Margaret’s Travel Treats: 10 of the Best Travel Documentaries to Feed a Curious Mind

(Lead Image Photo Credit: B@rmaley via Shutterstock)

Travel documentaries on walking, trains, gardens and more to ease your border blues

Curated by Carolyn Ray, JourneyWoman Publisher

and In June, we hosted our first Community Call with Australia and New Zealand (and happily, women from North America, London and other parts of the world attended too!) We talked about many topics, and spent a few minutes discussing films and documentaries. After our call, Margaret Byrne, a long-time JourneyWoman in Australia, sent me a beautiful spreadsheet with almost 80 films listed and asked that we share it with you.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been binging on as many of these as I can – clearly there is a market for British celebrities to host travel shows! 

Although some countries’ borders are open to travellers, many are not, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This list of Margaret’s top picks is for you – the women with the border blues!  (If you haven’t met Margaret yet, she’s also one of our Facebook Group moderators!)

Note that while many of these are on paid video streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, Apple TV, BBC you can also find them on YouTube.

All video credits:BBC, YouTube, ITV

woman in a koala statue

JourneyWoman Margaret Byrne in Australia 

1. Joanna Lumley’s Travels 

Joanna Lumley is probably best known for her role in the BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous series. Today, however, you can find the British actress travelling the world. (And at age 75, she’s showing us how it’s done!) 

I watched her trek to the Arctic Circle to see the Northern Lights (2008) – ‘the true wonder of the world,’ as she puts it.  

Other shows include Joanna Lumley’s Hidden Caribbean,  Joanna Lumley:The Search for Noah’s Ark, Joanna Lumley’s Nile and Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey.  The most recent is Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure, a four-part travelogue covering eight countries from 2018.

All are available on Netflix and other platforms, although there may be an additional charge.

2. Micheal Palin’s Travels  

We know English actor Sir Michael Edward Palin best for his role in Monty Python or a Fish Called Wanda, but since 1980 he has been making travel documentaries. His new career as a travel writer for the BBC has taken him to the North and South Poles, the Sahara, the Himalayas, Brazil,  Eastern Europe and most recently North Korea in 2018.

Some of his documentaries include: Around the World in 80 Days, Full Circle, Himalaya with Michael Palin, Sahara with Michael Palin,  Michael Palin’s New Europe and Brazil with Michael Palin.

I enjoyed Pole to Pole, which documented a 245-day, 50,000-mile trip taken by Palin and a film crew around the rim of the Pacific Ocean in 1995 and 1996, beginning on the Diomede Islands between Alaska and Russia.  Wait until you get to the part with the swarm of black flies!

Read more about him on his website here

3. Julia Bradbury: Walking 

Julia Bradbury is a television presenter and outdoor walking enthusiast who has dedicated her career to sharing beautiful walks from all over the world. 

I particularly like her walks, as she discusses the importance of walking and how it can help to relieve stress and anxiety. Even 20 minutes is enough to lower stress levels! 

Read more on Julia’s website here

4. Michael Portilio: Railway Journeys

Next on my list of documentaries to watch is Michael Portillo’s railway journeys on the great train routes of Europe, as he retraces the journeys featured in George Bradshaw’s 1913 Continental Railway Guide. Portillo is called “a weirdly compelling host” by the Guardian‘s Stuart Heritage, who says “Portillo got this job because undiluted joy for railways radiates from his very being.” So there. That is a beautiful thing, is it not? 

The series includes Great Australian Railway Journeys, Great American Railroad Journeys, Great British Railway Journeys, Great Continental Railway Journeys, Great Canadian Railway Journeys and Great Asian Railway Journeys. Most appear to be available on Apple TV.

For more on the series visit BBC’s website.

train in the mountains

5. Monty Don’s Gardens 

Monty Don is the UK’s leading garden writer and broadcaster. He has been making TV programs for over 20 years on a range of topics, including gardening. He has been lead presenter of the BBC’s Gardener’s World since 2003 and since 2011 the program has come from his own garden, Longmeadow, in Herefordshire.

His documentaries chronicle his visits to the world’s gardens in Japan, France, Italy and my favourite – Paradise Gardens, which took me back to Spain and Morocco. I wish I had understood the importance of gardens before visiting! (The photo shows the fountain in the gardens of the Generalife Palace, La Alhambra, Granada). 

More here: Monty Don Website and for upcoming virtual events check here.

