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30 Best Travel Documentaries & Series To Watch

We all need a bit of travel inspiration and these are some of the best travel documentaries that will give you some wanderlust, and understanding, of the regions of the world involved.

These are my favourite travel documentaries and series that have inspired my travels.

Disclaimer: I own none of the images in this post, they are used under fair-usage terms to discuss the travel documentaries.


Himalaya With Michael Palin (2004)

himalaya Micheal Palin

Michael Palin is my all-time favourite travel presenter, writer, and hell, just an awesome person in general and his travel documentaries are some of the best you can watch.

His sense of humour, interest in the places he visits, how he interacts with the local people, and the way he presents himself is what makes this travel journey one of the best.

Add to that epic Himalayan scenery and adventure and you have the perfect combination for the best travel documentary.

You can watch it here as well as some of his other travel documentaries.


The Endless Summer (1966)

endless summer best travel documentaries

Surfs up! And also lots of fun, fun, fun, in the sun.

Set in the mid-sixties it follows two surfers from California as they travel around the world, including countries like South Africa, Australia, and Ghana, in search of the ‘perfect wave’. 

It’s very laid back to watch and entertaining and a good insight into surfer travels in the sixties.

I would love to hit up some of the waves they found! If you want one of the best travel documentaries based around surfing and beaches then watch this.

Watch it online here.


Encounters at the End of the World (2009)

encounters at the end of the world travel documentary

Want some cold weather viewing, beautiful scenery in the vast expanse of Antarctica, and some fun with scientists? This is it.

Filmmaker Werner Herzog tackles this perfectly, exploring the desolate and vast wilderness of Antarctica around the US base of McMurdo Station, and the people who live and work there.

This will make you want to go to a remote and cold place.

Watch it here.


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown (2013 – 2018)

Anthony Bourdain parts unknown

Anthony Bourdain was one of my travel heroes. He died in 2018. His style of reporting and meeting the people he visits around the world and coming together around a common theme worldwide, food, brought a personal approach to the travel genre.

Parts Unknown is one of the best travel documentaries to watch for food. 

The other series with Anthony Bourdain exploring world cuisine, such as No Reservations is also worth watching.

See it on Netflix here.


Under An Arctic Sky (2017)

under an arctic sky

This is a short travel documentary coming in at only 40 minutes, but worth the watch for sure.

I had been recommended this by a fellow travel blogger and was glad about it.

It’s beautifully shot in Iceland in winter, following a group of surfers looking for (as usual) the perfect waves. 

But a storm comes through during this time and they have to outrun it.

The first time surfers have been filmed under the Northern Lights.

This has made me want to return to Iceland again to explore more of the country in the Arctic darkness.

See what it’s like surfing under the Northern Lights!


Sahara With Michael Palin (2002)

sahara Michael Palin

Yes, another Michael Palin travel documentary. I can’t help it his journeys are just so good.

This time he’s out exploring the Sahara Desert, getting into remote adventures with tribal nomads, and so much more.

This will inspire you for a desert adventure.

Watch the epic Sahara journey here.


180° South (2010)

180° South follows Jeff Johnson, an adventurer who travels across South America to Patagonia to visit the places that Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins had visited in 1968, two people who had inspired him.

Easily one of the best travel documentaries about South America to see.


Chasing Coral (2017)

Chasing Coral is a documentary for anyone interested in the ocean and, given the title, especially coral reefs.

It follows scientists and divers who explore the coral areas to see why they are disappearing and to explain it all to you. A good conservationist documentary as well as one for travel to these beautiful parts of the world.


Billy Connolly’s World Tour of Australia (1996)

Billy Connolly australia travel

Billy Connolly is one of the great all-time stand-up comedians.

He also travels a lot and his ‘world tour’ series has taken him to lots of different countries around the world, with Australia being the best.

It’s a combination of him exploring Australia and what is there, with a great sense of humour for everything, as well as some short clips of his stand-up performances in each area he visits with views and opinions about his experience in Australia.

