8 Bingeable Netflix Original TV Series That Let You Travel the World

Africa

Windsor Castle in spring, Thames Valley, England, UK

There’s never been a better time to bingewatch a show than right now. We’re all at home, flattening the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hungry to dream about faraway lands in order to satisfy our wanderlust. Since we’re all currently grounded, if you’re like us, you’re going to want to watch some TV shows that showcase the world that we’re currently missing out on.

With that in mind, we’ve assembled the following list of Netflix recommendations. All of these TV shows are Netflix Originals, which means that they’re available in both Canada and the United States. Half are dramatic programs, while the other half are documentaries. They’re not reality TV programs and they’re not the typical travel fluff you find on daytime television—don’t expect to see House Hunters International. They’re a mixture of fascinating programs that’ll entertain you with complex themes, while also taking you to places across the world that we all wish we could visit right now. Be sure to share your own suggestions in the comments. 

Without further ado, here are our recommendations for Netflix Original Series to watch to travel the world while staying at home.

What Netflix Original Series Should You Watch While Stuck at Home?

The Crown

Buckingham Palace in London, England.

The life of Queen Elizabeth II told through a melodramatic and lavish production that shows every  of its consideration budget on screen (each season apparently has a budget of at least 100 million pounds, making it one of the most expensive TV shows ever made). Claire Foy plays a young Elizabeth in the first two seasons, which focus on her life during the 1950s and 1960s, during which she married Philip Mountbatten (played in the first two seasons by Matt Smith), ascended to the throne, and led the country through the Suez Canal crisis. Season three hands off the lead roles to Olivia Colman and Tobias Menzies and starts to explore the life of a young Prince Charles, played by Josh O’Connor. The corridors of Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace may not have the same exotic appeal as other destinations across the world, but few shows demonstrate as much glamour across the ocean than The Crown. It’ll satisfy your Royals fix while also beautifully taking you through England over the past half century or so.

Dark Tourist

Beautiful view of rooftops of the buildings in Medellin at sunset, Colombia
Stunning view of Medellin at sunset.

A documentary series made for those travellers who are drawn to the macabre. New Zealander journalist David Farrier takes us to popular tourist destinations across the globe, but instead of taking in the usual historical sites, he focuses on the salacious, macabre, and downright weird niches that cater to so-called “dark tourists.” Each episode of this eight-part series focuses on a different destination or region, and delves into the subcultures that are drawn to the darkest aspects of that region. For instance, in the first episode, David heads to Medellín in Colombia and does a tour with Popeye, a notorious hitman who worked for Pablo Escobar. In the second episode, he heads to Japan to tour the exclusion zone around Fukushima, site of the 2011 nuclear disaster. Dark Tourist showcases many parts of the world and will let you know what to do (or perhaps more likely, what to avoid) when your future travels eventually take you to similar places as David.

Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy

Street in Lagos
A crowded street in Lagos. (Photo by Muhammadtaha Ibrahim on Unsplash)

Similar to Dark Tourist, Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy does not do the usual tourist thing (name the last person you know who went to Liberia for a vacation…anyone…?). However, if you want to travel the world, learn about complex political issues, and have a laugh, this is the show for you. Larry Charles, the bearded American comedian known for writing episodes of Seinfeld and directing Borat, takes a journey to various destinations across the globe, such as Iraq and the aforementioned Liberia, to learn about how comedians react in the face of oppression, poverty, or war. There are four episodes, each focusing on a different theme. It’s another great example of a travel series that does anything but the ordinary.

Master of None

Summer landscape along the road from Serramazzoni to San Dalmazio at summer, Emilia Romagna, Italy
Summer landscape along the road from Serramazzoni to San Dalmazio at summer.

This dramatic comedy from Aziz Ansari may be a cheat on this list because most episodes take place in New York City. However, the first episode of the second season is a love letter to Italy. Taking place in Modena, the episode is filmed in gorgeous black and white and evokes classic Italian films of the past such as Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. It’s a perfect tonic right now, when Italy is being hit harder than any other country across the globe. The rest of the series is a witty and occasionally-profound work that delves into questions of race, sex, and identity in the modern world. If you didn’t watch back in 2017, now is a great time to catch up.

Narcos and Narcos: Mexico

Old Basilica of Guadalupe with Mexico City skyline in Background, Mexico
Skyline of Old Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

Although they’re listed as separate shows on Netflix, these two shows are really the same one, with different focuses and geographies depending on the season. Narcos tells the story of Pablo Escobar’s (Wagner Moura) rise and fall in Colombia in the 1980s and early 1990s. Narcos: Mexico turns the focus to Mexico to chart the similar rise and fall of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (Diego Luna) in the 1980s. Both shows are works of docufiction, incorporating real historical footage into the recreations of the lives and times of these criminals. They offer exceptional crime entertainment as well as illuminating insight into recent history and the War on Drugs. For the purposes of this list, they’re also great showcases of Latin America, because even though the subject matter is so violent and serious, both shows lovingly portray some of the most beautiful parts of Colombia and Mexico. The discotheques of Medellín and the beaches of Puerto Vallarta have never looked so good.

Our Planet

Zebra and wildebeest herds during migration in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Zebra and wildebeest herds during migration in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.

Netflix bought documentarian—and “voice of God”—David Attenborough away from the BBC to produce this inspiring nature series, which focuses on different regions across the world and the environmental impacts of climate change. It’s basically another season of Planet Earth, but made exclusively for Netflix. There are eight episodes, each of which utilize the best nature filmmaking technology available to filmmakers across the world. Bask in the glory of the natural world from the safety of your own couch.

The Spy

Colourful neighborhood of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina
La Boca barrio in Buenos Aires.

Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian best known for tricking Americans with ridiculous accents in Borat and Bruno, takes a rare dramatic role in this real life tale of an Israeli spy, Eli Cohen, who infiltrates the Syrian government in the 1960s. This six-episode miniseries splits its time between Israel and Syria, with the former shot in a desaturated palette, while the latter has rich colours and lighting. The Spy is most notable for Baron Cohen’s exceptional dramatic performance, but it also showcases some of the lovely cities and landscapes of the Middle East, as well as the Art Deco mansions and restaurants of Buenos Aires in the second episode. It’s a tale of espionage that also serves as a Middle Eastern globetrotting adventure.

Ugly Delicious

Dim Sum
Chinese dumplings during dim sum. (Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash)

Celebrated chef David Chang, who founded the Momofuku chain of restaurants, heads across the world on a culinary tour, taking us along for the ride. Each episode focuses on a different dish or style of cooking, with David and his friends heading to different destinations across the United States and other parts of the world to explore the ways that people approach this particular dish or style. The central tenet of the show is that often the most unassuming or unpretentious style of cooking is the most rewarding. Eating food is one of the primary ways of experiencing a new culture when travelling. Considering this, Ugly Delicious helps you explore foreign cultures through food when you can’t be out there dining across the world on your own. Perhaps it will even inspire you to cook some new dishes during isolation. Although if you’re looking for recipes, you’ll have to look elsewhere (perhaps even to older posts on this blog).