The first Mission: Impossible played more like a heist movie than a shoot ’em up action flick. Ethan Hunt and his IMF team operated from inside the system, far more clever than Pierce Brosnan-era Bond. The movie was like Val Kilmer’s The Saint — it was fun and gadgety, but the gadgets were based on things that existed in the real world (perfectly accurate silicone masks excluded). Ethan Hunt didn’t even fire his weapon in the first movie. He used his wits. He investigated. He deduced.
As Bond morphed into an emotionless killing machine during the Daniel Craig years, Tom Cruise maintained his character’s continuity. He used his brain before his brawn and his visually arresting stunts were always in service of “a plan.” He was also a savvy traveler, the globetrotting spy who was more likely to infiltrate a gala than destroy an entire city block.
We can’t make you a secret agent, but we can help you satisfy your own desire for far flung adventure with this list of stunning locales that IMF’s impossible missions have taken them:
Prague, Czech Republic
The action opens in Prague as the IMF team attempt a complicated mission. It all goes horribly wrong and Ethan’s team is assassinated, leaving him alone to put the pieces together. It being 1996, Prague still had an other-worldly charm and mystique hanging around its foggy river banks. Soldiers in greatcoats still roamed the crumbling cobbled-streets. Medieval statues still loomed large, like ever-watching gargoyles.
Prague has certainly changed in the past 20 years. It’s now one of the most visited cities in all of Europe. It’s crumbling facades have been renovated, and little milk bars have been converted into Burger Kings and Starbucks. Even with the wave of capitalism, Prague was able to maintain much of its original charm. And there are still few places on Earth with better beer.
The CIA is headquartered in Langley. The scene where Ethan and his new compatriots break into the CIA headquarters is one of the more iconic scenes in the franchise and cinema in general. It has been parodied more times than we care to count. Tom Cruise hanging from wires over a mainframe computer is part and parcel to our common pop cultural language.
Langley is an unincorporated town in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. If you visit, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail is a great way to spend the day hiking through the area and the river itself is perfect for all manner of water sports. If you bore of that, the nation’s capital is just a short drive away on the other side of the Potomac.
We suggest spending at least one day exploring all of the museums around the National Mall. You’ve already paid admission with your taxes.
Mission: Impossible ends with a high-speed train showdown. Fighting on top of a train doesn’t really make sense. You’re still just on the train. Unless you have a helicopter. That was the case here. As the Eurostar sped from London to Paris, it seemed like a train of the future. It had only opened two years prior to the film coming out, so it was fresh in everyone’s mind. The film’s climax atop the train was a small taste of the stunts there were to come.
These days, you don’t have to be a secret agent to fly to London or Paris and jump on the Eurostar. It’s a great way to see two of Europe’s most popular cities in one go. London has an amazing beer scene brewing under old train tracks. Paris is one of the most respected centers of art and food. Both cities are tourist meccas, and have been for a long time.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II
Dead Horse Point State Park
Mission: Impossible II opens with Tom Cruise doing some amazing stunt work while rock climbing. This scene would set the tone for Cruise to up his crazy-ass stunt game in every film. Overall, there is no better way for Ethan Hunt to rest and relax on vacation than risking his life climbing insanely dangerous rocks in the Utah backcountry.
In case you’re curious, you can climb it too. Dead Horse Point is a beautiful stretch of canyon hugging the Colorado River below. About 45 minutes down the road from Moab, Utah, you’ll find the trailhead that’ll lead you to one of the most breathtaking views in all of the United States. If you’re in the area, don’t ditch your trip as early as Hunt does — the entire region of Utah is a nature lovers wonderland.
Ethan heads to Seville to get his mission and met up with Thandie Newton’s Nyah. It’s here where the franchise’s first real car chase takes place in the cliffs above Seville. Replacing de Palma’s subtle hand with the woo of John Woo is a disputed artistic choice for the series. But it’s hard to argue against the car chase in Seville being some best stunt work in the series, right up until Ghost Protocol‘s Moroccan car/motorcycle chase.
