From coastal spots that look like the Copacabana, to stunning cliff sides that mimic Yosemite, and quaint old towns that could easily be Bavaria (and beyond!), the Central and Eastern European region is littered with breath-taking, yet unexpected, locations that could be 'twinned with' somewhere else in the world.
LBB’s Paul Monan caught up with a number of the region’s production service companies to uncover their favourite alternative hidden gems…
Abandoned Bus Station No7 – Kiev, Ukraine
“Whenever someone has to hire a hitman, play in a high stakes illegal poker game or do anything remotely nefarious, there’s simply no other choice: you go to somewhere that’s been abandoned!,” says Maria Fabro, Executive Producer of 2332 Films
“Bus station №7 is unique in that it was the largest transportation company in Kiev, with a total parking area of 20,000m2. The highlight of the location is the unusual indoor parking, which resembles a circus big top - to which the locals refer to as the UFO, playpen or drum.
“One of the most impressive locations in Ukraine, this massive station was built in 1973 in a somewhat remote part of the city. Developers counted on commercial interests moving toward the station and making it into a centrally-located building but, due to many unfortunate circumstances, this never happened. The building was abandoned in 2000, but it is open for filming for most of the last decade.
“In addition, should admit that Kiev abandoned bus station №7 is well known in the midst of local and foreign filmmakers. The music video for Paolo Nutini’s Iron Sky, directed by Daniel Wolf, was filmed here, as was Eli Sverdlov’s huge spot for casino 888Holdings.”
Hungarian National Museum – Budapest, Hungary
“Founded in 1802, The Hungarian National Museum is the home of the country’s history, art and archaeology exhibitions. Including areas not within Hungary's modern borders, such as Transylvania, it is not to be confused with the collection of international art of the Hungarian National Gallery,” explains Zsofia Kende, Executive Producer at Angel Films
“Situated within Budapest’s eighth district, the museum in a purpose-built Neoclassical building, constructed by architect Mihály Pollack between 1837 and 1847. With its colossal pillars adorning the front of the majestic building, the museum could be used as an alternative to Berlin’s Reichstag building.”
Hungarian State Opera House – Budapest, Hungary
“Located in central Budapest, the Hungarian State Opera House - originally known as the Hungarian Royal Opera House – was designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th century Hungarian architecture,” says Zsofia.
“Funded by the city of Budapest and Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary, construction of the grand building began in 1875, opening to the public in 1884. Situated on Andrássy Avenue, it’s the second largest opera house in the country and offers an alternative location to Austria’s Vienna State Opera building.”
The Khotyn Fortress – Kohtyn, Ukraine
“Located in western Ukraine, The Khotyn Fortress is a large tourist attraction that’s played host to shoots for many historical adventure movies, including: The Arrows of Robin Hood (1975), d'Artagnan and Three Musketeers (1978), The Black Arrow (1985) and Taras Bulba (2009). In the films, the fortress usually represented various French and English castles, including La Rochelle,” explains Maria.
“This epic location can give a film expanding perspectives and add magic, giving off of an overall epic, iconic effect. This fortress really impresses people with its power and impregnability and it’s one of the best preserved fortifications in existence. In 2007, the fortress was named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine and, as of 2000, is a National Ukrainian Architectural Preserve.
“Khotyn Fortress is also famous because of an important battle between the Turks and the Ukrainian-Polish army took place there in 1621, which is where the Ottoman expansion was halted and Europe was spared from Turkish domination.”
Lviv – Lviv, Ukraine
“Not just a beautiful city, Lviv is a unique shooting spot located in the west of Ukraine. With its massive baroque and gothic style stone churches, narrow cobbled streets, elaborate house fronts and beautiful Opera House, Lviv’s central areas could quite easily pass as any number of Europe’s old capital cities,” says Toy Picture’s
Lena Panasyuk. “You can play make-believe in Italy, Austria, Czech Republic or Hungary as the city creates a very atmospheric picture, saturated with style and history. A popular filming location for both feature films and commercials, Lviv can be an interesting place for filming any story that calls for picturesque scenery and historic spirit.
“Lviv’s history dates back to the 13th century, and its architectural style mostly takes after the Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which the city used to be a part of. Nowadays, the city centre is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.”
National Library of Technology – Prague, Czech Republic
“I picked the Czech National Library of Technology because it’s a versatile exterior and interior location full of sublime galleries, halls, lobbies and vast corridors,” explains Tomáš Otradovec, Executive Producer and Partner of Toaster Pictures
“To be honest, you really could shoot a whole feature here. It is huge, modern, spacious and has a lot of technical design everywhere, and could represent various galleries, airports and infrastructural buildings all over the world. We at Toaster absolutely love it!”
