I know a lot of people will wonder why I didn’t add New York, Los Angeles, The Shire (New Zealand), Orlando or London to the list, but these cities by themselves already have a lot of advertising and proven reputations as popular tourist destinations. These are my favorite spots and are not meant to be taken as the top destinations for geeks and nerds. If you have a suggestion, feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly. 🙂
Whenever Mr Enginerd and I travel, we make it our mission to find off the beaten path nerdy treats in traditional destinations, oftentimes to explore attractions related to science and technology. Most often we visit popular filming locations and reminisce about the latest movie made there, stop at science, aerospace or children’s museum and go tour local breweries. In some instances, my friends and I have traveled domestically and abroad to attend comic cons or themed conventions (such as Star Trek or Star Wars). I figured that with all this expertise, there must be people out there that could benefit from geeking up their vacation!
Here are a few travel ideas to satisfy your inner nerd:
The Louvre – Paris, France
Robert Langdon searched it for clues to find information pertinent to the Holy Grail in The DaVinci Code. The Mona Lisa sits behind protective glass a short distance away from mummies, the statue of Nike, and an awesome pyramid in the lobby. You can get lost in the many vaults and wings of this enormous museum, full of paintings, sculptures and cultural artifacts. People may visit Paris for the romance and the Eiffel Tower, but true nerds knows that leaving without stopping and exploring the Louvre is pure madness! If you have younger kids, you can tell them you are going to visit Boov headquarters (from the movie Home).
Paris has been the setting for many movies and books as well. Visit Notre Dame, walk the city and survey the architecture, or sing in front of the Moulin Rouge. Take a tour of the Palace in Versailles and pretend to be King or Queen for a day. Just don’t expect the locals to play along, or help you recreate Le Miserables!
Prague, Czech Republic
It is hard to find a setting in Prague that doesn’t remind you of Blade or Mission Impossible. The myriad of movies filmed here make it the best place to geek out if you are a movie buff. There is something for everyone; castles, art, brews, even Kafka hanging from the rafters. Praha is so cool that beer is cheaper than water! A tour of the Pilsner Urquell brewery will shed light on why.
If you are a fan of fire arms, there is a tour Prague Tours Direct that picks you up and takes you to a firing range outside of the city. They treat it as a competition for your party. The price includes beers, a certificate and bragging rights.
Akihabara – Tokyo, Japan
This is the mecca for anime and gaming nerds. Akihabara is Japan’s electronics and nerd/geek district where you can find anything from Mazinger Z statues to Japanese animated pornography. Ladies walk the streets in cosplay and hand out flyers to the business nearby. During the summer time you get fans with advertisements instead of flyers!
As you walk around Tokyo you will see vending machines that sell almost anything imaginable. A stop at the train station may result in spotting the Shinkansen or bullet train. The city is very organized. Make sure you catch the right train and follow the rules to not upset the locals. English speaking is limited but signage in public areas is either in multiple languages or consists of emojis and anime acting out the warnings or instructions.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, US Territories
Puerto Rico has been used as a stand in for cities like New Orleans and Rio De Janeiro and in some cases Old San Juan has been portrayed as Havana, Cuba because of its similar Spanish architecture. Its beaches and cuisine attract many celebrities, and during the holidays you can find Ricky Martin, Marc Anthony or J-Lo visiting family. It is common to see famous basketball and baseball stars in the night clubs and high end hotel casinos during the off season. Most cruises stop in Puerto Rico, St Thomas or St Croix all reachable by plane from Miami International Airport.
For science buffs, Arecibo has the biggest radio telescopes in the world (it will be dethroned soon by a new construction in China) featured in the movie Contact. SETI has offices there and tours are available daily. If you are a James Bond fan, Goldeneye’s last sequence was filmed in this location as well. Old San Juan is mainly a history buff’s paradise. The architecture in the city dates all the way back to the 1600s. You can see many fortresses, palaces and cathedrals in an area of less than 5 miles. In Cataño, you can tour the Bacardi facility and quench the thirst of your inner pirate or rum runner.
San Diego, California
“Keep it classy, San Diego” – Ron Burgundy
That statement says it all. Beautiful beaches, a world class zoo, Sea World, Aircraft Carrier museums, the Padres (who host a Ron Burgundy night) and the Chargers, this city has it all. Although Top Gun Academy is no longer in Miramar, it is still a treat to swing by an pretend to be in the Danger Zone. Lindberg Airport is the busiest one runway airport in the USA which makes the ride into the city both memorable and exciting. Rent a convertible, go to the beach, visit the many bars, microbreweries and foodie attractions in the nearby cities. FYI – the weather in May is notoriously gray so be aware that Memorial Weekend is not the best time to visit. Any other time of the year you will get clear and sunny skies.
There are many tech companies in the area and many Navy related attractions, not just Miramar. Because of the myriad of activities in this area, including a nearby Legoland, I guarantee that you will be fully entertained during your stay. However, the main reason San Diego is on this list and is popular with geeks and nerds is because of their annual Comic Con. During this event, many studios and comic book superpowers will unveil the latest trailers and products aimed at the sci-fi and geek community. Although lines can be long and the overnight queues daunting, the true hardcore fans will make the most of the camp outs and fraternize with their fellow brethren. You never know who or what will make an appearance, as most are sworn to secrecy about the big reveals during the conference. However, it is always worth the wait!
