locations.
Planet Earth is an 8 part Netflix original series narrated by David Attenborough. The show has two main themes -- the beauty of the world we live in and the dangers that have disrupted its ecosystems.
The show is beautifully filmed, entirely with 4K cameras. With a sense of wonder, it takes you into jungles in Indonesia, forests in Madagascar, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Arctic Circle.
houses in Amsterdam
8. Sense 8, Netflix
Sense 8 is built on the premise of exotic locations. Through a violent vision, the show connects 8 strangers in 8 cities to each other and their respective worlds. They have the ability to connect with each others thoughts and intense drive to find out why.
To tell the story, the show travels to Mumbai, Seoul, Nairobi, Mexico City, Berlin, Naples, Malta, Amsterdam, Sao Paolo, and more.
Zermatt Switzerland, filming location for The Night Manager
9. The Night Manager, Amazon Prime
This intriguing show is an adaptation of John Le Carre's spy thriller novel of the same name. It's a crime drama following the story of former British soldier Jonathan Pine. Pine is contacted by an intelligence operative who wants him to spy on super villain Richard Roper, deftly played by Hugh Laurie of House fame.
The show takes you to stunning locations in Switzerland, Cairo, Marrakesh, and Spain. The "worst man in the world" even sets up shop in the stunning Sa Fortaleza, a 17th century castle villa in Majorca.
the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin Germany
10. Babylon Berlin, Netflix
If you want to head to Germany, tune in to Babylon Berlin. It's the most expensive non-English TV production in history. This noir series is set in Berlin during the interwar period of the Weimar Republic. It follows Police Commissioner, Gereon Ruth, who investigates pornography rings amid political conspiracies.
Babylon Berlin is filmed entirely in Germany, mostly in Berlin. Among other places, you'll spy Alexanderplatz Square, Berlin City Hall, the Protestant Church of the Redeemer, the Railway Museum, and Hubertushöhe Palace Gardens.
11. Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Hulu
No Reservations is Anthony Bourdain's globetrotting and mouthwatering food and travel documentary series. In 9 seasons, the frank speaking celebrity chef visited places near and far, traveling to Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and the like. So pretty is the photography that the show twice won Emmy awards for cinematography.
Bourdain isn't just eating street food or swiping recipes in exotic locations. (Though he did gleefully chow down a warthog anus, a seal eyeball, and fermented shark.) He also takes pains to remind us to be travelers, not just tourists.
the Palace of Versailles
12. Versailles, Netflix or Amazon Prime
The BBC show Versailles takes you to the ultra glamorous Palace of Versailles to relive the life of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and his entourage. The series is about Louis XIV's quest to create the most beautiful palace in Europe, seize absolute control of France, and romance women. You'll be catapulted back to the 17th century.
If you'd like to visit the filming locations for Versailles, here's my guide.
the Pantheon in Rome Italy
13. Rome, HBO and Hulu
If you want to relive ancient Rome, HBO's show Rome is your best bet. Rome is an upstairs/downstairs drama. Two soldiers are caught up in a pivotal moment in history -- the death of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. They encounter war, political intrigue, assassinations, and family tragedies. All the while cavorting with the likes of Julius Caesarand Mark Antony.
14. Sherlock Holmes, Netflix and Amazon Prime
Sherlock Holmes is a modern adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective stories. In it, Dr. John Watson is a war vet just home from Afghanistan. He moves in with the eccentric pipe-smoking detective, Sherlock Holmes, played byBenedict Cumberbatch. Together they solve baffling murder mysteries and clash with criminal genius Moriarty.
If you want to travel to England, this show's for you. It's mostly filmed in Cardiff, but there were some great shots of London too. Here are all the filming locations.
Olivia Coleman plays Queen Elizabeth and Tobias Menzies plays Prince Phillip in The Crown
15. The Crown, Netflix
The Crown is an addictive biographical drama chronicling the lives of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, beginning with their pre-accession marriage in 1947. A new queen navigates the daunting task of monarchy and forges a relationship with Winston Churchill. You see the private journey behind her notoriously stoic public facade.
