Travel Bloggers share their favourite must-read books and must-see films for destinations around the world.

Credit:The Whole World or Nothing
Have you ever been to a destination where a book or film was a 'must-read', or 'must-see', before (or after) your visit? Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, sometimes when you travel to somewhere new there is a book which cries out to be read, or a film to be watched. Tracking down which book to read isn't always easy though, so I asked other travel bloggers to share their recommendations, and this is what they came up with.

Note: I have listed the destinations in alphabetical order under the country they are situated in. I intend this to be an ongoing resource. If you check back from time to time you will find new destinations and recommendations.


Cape Leewin, Western Australia The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Recommended by Leah Smileski of The Kid Bucket List

This emotionally gripping and complex book is set at a fictional lighthouse on an island off Point Partageuse, WA. The inspiration is the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse and the township of Augusta. It begins when the lighthouse keeper and his wife discover a lifeboat washed up on the shore containing a dead man and a living baby. The story unfolds from that moment and leads the reader through choice and consequences.

Cape Leeuwin itself is not on an island, but it is situated on the most south westerly mainland point of Australia. For a fee, visitors can climb the lighthouse. 
In 2013, M.L Stedman won the Australian Indie Book Award for The Light Between Oceans. 

Coober Pedy and Breakaways Conservation Park - Sci-fi movies including Mad Max, Red Planet and Pitch Black of the Chronicles of Riddick Series 
Recommendation and photo by Margarita Steinhardt of The Wildlife Diaries

South Australia’s Breakaways Conservation Park is one of the most strikingly desolate environments in Australia. Ground temperatures of up to 60 degrees centigrade and heavy erosion over millions of years have turned it into an otherworldly landscape. So much so, that it has become popular with Hollywood film makers looking for dramatic backdrops for their post-apocalyptic and alien-world films.

Some of the scenes from the 1985 cult classic Mad Max - Beyond Thunderdome, were filmed at the Breakaways and the nearby opal mining town of Coober Pedy.  In 2000, the Breakaways’ stark lifelessness earned it the part of planet Mars in another sci-fi flick - Red Planet, starring Val Kilmer and Kerrie-Anne Moss. In the same year, the Reserve was transformed into a hostile alien planet for the filming of Vin Diesel’s Pitch Black - the first instalment of the popular Chronicles of Riddick series. 
The space ship - Hunter-Gratzner, which brought Riddick and his companions to the fateful planet, is now unassumingly parked, or should I say ‘docked’, in the vacant lot outside on opal store in Coober Pedy.

The Coral Coast of Western Australia - Batavia's Graveyard by Mike Dash and Batavia by Peter FitzSimons.
Both books are my personal recommendations.

A few hours before dawn on 4 June 1629, the Dutch East India Company ship the Batavia, struck Morning Reef off the Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia. The Batavia was neither the first nor the last ship to come to grief in the treacherous waters off Australia's uncharted and unforgiving west coast but the tragic fate of her survivors has ensured she is the best known. You can see the remains of Batavia's hull in the WA Shipwrecks Museum in Fremantle and fly from Geraldton to the islands where many of her passengers and crew spent their last terrifying months.

Batavia's Graveyard by Mike Dash is an extremely readable historical account while Peter FitzSimons' book is historical fiction which sticks very close to the facts such as they are known.

Beacon Island

Sydney - The Secret River by Kate Grenville
This is one of my personal recommendations.

The Secret River is a compelling tale set in the earliest years of Sydney. Historical fiction, the book (and later T.V series)  follows the story of Will Thornhill, transported to Australia for theft, and his wife, Sal, who arrives as a free settler to join him. They carve out a life in the remote Hawkesbury River where Will's determination to succeed as a small landholder in his new country is matched only by the tragic determination of the area's aboriginals to hold onto their way of life.


Whatever You Do, Don't Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide by Peter Allison
Recommendation and photo by Elaine and David of Show Them The Globe

The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one of the most beautiful places in the world and its network of meandering waterways are home to some of the greatest wildlife on the planet. Peter Allison is a safari guide who spent many years in the African bush. His humorous take on the behind the scenes adventures that come with working in the Delta provide a fascinating look at managing, the sometimes difficult and high-maintenance, tourists in safari camps.