Transformers. Divergent. Batman. Home Alone. Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. Many movies have been filmed in the Windy City thanks to its variety of bridges, tall buildings, museums, sports teams and incredible skyline views. Home of the Chicago Bulls, the Cubs, the Bears, and yes the world Champion Blackhawks, up and coming Fire and MLB’s White Sox, this city has something for everyone. The Adler Planetarium, has one of the first planetariums ever built in the USA. The view from the Willis (alias Sears) Tower is amazing, and easy to appreciate due to the thick Plexiglas boxes that hover just outside the building’s observation deck. You can sport the Boeing headquarters from up top! If you prefer a more trendy experience, have a drink at the Hancock building. The floor to ceiling windows in the women’s bathroom are a must see.
Chi Town is another brew friendly city that has many culinary treats to pair with your cold one. Pizza is definitely the go to local food, and it will surprise you to learn Chicago Style pies have been judged to better than New York’s pies! The architectural tour is a must do for history and art buffs. Pick any museum or tour, you won’t go wrong.
Dubrovnik has become infamously known as King’s Landing from the Game of Thrones (GoT) HBO series based on the George R. R. Martin books. This amazing walled city dates back to the 1300s and is everything you wish a medieval capital city should be: architecturally enthralling and mysterious. You will find ethnic cuisine, souvenir shops, museums and historical sites, and free clean drinking water fountains everywhere! Croatians take pride in their high moral standards, Christian values and courtesy, however, drinking, sun bathing and partying is allowed as long as you keep your clothes on. Buy the passes to walk the wall and enter the fortress to fully enjoy the view or rent a kayak and paddle around the bay. Don’t forget to take the Dubrovnik walking tour with Eva, who was part of the GoT stand in cast and you will be as close as you can get to having been a part of the action. Other destinations used for filming in Croatia include Split and some sites off the walking tour near Dubrovnik. Research your favorite scenes and be prepared to recreate them for a nice pictorial memento.
San Francisco, California
Hardcore nerds will agree that San Francisco is central to the Sci-Fi universe, and the home area of some of their most revered icons. From Steve Jobs to the nearby Skywalker Ranch, this area has something for everyone in the family. Sci-fi fans cannot miss visiting the land of the Terminator, the Star Fleet Academy and Federation Headquarters. The city has hosted many movie franchises and TV shows, making it a must see for movie buffs and connoisseurs. If the sci-fi angle doesn’t appeal to you, the Golden Gate Bridge and Silicon Valley will keep you engaged, especially if you visit Apple or Google’s headquarters.
In San Fran you cannot pass by a building or billboard that doesn’t tout the latest movie, technological product, conference, tech start up or phone app. If you are into history, visit Alcatraz and buy a City Pass to explore the local museums and family attractions. Don’t forget to swing by the Cable Car museum, a must see for all engineering and science buffs, where you will learn how the world famous mode of transportation operates. If you have the time, go to nearby Vallejo’s Six Flags where they filmed 50 First Dates and meet the animals that stared opposite Adam Sandler or take a stroll through Napa Valley’s many wineries.
Wear your favorite supper hero shirt, express yourself and enjoy the town’s many lifestyles and communities. Pretend Godzilla is after you. Geek out! The best part of being in “The City by the Bay” is that no one will judge you. Nerdtopia awaits!
Washington D.C, USA
One word is all you need to understand why this city is a destination for all types of nerds: Smithsonian. They have a museum for every single topic your heart and brain desires. My favorite is the Science and Space Museums, yes there are two in the city area, where you can see many artifacts related to space travel, airplanes and studying the cosmos. To fully enjoy the architecture, history and offerings of D.C you must stay at least a week! Hurrying through the many museums and attractions in the area can get tiresome. Come with a plan and stick to it, and do make sure that you find tickets and tours for the White House and the Capitol building before you arrive (these attractions are very popular and have set hours of operations and conditions to enter). This city is also famous for all the cameos in sci-fi movies, political series and end of the world dramas. Be prepared to learn and come back home smarter!
Vancouver, B.C. Canada
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Ready? Vancouver, British Columbia is famous for its movie recording studios and for serving as the real taping location of many movies. For example, The Fantastic Four’s headquarters is a building in downtown and scenes from Underworld and Robocop (the remake) where filmed in the area. Last time I checked, The X Files had been filmed in Vancouver studios, and so was Stargate. Unfortunately, these studios are closed sets and do not offer tours. However, I’ve run into many film crews during my visits and have even had to stop in traffic while a car chase scene was executed! You have a good a chance to run into big Canadian celebrities during Canada Day celebrations; keep an eye out for Ryan Reynolds or Pamela Anderson.
If movies aren’t your thing, the city offers many architectural, historical, shopping, and recreational areas that are very modern and cosmopolitan. Comparable to New York, Chicago or San Francisco, there is a very vibrant and active art and science community, with many museums, galleries, theaters and festivals to enjoy. Take a tour of Stanley Park, visit the 2010 Winter Game Torch or cross the Capilano suspension bridge. Sit back at the many restaurants, pubs and microbreweries and take a bite out of the city.