Buckingham Palace was created on a stage set. But The Crown features plenty of shots of London and stately homes and castles around England and Wales. They include Caernarfon Castle, Winchester Cathedral, Belvoir Castle (which served as the Queen's Windsor home), Lancaster House, Wilton House, and (one of my faves) Hatfield House.
panorama of South African landscape
16. Black Mirror, Netflix
Charlie Brooker's neo-noir Black Mirroris a anthology series on Netflix. It takes a dark and dystopian look at the impact of technology on society. Each episode is unique, with a different story of how social media and technology consumes/alters our lives.
Black Mirror regularly features London, especially in the episodes The National Anthem, Playtest, and Hated in the Nation. But it's filmed all over the world, including England, Iceland, Spain, South Africa, and Canada.
St. Peter's Square in Vatican City
17. The Young Pope, HBO
If you want to travel to the Vatican and Rome, watch the HBO series The Young Pope. The show stars Jude Law as Pope Pius XIII, the first American pontiff. Created by director and writer Paolo Sorrentino, the limited series chronicles the election of Lenny Belardo to the highest position in the Catholic Church.
Filming is banned in the Vatican. To film the series, set designers rebuilt parts of the Vatican at Rome’s Cinecittà Studios, including a full scale replica of the Sistine Chapel. Interior scenes of St. Peter's Basilica were shot at Santi Luca e Martina near the Roman Forum. The beautiful Palazzo Doria Pamphilj doubled as the Pope’s summer home. And the Villa Medici was used for garden scenes.
Hampton Court Palace outside London
18. The Tudors, Netflix and Hulu
Showtime's The Tudors tells racy stories of sex, violence, betrayal, broken hearts, and deceit in the 16th century court of Henry VIII. Henry VIII was a lusty man, never happy with the women he married. Henry VIII wasn't always a fat guy. In The Tudors, he's played by the eye catching Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
The story is mostly set in the stunning Hampton Court Palace, Henry VII's real life stomping grounds, and a few scenes were shot there. Other stately homes and castles were used to bring the story to life, including Killruddery House, Dublin Castle, Powerscourt Estate,Christ Church Cathedral,and the Tower of London.
19. Dark Tourist, Netflix
In this docu-series, New Zealand filmmaker David Farrier pursues his dangerous fascination with with all things “mad, macabre, and morbid." He journeys into the darkest and least known destinations. He focuses on dark tourism, visiting places that are historically associated with death and tragedy.
In the show, Farrier travels to war zones, disaster sites, andother offbeat destinations. The show is part travelogue and part a voyeuristic look at human psyche.
20. Somebody Feed Phil, Netflix
Somebody Feed Phil is the new documentary by the creator of Everybody Loves Raymond. Phil Rosenthal is obsessed with "going to the source" of his favorite food. This Netflix original is the opposite of No Reservations.
Phil isn't as knowledgable as Bourdain or Rick Steves, the travel guru. But he's a lovable lug, who joyfully experiences food. Phil travels through the streets and markets of Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Tel Aviv, Bangkok, Copenhagen, Dublin, Venice, New York, and other global hotspots.
21. A Night on Earth, Netflix
A Night on Earth is one of Netflix's newer travel documentaries. It's claim to fame is that it shows you the world at night. Using new technology that records video even when it’s pitch black outside, the documentary series features the world's "night trippers," usually wildlife -- large and little, lions and moles.
If you want to see what happens when the sun set, you can watch 6 different episodes of A Night on Earth: Moonlit Plains, Frozen Nights, Jungle Nights, Dark Seas, Sleepless Cities, and Dusk till Dawn.
22. National Parks Adventure, Netflix
National Parks Adventure is a short documentary that's a great introduction to the National Park System in the United States. It was created to celebrate NPS' 100th birthday. The film features some of the nation's most popular parks -- Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Redwood National Park, etc.
In dulcet tones,Robert Redford narrates National Parks Adventure. The film follows three adventurers: extreme sport aficionado Conrad Anker, adventure photographer Max Lowe, and artist Rachel Pohl. The trio raft, hike, rock climb, and mountain bike. You'll get a dose of history, along with gorgeous shots of the beautiful varied landscapes.
If you'd like to see and travel the world from your TV, pin it for later.