When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
Recommended by Sarah McAlister of The Whole World Or Nothing

When Broken Glass Floats is a heartbreaking story of the author's years growing up under the Khmer Rouge. She describes, in powerful detail, the horror of her family perishing in the genocide. When Broken Glass Floats will have you in tears within the first few chapters. It’s a mesmerising read. Learning about the scale of the atrocities, how many people are still affected to this day and how recently it happened will give you an insight into both the country and its people.

First They Killed My Father - a movie based on a memoir of the same name by Loung Ung
Recommendation and photo by John Roberts of In The Loop Travel

First, They Killed My Father is a dramatic recollection of the 1975 to 1979 period in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge rule viewed through the eyes of a 7-year-old child. The movie is based on Loung Ung's memoir and depicts in chilling detail the horrors that took place as Pol Pot and his army took control of the country and undertook a catastrophic restructuring of its society and economy. Cambodians from urban areas were driven into the countryside where they were treated as slave labourers. Many became victims of mass executions at 'killing fields.'


One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
Recommended by Campbell and Alya of Stingy Nomads

A Hundred Years of Solitude is written in the magical realism narrative genre where reality and fantasy mix together in a way that can’t be separated. Actual events of Colombian history are intertwined with local myths, legends and superstitions. The novel is set in Macondo, a village hidden in the jungle.  Macondo is founded by Jose Arcadio Buendia but curse and misfortune follow the Buendia family for generations until a hundred years later there is no-one left and the village is blown away by a terrible hurricane. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude  is recognised as one of the most significant works in Spanish language literature.


Havana - Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
Recommended by Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views

Poor Wormhold. All he wants is to buy his precious daughter a pony. He’s an under-employed, ineffective vacuum cleaner salesman and money is tight. So, when the British Secret Service comes around asking him to be their 'man in Havana' his curiosity and greed get the better of him and he signs up. He ends up the dupe in a maelstrom of cold war politics and the results are absurd, comical and tragic.

Cuba has a tight economy but it has managed to build a tourism culture based upon a foundation of classic American cars, rum and hustle. It is unlike any other country in the Caribbean, (or the hemisphere) and your man in Havana will give you a wild ride.


Two For The Road starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney
Recommended by my 'other half' David, who might just be a little bit in love with Audrey Hepburn.

This is a  60s classic road trip movie. As penniless backpackers travelling together Hepburn and Finney fall in love. Over the next few decades of  marriage, children, infidelity and reconciliation they re-visit the same places again and again, mostly in France.  The movie jumps back and forth in time juxtaposing the different stages of their lives together. If you have ever taken a European road trip with your other half, this is a must.

Paris - The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Recommendation and photo by Jamie Italiane of The Daily Adventures of Me

The Marriage of Opposites is historical fiction based on the life of impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro, in St. Thomas in the Danish West Indes and Paris.The second half of the book brings the streets of 19th century Paris to life. The book is also a romance story about his mother, a strong and unconventional woman  - perfect for Paris.


Corfu - The Corfu Trilogy (including My Family and Other Animals) by Gerald Durrell
Recommendation and photo by Sandy of Tray Tables Away

The Corfu Trilogy is set on the Greek island of Corfu and is written by Gerald Durrell. It recounts his family's, often hilarious, stories about their relocation to Corfu from England in 1935 and comprises three of Durrell's best known books - 'My Family and Other Animals', 'Birds Beasts and Relatives' and 'The Garden of The Gods'. The first novel has since been adapted as a TV series by the BBC.


Reykjavik  - The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness
Recommended by Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views

Reykjavik earned its spot on UNESCO’s list of Cities of Literature in part because of Halldor Laxness. He earned the Nobel prize for Literature in 1955 for a body of work that explored themes of socialism, religion, folk tales and Icelandic individualism and isolation.

