Intergalactic tourism isn’t possible quite yet, but you don’t need to leave Earth to get an otherworldly travel experience. Some of the biggest hits in sci-fi cinema have used real locations as stand-ins for distant planets and fantasy lands, and you can visit them. Have a heavenly holiday by heading to one of these extraordinary places. No spacesuit required
Svínafellsjökull glacier, Iceland
Take off to
As seen in Interstellar
Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning epic from 2014, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, used Iceland as a substitute for two fictional planets, one almost entirely made of water and the other covered in ice. The breathtaking Svínafellsjökull glacier was used for the ice planet, where a lonely astronaut, played by Matt Damon, is trapped in a place as inhospitable as it is beautiful. The real location is much more welcoming. Part of the Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Svínafellsjökull is covered in dramatic ice ridges, which give it its eerie drama. It’s a popular destination for glacier hiking and boasts something you won’t see in the film: astonishing views over the mountains and forests of the rest of the national park.
Take off to North
As seen in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Not another planet, perhaps, but a secret island on our own planet, Isla Nublar in the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World series is a lush, tropical paradise filled with exotic trees and loads and loads of dinosaurs. Stunning locations across Hawaii have been used throughout the series. The original Jurassic Park was shot mainly on the island of Kaua’i, although the Gallimimus chase scene was shot in the Kualoa Ranch nature reserve on Oahu. Kualoa Ranch was used again in the 2018 film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It’s easy to see why. While it’s welcoming to travellers and easily accessible, it has an ancient, untouched feel. It would be no great surprise to see dinosaurs actually roaming through its deep green valleys.
Vasquez Rocks, California
Take off to North
As seen in Star Trek
Less than an hour north of Central Los Angeles you’ll find the jagged majesty of the Vasquez Rocks. If you’re a Star Trek fan you’ll recognise it as Vulcan, the birthplace of pointy-eared Mr Spock. The rocks were used in both the 1986 movie Star Trek: The Voyage Home and the 2009 Star Trek for scenes of Spock visiting home. Interestingly, Vasquez Rocks have played multiple roles in the Star Trek universe. The location was used as a stand-in for four different alien planets in the original 1960s TV series and has been seen in multiple spin-offs since. In Star Trek: Picard, it even got to play itself, in an episode set not on another planet, but actually in the Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park.
Hardangerjøkulen glacier, Norway
Take off to
As seen in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
It’s one of the most iconic sequences in blockbuster cinema: the giant AT-ATs stalking across the ice planet of Hoth as the rebel fighter ships try to bring them down. The Hardangerjøkulen glacier in Norway was used for shooting most of the scenes on Hoth, making the most of its unbroken snowy landscape. Covering 73sqkm and with a thickness of 380m in some places, it’s truly awe-inspiring. Beautiful as it looks on screen, shooting proved quite the challenge for Star Wars’ cast and crew as they were whipped by winds of over 60km/h and temperatures of almost -40°C. However, visit in summer and you’ll find the weather much more agreeable and the views just as amazing.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Take off to
As seen in The Martian
The vast, forbidding Wadi Rum valley in Jordan has been used as a location for many sci-fi movies, including Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Aladdin and Dune. It’s most frequently favoured by films set on Mars because of its deep red sands, which stretch for 720sqkm, with nothing else on the horizon but rocks. It was the primary shooting location for Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2015), in which Matt Damon plays an astronaut stranded alone on the red planet (Damon has a thing for playing stranded astronauts, apparently). No CG was required to make this place look alien. Damon had to spend the eight days of filming wearing a spacesuit, which would be quite comfortable in the -60°C temperatures of Mars. Less so in the 35°C of Jordan.