A good travel show should entice you to venture out into the wide world — tantalizing you with far-flung locales, fascinating characters, and food that’s sure to blow your mind. A great travel show will offer a call to adventure you can’t deny — like a bellowing foghorn in the misty night. They get you on the road and lead you to experiences that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.
But what is the best show? Which special few will both get you out the door and actually help you when you’re traipsing across the open horizons? Over at Ranker, they set out to answer just that. They asked their readers to vote for the best TV travel shows of all time. A top ten emerged and even though Anthony Bourdain dominated, there are some absolute classics in the mix.
Let’s dive in!
10. Passport to Europe — Travel Channel
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Best. Day. Ever. Our camera gear still hasn't made it across the Atlantic so I have an unexpected day off…in Switzerland! Enjoying a sit by the river like a local. Tomorrow we start shooting in Gstaad, Interlaken and The capitol city of Bern. #inlovewithswitzerland @myswitzerland #thun #myinterlaken #madeinbern
Samantha Brown’s now iconic European travel show is the perfect place to start for the uninitiated traveler. Brown takes a slow and easy approach to Europe’s best and well-trod cities and sites. If you’re looking to get your toe wet with some easy-to-do travel experiences, this is a great show to help you along that path.
9. Full Circle with Michael Palin — BBC
Michael Palin’s second act after his Monty Python fame was to become one of the world’s most notable travelers. Palin’s Full Circle was a ten-part series that explored lesser-known pockets of the globe, back in the late 90s. Today, it still holds plenty of allure; plus there’s the added novelty of watching travel before the social media age took hold.
Full Circle is a window into a world before Instagram tourism dominated the narrative.
8. The Layover — Travel Channel
The Layover was Anthony Bourdain’s attempt to create a travel guide within a travel show. Each episode posited that you could see and experience an entire city in 48 hours, or during a long layover.
The episodes still serve as a great, practical guide for anyone looking to travel to the cities Bourdain visited. You’ll get practical information on getting to-and-from the airport, hotel and restaurant recs, and plenty of advice from hipper-than-thou locals.
It’s Bourdain at his most brief. And it’s still a very useful show.
7. Globe Trekker — PBS/Travel Channel
Globe Trekker is probably best known for giving the world Bradley Cooper. Back in the 90s, it was the travel show that enticed a generation of kids to explore the world. A deep stable of great hosts explored every corner of the globe in a way that made travel feel accessible and, well, fun. There’s never really been a show quite like it since.
6. Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern — Travel Channel
Andrew Zimmern’s flagship show is still going strong. Bizarre Foods offers the weary traveler a very important lesson on how to check one’s fears and biases. Yes, on some level, the show is about Zimmern eating the nasty bits wherever he ends up. But really, it’s about acceptance and understanding of cultures and people.
This is the show we all need a little more of in our lives, whether we’re traveling or not.
5. Travels in Europe with Rick Steves — PBS
Rick Steves turned his plucky Euro trips into a travel media empire. Travels in Europe is a seminal show for anyone looking to get to Europe and see the sites with ease and comfort. Steves doesn’t support big chains or fancy digs, he makes sure to highlight homestays and local eateries.
It’s an ethos we can all learn from: Support the locals, live with them, and eat with them. That’s where you’ll truly find the experience of a lifetime.
4. An Idiot Abroad — Sky 1/Science
An Idiot Abroad is the anti-travel show for the cynics of the world. Karl Pilkington’s schtick is to mope around the world and try to figure out why things aren’t the same everywhere. Interestingly, it becomes an examination of why we are the way we are and how easy it is to get stuck in stereotypes, routines, and the pitfalls of a sedentary life.
3. Parts Unknown — CNN
Parts Unknown is Anthony Bourdain’s crowning achievement in travel and food TV. At it’s core, it’s a show about illumination and conversation — shining a flashlight in the dark corners and offering a perspective you really can’t get anywhere else.
Following in the footsteps of this show will lead you to some real adventure … if you’re brave enough (and lucky enough).
2. Departures — OLN/NatGeo Adventure
Departures is one of the best travel guides ever aired on TV. It can get a little bro-y from time to time. Otherwise, the show really does offer down-to-earth and practical information on traveling to every corner of the planet. It’s comprehensive and, most importantly, accessible.
1. No Reservations — Travel Channel
Anthony Bourdain has dominated the travel and food TV world for nearly 20 years now. So it’s no surprise he has three shows in the top ten.
No Reservations is the travel show for every traveler. Unlike Parts Unknown, the places, restaurants, and adventures Bourdain has in No Reservations all feel accessible. In fact, you can still go to the lion’s share of places Bourdain visits in these episodes. This really is a great travel guide that goes right down the middle between off-the-beaten-track experiences and highlighting hidden gems.