The Fish Can Sing follows the childhood of orphan Alfgrimur. He is cared for by an eccentric elderly couple and a motley collection of their lodgers. The boy has a budding musical talent and he is obsessed with the mysterious opera singer Gardar Holm. But Holm isn’t who he appears to be and the boy needs to moderate his hero worship as the truth begins to emerge. The story displays a lot of heart as it follows Alfgrimur through his childhood.

The Fish Can Sing is also a great primer on early 20th century Reykjavik. The story takes place just as Iceland’s capital is transitioning from a cow town to a proper city. When you visit Reykjavik, you can still see vestiges from its history along with an emerging hip street culture.


Mumbai (Bombay) - Shantarum by Gregory David Roberts
Recommended by my friend Ferdy.

A heroin addict who committed a series of armed robberies, Roberts escaped from Pentridge Prison in Melbourne and spent ten years on the run. For much of that time he lived in Mumbai, a city with which he credits his salvation. With a false passport, expired tourist visa and no money, he accepts an invitation to live in one of Mumbai's vast illegal slums. In this compelling tale based on his own experiences he describes a side of life which tourists might only glance at from the comfort of their high rise hotels. 


Puglia - Head over Heel by Chris Harrison
Recommended by Jan Robinson of Budget Travel Talk

Tag lined “seduced by a Southern Italian” Head over Heel is a real life Romance, written by an Australian Male, a species not always known for romanticism. After meeting Daniela (with one L and said with a smile for correct pronunciation) in a bar in Dublin and spending 24 hours with her, Chris returns to Australia and Daniela to Puglia in the Heel of Italy. After two trips to Australia in six months Daniela invites Chris to live with her in Puglia and he does. The reader falls in love with Daniela and, via Chris’s witty observations of her provincial white-washed fishing village, with Italy itself.

The story is funny and sad (Chris helps nurse Daniela’s father through dementia) and not without turmoil. There is a Sicilian summer break with the whole family and a move to Milan before the book reaches it’s climax.

Venice - The Brunetti Detective Novels by Donna Leon
Recommended by Nora, a dear friend who seems to spend half her life in Venice.

If you want to find your way around Venice, learn what the current social and political problems are and what the Venetians are thinking, look for any of the Brunetti detective novels by Donna Leon. There are 27 of them, the latest of which is called The Temptation of Forgiveness.  Donna Leon is an American writer who has lived in Venice for many years. Her main character, Guido Brunetti, is a Venetian policeman who lives with his wife and family in Venice and works there. You can follow him as he walks through the historic centre, catches a vaporetto, drinks a grappa and talks to the locals. By the end of each book, he also solves the crime. A warning though - you may get hooked!



Tokyo  Only in Tokyo by Jonelle Patrick
Recommended by Helen Foster of Destination>Differentville

Only in Tokyo is a book series which follows the fortunes of detective Kenji Nakamura and his friend Yumi Hata. The characters' adventures take place in different parts of the city and offer an insight into Japanese culture - from exploring Tokyo's host clubs to explaining the etiquette of modern Japanese relationships. They help the reader understand the mishmash of modernity and deep-rooted tradition that is Tokyo today.

Shogun by James Clavell
Recommendation and photo by Kavita Favelle of kavey eats

A fictional book set in Japan's feudal era, and borrowing from the true stories of a number of characters, Shogun tells the tale of an English sea pilot stranded in Japan when his ship is blown ashore during a storm. Initially taken captive, John Blackthorne later earns the trust of a daimyo (warlord) and is eventually given a limited freedom, serving him. We follow Blackthorne's story as he slowly learns about Japanese culture, society and people and comes to respect and even love many aspects of the country.  His story is interwoven into a wider tale of Japanese daimyo (lords), samurai (soldiers) and villagers, European merchants and religious emissaries and the conflict between traditional Japanese values and the Western cultures now pushing in to Japan. There is a love story strand to Shogun too, a poignant one that further showcases the difference between Japanese and Western mores of the time.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden 
Suggested by Helen Foster and recommended by myself.