A must-see travel documentary for anyone interested in Australia with a very amusing outlook on travel there.

It ain’t cheap but if you’re a Billy Connolly fan, or want to give a gift to someone who is, this is the Billy Connolly box set of all his world tours.


Dark Tourist (2018)

dark tourist best travel documentaries

For some people (myself included) there’s a strange and weird fascination with some of the ‘darker’ tourist spots to visit and dark tourism has become more popular.

From nuclear disaster zone tours to death-worshipping cults, this travel documentary covers them all.

It can be disturbing given the tragedy behind some of the events, but it is history, and it is part of humanity. 

To escape the ‘normal’ tourist spots this will give you an idea of an alternative travel experience.

Right or wrong it is fascinating.

See it on Netflix.


Given (2016)

given movie travel documentary

This is such a unique and refreshing take on a travel documentary as it’s narrated by a six-year-old boy.

It follows a family from Kauai (part of Hawaii) on a journey through 15 countries around the world.

This a really good insight into family travel and the life-teaching experiences travel can have on young children.

Watch their website for the documentary.


Stephen Fry In America (2009)

Stephen Fry in America travel documentary

Stephen Fry is one of my favourite comedians and in this travel series, he travels across the U.S. in search of what makes America.

Just like Billy Connolly and Michael Palin, there is lots of humour involved.

It gives a great insight into American culture.

This is one of the best travel documentaries to watch if planning a trip to the United States. 

Watch here.


The Eagle Huntress (2016)

One of those interested in Central Asia travel, this documentary is about a 13-year-old Kazakh girl called Aisholopan who wants to be an eagle hunter, the first female in her family for twelve generations to do it.

Beautiful scenery and an inspiring story make this a spellbinding travel documentary to watch.


Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2010)

best travel documentaries

Have an interest in sushi and Japanese food? Then this is the ultimate travel documentary for you.

It follows an 85-year-old sushi master calledJiro Ono and how he makes some of the best sushi in the world and tries to teach his son the way and the family business.

It’s one of the best documentaries about Japan to watch.


Baraka (1992)

best travel documentaries

Out of all the travel documentaries, this is one of the older ones but it has aged well. It’s also one of the most beautiful travel documentaries to watch.

The tagline is “A world beyond worlds”, and after watching it you will see why.

There is no narrative, just epic films from all over the world showing natural environments, cities and everything else.

Personally, I remember watching this in the 90s and being inspired to see the places it showed.


Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010)

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga is another Werner Herzog travel documentary that is absolutely brilliant if you have an interest in cold places and Siberia in particular.

It follows the people in a remote village in the Siberian Taiga region and shows the repeated way of life in how they deal with living in a harsh cold environment. It includes footage of some of the native Ket people as well.


Tawai: A Voice From The Forest (2017)

Out of all the travel documentaries, this is one of the best ones taking a look at indigenous people around the world.

Adventurer Bruce Parry explores the forests of the Amazon and Borneo, as well as the Isle of Skye in Scotland where he looks at the ways the native people get on with the nature around them.


Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019)

Nomad is yet again another one with Werner Herzog and this time it’s a much more personal one.

His good friend Bruce Chatwin, who was a well-known travel writer, died of AIDS in 1989 he left Werner his rucksack as a parting gift. Thirty Years after his death Werner heads out to explore places inspired by his friend’s travel life.


Maidentrip (2013)

Maidentrip will make you want to get a yacht and go on an adventure around the world! It’s about a 14-year-old sailor who leaves home for a 2-year journey around the world alone to become the youngest person to ever achieve such a task.

This is one of the best travel documentaries not just about yachting and boats but also about the determination of the human spirit to achieve something great.


Travel Man (2015 Onwards)

Travel Man is a great travel documentary series where each episode host Richard Ayoade visits a new city with a different celebrity to explore what the city has to offer in the way of tourist attractions and other things.

Lots of fun to watch and one of the best recent travel documentaries to see.


Fishpeople (2017)

Fishpeople is a group of stories about various individuals who have dedicated their lives to the sea. It includes a long-distance swimmer, surfers, and many more.

