Iconic James Bond places in actual life: Find out how to travel like 007
First postponed to November, and now scheduled to hit theaters on April 2, 2021, No Time to Die is one of many films delayed by thepandemic. The next James Bond installment will be the 25th film in and the fifth and final (so he says) starring Daniel Craig as the British secret agent.
Like every, No Time to Die will span the globe, showing viewers not just London, but also far-flung locations like Italy, Jamaica, Norway and Scotland. From Dr. No to Spectre, each Bond is enough to give you the serious travel bug, even if you can’t afford the luxury hotels someone on a government payroll seems to be able to manage.
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As a Bond fan, I try to seek out sights shown in the series when I travel. And though local or international travel isn’t recommended or responsible until the planet gets the pandemic under control, you can always visit virtually from home. Here are a few incredible places I’ve been so far and one I have yet to see in person. Keep them in mind for when you can travel again, and hope that the businesses I mention will reopen.
A word of warning, though: Abundant spoilers below.
James Bond movies, ranked, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig
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From Russia With Love
The ancient city at the mouth of the Bosporus is as much a character in the second Bond installment as Bond or snarling henchman Donald Grant.traverses many of the city’s top tourist sights like the Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia, where one of the film’s pivotal scenes — he gets the plans for the Soviet embassy from Tatiana Romanova — takes place. Completed in 537, the Hagia Sophia served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral when the city was called Constantinople and was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Four centuries later, after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, it became a mosque and gained minarets. Now a museum, it has an immense scale that’s as dazzling and as impressive as the Parthenon or the Colosseum. Walk in, stand under the 183-foot dome and just take it in. Yeah, there are exhibits to read, but just gawking is fine.
Keep in mind the Hagia Sophia was built almost 1,500 years ago.
Hagia Sophia Museum
Your next stop is nearby at the Basilica Cistern, where Bond and MI6 station chief Kerim Bey embark on a boat to sneak under the Soviet Consulate (sadly, the periscope they used to observe the consulate’s secret meeting was movie fiction). Built in the fifth century, the cistern has a massive scale — 453 feet long by 213 feet high — and can hold 2.8 million cubic feet of water. The 30-foot-high ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, two of which have bases with the face of Medusa. The Basilica Cistern can feel like a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s still pretty cool.
The Basilica Cistern: Sorry, tours under the Soviet Embassy aren’t available.
You only visit twice: Later Bond films to show Istanbul (not Constantinople) include The World is not Enough and Skyfall (more on that film below), but in both cases it gets less screen time.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
I’ve only been to a corner of Switzerland (Geneva) so I have yet to do the country justice. But when I return, Schilthorn will be my first stop. The 9,744-foot peak in the Bernese Alps is featured in my favorite Bond movie, and it’s the best villain’s lair in the series — yes, even better than the hollowed-out volcano with the monorail in You Only Live Twice. I mean … how can you not love a place with tremendous Alpine views that’s accessible only by an aerial tramway or a helicopter? In choosing Piz Gloria, Spectre’s Ernst Stavro Blofeld moved up in the world.
Piz Gloria isn’t shy about its Bond connection.
The complex was still under construction when the film’s location scouts discovered it in 1968. As it roughly matched Blofeld’s Piz Gloria hideout described in the book, the producers financed its completion. Now a revolving restaurant named Piz Gloria (of course), the building looks much as it did in the film for which it served as the allergy clinic where Blofeld was making a bioweapon. You can have a meal in the restaurant and browse the museum with memorabilia from the filming. Down the mountain are the towns of Grindelwald, where Bond and his soon-to-be bride, Tracy di Vicenzo, escaped terrifying henchwoman Fraulein Bunt and Blofeld’s orange-clad assassins, and Lauterbrunnen, the site of the stock car race.
A view to die for inside Piz Gloria (and if you count what happened in the movie, I mean that literally).
Diamonds Are Forever
After‘s turn in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Connery reprised the role, bouncing from Amsterdam to Las Vegas to foil the further plans of old nemesis Blofeld. The Las Vegas scenes mostly show a city that’s now long gone. The Tropicana Hotel was the height of luxury, and empty patches of desert surrounded classic (and now demolished) Strip hotels like The Dunes. The Riviera Hotel (where Bond meets Plenty O’Toole) is also history, but the Circus Circus and its midway games (where smuggler Tiffany Case won the stuffed dog with the diamonds) and the The Westgate Hotel (the setting for The Whyte House) still exist. Diamonds Are Forever also visits McCarran International Airport, downtown Las Vegas and the Palm Boulder Highway Mortuary & Cemetery.