Memoirs of a Geisha is a book you will struggle to put down. Although written in an autobiographical style it is a fictional novel of the life of a famous Geisha. At nine years old Chiyo enters a geisha house where she spends her early years learning the art of pleasing rich and sometimes powerful men. The story follows her training and her life as a geisha set against the background of the turmoils of twentieth century Japan. 


Petra Married to a Bedouin by Marguerite van Geldermalsen
Recommendation and photo by Elaine and David of The Whole World is a Playground

Petra was once the centre of the Nabatean civilization, a nomadic Bedouin tribe who roamed the Arabian Desert. Married to a Bedouin is an autobiographical account of the author's journey from New Zealand backpacker to wife of a Bedouin living with her new husband in his Petra cave. The story is an insight into the life of Petra through the eyes of someone from a very different, modern, world.


I Dreamed of Africa and Night of the Lions by Kuki Gallman
Recommended by Natasha and Cameron of The World Pursuit

I Dreamed of Africa is an autobiographical account of the Italian author's life in Kenya after moving there in 1972. Her descriptions of the wilderness bring this vast country to life. Night of the Lions is a collection of short stories. 


Lord of the Rings Peter Jackson's movie adaptation of the books by J.R.R Tolkien
Recommendation and photo by Margarita Steinhardt of The Wildlife Diaries

New Zealand is world-famous for its stunning landscapes and untouched natural beauty. Tolkien’s Gondor, the Pelonnor Fields, the Misty Mountains, the Pass of Caradhras, the Anduin River and so much more have been brought to life by Peter Jackson’s magnificent film adaptations of Lord of the Rings. Recognizing the stunning locations from the films allows you to travel through two places at once - New Zealand and Middle Earth. Discovering Isengard in Glenorchy and Paradise, Gondor in the grassy fields of Twizel, the Misty Mountains in Mt Cook National Park and the Anduin River at Kawarau Gorge in Queenstown, it is easy to lose yourself between the striking beauty of one world and the mystical storytelling of the other.


Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Recommended by Janiel Green of Culture Trekking

Scotland is a place of magic and wonder, that continues to inspire writers. Outlander, a novel series turned film series, is the tale of Claire, an English woman who unintentionally travels through time back to the 17th century. She lands in the middle of a skirmish between Jacobite rebels and English soldiers and is rescued by James Fraser, a rebel with whom she falls in love. This series was filmed in Scotland for the first book. Most of the set locations are well loved. If you plan your visit carefully, you can see Doune Castle and hear the voice of James guide you through the castle. 


Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
This is one of my personal recommendations

I am going to go out on a limb here and tell you that Nelson Mandela's autobiography is not the most readable book I have ever slogged my way through. Mandela's early years growing up in a rural village, and his life as a successful lawyer straining against Apartheid are fascinating, but somewhere along the way the book deteriorates into a platform for recounting too many of his speeches and other political writings.  Speeches notwithstanding, as the most significant figure in the history of South Africa and a man who taught the world a lesson in forgiveness and humanity, Mandela deserves to be read by anyone with even a passing interest in his country. 

For the half dozen people on the planet who may not know his story, Mandela was an anti-Apartheid activist and one of the founders of the military wing of the African National Congress. Captured in 1962 he spent 27 years in prison, 18 of them on Robben Island, an inhospitable rocky island off the coast of Cape Town. Both during his imprisonment and after his release in 1990 Mandela continued the fight for equality.  In 1994 he became South Africa's first president elected by universal suffrage. 


Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
Recommended by Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views

You may know Ondaatje from The English Patient but what you may not know is that he is from Sri Lanka. He spent many of his formative years with his mother in England but he returned to Sri Lanka in the early 80’s to shake the family tree.

The book reads like a novel with a kooky cast of colorful post-colonial misfits. There’s drinking, dancing and drownings. Not to mention the love affairs, train hijackings and costume parties. The book travels between Colombo and the countryside offering up a very atmospheric glimpse into Sri Lanka.


Savannah, Georgia - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
This is one of my personal recommendations.