Seville (which is also a stand-in for Dorne on Game of Thrones) is a city that every traveler needs to visit. Nestled in Spain’s southern drylands, it offers a very Moorish Spanish flavor. It’s Christian traditions are unique and deeply rooted. What the average American would mistake for a Ku Klux Klan smock is actually the attire of deeply devote resurrection Christians parading through the city.
Also, it’s Spain. So the wine is cheap and wonderful. And the food is second to none.
Ethan chases Sean Ambrose to Australia to stop him releasing his Chimera bio-weapon on the masses. Most of the film’s action takes place in Australia, including another fantastically shot motorcycle chase, and Cruise’s now infamous knife stunt.
Sydney, and Australia in general, should be on everyone’s list of places to visit. The climate is almost always perfect. The beaches are picturesque. They have pubs and meat pies. Adventure abounds! Even if Sydney is too touristy for you, the rest of the island-continent has so much to offer in nature, Aboriginal culture, cities, reefs, and outback that any trip will be a fantastic time.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III
J.J. Abrams’ entry into the franchise gave it new life. The action starts off with Ethan leaving his suburban bliss outside of Washington, D.C., and heading to Berlin to rescue one of his recruits (ably played by Keri Russell). Things go south, and Ethan is sent on a mission to find Owen Davian, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is the best Mission: Impossible villain, full stop.
There are a lot of reasons to put Berlin on your travel itinerary. We’ve covered them before. Berlin is silly cheap for accommodation, food and drink. It has the most iconic club scene in the world. It’s a city with a dark past and a bright future.
Vatican City/Rome, Italy
Ethan assembles a new team and heads to the Vatican to entrap Owen Davian. M:I III introduced us to current mainstay, everyman geek Benji Dunn played by current mainstay, everyman geek Simon Pegg. Re-watching this film for the first time in years, Pegg and Cruise’s chemistry really shines through. It’s easy to see how Simon became an indispensable part of the Mission: Impossible team.
The Vatican and Rome are among the top 10 most visited places on Earth. Rome has amazing food. Take away all the religion and the Vatican is an amazing piece of art on its own. There are a dozens of reasons to visit Rome: food, wine, and history being the top three, but go in the off season to ditch the crowds. Buy a bottle of wine, some salami, some crunchy crusted bread, and some hard cheese and have a picnic beside the coliseum — it’ll be the best day of your trip.
The final set piece of M:I III takes places on the streets of Shanghai. Ethan scrambles through ancient alleys, hops over canals, and fights in the streets all in pursuit of the Rabbit’s Foot (MacGuffin trope alert!). Although Abram’s direction isn’t as stylish as John Woo’s, or as efficient as de Palma’s, he can still put together one hell of a set piece. The last 20 minutes of this movie does not disappoint. It helps it was filmed somewhere as photogenic as Shanghai.
Shanghai is the future. It is the past. It’s poised between regressive communist ideology and cowboy capitalism. That cowboy capitalism is scorching their skies with smog, all while stacking their towers higher and higher. When the smog is low, Shanghai is one of the most rewarding and interesting cities in the world to visit. Go for the street food alone. Where else are you going to get a granny busting out a wok at 2 a.m. on a sidewalk to fry up some prawns and sell some Tsingtao?
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — GHOST PROTOCOL
The action opens in Budapest as an IMF agent is gunned down outside the train station. This installment of the M:I franchise probably has the most conventional plot for a spy movie: crazy guy wants to start a nuclear war between the USA and Russia. Director Brad Bird injects enough humor and fun into the film to make it a great ride.
Budapest is a beautiful city. It’s neoclassical and baroque architecture take you back to another time as you walk through the cobbled streets. This is the home of paprika and spicy goulash. Its history is intense and deep. And still on-going as the country continues to flirt with regressing into full-on fascism (a worrying trend happening in more and more countries across Europe). That said, it might be better to check this city off your list sooner than later.
Ethan and co. end up in Moscow, Russia, trying to stop Russian nuclear launch codes from falling into the hands of super-villain Hendricks. What really happens is an attack on the Kremlin that will set into motion a war between the US and Russia with the IMF implicated as the culprits. Ethan and the IMF have to go offline to stop Hendricks after a large part of the Kremlin is blown up — hence the codename Ghost Protocol.
