A vacation to a new city requires some prep work. I’m not talking about the reservations or tickets, this is about getting everyone excited and doing some minor homework before you fly across an ocean or drive across the country. What books should you and your teens read or movies should you watch before traveling on your next trip to help you get familiar with local authors, culture, or ancient lore?
This list is gathered from crowd sourcing from friends and other bloggers, as well as my own suggestions. Keep in mind this list was created for older children and teens. Some material is not suitable for younger kids.
TravelTeening Book and Movie Suggestions:
(This list will be updated periodically. All links are to Amazon.com, but many of these can be found on Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.de. If you have additional recommendations, please include in the comments.)
Amadeus. (Movie) Remember the 1980s movie about the life of Mozart? This is still a good one, but skip the director’s cut. As there are some adult themes, I recommend this movie more for older teens. It’s a good introduction to Mozart, who you will “see/hear” all over Vienna. Much of it was filmed in the Czech Republic, but it looks pretty similar.
Sissi. (Movie) I wished we had watched this before we went. The Hapsburgs are all over Vienna and they adore their Sissi. It would be good to know more about her before you go.
The Third Man (Movie). This famous post-war movie was predominantly shot in Vienna during the late 1940s. We actually saw the original version while in Vienna at the Burg Kino (the oldest theater in Vienna). It’s a murder mystery that has very little to do with the city itself other than being filmed there. Still it’s a fun scene-setter before a visit. The Third Man walking tour might make for an interesting post-movie adventure.
Sound of Music (Movie) Another oldie but goodie. If you’re visiting Salzburg (or really anywhere in Bavaria), this is a good place to start for everyone. The movie was filmed all over Salzburg and it’s fun to find places from the film in the city.
The Adventures of Tin Tin. (Book/Movie) Tin Tin, a local reporter, is Brussels’ hometown comic book hero who helps to solve crimes with his dog, Snowy. If your kids haven’t been introduced to Tin Tin and these delightful stories, there’s no better time than now.
London’s Strangest Tales. (Book) I picked this book up at a London book shop on a very rainy day. My kids, then 10 and 11, loved reading the short tales about various places in the city. Packed with an assortment of tidbits that we didn’t know about, it’s great for younger and older teens to familiarize yourself with the city.
Harry Potter Series (Book and/or Movies) Need I say more? If your teens (or you) haven’t read any of the books, at least read the first one before you make your way to Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station.
Sherlock. (Books and/or TV show) England’s most famous detective is a classic for all, regardless of whether or not you are travelling. However, it does take place in London, giving a bit of background to the inner workings of the city. Be it the late 19th century novels by Conan-Doyle, the BBC TV show, or one of the many adaptations in between, Sherlock Holmes is a fan favorite and lives a one of London’s fictional heroes. Of course, the original books are best.
Notting Hill. (Movie) A favorite romantic comedy of mine from many years ago. Mostly filmed in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London, this will give you a feel for London, from the ‘rom-com’ perspective.
My Fair Lady. (Movie) This eight-time Oscar-winning 1960s Audrey Hepburn movie (if that doesn’t sell you, I don’t know what will) is based off the play and set in early 20th century London. The great cast, stage-like filming, and catchy tunes kept my younger tweens, at the time, engaged.
Monty Python (Movies and TV show) The 70s comedy group Monty Python, is an iconic representation of British humor. Their three movies and TV show are widely known throughout England. Their influence is so great that jokes, references, and nods to their sketches can be found across London, many times in places you wouldn’t expect.
Midnight in Paris. (Movie) This movie has some wonderful scenes all over Paris that will get everyone excited for an upcoming trip. There’s some time travel involved, which always confuses my kids. The movie is appropriate for teens and will introduce them to Picasso, Hemingway, Gauguin, Dali, and Fitzgerald.
Julie and Julia. (Movie) I have both seen the movie and read the book it’s based off of, My Life in France. My daughter and I watched the movie before our trip to Paris. This lovely movie is a bit more of a “girly movie,” but flashes between Paris in the 1950s and New York City post-9/11. If you love to eat and adore French food, this is a great appetizer for any Paris vacation.
Mission Paris Scavenger Hunt. (Book) Everyone loves a scavenger hunt. This book came recommended by another fellow family traveler. Mission Paris takes young travelers through the famous sights of Paris, engaging them in an exciting scavenger hunt as you explore city landmarks together—landmarks, culture, art, and monuments. Seems like it would be fun to read ahead of time and take along with you. Looks like they have them for Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Washington, D.C., and New York.