Exteriors of The Whyte House in the movie were shot here.
Google Street View
No, James Bond never made it to Las Vegas’ more refined desert cousin. But a favorite scene was shot here when Bond fought energetic assassins Bambi and Thumper. The fight was filmed at The Elrod House, a modernist fantasyland home with a pool that’s partially indoors. Built in 1968 and designed by architect renowned John Lautner (who also designed the you-might-recognize-it Chemosphere in Los Angeles), it has a living room that incorporates the hillside’s boulders into the walls and that’s topped by massive circular canopy. The house in the hills above Palm Springs is privately owned — it sold for around $8 million in 2016 — so you can’t tour it, but you can spot it from the streets below.
For Your Eyes Only
My favorite Roger Moore film spends much of its time in one of my favorite countries, Greece. We start in Corfu, where Bond meets up with Melina Havelock to find Britain’s lost submarine communication system before it’s captured by the KGB. An island in the Ionian Sea off Albania, Corfu is a world away from the stereotypical Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos. While those Aegean Sea islands are rocky and barren, Corfu is so lush it reminded me of Hawaii.
This clocktower in Corfu Town is seen when Bond arrives on the island. The town looks more like Italy than stereotypical Greece.
There are a ton of locations to explore, beginning with Corfu Town where Bond and Havelock go shopping after he arrives. Forget whitewashed buildings with blue roofs, the town’s buildings and winding streets show influences from the island’s onetime Venetian and British rulers. Have an expensive coffee around Spianáda (the town’s main square) and sample the local kumquat liqueur. Corfu also is one of the best places in Greece to experience the magical celebrations for Greek Easter.
The Vlacherna Monastery is one of the island’s most scenic sights.
South of Corfu Town is one sight you can’t miss. The tiny Vlacherna Monastery, which sits on an islet off the Kanóni Peninsula in a brilliantly deep blue bay, is shown multiple times in the film. The monastery is usually closed, but walk over anyway on a narrow causeway that’s right under the final approach to Corfu’s airport — heaven for aviation geeks like myself. Then take in the only-in-Corfu view by hiking up to the Kanóni Cafe for a Greek salad (one of the world’s perfect foods) and a bottle of Assyrtiko wine.
Bond casually kicks Locque’s car off a cliff at the Old Fortress.
Next, rent a car and drive around the island, exploring the sandy beaches and picturesque hill towns. Places to stop include the Old Fortress above Corfu Town (where Bond pushes henchman Emile Leopold Locque to his death), Issos Beach (where Locque runs over Countess Lisl von Schlaf), Kalami Bay (where Melina’s parents are killed) and the Achillion Palace (Corfu’s “casino” in the movie and where Bond and Melina stand on the balcony at sunset). In the hilltop village of Pagi (where Melina flipped her Citroen 2CV6 during the car chase), the Bond 007 Cafe has memorabilia from filming. If your travel budget is generous, you can rent the villa where Melina killed hitman Hector Gonzalez with her crossbow (in the film, the villa was set in Spain).
The street in the village of Pagi where Bond and Havelock took a tumble.
Google Street View
This is where Bond battles with villain Aristotle Kristatos and foils the KGB’s plans. Trust me, Meteora is one of the most striking places you’ll ever visit, making it far worth the four-hour drive from Athens (or the three-hour trek from Thessaloniki). Rising above the town of Kalambaka are immense monolithic pillars and giant boulders that border the Pindos Mountains in northern Greece. Sitting atop the ridges are six Orthodox monasteries, the oldest of which was built in the 13th century. Though all are active monasteries, they admit tourists for a small fee.
The Monastery of The Holy Trinity has a spectacular setting.
Bus tours from Kalambaka are available, but it’s best if you rent a car and explore the monasteries on your own — a paved circular road connects all six. Though each is worth a visit, Bond fans shouldn’t miss the Monastery of The Holy Trinity, which played the part of the abandoned St. Cyril’s in the film. Unfortunately, you don’t have to be winched up in a basket to visit — instead, you climb a staircase cut into the cliff — but the setting is spectacular. As the monks wouldn’t permit the film crews inside, interior shots were done on a soundstage. The real thing is better, in any case. You’ll see some rich frescos before walking the grounds to take in the jaw-dropping view of the valley below.
