When you need to get away from reality, sometimes leaving your hometown doesn’t get you far enough. Fortunately, that place just outside reality, the place that exists only on celluloid, in books, and in our minds, is home to some of the most seductive vacation spots with the power to transport you into another world entirely.
It’s also where the worst of purgatories reside, so you won’t want to get too deeply lost in that vast vortex of imagination; we wouldn’t want you to spend your two weeks off stumbling through H.P. Lovecraft’s foreboding Arkham, nor would we recommend traveling all the way to the Little Prince’s B-612, which, other than a vain rose, a few small volcanoes, and some weed-like plant life, doesn’t have too much to offer visitors. We’ve gotten lost in bad books and movies and comic books before, too, so we’ve put together a selective insider’s Baedeker to only the very best imaginary vacation spots we wish we could visit. Follow our guide, below the jump, and tell us where else you would go.
A Bacchanalian land of milk and honey, the city dreamt up by the 13th-century Middle English poem “The Land of Cockaigne” — one of the famous medieval Kildare Poems — has streets made of cakes and none of the strife associated with peasant life. Glut and hedonism are the law of the land, where every material wish is immediately granted. The poem’s original intent was something of a rebuke, but it did a bad job of defaming the orgiastic fantasyland, where, in the words of T.I., you can have whatever you like. The poem only whetted humanity’s ravenous appetite for such a place; the Brother Grimm later wrote the city into German culture as Schlarraffenland, and numerous writers and entertainers have assimilated the idea into their own cultures and languages as well. Cockaigne is where vacationers go to give up on Apollo, give into Dionysus, and feast on excess to their voracious hearts’ content.
Must-see attractions: Edible streets, cheese rain
Created by illustrator James Gurney in his early-‘90s illustrated books, and built on in the eponymous early 2000s TV miniseries, the lost island of Dinotopia is one on which dinosaurs and humans coexist peacefully in one big, happy, socialist society — think Jurassic Park without the constant risk of death. This breeding ground of morality, compassion, and cooperation is fun for the whole family and will reinforce your love of dinosaurs. Unfortunately, with its splendor comes a drawback: travel both to and from the island is extremely unsafe. On the plus side, it’s the perfect destination for a never-ending vacation.
Must-see attractions: World Beneath, where dinosaurs survived weather change and often go to die; Rainy Basin, home to the island’s largest dinosaurs for the real adventurers; swimming with dolphins on the shores of the island
Big Rock Candy Mountain
The Big Rock Candy Mountain (as interpreted by Wee Sing and other kids’ musical acts) is a vibrant children’s paradise with peppermint trees and a lake of stew (and soda too!), where candy grows on trees — and instantly regenerates when you pick it. The critters are friendly, as is everyone, really, and there are constant opportunities to engage in spontaneous song and dance throughout the small-town, scrumptious mountainscape. While the directions to Big Rock are fairly simple — slide down a plastic yard set and into a magical world — just make sure you don’t end up at the wrong Big Rock Candy Mountain, the hobo paradise celebrated in the 1928 song from which the kids’ version was adapted. There you’ll find in a land of cigarette trees, with a lake of gin. Maybe that sounds like an even better vacation to you. Either way, for those concerned with hygiene, be forewarned that never changing your socks is for some reason a standard of both a child’s and a hobo’s utopia.
Must-see Attractions: Soda Lake; peppermint trees; local goon, a large, spotted bunny being punished for wrongdoings
In the mountains of James Hilton’s Tibet lies the heaven on earth Shangri-La, so strikingly beautiful and peaceful that it has become synonymous with the concept of utopia itself. A lamasery in the Himalayas in Hilton’s Lost Horizon, Shangri-La is meant to preserve the histories of Rome that would otherwise be destroyed by violent world war. Those who spend their time in the remote monastery enjoy idyllic happiness, long life, and inner peace, not to mention an exotic Himalayan view, unscathed by warfare.