New World & Prague Castle – Prague, Czech Republic
“This is by far the most underrated location in Prague; it’s a small part of town with a couple of streets and a few little piazzas that have a huge potential. Just steps from the main tourist attraction, Prague Castle, this is truly a different world in the heart of Prague,” says Tomáš.
“Right now we can simply imitate any period scene we want, since the houses are carefully kept and look the same as they have been for centuries, so we can easily recreate gothic, renaissance and baroque style towns in Germany, Italy and France. With its charming and quiet village feeling, you can shoot a commercial or period TV series just a five minute drive away from the famous restaurants and bars of downtown Prague.”
Rummu Quarry – Rummu, Estonia
“Almost alien in appearance, and bearing a striking resemblance to Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, Rummu Quarry has been featured in numerous music videos, commercials, and feature films. Like most of Estonia’s shooting locations, the quarry is just a short drive away from the capital, Tallinn, and a wide range of studios and other locations, from pristine beaches and ancient moors, to metropolitan cityscapes and quaint wooden neighbourhoods,” says Andreas Kask, Producer at Nafta
“Be it a Nordic setting or an American desert, the stunning variety and accessibility of Estonia means quick turnarounds, very competitive pricing, and a cinematic atmosphere. This location is ideal for style-orientated brands, who look for adventurous, outside the box settings.”
Szeged Cathedral – Szeged, Hungary
“Located in Dóm Square in Szeged – a southern city which is Hungary’s third largest – The Votive Church and Cathedral is a twin-spired church that has a striking similarity to The Clock Tower on Madison Avenue,” explains Zsofia.
“The cathedral, the fourth-largest building in Hungary, is home to Europe’s largest organ (with 9,740 pipes and 134 ranks!), and houses five bells, the largest of which, Heroes Bell, weighs in at over 8,500kg.”
Tallinn Old Town – Tallinn, Estonia
“Tallinn Old Town is the best preserved medieval city of northern Europe,” says Dagmar Mäe, International Service Producer at Allfilm
. “With its cobblestone streets and colourful merchant houses, it makes you feel like you have walked onto a film set or have somehow been teleported to the fairy tale land.
“The Old Town has a great resemblance to the towns and cities of Germany’s Bavaria and Thuringia regions, and the medieval centre of Tallinn becomes especially breath-taking during Christmas season when the main square is taken over by a picturesque German style Christmas market.
“During the summer time, on the other hand, the small and secret courtyards of old houses covered with vines and narrow cobblestone streets bear a great resemblance to the romantic and secret courtyards of Rome.”
Transfăgărășan – Carpathian Mountains, Romania
“In Romania, Transfăgărășan looks like Transbucegi or Transalpina - but is a better version of those two places! Outside of Romania, the mountainous road is similar to St Gotthard Pass (Switzerland), Stelvio Pass (Italy), La Route des Grandes Alpes (France), and Trollstigen (Norway),” says Giuliano Doman, Executive Producer of Family Film
. “Described by many tourists as one of the most spectacular roads in the world, it just so happens to be one of the most sought after locations for shoots. Why? Because this road has many things to offer; besides the beauty of the view, Transfăgărășan is filled with gorgeous architecture, and the differences in altitude and the curves represent a challenge for cars and drivers, which is another reason for car companies to shoot here.
“It’s also within relatively close proximity to many other amazing locations, including; Bâlea Lake, Bâlea Waterfall, Hotel of Ice (available only in winter season), Vidraru Lake, Corvin Castle, Sibiu, and Sighișoara.”
Vilnius – Vilnius, Lithuania
“Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania and also the largest city. Its history makes the cityscape unique — a lot has happened here over the decades and much of that is revealed in the architecture," says Artbox's
“The city has had a great influence on the cultural and architectural development of much of Eastern Europe and, despite invasions and partial destruction, it has preserved an impressive complex of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and classical buildings as well as its medieval layout and natural environment that could come to represent many European cities.
“Currently in Vilnius you will find a cosy old town with narrow Italian streets, urbanistic and modern home districts with skyscrapers as well as many parks, hills, forests, rivers and lakes. Thanks to the versatility and quality of production services, Vilnius attracts many commercial and film productions from Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Great Britain, Canada, Japan and other countries. So Vilnius is always ready to welcome you and to fulfil your ideas.”
Vysehrad Castle and Fortress – Prague, Czech Republic
“I just love Vysehrad fortress. It has a large park, various different buildings from different historical periods in one park complex, and the gardens are lovely and versatile too. It’s also a little bit off the beaten path, so you don’t have the crowds,” explains Tomáš.
“Whilst you get an absolutely unique view of Prague, the fortress can resemble many historical and period buildings and gardens in France, Germany and Switzerland.”