Great TV shows are magnetic. They draw viewers into their worlds through vivid characters, heart-wrenching emotional conflicts, and dazzling visual displays. In the current era of prestige television, perhaps no program has displayed this power of attraction more potently than HBO’s fantasy epic “Game of Thrones,” whose eighth and final season premieres this Sunday. The series, which first aired in 2011, isn’t necessarily the greatest show of all time (though the occasional Odyssey Online article will make that argument), but it is definitively the grandest, unrivaled in terms of budget, the fervor of its fandom, and the sheer scope of its storytelling (this list puts the number of “major” characters at 150).
The series’s pull on its viewers is so strong that it has drawn them all across the globe, inspiring fans to seek out the real-world locations that gave life to their favorite fantastical settings. While this tourist boom was beneficial at first, the phenomenon has grown increasingly detrimental in recent years as the locales have struggled to handle the overwhelming influx of visitors. Dubrovnik, in particular, has felt the weight of overtourism, with throngs of camera-toting travelers descending on the Croatian city each summer to walk the streets of “King’s Landing.” This “Game of Thrones effect” has afflicted the show’s other filming locations as well, including sites across Iceland and Northern Ireland, which both fear becoming “Disney-fied” as they work to cater to these crowds of tourists.
With all of this in mind, we figured that the best way to honor the upcoming premiere would be to direct your attention away from the show’s gorgeous settings, highlighting instead a host of other series whose filming locations make for beautiful and immersive excursions as well. Of course, in the hands of the wrong traveler, the entertainment pilgrimages we’re prescribing here still have the power to contribute to the overall issue of overtourism, regardless of which show you’re fanning over. So, if you do decide to visit one of these spots, we ask that you go beyond simply stopping in for a photo op. Remember to patronize local businesses, travel mindfully, and venture with a purpose. Otherwise, it might be most responsible to just stay home and enjoy these locations as they appear on your screen.
“Breaking Bad” — Albuquerque, New Mexico
At first, Albuquerque seemed like a somewhat random place to set a show about a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth to pay for his cancer treatments. But as the first season progressed, the New Mexican city emerged as an ideal fit for the Vince Gilligan-led vehicle, its long, dusty roads and wide-open desert expanses setting the perfect tone for the moral complications of the series. By the time the show ended, the city had become so distinctly tethered to it that AMC took out billboards around town reading, “Thanks, Albuquerque! We had great chemistry together!”
Each season of the show — as well as its spinoff prequel series, “Better Call Saul” — was filmed on location in the ABQ, with the crew utilizing every corner of the city, from local businesses and residences to city monuments and natural landmarks. That means that visitors can spot a variety of iconic spots from the series, including Jesse’s house, Saul’s office, the John B. Robert Dam, and the local car wash. You can also visit the Whites’ house — though, if you do so, be sure to keep a respectful distance and move along quickly (the residents have had to deal with years of photography, thefts, break-ins, and, of course, pizzas being thrown on their roof). Finally, you can’t leave without stopping in at the Candy Lady of Old Town, whose blue-meth-inspired rock candy is sure to give you quite the rush.
“Outlander” — Midhope Castle, Scotland
Like “Thrones,” the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s popular historical time travel series has spread out across the globe over the course of its run, transporting its characters to Scotland, Paris, Boston, the Caribbean, and in its most recent season, the colony of North Carolina. Thus, it’s no surprise that the fantastical saga would inspire romantic notions of wanderlust in its viewers. One of the more popular sites for fans to visit lies in the misty fields of Abercorn, Scotland, where Starz shot exteriors of the idyllic 16th-century tower house known as Midhope Castle to represent Jamie Fraser’s home of Lallybroch. The Hopetoun Estate, where Midhope is situated, is welcoming of “Outlander” fans, though you’ll have to purchase a vehicle permit upon arrival. Because Midhope is located in a private section of the grounds, the castle may be closed for local farming or estate activities when you arrive, but fear not! Hopetoun offers several other locations for “Outlander” fanatics to get their fix. The Red Drawing Room was the setting for the home of the Duke of Sandringham, for instance, and the duel between the Duke and the head of the McDonald clan took place at the Sea Trail and West Lawn behind Hopetoun House. And no matter what, you can always just enjoy the stunning Scottish countryside and imagine you’re back in the 1700s, about to fall for the love of your life.