Must-see attractions: The Lost Books of Livi, said to be a good read
One of the many planets to make a brief appearance in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, Bellerophon sits on a varied landscape that spans canyons, ocean, and desert, but despite its diversity, it’s among the least densely populated planets. The small community that does dot its surface are a tremendously affluent bunch who live in exceptional luxury. Over its moon’s ocean hover private, luxurious anti-gravity estates completely self-contained and cut off from the rest of the planet. Each comes with its own surround ocean view and state-of-the-art security system. Bellerophon is the perfect honeymoon destination — and a nice spot, generally, to escape from the world.
Must-see sites: Isis Canyon, the most deserted spot in the world; the Estates, hovering private islands
The only all-magic town in the whole of England, J.K. Rowling’s Hogsmeade Village is essential for any muggle traveler looking for an authentic shot of wizarding life. A small township lined with pubs, local vendors, and gag gift stores, Hogsmeade most closely resembles a quaint muggle college town. But because of its close proximity to Hogwarts — and constant influx of visiting third-year students — Hogsmeade still has plenty to entertain the under-21 set, including the self-explanatory Shrieking Shack, Zonko’s Joke Shop, and Honeydukes Sweet Shop. The medieval inn at the Three Broomsticks is a reliable stay and a thriving local hangout spot, but, of course, like most other spots in town, it’s not impenetrable by the occasional disagreeable creatures who roam its hallways.
Must-see attractions: Shrieking Shack; notorious bad-boy town bar Hog’s Head; Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shop, a great locally lauded date spot.
One of the most prized Elven outposts in Middle-earth, the serene woods of Lothlórien are filled with gargantuan trees whose leaves turn to gold in the fall. Lothlórien is also an architectural enigma, its trees spiraled with glowing, embellished stairwells and other such stylized designs; if you liked the Gaudí tour of Barcelona, you’ll enjoy this magical destination. While in Lothlórien, you’ll of course need to stop by the many awe-inspiring nearby sites, including the picturesque valley of Rivendell, the Glittering Caves, and the legendary, expansive Shire.
Must-see attractions: Natural gold leaves
Gotham / Metropolis
The Gotham and Metropolis experiences are fundamentally inseparable according to the DC Comics artist and Sin City mastermind Frank Miller, to whom the quote “Metropolis is New York by day; Gotham is New York by night” has been attributed. For the true architecture — and shopping — aficionado, there’s nothing quite like a Gotham-Metropolis vacation. While you won’t get the relaxation that accompanies a Shangri-La or the quiet of a Bellerophon, these two faces of this concrete jungle are home to the most beautiful gothic building facades, a talented bunch of heroes, and the most impressive cultural crossroads in the eastern United States. Unfortunately, its crime rates are not as idyllic, and the problem is only worsened by a corrupt police force. Still Gotham/Metropolis is a blood-pumping site every vacationer should try to hit at least once.
Must-see attractions: bird/plane/hero-watching; Wayne Manor, home of the Batcave; Amusement Mile, Gotham’s amusement park; Old Gotham, quadrant of the city that’s home to the GCPD, Clocktower, and some of the most interesting architecture
The ultimate in summer camps, Camp Anawanna was Nickelodeon’s early-‘90s vacation haven for the lucky children of Salute Your Shorts. Here, your kids will learn to pull pranks, terrorize older counselors, and adventure, along with Donkeylips, Dina, Michael, and the rest of the delinquent campers. In the process, they’ll also learn to toughen up and make true friends. Drop your kids here, and then run off to Shangri-La.
Must-see attractions: Dr. Kahn, though you probably won’t. He’s the elusive camp director, known only by voice through Anawanna’s loudspeaker
How could we not mention Atlantis, the ur-fantasyland and lost civilization, thought up by Plato in his Timaeus and Critias? A once powerful island nation and naval force with strategic proximity to Europe, it now lies on the ocean floor, having sunk there in a single day after failing to defeat Athens. We don’t know much about Atlantis, the lost empire, except that it’s one of the most highly sought after fake destinations in history, taking various forms in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon, Julius Verne, and countless others — and being painted as ever more perfect a utopia over time. Atlantis has been the ultimate sea-loving adventurer’s vacation since 360 BC.
Must-see attractions: burgeoning sea life; magnificent ruins