James Bond, ‘Game of Thrones’ were here: Tour the breathtaking monasteries of Meteora
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A View to a Kill
Yeah, A View to a Kill wasn’t the best Bond film, but it had at least three awesome things: airships, Grace Jones and Duran Duran. You also go inside San Francisco’s City Hall, where *cough* California State Geologist Stacy Sutton had her office. It’s also the building that villain Max Zorin and henchwoman Mayday set ablaze to cover up their murder of Stacey’s boss. And that’s a shame, because it’s one of the most beautiful government buildings in the US. OK, maybe I’m a little biased because I was married there, but the Beaux-Arts interior is stunning. And it’s all crowned by a magnificent 307-foot high dome that’s taller than the US capitol.
San Francisco’s City Hall makes paying your tax bill a little less painful.
Completed in 1915, the building replaced a city hall that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Guided tours are available, but you can also wander on your own. Stand under the rotunda, poke into the small exhibits in the Light Courts and walk up the grand staircase that leads to the wood-paneled chamber of the Board of Supervisors. Also take a moment to remember gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk taking his seat in 1977 as the first out elected official in California and his assassination in the building a year later.
Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, but beware of white blimps.
While you’re in town, enjoy a bracing walk across the awesome Golden Gate Bridge where Zorin and his cool, but not very practical, getaway blimp met their end in the film’s climax. The drawbridge over which Bond convincingly drives a hook-and-ladder fire truck as it’s opening, is the Lefty O’Doul Bridge next to Oracle Park. Stacey’s home was the Dunsmuir Hellman Estate in Oakland, which you can tour.
By all means, this is the perfect place for a chase with a giant fire truck.
Perched on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, the Jules Verne is where Bond met with French private detective Achille Aubergine before Mayday dispatched Aubergine with a poisoned fish hook. The real restaurant’s interior is nowhere near as large as the stage set shown on screen, but it’s still gorgeous. Reservations are essential, and with dinner starting at 190 euros for a tasting menu, it’s very much a special occasion restaurant. (My husband and I took my mother-in-law there on her only trip to Europe, and she was beside herself.) The food was amazing and the views sublime, and you can save a bit by going for lunch. After you eat, head out for the view of Paris, but leave your parachute at home. Zorin’s opulent residence is 20 miles north of Paris at Château de Chantilly, though I haven’t been.
Wine with a view at the Jules Verne Restaurant.
The first Daniel Craig film takes us to a world of thrilling locations: the Czech Republic (which stood in for Montenegro), the Bahamas, Venice and Italy’s Lake Como. Of course, Venice is always worth a visit. Locations seen in Casino Royale include the Grand Canal, Campo San Barnaba (also a filming location for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and the outrageously ritzy Cipriani Hotel.
There’s no place like Venice.
You only visit twice: The final scene in From Russia With Love (where Bond kills villain Rosa Klebb before she can kick him with her switchblade-tipped shoes) also was shot in Venice, as were parts of Moonraker including the absurd bit with Bond driving a gondola-turned-hovercraft through St. Mark’s Square.
If you visit St. Mark’s Square, leave your gondola hovercraft at home.
After Venice, travel 150 miles west to the shore of Lake Como in the foothills of the Alps. Like Venice, this is a place with a deserved grand reputation. Indeed, the green hills spilling down into the brilliant lake are as beautiful as you expect. In the film, Bond recovers from his shipboard torture at Villa del Balbianello near the town of Lenno. You can tour the villa’s sumptuous interior, but the highlight is the opulent gardens that border the lake. This is also where Anakin Skywalker marries Padmé Amidala in Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. So go ahead, take your travel companion and hold them like you did by the lake on Naboo.
Villa del Balbianello: a place for rest and weddings.
Further north on the lake’s western shore is Villa Gaeta, where Bond shoots Mr. White in the leg at the end of the film. It’s not open for tours, but it has a few apartments that you can book. Outside of touring (or shopping for) lakeside villas, one of the best things you can do in Lake Como is spend time hopping around the lake on one of the ferries. Just watch the shore pass by, maybe with a bottle of wine, and gawk at the homes of the rich and famous.