DaVinci Code (Book) The famous Dan Brown mystery novel is a fun way to get introduced to some of the more “secret” aspects of Paris. Drawing many unique landmarks and art pieces of Paris and France together, Brown creates thrilling conspiracy theory that all will enjoy.
All the Light We Cannot See. (Book). Two of the four of us read this book. This moving tale is about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. While the beginning part takes place in Paris, it moves to war-torn St. Malo.
Saving Private Ryan. (Movie) This late 1990s movie opens with the landings on D-Day and a group of U.S. soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action. If you are going to Normandy to pay tribute to those fallen soldiers, this movie will certainly help put it into perspective for your older teens as there is quite a bit of violence.
Night Crossing. (Movie) This 1980s movie is about the family who crossed the wall in a hot air balloon. Not cinematic brilliance by any means, but it really does a good job conveying the great lengths people went to for freedom. Great for a teen audience.
Goodbye Lenin. (Movie) We saw this a year before our trip to Berlin. I didn’t enjoy it enough to re-watch it, but also a good one to see with your older kids before a trip to Berlin.
Look Who’s Back / Er Ist Wieder Da. (Movie) This one is just for fun. Filmed in Berlin and with the premise of Hitler coming back to life. It’s a comedy….but a little thought provoking too. My kids watched it and found it both amusing and informative.
How Now Brown Frau. (Book). I read this shortly after arriving in Germany. It’s Ok for kids, but the subject matter may not be interesting as it takes you through an Australian woman’s first year in Germany married to a German and with a new baby. So you get the German wedding and details about birthing a baby in Germany. It is hilarious with laugh out loud moments. If you are moving to or traveling to Germany, I highly recommend this for either the adults or older teens.
Lola Rennt. (Movie) Run Lola Run is one of the few German movies to get cross-Atlantic traction. Filmed in a just-reunited Berlin, the heroine of the movie has to manage to come up with 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes and deliver it to the other side of town. Three different endings, lots of running, and a great soundtrack.
German Men Sit Down to Pee & Other Insights into German Culture. (Book) My dad gifted us this funny book before we arrived in Germany. This collection of short little cultural bits and tips highlights some basic rules and cultural norms. While much of it is true, (as I’ve discovered since being in Germany) some is over-exaggerated, but still a fun read for the whole family.
The Caliph’s House. (Book) Recommended by a fellow foreign service spouse,The Caliph’s House charts a year in the life of one family who takes a tremendous gamble. As we follow Tahir on his travels throughout the kingdom, from Tangier to Marrakech to the Sahara, we discover a world of fierce contrasts that any true adventurer would be thrilled to call home.
The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia. (Book) My husband gifted this book for me because I love Scandinavia, and he believes I may have been Swedish in a former life. Michael Booth highlights history, cultural references, economics, and general pop cultural things to know about Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland. He hits on Hygge, education, immigrants, elves, Vikings, food, alcohol, oil, and feminism. There is nothing inappropriate for teens, but I’m not sure how many would find it interesting. The author definitely has an agenda, but if you are taking a trip to at least one of these countries or lumping them as a package tour, this is a good book to scan (pun intended) before you go.
Pippi Longstocking. (Book/Movie) Astrid Lindgren is Sweden’s sweetheart, with her own museum in Stockholm. Her books are quintessentially Swedish. Kids and adults love reading about the adventures of Pippi. It’s important to know, and even adore, Pippi for being the precocious tween that she is.
A Man Called Ove. (Book/Movie) This story of the grumpy old man next door story is probably not for teens, but it does give you a hint of Swedish modern culture and “rules.” They recently made the book into a movie with English subtitles.
Brave. (Movie) Always a favorite for everyone at every age. While not historically related to much, it’s fun to get your kids excited about the music and culture as this adventurous princess defies tradition to undo a beastly curse.
Where’s Me Plaid. (Book) This is a hilarious account of a couple’s road trip through Scotland to find the author’s Scottish roots, which apparently are linked to William Wallace. During the book, he covers most of the country’s highlights (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Glencoe, St. Andrew’s, Inverness, Dunnottar, just to name a few). My entire family read this book, some before the trip and some after, and it’s age-appropriate for teens. It’s a great introduction to help you understand the towns and some culture, plus you’ll laugh out loud during some parts.
Braveheart. (Movie) I recommend, with a caveat, this for your oldest of teens. I re-watched this on the way home from Scotland because the Scots love to talk about William Wallace. It is super violent, but if you have teens already watching Game of Thrones, this is not much worse. Good history lesson to prep for Scotland, but with the strong caution of material not being suitable for kids.
Do you have additional recommendations? Please include in the comments.