Whenever traveling is not possible what can we do to fuel our Wanderlust? How to escape the daily routine and undertake a journey of a lifetime? What to do if your travel plans suddenly get canceled? How to cheer yourself up with a little travel pill? – Check this list of the best travel documentaries that will expose to you the unseen beauty of the world around us!
Best Travel Documentaries
Bringing the world to you
It´s been a while since I wanted to share with you more Travel watch lists featuring top documentaries that will literally bring the world to you in those moments when you can´t go for the world yourself. We, people with a travel bug, always have a never-ending bucket list of places. But as John Lennon once said: ¨Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans¨.
This is a common story for all of us – life just happens. Things almost never go as planned, trips get canceled or just never happen – millions of things might get in a way of chasing your favorite places across the globe. Sometimes you can quit it all, overcome those obstacles and follow your dreams. But sometimes you just temporarily don´t. As a result, you might feel quite demotivated.
The truth is that we all do feel this way every once in a while. A small thing that ends up making a big difference in this situation is only your personal attitude. Positivity is the key to every good thing we want to bring back into our lives, while the best way to channel your inner optimist is by always surrounding yourself with things that set your soul on fire.
Sending adventures your way
What could possibly illuminate a traveler´s soul more than seeing some epic adventures? Travel documentaries can teleport you to the other side of the world straight from your home. Even if you are not the main character of those epic travel journeys, you might be him/her one day. Life is unpredictable. No one knows what´s going to happen tomorrow.
Catching sight of new landscapes, new cultures, and new humans all over the world is the best travel pill to fuel our Wanderlust. I´ve handpicked for you a few of my favorite best travel documentaries that always help me to get in the travel mood. Especially when I´m stuck at home. For your convenience, I also leave you the Youtube trailers, so that you could get a brief preview of what´s waiting for you right away.
For more travel-themed suggestions check Let´s Travel Virtually: 30+ Ideas to enjoy the world from home. Travel movie enthusiasts, don’t miss Top Romantic Travel Movies to watch with your loved one.
My favorite Travel Documentaries from all across the globe
1.Seven Worlds, One Planet/David Attenborough Series (2019) – BBC
Every year multiple travel documentaries are launched into the world, and every year I feel like with so many unique visual stories out there nothing can surprise me any longer. Nevertheless, as the technologies constantly evolve, every year more stunning nature recordings keep finding their spectators around the world. The new-ish Seven Worlds, One Planet (2019) is exactly the case.
All of our 7 continents are absolutely unique in their flora and fauna. This time David Attenborough takes us on a journey of diversity through all of them, while also explaining why this uniqueness is being lost. This is an extremely powerful travel documentary you should really see with your own eyes.
2.Frozen Planet (2011) – BBC
If we get into the topic of BBC´s documentaries that could be a story for the whole separate blog post. You definitely should start with the Emmy-winning Planet Earth and The Blue Planet, but I assume you´ve seen those. I personally preferred The Blue Planet to Planet Earth, but´s that´s quite subjective as both are true masterpieces.
However, what is unique about Frozen Planet (2011) is the journey into the World of Ice, revealing the colors of life above and below the ice. Both Arctic and Antarctic are the most stunning wilderness locations on our planet. The level of beauty and power of nature there is absolutely unmatched anywhere else. I secretly daydream of visiting both South and North Poles one day. Therefore, Frozen Planet (2011) is one of the best travel documentaries ever for me.
3.Tales by Light (2015) – National Geographic
Photography and nature lovers can´t miss Tales by Light (2015), because behind every powerful image lies an even more powerful story. What I love about this project is the fact that it focuses on the unique vision of each photographer, as well as the story behind every shot. It actually started as a short series from Canon and evolved into a partnership with National Geographic. Tales by Light (2015) puts you in the shoes of a photographer and makes you see everything through the lens of a different person.
4.Home (2009) – HomeProject
Only in 18 months, the artistic crew of Home (2009) visited 53 countries across the globe in search of unique filming locations. This documentary takes us to the most secret beautiful corners of the planet Earth, while also bringing our attention to crucial ecological problems humanity is facing. But unlike Before the Flood (2016) and many other powerful documentaries dedicated to global issues, Home (2009) narrators primarily focus on the beauty of nature and share everything on a more optimistic note. However, the alarming message of our uncertain future is still there.
No matter who you are, where you live, what you do for life – we are all united by the same “home” we share. The breathtaking nature scenes from the bird´s eye perspective simply make you realize that there´s no time to be bored or depressed in a world as beautiful as ours.
5.National Parks Adventure (2016) – Netflix
Nature lovers can´t miss this chance to take a virtual adventure into America´s greatest outdoors. Despite visiting the States a few times, I´ve personally never made it to its wonderful National Parks, but it´s on the top of my travel bucket list. So I was particularly interested in pinpointing all those jaw-dropping places in the United State I have no right to miss. No wonder national tourism is so developed in America, the variety of landscapes and landforms is quite impressive.