The town of Varenna on the lake’s eastern shore makes for a pleasant place to stay. Easily accessible by train from Milan, it’s a quieter and more low-key alternative to the tourist hub of Bellagio with its luxury shops. Hike up to the Castle of Vezio and the village of Fiumelatte to see Italy’s shortest river crashing down the hillside in a waterfall. Then, treat yourself to dinner at the wonderful Osteria Quattro Pass in town. Albergo del Sole is a pleasant place to stay.
Just cruising around Lake Como on a ferry is a treat.
One for the dogs: If you watched the episode of Netflix’s Dogs featuring Ice, the 10-year-old Labrador retriever and first mate on a fishing boat, his human family operates Ittiturismo Ristorante Mella in Bellagio.
This Bellagio is better than the one in Las Vegas.
Every Bond movie passes through glorious London for at least a brief visit, usually to M’s office to get his mission briefing. Skyfall, though, gives us a grand tour of the British capital as Bond rushes to protect M from assassin Raoul Silva. We get glimpses of popular sights like the Palace of Westminster, Whitehall and Smithfield Market before paying a visit to M’s terrace house. Though it’s not named on screen, she naturally resides in Knightsbridge, a posh neighborhood in West London where you’ll find the Harrods (skip it) and Harvey Nichols (visit) department stores and the Victoria and Albert Museum (absolutely visit).
The MI6 headquarters in London makes its presence felt.
The MI6 headquarters depicted in the film is the real building that houses the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service. Located in Vauxhall in west London, it has a divisive and bloated postmodern design that looks a bit like a ziggurat (“Babylon-on-Thames” is one of its nicer nicknames). There’s no MI6 gift shop or museum, so you can only walk by and look past the fortress-like gates. For the best view, cross the Vauxhall Bridge and imagine the building blowing up as it did on the screen (something that also happened in The World is not Enough.)
Bond meets Q at the National Gallery in front of The Fighting Temeraire by Joseph Mallard William Turner. One of the world’s top art galleries, it’s a big place so tour at your leisure (admission is free, but donations are welcome). Later, Bond chases Silva through the Charing Cross Underground station, jumping onto the back of a Jubilee Line train. Transit geeks and Londoners will notice that although the station in the film is signed as Temple, that’s a separate Underground stop not far away (the Jubilee Line doesn’t stop at Temple).
The rooftop swimming pool where Bond takes a dip in Shanghai is actually across London at the Virgin Active Club in Canary Wharf (the Shanghai backdrop was added digitally). Packed with glass skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury flats, Canary Wharf looks like more New York than old streets of Covent Garden. Then hop on the Docklands Light Railway to the Island Gardens stop on the Isle of Dogs (sadly, it’s not what you might think) and walk through the 118-year-old Greenwich foot tunnel under the River Thames. Check out the awesome interiors of the Old Royal Naval College (where M attends the funeral of the victims killed in the attack on MI6 headquarters) before hopping one of the Thames Clippers boats to return to central London. You’re in the world’s greatest city so enjoy yourself.
The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich with the towers of Canary Wharf beyond.
Wildly gorgeous Glen Coe is the setting for Bond’s ancestral Scottish home, where he takes M to (unsuccessfully) hide out from Silva. Though the driving scenes when the pair first arrived in Scotland were shot here, Skyfall Lodge was a temporary set built near Elstead, Surrey, about an hour’s drive southwest of London. The scene where they stop the car to take in the view was shot in Glen Etive, a short drive from Glen Coe.
Straight from Central Casting, a scene of the Scottish Highlands.
A long valley (or glen) carved by an ice age glacier from an ancient volcano, Glen Coe is a postcard picture of the amazing Highlands. Craggy hills draped with mist line a green valley floor threaded by the crystal River Coe. Don’t complain if the weather is blustery as it’s all part of the experience (I’ve heard it can be sunny, but this is Scotland so don’t count on it). Drive the length of the valley stopping at the viewpoints along the way to absorb the stark, moody setting and the waterfalls tumbling down the cliffs. The Visitor Centre at the western end gives a great overview of the area’s natural and human history, including the 1692 Glencoe Massacre.
Almost as beautiful as Glen Coe, Loch Leven is a great place to stay in the area.
If you visit, consider the Loch Leven Hotel in nearby North Ballachulish. Set right on the water, the 17th century hotel is warm and welcoming with comfortable rooms, an excellent restaurant and a wonderful wood-paneled pub.
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