Is there a better cure for a rainy day than plopping on the sofa and clicking to Netflix? Instead of indulging in two (or five) hours of The West Wing, why not enjoy a relaxing staycation and live vicariously through the adventurers around you? We’ve compiled a list of our 10 favorite travel shows currently available in the U.S. for instant streaming on Netflix. (And when you're done, don't forget to check out more of our favorite shows that are streaming online.)
1. National Geographic
From beaches to mountains, Yosemite to Yellowstone, and Appalachia to North Korea, National Geographic has filmed it all. With more than a dozen documentaries on Netflix, National Geographic’s the easiest, most reliable source for high-quality information and entertainment. Whether you’re looking to learn about Hollywood film inaccuracies or gazing into the Amazon Rainforest, National Geographic’s full of doc options.
2. Stephen Fry in America
Aboard an old-timey London taxi, Stephen Fry captures the diversity of America in a Keruac-style road-trip across the country. Traveling from state-to-state, Fry uncovers the cultural clashes across the nation; he sails along the Mississippi River a la Mark Twain, and he explores the great American frontier to the West Coast. With uncanny wit and a cabby, Fry, an Englishman, examines what it means to be American. (Note: As of January 26, 2015, this show is no longer streaming on Netflix but is available on DVD through the service.)
3. Long Way Round
The travel bug bit Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, and it led the two actors to take the road trip of all road trips, a motorcycle journey around the world from London to New York City. This series documents the 19,000 miles McGregor and Boorman traveled through Europe, Siberia, and Canada. Watch the two encounter historical landmarks, flooded rivers, and the tundra.
4. Ken Burns: The National Parks, America’s Best Idea
This Emmy-Award-winning PBS special examines the history, from 1851-1980, behind the creation of the United States National Parks system. Analyzing the accounts, memoirs, and interviews of those who “preserved the environment for everyone,” this six-episode series visits the creation and cultivation of national parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.
5. 180° South
In this ecotourism documentary, Jeff Johnson, after seeing a film about two road-trippers’ journey from California to Peru, decides he wants to sail from Ventura, California to Patagonia, Chile to climb to the peak of Corcovado mountain. And he does it. Along with satisfying your wanderlust, 180° South captures the tension between environmental conservation and the technological innovations that make the journey possible.
6. Michael Palin’s New Europe
Fifteen years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, adventurer Michael Palin dissects the identities of these former Soviet states. As Palin treks through the Rila Mountains, cases sausage in Brno, hikes through the Baltic, and dives into the former Eastern Bloc, he discusses the past, present, and future of each burgeoning nation.
7. Marley Africa Road Trip
This heart-warming series documents the spiritual journey of musician Bob Marley’s sons as they travel back to Africa with hopes of reconnecting with their father and the land he loved. Motorcycling through the continent, Ziggy, Rohan, and Robbie Marley visit thriving communities, camp with natives, and jam with locals.
8. Encounters at the End of the World
There’s more to Antarctica than ice and adorable penguins, as Werner Herzog’s narration reminds you. Encounters at the End of the World interviews and travels with a colony of researchers who call the tundra home. Shadowing these men and women, the cameras dive into ice caves, film the harsh conditions of antarctic life, and capture an environment frozen in time.
Note: The following two programs were available for streaming when this post was first published in December 2013, but as of January 26, 2015, they're no longer available. Still, both are excellent, and we hope they make a triumphant return to Netflix soon.
9. Solving History with Olly Steeds
What remains of El Dorado in the lost Inca Empire? What ever happened to the looted art in the Amber Room? And why are Peru’s Nazca Lines only visible from air? Oliver Steeds, explorer and investigative journalist, treks around the globe looking for clues to solve these mysteries and many more. Each episode revolves around a cryptic secret, and Olly takes you on a journey, exploring the geography, history, and intrigue in each location.
10. Extreme Engineering
Tackling the world’s greatest engineering feats, from subways in America to Dubai’s ski resort, Extreme Engineering gives a behind-the-scenes glance into the workings of proposing, planning, and constructing architectural masterpieces around the world.
Did we miss anything? Let us know your favorites!