10 fictional but believable places I wish I could visit

Real travel experiences are often inflected with fantasy experiences but there are many realistic but fictional places that make this bucket list.

Tourists visiting Petra might be brought into Indiana Jones’s company, while my own expectations of eventually backpacking to Machu Picchu will wrench me back to ’80s cartoon The Mysterious Lost Cities of Gold. The way these sites appear in fiction is one thing but there are so many other imaginary places I’d just love to get the chance to explore. So, for a bit of fun here’s a top ten fictional bucket list.

10: “Negative, I am a meat popsicle.”

In Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element the planet earth is not that much more advanced than today’s reality, but what I really would love to do is this:

The cavernous city wows me with its sheer scale, even if it is impersonal and pretty horrific. The touches of humanity such as the flying Chinese restaurant bring flecks of life to the place and the lowest storeys of the immense towers appear to be filled with all the really fun places. I just want to plunge through the smog and see what’s down there. It’s a brighter place than Star Wars’ Coruscant, or Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner – the obvious inspiration for this city – but you get the impression it will be just as interesting.

Plus, the chance to flash your ‘Multipass’ and do that voice would be hard to resist.

9: “Go for the eyes, Boo!”

A bit more obscure to most people but somewhere I spent hours enjoying is the city of Athkatla in the 1998 PC game Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn.
Athkatla is a medieval sword and spell kind of place. A guild of thieves competes with diabolical sorcerers and fanatical devotees of Lathander to control the grubby streets, while the ordinary denizens rub shoulders with pirates to party the night away in the Copper Coronet tavern. Stunning temples, a bustling dock, imposing city walls, a middle-Eastern inspired market in a stadium – what’s not to love? It’s such a well realised city that you feel you’re really getting to know the place intimately, dirty secrets and all (and there are a lot of them). Just don’t go out after dark as you’ll get eviscerated by vampires or run through by bandits…

Athkatla Slums district from Baldur's Gate II

Athkatla City Docks from Baldur's Gate II

8: “Quiet! You vegetable!”

The City of Lost ChildrenThe City of Lost Children is the warped baby of Marc Caro and Jean-Pirre Jeunet, the latter of ‘Amelie’ and ‘Delicatessen’ fame so you know the kind of feel that this 1995 film will have.

The unnamed eponymous port city is a sinister and frankly terrifying place to live. Gangs of thieves are controlled by conjoined twins who employ children to pilfer safes for them, and a freakishly bio-mechanical cult steal other children for the main villain of the film, who lives off-shore on a rig. Green colours, water and darkness fill the alleyways of the city and reinforce the looming terror. The City of Lost Children buildingsThis film was the first place I’d seen Ron Perlman, here as a Russian sailor, and he adds his huge frame to the cast of children and midgets to leave you wondering at the scale of everything. It doesn’t sound like a nice place to visit but just as Athkatla has endlessly interesting depths you feel like every minute would be eye-opening and unique. It’s just not as picturesque.

7: “Scabby on my knee! Scabby on my knee!”

The award-winning computer game Bioshock is set in the underwater facility of the enigmatic business magnate/evil genius Andrew Ryan. This facility, called Rapture, is extremely attractively designed in a 1940s American style. Huge metal structures and thick glass hold back the pressure of the water as you explore deeper and deeper.

Actual screenshot a tunnel in Rapture, from Bioshock

Period music is piped into the observation galleries overlooking the abysmal depths, between snatches of Ryan’s twisted philosophy. It puts me in mind of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, but jazzier.

However it is certainly not a place you’d want to visit before it’s been purged. Lumbering monsters armed with metre-long drills protect freakily mutated and super-powered little girls, and other victims of medical experimentation prowl the darker corridors. It’s a tense game but as soon as you cleanse an area you are free to admire the architecture. I was originally thinking of including Karl Stromberg’s lair from The Spy Who Loved Me but Rapture is in a different league altogether. Imagine it today, taken over as a 5* superior luxury hotel. It’d cost an absolute bomb.