 

6. Ewan McGregor + Charley Boorman: Long Way 

Having just watched Halston on Netflix, I was interested to see the ‘real’ Ewan McGregor and he didn’t disappoint. After the first episode of Long Way Up (on Apple TV), I was hooked. Maybe it’s the eco-friendly approach to travel, or the electric Harleys – but travelling from Ushuaia to the US is also my dream travel experience. (I just want to do it in the opposite direction). This is less of a travelogue and more about the challenges of travelling with electric vehicles, but still entertaining nonetheless.

In addition to narrating nature documentaries, other series in his travels with his friend Charley includes:

Long Way Round (LWR), which documents the 19,000-mile (31,000 km) journey from London to New York City on motorcycles in 2004-2005.

Long Way Down documents a 2007 motorcycle journey from Scotland through 18 countries in Europe and Africa to Cape Town in South Africa. 

To learn more visit Apple TV. 

7. Sir Tony Robinson: Ancient Tracks  

In Britain’s Ancient Tracks with Tony Robinson, Tony walks along Britain’s oldest roads to find the truth behind the megaliths, burial sites, ley lines and hidden caves along their path, and connect the clues they have left hidden in the British landscape.

There are seven episodes, which were aired in 2016-2017. These are great b because they’re all about walking, hiking and being outdoors. 

You can watch them on YouTube here

8. Bill Nighy: Railway Journeys

Actor Bill Nighy may be best known as rocker Billy Mack in Love Actually (one of my favourite films ever!) or as Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean — but he has found a new role as documentary host on The World’s Most Scenic Railway Journeys. 

This series follows trains through some of the most scenic landscapes in the world. If you love railways and train travel, you’ll soon be yearning to go on one of these scenic railway journeys. 

Episodes feature Norway, Bavaria, Canada, New Zealand, Austria and Taiwan is upcoming.

Learn more here.

9. Susan Calman: Scotland

Comedian Susan Calman uncovers some untold tales behind Scotland’s most historic locations and share the in-depth history, characters and treasures hidden in these stunning spots. Watch a preview of Secret Scotland. Susan Calman starts her journey around Edinburgh and Scotland’s stunning East Coast.

 You can watch the preview and additional episodes here.

10. Simon Reeve 

Simon Reeve is a bestselling author and presenter of the acclaimed BBC TV travel series Tropic of Capricorn, Equator, Places That Don’t Exist and Meet the Stans.

In the 2008 BBC TV series Tropic of Capricorn Simon traveled around the line marking the southern border of the tropics. His accompanying book, also called Tropic of Capricorn, is published by BBC Books. In the BBC series Equator, Simon headed east around the planet, passing through troubled areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America. In Places That Don’t Exist, Simon traveled through a group of unrecognized nations – countries so obscure they don’t officially exist. And in Meet the Stans, Simon visited the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Simon’s books include: Tropic of Capricorn: circling the world on a southern adventure The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism’ – a New York Times bestseller published in 1998 One Day in September: the story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and Israeli revenge operation ‘Wrath of God’, which accompanied an Oscar-winning documentary movie of the same name.

Simon has received a One World Broadcasting Trust award for an ‘outstanding contribution to greater world understanding’.

Learn more here.

Others on Margaret’s list:

  • Anthony Bourdain, No Reservations and Parts Unknown 
  • Billy Connolly: Made in Scotland, Journey to the Edge of the World, World Tour of Australia, Route 66, Tour of England 
  • Britain’s Great Cathedrals 
  • Home or Away
  • Escape to the Country 
  • The Story of India 
  • The Man in Seat Sicty-One
  • Flavours of Poland 
  • Penelope Keith’s Village of the Year 
  • An Idiot Abroad 
  • Australia with Julie Bradbuy 
  • Stephen Fry in America 
  • Ken Burns: The National Parks 
  • Francesco’s Italy Top to Top 
  • Globe Trekker
  • Travels with My Father (Carolyn’s addition!) 

We also have a list of movies to inspire travel. Click here to read the article! 

Armchair Travel at its Finest

Carolyn is the Publisher + Editor-in-Chief of JourneyWoman and a member of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC). A Canadian raised in South Florida, Carolyn loves all things Spanish, historic destinations and always has her backpack ready to go.

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1 Comment

  1. Marianne K Houston

    I LOVED this page on travel documentaries. Thank you!

    Reply

We always strive to use real photos from our own adventures, provided by the guest writer or from our personal travels. However, in some cases, due to photo quality, we must use stock photography. If you have any questions about the photography please let us know.

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