6.Street Food (2019) – Netflix
My inner foodie couldn´t have skipped the most epic gastronomic side of traveling – street food markets. Street Food (2019) is recently new Netflix series featuring the authentic streetfood dishes and people making them on the streets of Asia Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. I especially love the personal connection between the meals and the people cooking them, highlighted by the creators Street Food (2019).
This documentary transports you to this on-the-go food world, where you get constantly bewitched by local sights, sounds, and smells. Want to broaden your street food bucket list? – Check (2019) and get a bunch of ideas for your future travels.
7.Under an Arctic Sky (2017) – Chris Burkard Studios
Instagrammers might be quite familiar with works of adventure photography guru Chris Burkard. Well, Under an Arctic Sky is about him and his friends making history by surfing under the northern lights. Even the storyline is already quite intriguing as four surfers set sail along Iceland’s brutal north coast. The whole shooting was quite under risk as an unexpected storm (largest in 25 years) had arrived. At some point, the whole crew thought about quitting, but they trusted their gut and just went for it with all they had. You really need to see it with your own eyes.
8.Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) – Netflix
This is exactly how I want to be in my 80-90s someday – doing something I love with all my heart and enjoying every minute of the work process. As Vince Lombardi once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” This is exactly the case of an 85-year-old Jiro Ono, the best Japanese sushi craftsman in the world. His small restaurant with only ten eats attracts gourmets from all over the world.
I´d never thought that watching a documentary about someone making sushi could gravitate you to the screen for 1h30min and literally take your brief away. But, believe me, this documentary does. There are so many unique aspects of the Japanese culture that imperceptibly slide into the whole picture. You really should discover the magic of the legendary chef through Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
9.Samsara (2011) – Magidson Films
Samsara (2011) is one of the best travel documentaries ever and yet you can´t compare it to anything else: almost two hours of striking images and no narration or dialogue whatsoever. Created by the director of Baraka (1992) Ron Fricke, this travel documentary is like nothing else you´ve ever seen before. It´s a creative mix of footages featuring people, places and things around the world.
If I am honest with you, when I tried to watch it for the first time – I´ve given up after 5 minutes. Back then I was simply not ready to process everything that was appearing on the screen.
Samsara(2011) is one of those unique travel documentaries you need to be the mood for watching. It´s a perfect match for a solo movie session – you need complete attention and silence to capture the story. To me, Samsara (2011) seems closer to visual art, rather than a usual documentary.
10.The Eye of Istanbul (2016) – Journeyman Pictures
The Eye of Istanbul (2016) is a bit of a biased choice for me, as I´m in love with its two main subjects – black&white photography and the city of Istanbul. So it´s not about the documentary itself, but about the photographic past and timeless quality of beautiful black&white shots, and of course, a creative persona of Ara Güler behind them. The unique landscapes and portraits captured by Turkish photographer Ara Güler have literally become a cultural and historical heritage of the city of Istanbul.
Ara Güler had passed away in 2018, but he is still internationally known by many as one of the greatest photojournalists of his time. He worked for TIME Life, Paris Match and Magnum Photos, while also capturing the daily lives of Turkey’s working class. However, some of his most famous works include portraits depicting the most famous and influential individuals of the twentieth century, including Sophia Loren, Indira Gandhi, Federico Fellini, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and many others. Therefore, you can literally get a portrait tour around the world only from his unique black&white pictures.
Ara Güler’s photo exposition is currently moving in between the best European museums in London, Paris, and Rome. Hopefully, I get to visit in person one day.
Other travel documentaries on Netflix
In case, you want to dive into the Netflix archives, you can also find more of the best travel documentaries.
- Oceans (2010)
- Virunga (2014)
- Pedal the World (2015)
- Mountain (2017)
- Jack Whitehall: Travels with My Father (2017-Present)
- The Dawn Wall (2017)
- Losing Sight of Shore (2017)
- Chef’s Table (2017)
- Chasing Coral (2017)
- Cuba and the Cameraman (2017)
- Dark Tourist (2018)
- The Trader (Sovdagari) (2018)
- Magical Andes (2019)
- Our Planet (2019)
- Night on Earth (2020)
More travel documentaries on Amazon Prime
For the Amazon Prime subscribers, there are also a few more documentaries you can enjoy online.
- The cove (2010)
- Patagonia Rising (2011)
- Beneath the Sea (2018)
- Whales (2018)
- Coral Kingdoms (2018)
- A Symphony of Summits: The Alps from Above (2018)
- Kilian Jornet Path To Everest (2018)
- Untamed Romania (2019)
- Sharkwater Extinction (2019)
- One Child Nation (2019)
Family-Friendly Documentaries on Disney+
- Wings of Life (2011)
- Bears (2014)
- Monkey Kingdom (2015)
- Growing Up Wild (2016)
- Born in China (2016)
- Penguins (2019)
- Dolphin Reef (2020)
Best of travel documentaries on Youtube
- Rick Steves’ Europe
- National Geographic (don´t miss Great Migrations and Hostile Planet)
- History (Full Episodes)
- The World from Above HD
- DW Documentary
- Best Documentary
- Cities in 4K
- Free Documentary / Deadliest Roads
- WELT Documentary
Besides, you can also currently find lots of free documentaries on the IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam) website.