'The Glory Days of Rapture' by Craig Mullins gives you a taste of what the city could be like, after all the murder dies down.

6: “You shall not pass!”

Even when I read The Lord of the Rings as a wee whipper-snapper I was captivated by the mines of Moria. This defeated kingdom of greedy dwarfs was subsequently populated by goblins and preternatural demons that had survived from a different age of the world, creatures that existed long after their expected lifespan and lived to terrify mortal beings. Much like Madonna.

The Peter Jackson film version of Moria’s pillared great hall is a spectacle you don’t appreciate in the book but I always knew how the bridge of Khazad-dûm would look.

“Suddenly Frodo saw before him a black chasm. At the end of the hall, the floor vanished and fell to an unknown depth. The outer door could only be reached by a slender bridge of stone, without kerb or rail, that spanned the chasm with one curving spring of fifty feet … They could only pass across it single file. At the brink Gandalf halted and the others came up in a pack behind.” – J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’

Ballrog at Khazad-dum from LotR: The Fellowship of the RingThe film sums it up well doesn’t it. Now I like a bit of spelunking but I imagine teetering down the Dimrill Stairs would in reality be assisted by a safety rail. There’s no way the bridge itself would be ‘without kerb or rail’ after being opened up to tourism either. So that’s less excellent, but hey-ho. It’s the price that mass-tourism brings.

This entry almost swapped out for Alexandretta of ‘The Last Crusade’ fame but Petra is very much real and Moria is generally more of a spectacle. Plus, can you imagine the thousands of people per day screaming “You shall not pass!” into the darkness? Well worth a look.

5: “If you come any closer, I will rip you to shreds.”

Engywook and his wife from The Neverending StoryI could have gone with “Fantasia has no boundaries” for this one’s quote but it’s a bit stinky cheesy so I’ve gone gritty instead, courtesy of Gmork, who my cat likes to do impressions of. I’ve probably talked about The Neverending Story before somewhere. It’s a classic 1984 film based on Michael Ende’s novel and it’s full of great imagery. The Ivory Tower is a shimmering needle of power resting on a gnarled asteroid piece of the shattered planet of Fantasia, so that’s nifty, but the journey to the Southern Oracle is pretty lovely and makes the winning grade. Atreyu encounters the ridiculous Engywook who instructs him on how to pass between two awesomely bass-ass buxom sphinxes in the Persian or Assyrian style. They sit opposite each other, massive and yellow, emanating a gentle glow.

Guardians in the desert on the way to the Southern Oracle

They guard a rocky pass with their ability to blast lasers out of their peepers at travelers who don’t believe in themselves. This is in a desert. Immediately after narrowly escaping the dodgy marksmanship of these silent ladies the traveler has to enter a blizzard (?) and finds a trippy mirror that somehow gives them visions of the child who is reading The Neverending Story, and is therefore God of Fantasia. All in the name of seeing ‘your true self’, whatever that means.

The Southern Oracle itself is a pair of great big blue sphinx ladies (in a snowy plain) who answer questions cryptically before crumbling to blue chunks due to the power of ‘The Nothing’. You’ll notice that the Guardians are spookily similar to the Southern Oracle.

Back in the real world these things would be an absolute gold mine – a monumental desert site right next to a blizzarded trippy mirror and then the ruins of more talking lady sphinx things. There would be a Pizza Hut in place of Engywook’s house and a camera charging £20 a pop to get a snap of your true self. But it’d still be a wonder of the world.

The Neverending Story's Southern Oracle, with Atreyu, centre.

4: “…you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!”

Now, I know there is a Wonka World place out there but from what I’ve seen it’s got absolutely none of the magic of the film version. Granted that’s got to be impossible to recreate as a tourist attraction so instead of a ‘place to visit’ I just want the film to be recreated exactly, in reality.

Wonka meme of hypocrite Willy

Long live the Wonka meme!