John Berendt seems to have upset half the population of Savannah with his compelling true tale of the killing of Danny Hansford by Jim Williams, and Williams subsequent four murder trails. Danny Hansford was Williams young and wild lover while Williams was one of the city's elite. Williams admitted he fired the shot which killed Hansford but claimed it was self defence. He was found guilty at his first two trials, both of which were overturned on appeal, got a hung jury in the third and was finally acquitted after a fourth trial. 

Hansford was shot in Williams' residence at Mercer House overlooking one of Savannah's famous historic squares. The book oozes atmosphere as it delves into the highs and lows of Savannah society and the colourful characters who inhabit it.

Charleston, South Carolina - The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Recommendation and photo by Jamie Italiane of The Daily Adventures of Me

The Invention of Wings is based on the life of Sarah Grimké, an early abolitionist and feminist who lived in Charleston in the early 1800s. It tells the story of her fight for freedom for herself and her slave, Hetty. The story is told from both characters points of view. After you read it, you can walk along the brick streets of Charleston or enjoy the moss-covered trees outside the city and imagine the area’s history of slaves and women struggling for freedom.


The Sacred Willow by Duong Van Mal Elliott
Recommendation and photo by Marianne Rogerson of Mum on the Move

The Sacred Willow spans the lives of four generations of the author's Vietnamese family. The book recalls the family’s struggles through more than 100 years of Vietnam’s recent history, covering French colonialism, the Japanese occupation during WWII and the Viet Minh’s struggle for independence, including the American intervention and the ensuing Vietnam War. The book brings to life the history and culture of the country and gives an insight into the impact Ho Chi Minh had on the people of Vietnam and the divide between north and south.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - They Are All My Family: A Daring Rescue in the Chaos of Saigon's Fall by John Riordan
Recommendation and photo by Lydia C. Lee of Holidays and Hellidaze

This excellent, and strangely delightful book is a must read for visitors to Ho Chi Minh city. Telling of the fall of Saigon through the eyes of someone who lived through the turmoil, the book gives an unexpected insight into life in Vietnam at the time. They Are All My Family brings an extra vividness to the streets and the area around the Continental Hotel, the US embassy and the historic moments of the Independence Palace. A very human side to a terrible situation.

Saigon by Anthony Grey
Recommendation and photo by Lydia C. Lee of Holidays and Hellidays

Saigon tells of three intertwined families in Vietnam - one French, one Vietnamese and one American. Starting in the French Colonial era and spanning to the end of the Vietnam war the story covers many major historical events as well as traditional celebrations. It brings a life to the Imperial city and area around Hue, as well as the lonely countryside and little villages near the Demilitarized Zone, where the French battled to maintain their hold on the country. 

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  1. I hope to work my way through these books, then perhaps travel to each destination!

    1. Some of the recommendations sound like great reads. I too will be working my way through the list.

  2. Nice post. I've read a lot of these. Curious on the Sydney pick. Will need to read....

    1. You will love it. I defy anyone to be able to put the Secret River down once they get into it. The ABC made a series a few years ago too but like all ABC series it is hard to find once they start selling the DVDs in the ABC Stores. I tracked it down on ABC catch-up, having read the book when it first came out. I lent the book to my mother when she was in hospital once and every time I went to visit her she had the book in her hands, despite poor eyesight and poor health. The story is set near Wisemans Ferry. It represents a history lesson worth reading.

  3. Great post, lots of good books to check out! Re the Mad Max post, it was really interesting to learn that part of the newest movie was filmed in Namibia when I visited last month. The surreal desert/moon-like landscape has apparently been backdrop to quite a few films!

    1. Namibia is not exactly on my bucket list but I would love to see that Chronicles of Riddick spaceship in Coober Pedy. Now I just have to convince David to go.

  4. After reading Tears of the Moon and Kimberley Sun written by Di Morrissey I had to head to Broome. It didn’t let me down. And not surprisingly the two of them were sold in lots of places there!

