If you’ve ever seen the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, you were probably hit with a wave of wanderlust. It’s impossible not to be when you watch this triumphant film. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. It’s a beautiful ode to travel, self-discovery, independence, and exploration. I believe it to be the most important movie ever made, and I truly think that if everyone watched it at least once in their lives more people would seek joy and spontaneity. Boredom and monotony would not be the norm.
In honor of that movie, and of the fact that millions of people have watched this film and wanted to follow in Walter Mitty’s footsteps, here is the ultimate guide to taking the trip that he did. This is your very own guide to a Walter Mitty themed vacation:
Start in New York City.
This is where the movie opens, and where Walter lives. Spend your first day in the city, exploring. Go to the Time and Life Building to see the iconic wavy floor from the film, and walk the Avenue of the Americas to see locations shown many times in the beginning of the film. After, rent a skateboard (Champion Bicycles is in a convenient location) and try it out in Central Park. Walter Mitty talks about skateboarding a lot as a teen, and in the beginning he impressively does tricks on a board in the park. To wind down, listen to the movie soundtrack on Spotify and walk around the city with your headphones in. It’s a great way to meditate in the middle of an urban space, have some alone time in a sea of people, and appreciate the beauty of the music. It’s also a great way to get some exercise in. Consider walking across the Brooklyn Bridge for amazing views, and while you’re there pick up a custom order of clementine cake from none other than Clementine Bakery in Brooklyn (Walter’s favorite). Make sure to order ahead of time! If you want to eat it in another spot from the movie, go to the subway stop at 125th street in Manhattan and eat it on the platform on one of the benches (3181 Broadway, New York, New York 10027, USA).
Fly to Greenland for a day.
When Walter decides to take a chance and get out of his monotonous routine, he flies to Greenland (in search of a photographer that he works with). While the scenes from the movie were actually filmed in Iceland, for the sake of the story, spend at least a day in Greenland. Fly to Nuuk, and sing karaoke at a bar just like Walter did! If you like beer, order one as well to pay homage to the scene in the movie. He doesn’t do much else during his short time there, but this is where he is out of his comfort zone for the first time in a long time, and this gives him the courage to fly to Iceland. Spend the rest of your time there getting out of your comfort zone and doing things you have never done before! Venture out to Disko Bay to see the huge ice fjord there filled with glaciers and ice bergs, at the UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is also whale-watching there, hot springs (take a boat to Uunartoq for the best ones), Eric the Red’s Viking ruins, excursion boats, snowmobiling, helicopter rides, sea kayaking, and some of the most isolated towns on the planet (like Tasiilaq). Spend your time getting out of your normal routines and see something new.
Spend a few days in Iceland (at least!).
Iceland is where the majority of the movie was filmed, and is where Walter really connected with himself. He was able to find himself again (who can forget the long boarding scene?), step further out of his comfort zone, and feel alive.
Fly in to Reykjavik, and drive to Vatnajokull National Park (stopping at waterfalls along the way). When Walter later went to Afghanistan and the Himalayas, those scenes were actually filmed here! Do some hiking, enjoy the glaciers and volcanos, and pick wild berries. There is great vegan pie available at the cafeteria there at the main center, so be sure to grab some when you get hungry. The next day, head to Hofn on the eastern coast. This is where the outdoor Greenland airport scenes were filmed. Enjoy the harbor and amazing mountain views before driving up the coast to Seydisfjordur (stopping at the Glacier Lagoon on the way)! To get there, you’ll have to drive up a very dangerous dirt road (the main road that goes around the country has two sections like this on each side of the country), so keep that in mind and get gravel insurance ahead of time just in case. Drive slow and pay attention. Once you make it up and end up in the mountains, instead of driving into the valley, you’ll keep driving up into the ice-capped mountains! The road down toward town near the fjord is lined with many waterfalls, and it’s where the life-changing long boarding scene was filmed. If you want to do it like he did, bring your own board since there aren’t any places to rent one in the country, and start from the top. It’s a steep decline down, so only do this if you’ve boarded before. Either way, make sure to stop at the waterfalls and look out for beautiful mountain goats and sheep! When you make it down to the town, you’ll recognize it as the town in the movie that Walter was in when the volcano exploded. Walk around and take in the beauty of this remote town on the water. When you’re ready to head out, go camp along the lake in Egilsstadir back in the valley, and be sure to grab dinner at Modir Jord.