So there will be an actual re-purposed Victorian factory in a run-down northern English industrial town, then a quest for Golden Tickets begins in earnest. I run home to my grandparents, shipped in specially, when I win the final ticket, and fill Charlie Bucket’s holey shoes. I will float to the top of the scary tunnel that actually holds no peril at all – why didn’t the Buckets just put their hands on huge steel bars blocking their spinny death? It’s always bothered me. I will then incur the wrath of what must by now be an ancient and completely insane Gene Wilder, earn his trust by relinquishing the everlasting Gobstopper, and inherit the factory. Which will be renamed Wonka Booth as it sounds naughtier. It’s not impossible.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory main hall view

3: “Come on in and smoke your heads off! There’s nobody here to stop you!”

Pinocchio is Disney’s masterpiece. Well in my mind it’s equally as amazing as The Jungle Book, but they’re very different fish. There are two bits that terrified me about this film – Stromboli turning into a twisted evil monster in his wagon, and Pleasure Island where anything goes but the incredible price is that you transmogrify into an ass…

You down glasses of whiskey, shoot pool all night, and smoke enormous cigars INSIDE with impunity. Everyone’s happy, everyone’s doing what they want to do. Forbidden fruits are my bag, especially if they don’t cause anyone else any harm (passive smoking aside…). Pleasure Island is a place I want to visit. It terrified and attracted me at the same time.

Face your fears, holiday on Pleasure Island!

2: “There must be some mistake! None of these pigs are my parents!”

Spirited Away is one of my absolute favourite films, by the legendary Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. In short – a girl called Chihiro accidentally enters a parallel universe of Japanese spirits and shinto gods but when her parents inadvertently eat a forbidden banquet they transmogrify into pigs (do I get any kudos for using that word twice in a few paragraphs?). Chihiro then has to earn her way into a powerful big-nosed witch’s good favour in order to turn them back into humans. This witch, Yubaba, also happens to own a huge and beautiful traditional bathhouse, and THAT is what I want to be real. I love a long deep bath as it is but the tubs in this bad boy are behemoths.

Please excuse the English dub but this gives the best summary of the film:

Basically, I want an imaginary bath here, please.

1: “Can you sing, Master Hobbit?”

The second entry from the Lord of the Rings trilogy also happens to be the place I most want to be real. Minas Tirith. It has it all.

Minas Tirith walls from the Pelenor Field in LotR: The Two Towers

Minas Tirith from above in LotR: The Two TowersA terraced citadel spiraling up the rocky end of a snow-capped mountain range. Imperious walls of brilliant white stone and a palace at the top overlooking possibly the greatest vista ever: The beautiful city of Osgiliath sitting on the wide grassy plain a mile from the walls of Minas Tirith, straddling the river Anduin. Osgiliath’s intricate white towers in contrast to the darkness of the jagged mountain range marking the borders of Mordor. And then, of course, the belching enormity of the volcano Mt. Doom turns the sky red in the furthest background. Take away the threat of primal evil in the form of a Necromancer and hordes of Orks and I think you’ve got one hell of an impressive place to visit!

The view from Minas Tirith over the Pelenor Field, just imagine it without the army...

Best of all, if you’re very very lucky you’ll be gazing out of your window, towards the volcanic sky in the east, when the daily reenactment of Lord Denethor’s suicide plunges past your balcony to his fiery conclusion!

Feeeeeed me Seymour!

So there you have it. I’m certain there are a great many places other people can remind me of but these are the first that popped to mind immediately! Please help me to travel in my mind by posting your favourite fantasy (but not unbelievable) lands in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “10 fictional but believable places I wish I could visit

  1. You can add the floating Zhangjiajie Mountains to your list, where Avatar movie was made, spectacular and the mountains look so real

    • I was thinking of doing a follow up article of beautiful real places used in films, or at least heavily inspiring them (whereas this one is just imaginary places that could be real). This would certainly make that list – stunning. Thanks for your comment too by the way! Just had a look at your ‘Capture the colour’ article of China and Tibet, lovely.

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