This is one to watch if you have an interest in anything related to life with the ocean.


Grand Tours of the Scottish Islands (2013 – 2016)

If you love Scotland or really want to go there then this is the ultimate Scottish travel series for you. The presenter is Paul Murton and he explores all around the Scottish Isles.

He also has other shows such as the Grand Tour of Scotland and Grand Tour of Scotlands Lochs. He really gets into the culture of Scotland.

Backpackingman note: I am of Scottish ancestry with my great-grandfather being a proper Scotsman from Aberdeen and I have visited Scotland a few times now and can highly recommend this series.


Rick Steves’ Europe (2000 – Onwards)

Rick Steves’ Europe is one of the longest-running travel documentary series out there, if not the longest.

Given the title of the show, it follows Rick as he travels around Europe showing everything the place has to offer. The series from 2018 focuses on Scotland so goes nicely with theGrand Tours of the Scottish Islands mentioned above.


Desert Runners (2013)

Desert Runners is the ultimate documentary about people who run in some of the harshest environments and in this case the desert.

But the twist to this story is that it explores a group of people who join the hardest ultra-marathon race series on the planet and none of them are professional runners.

Watch this one if you have an interest in deserts and running.


Down To Earth (2020)

Down To Earth is a travel documentary series on Netflix that follows actor Zac Efron to different parts of the world where he looks at the sustainability efforts of each destination.

For example, in Iceland, he learns about the efforts to use the natural energy of Earth for power.


Magical Andes (2020 – Onwards)

Magical Andes a travel documentary series is set in South America and takes a look at the Andes Mountain range, from the mountains themselves to the deserts, forests, and everything else that surrounds them

Highly recommended if you’ve ever wanted to visit South America and in particular the Andes region.


Expedition Happiness (2017)

Expedition Happiness follows a couple who get an old school bus and then drive throughout North America with their dog.

The couple is so lovely it’s worth watching just to see them and their life.


Free Solo (2018)

Free Solo follows Alex Honnold, a professional rock climber, as he attempts to be the first person to free solo climb El Capitan’s rock face.

It’s set in Yosemite National Park and is thrilling to watch not just for the action but also for the scenery. Watch this documentary if you are interested in mountain travel and rock climbing as a sport.


The Dawn Wall (2017)

Following on from Free Solo, The Dawn Wall is also set in Yosemite National Park, and this time follows Tommy Caldwell, a free climber, who tried to climb the Dawn Wall of El Capitan.

As with Free Solo, watch this one for mountains.


Mountain (2017)

best travel documentaries about mountains

The Mountain is one of the best travel documentaries about mountains and is breathtaking to watch.

It explores mountains around the world and tells at the same time the history between humans and mountains.


Notable Mention: BBC Planet Earth 1+2 (2006 + 2016)

planet earth travel documentaries

The BBC Planet Earth series is absolutely beautifully filmed and epic to watch.

In each episode, they explore different parts of the planet, such as deserts, mountains, oceans, forests, etc.

There are also other travel documentaries by the BBC, like The Blue Planet, Frozen Planet, and a lot more. Each one shows a different side of our planet.

These will get you wanting to get out and see the world!


The Best Travel Documentaries

And that’s the list of the best travel documentaries that will hopefully give you some inspiration for your own travels.

Interested in more travel-related movies? Check out 10 movies to watch before travelling to Japan.

You can find some of the older travel documentaries on places like YouTube. In fact, YouTube is a great place to find new and old travel documentaries in general.

And for some travel reading 20 books to read set in the Arctic and Antarctic.


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8 thoughts on “30 Best Travel Documentaries & Series To Watch”

  1. Hi Jonny,
    this is Christian from Germany
    I pic you up from Zagreb 2008 and we travel to Germany by car.
    Later I visit you in Amsterdam.
    My speciality is Africa.
    Like to contact you again cause I cannot find you anymore on Couchsurfing.
    May I ask for your PM adress?
    see you
    Christian

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