Moscow is one of those places that everyone and their brother probably has an opinion about without ever having visited. We think everyone should go to Moscow, and Russia, at least once. If for no other reason than to see the actual people the media and politicians insist on making our enemies. Plus, you’ll get to drink a sh*tload of vodka.
This is the spot where the most famous stunt Tom Cruise ever performed went down. The dude repelled around the Burj Khalifa, imitating a hybrid of Spider-Man/Batman, and played it all off like it was just another day at the office… Spiderbat, Batspider, Manman…?
That’s on top of the sand storm car chase. Brad Bird certainly knew how to utilize an exotic locale.
Dubai is a so hot right now. Sorry not sorry. Seriously, though, it is the destination in the Middle East. The malls are legendary — one of them has a ski slope. The beaches are pristine and endless. The hotels are the best in the world. And contrary to popular belief, there is more than enough booze to go around.
The final climax of M:I-GP takes place in Mumbai as Ethan attempts to stop a nuclear warhead from detonating over San Francisco. The scene also has one of the best jokes in the whole series when Ethan thinks he’s accomplished his mission and hasn’t.
Mumbai is a hard place to visit. There are few places on Earth where you will be confronted first hand with what a combination of religious fervor and unchecked capitalism can do to a population of people. Skyscrapers for the rich rise high above the poor and untouchable rabble that keep the country functioning. The smells, sounds, and tastes of Mumbai are the stuff of legend. Unfortunately, so is the religious-mandated poverty. There is so much unfamiliar culture on every corner of Mumbai that a visit will stay with you forever.
M:I-GP ends with Ethan bidding farewell to his wife from M:I III. It’s a fitting end to the film. This is where Mission: Impossible found its perfect formula: action, humor, classic spy stories, women who kicked as much ass as the guys, and ridiculous stunts performed by Tom Cruise. All the excess fat from the previous three films were trimmed away. It set up what was to come in the Rogue Nation and it worked.
Seattle is a great American city. Nestled in the sleepy Pacific Northwest, it has something for everyone: oceans, mountains, skiing, hiking, volcanoes, beer, seafood, farmer’s markets, music… It really is a special corner of America.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — ROGUE NATION
Rogue Nation opens with another batsh*t crazy Tom Cruise stunt. This time he’s hanging off of a military plane. He evidently did the stunt/scene five times over the course of several days. That’s commitment. That scene is supposed to take place outside Minsk, Belarus. Even though it’s just the cold open for the movie, it is still one of the most memorable scenes in the entire franchise.
Minsk, and the whole of Belarus, is the last authoritarian Stalinist dictatorship left in Europe. Going there is like literally traveling back in time. You get a real sense of what life in the former Soviet Union must have been like. Walking the pristine streets of Minsk is like walking in a weird Soviet time warp. People have iPhones, but there are still militia officers everywhere checking your “papers.” It’s a city that is coming into the 21st century slowly, and without western homogenization. It’s worth the hassle to get the visa.
Ethan assembles his team after going rogue to find the Syndicate (a Spectre wannabe). The bulk of the action in Vienna takes place in the city’s iconic Opera House. The action centers around an assassination and Ethan fighting some Austrian übermensch who are more robotic than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Vienna is a classic city that’s been preserved beautifully. Overall, it’s a quiet city with bustling cafes, lush parks, and all the old-world Euro culture you could possibly want. This is the home of schnitzel and chocolate cake. So you might want to have a pretty good exercise plan to work off all that fried veal and decadent cake.
The team heads to Morocco to find Ilsa Faust and retrieve the list of Syndicate operatives. The action takes place in and around Casablanca and includes one of the best car-chases-which-turns-into-a-motorcycle-chase in all the movies. It ends with Ethan getting betrayed and sends the action back to London. In between we get to see some amazing parts of Morocco.
Morocco is an amazing place to visit. It’s hard not to feel partial to Tangier, but the rest of the country has plenty to offer the visitor. Beaches, mountains, souks, kasbahs, deserts, copious amounts of hashish, and the strongest and sweetest mint tea you’ll find anywhere. Morocco should be on everyone’s travel list…somewhere near the top.
Here’s hoping you have someone as cool as Ving Rhames with you on all your adventures!