In the morning, hike up to the lava-ringed Hraunfossar (a lesser-known waterfall in the area), and enjoy the lake. Drive north around the country towards the west, making sure to stop at sites like Godafoss, Husavik, Akureyri (the best place to stay if you want a day in the north), and if you have the time and a four wheel drive—the West Fjords. The next day, make your way out to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and go to Stykkisholmur—where the scenes of Nuuk were actually filmed! Climb the hill with the orange lighthouse on it and look back at the harbor and town. That’s the view featured in the movie! This area is filled with puffin nests so try to spot some (quietly and discreetly, of course)! While you’re there, go whale-watching, sea kayaking, or try something new that you haven’t done yet! While you’re there on the peninsula, be sure to go to Grundarfjörður, which is where the port scenes were filmed. This is a remote town with beautiful views of the sea, and it’s close to the famous Kirkjufell mountain! Enjoy the views, hike around the region, greet the sheep running along the road, and go see the waterfall next to the mountain! There are a lot of beautiful guest houses here, so if you don’t want to camp those are the best options to sleep in. The next day, drive down to the city of Reykjavik again, stopping at Thingvellir National Park to see where the continental shelves meet and form a chasm of clear water. In true Walter Mitty style, consider scuba diving there with a tour guide and hiking around the park. After, drive past the city and park at Reykjadalur—a hot thermal river in the mountains outside the city. It’s over a mile hike, but the pay-off is worth it. It’s way better than the Blue Lagoon because it’s free and locally loved. After you’ve had your fill of the warm water, head in to Reykjavik to stay. Walk around and enjoy the colorful buildings, harbor, and music scene! If you have any more time, be sure to check out nearby Vik, Dyrholaey, Seljalandsfoss, and hike behind Skogafoss-Fimmvörðuháls. This hike is not for the faint of heart, but it will be the most beautiful one you ever do, and it features every landscape from the movie! It will be the highlight of your trip if you feel confident in your hiking abilities. During your time in the country, just make sure to see all of the filming locations and spend every moment being spontaneous and doing something you haven’t done before!
The best places to eat: Modir Jord, Halla, Klausturkaffi, Fjalladyrd, Salt Bistro, Coocoo’s Nest, Reykjavik Chips, Nudluskalin, Hradlestin, Glo, Kattakaffihusid, Emilie and the Cool Kids, Flatey, and Akureyri Backpackers.
Fly to the Himalayas.
In the movie, Walter goes back to New York City before flying out to the Himalayas to find the photographer. If you want to do that instead, feel free to do so, but for the sake of the expense (and carbon footprint) you’ll feel just as much in the spirit of the movie if you head straight to the Himalayas. Due to the nature of the regions that host these mountains, just pick the areas that you feel comfortable traveling to. In the movie, he goes to Afghanistan, but heading to Nepal is a safer option due to the current political climate in Afghanistan (and Nepal is better for viewing the mountains anyways). Fly in to Kathmandu and stay in the colorful mountain city. Go hiking, visit tiger conservation lands, go to the temples, and enjoy eating the local daal bhaat! In true Walter Mitty fashion, consider even taking nature photography.
The best places to eat (in Kathmandu): OR2K, Sarangi Vegetarian Restaurant, Thamel Doner Kebab, Loving Heart Vegan Restaurant, Aniyor, Organic Smoothie Bowl and Cafe, and Forest and Plate
Spend a day in Los Angeles.
After Walter treks around the Himalayas, he flies to L.A. where he gets stopped for the traditional instrument that he carried with him. He is rescued by his friend, Tod from eHarmony, and is able to fly back after spending time in the airport. You can either do what he did, and eat vegan Cinnabon and hang out in the airport, or you can explore the city for a day while you’re there. Enjoy the culture, weather, art scene, and go somewhere you’ve never been before if you have been to this iconic city before. Some amazing places to visit while there include the Griffith Observatory, The Getty Center, Hollywood (the Walk of Fame and the hike to the sign are fun, although touristy), Santa Monica Beach, Zuma Beach, the farmers’ market, Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Broad, Runyon Canyon Park, Paramount Pictures Studios, Rodeo Drive, Grand Central Market, Warner Bros. Studio, and of course, nearby Disneyland.
Fly back to New York City and reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself.
You can explore the city some more, and try some new things, but most importantly this part of the trip is about connecting with yourself and what you’ve learned. Consider journaling, meditating, or taking long walks to understand what this trip has meant to you. Modern life is hectic and busy, and this ending of the trip is a beautiful way to honor the film’s emphasis on rediscovering yourself and the world around you.
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Photo: Emily Iris Degn