“Twin Peaks” — Snoqualmie, Washington
Diane. 11:30 a.m., February 24. I’m entering the town of… Snoqualmie, Washington. That’s right — David Lynch’s surreal horror drama about the murder of the titular town’s homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, was filmed in this real Washington suburb just a half an hour east of Seattle. Here, you’ll find many of the eerie exteriors and uncomfortably cozy spots that helped make the bizarre series so iconic, such as the Salish Lodge & Spa (which served as the Great Northern Hotel), the 270-foot cascade of Snoqualmie Falls (from the synth-y opening credits), and the Reinig Bridge (where Laura’s friend Ronette was found wandering in the pilot). Plus, less than 10 minutes away lies the town of North Bend, where you can stop in at Twede’s Cafe (otherwise known as the Double R Diner) for a slice of cherry pie and a “damn fine cup o’ coffee!” With an equal mix of the Pacific Northwest solitude and small-town charm that lent the show its unique atmosphere, Snoqualmie feels like a real-life Twin Peaks. Just remember: the owls are not what they seem…
“The Office” — Scranton, Pennsylvania
Unfortunately for fans of the U.S. version of “The Office” (read: pretty much anyone with a Netflix sign-in), the majority of the hit NBC sitcom was filmed in Los Angeles. However, many of the Scranton locations referenced on the show are real, so any visitor to Pennsylvania’s sixth-largest city (the Electric City!) can embark on a veritable tour of the Dunder Mifflin employees’ favorite spots. This includes Poor Richard’s Pub, Cooper’s Seafood, the Steamtown Mall (now known as the Marketplace at Steamtown), Alfredo’s Pizza Café (but not Pizza By Alfredo), and even the Anthracite Heritage Museum. As you’re rolling through town, you can tune into Froggy 101 (note the sticker on Dwight’s file cabinet) while keeping an eye out for any “Electric City” signs and murals. And while most of the city was recreated in Hollywood studios, there is one landmark you’re sure to recognize. John Krasinski filmed the opening footage for the title sequence during a road trip through Scranton, including the classic shot of the Pennsylvania Paper Tower, a real structure right in the center of town. It’ll be hard not to hum the theme song as you catch sight of the famous red-brick building.
“Friday Night Lights” — Austin, Texas
In its five-season run, “Friday Night Lights” brought us into the lives of its small-town Texas community, making us feel like we were really heading to the local football stadium to cheer on the Dillon Panthers each week. Part of that is owed to the verisimilitude of the writing, which drew its most compelling conflicts not from the clashes on the field but from the relationships off of it. That said, the show also felt so real because it was filmed on location, in and around Austin. Visitors to the offbeat Texas city can glimpse some of their favorite spots — such as Kuempel Stadium at Pflugerville High School (whose mascot is also the Panthers), which was used as Dillon’s home field in the pilot, and the Dairy Queen at Manor Road, which served as the town’s Alamo Freeze. You can also drive by some of the characters’ residences, such as the Taylor house, the Riggins house, and the Saracen House. And, as an added bonus, if you’re interested in bringing your pup along on your fanatic adventure to Austin, we’ve got you covered there as well! Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!
“Downton Abbey” — Highclere Castle, England
It seems that anybody who watches “Downton Abbey” gets immediately hooked on the decadent intrigue of life at the English country home — even LeBron James. And luckily for that massive fandom, the real-life locale of Highclere Castle, home to the Eighth Earl of Carnarvon, is easily accessible. The estate offers a wide variety of themed tours and events, most of which will guide you both upstairs and downstairs, through the various rooms and grounds used throughout the filming of the period drama. Though the series ended in 2015, the producers recently announced a subsequent movie, and filming will take place at the castle for roughly 10 weeks starting in September. During that time, Highclere will be closed to the public, so be sure to schedule your adventure to the Edwardian home accordingly.
“The Walking Dead” — Senoia, Georgia
When you think about shows whose settings you’d like to explore, you might not immediately jump to the post-apocalyptic hellscape of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” However, take away the hordes of flesh-eating zombies, and you’re actually left with some fairly idyllic Georgian locales. The third season of the most-watched show in basic cable history set much of its action in the fictional town of Woodbury, a (not-so) quaint little neighborhood run by the mysterious Governor. In real life, this is Senoia, Georgia, a friendly small town whose Main Street, with its brick buildings and colorful awnings, is Southern charm exemplified. In downtown Senoia, you can grab lunch at Nic and Norman’s, a Southern-style restaurant owned and operated by director and special effects designer Greg Nicotero and actor Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon on the show. Stop in for some burgers and local brews, and maybe a little peach cobbler to finish it off. Hopefully, those will be the only things on the menu…
Looking for more film location destinations? Check out our Movie Buff’s Guide to the U.S.!