    1. We have been to Broome twice. I am going to add Tears of the Moon to my reading list. Thanks.

  5. YES, what a great list! I bet book recommendations from travel bloggers might be a recipe for buying a lot of plane tickets... #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Haha - I know what you mean. There is nothing like reading about a place or seeing a film on it to make you want to go.

  6. I love how you set this up, Lyn. It is a great resource, so I know have many more books to add to my list.

    1. Writing this post, with all the great contributions from others, will keep me in reading material for a couple of years I think. Glad you liked the post.

  7. will add a couple of these on my reading list #theweeklypostcard

    1. Quite a few are going on my reading list - the ones I haven't already read.

  8. Oh what a unique post to gather both books and movies for each destination! sadly, most movies/books for Germany that I can think are always about WWII or the Cold War. Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. David and I leave for Germany next week. We hope to cycle around Lake Constance - not the whole way. Perhaps I will come across a few books while we are there that I can include in the list.

  9. Travel memoirs are one of my favorite reading genres - and I have missed quite a few of these. Adding them to my list. Great idea to compile them all.

    1. I intend to keep this going and add books and films as I think of them or they are suggested to me. I'm hoping to make it a resource for others (and myself). If you have any suggestions please let me know.

  10. So many great books! I've only read One Hundred Years of Solitude, Lord of the Rings, Memoirs of a Geisha and Long Walk to Freedom! I´d love to read the The Corfu Trilogy cause I'm in love with the Greek Islands! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. I haven't read either One Hundred Years of Solitude or Lord of the Rings but I loved Memoirs of a Geisha and read Long Walk to Freedom before we visited South Africa for the first time..

  11. Great list - I had read Memoirs of a Geisha and watched Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The book Memoirs is much better than the film. I enjoyed watching Midnight - absolutely brilliant! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is one of those rare movies which does the book justice - almost.

  12. Lots of great books, like One Hundred Years of Solitude which has tons of pages. My Book Club tackled it upon my suggestion and hated me for it. But it really gets you into Columbia. And then there are others on your list, especially those that were made into movies, that also are wonderful reads.

    1. A few people have talked about One Hundred Years of Solitude, maybe I should add it to my reading list.

  13. Great post - I love reading books set in places we plan to or have visited. You might want to like and follow the Packabook FB page (previously it was a blog) and has so many wonderful suggestions from travelers (armchair and real life) that I will never get them all read. Loved the The Light Between Oceans. Another you might want to read for Greece is Eleni by Nicholas Gage.

    1. Thank you for the suggestions. I read The Light Between Oceans recently. I enjoyed it but found it a bit predictable at times. David and I have been to that part of Western Australia a couple of times so I could visualise the setting really well.

  14. What a list Lyn! On the South Island of New Zealand now. We saw Mount Cook aka Misty Mountains aka Pass of Caradhras, and we also saw Arthur's Pass, which is not too far from the final battle scene of The Lion, the With and the Wardrobe, Chronicles of Narnia movie. Heading to Wellington in under a week where we can see 5 LOTR filming locations.


    1. Wellington had lots of LOTR things when we were last there. There were exhibits of LOTR costumes at various buildings around the city centre. I am fairly sure there is a whole museum dedicated to the films. You might want to check out Rhonda Albom's blog Albom Adventures. She lives in New Zealand and has written at least one post on LOTR stuff in Wellington. My favourite LOTR spot in New Zealand is Glenorchy and the nearby town of Paradise which was used to film Isengard.

  15. Making a list like this is quite ambitious. You have gathered a nice selection of destination books and movies to refer to for upcoming trips.

    1. It is even more ambitious than it looks. I already have a list of books and films which I need to add.

  16. Definitely missing Peter Hessler's River Town and Oracle Bones for China.

    1. I will check them out. I love the name of your blog by the way!

  17. What a creative article! I took notes...there are so many wonderful books to read about destinations visited and those still to come in my life. Thank you!

    1. I know what you mean about wonderful books to read. Organising this post has add several years worth of books to my reading list - lol!

  18. So many books and movies to add to my reading and watch list. Thank you!