All the world's a screen: A journey through America via its many great movie locations

Most people who visit America for the first time are struck by how much it looks like a giant film set. So even if you've never been there, you somehow feel you have.

Whether it's the yellow cabs, belching trucks or iconic locations, a trip here can seem like stepping inside your favourite movie. Or as Sir Christopher Frayling, a former rector of the Royal College of Art puts it, 'set-jetting'.

Hollywood sign

Blue sky thinking: America is awash with famous movie locations

But forget Hollywood. The Eastern seaboard is the starrier strip and perfect for a 2,000-mile-long epic. So we hired a Ford Explorer SUV and four of us — two grown-ups and two teenage girls — piled in.

Each state lists movie locations on its website, so you can plan your odyssey in advance. But at virtually every freeway turn-off you are set-jetting: Daniel Day Lewis's The Last Of The Mohicans and Christian Bale's The Fighter to name just two.

We began our filmic drive in Boston. Here, we walked the streets where Jack Nicholson sneered in The Departed, visited the corridor in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where Matt Damon mopped up in Good Will Hunting, enjoyed a burger outside Harvard where Jesse Eisenberg created Facebook in The Social Network and crossed the bridge where Sean Penn lost the plot in Mystic River.

On a Boston Duck Tour by amphibious vehicle up the Charles river, the roly-poly figure of Captain SuperSwift swished his cape and pointed his gauntlet towards a hulking structure on the shore. 'That's the cement factory where Ben Affleck's character worked in his movie The Town,' he announced.

We craned our necks to absorb this morsel about the Hollywood star who played a bank robber in the 2010 hit movie and was seen by film-goers from Taunton to Timbuktu strutting around this gloomy factory in glorious Technicolour.

Good Will Hunting
Forrest Gump

In stars' footsteps: John visited locations where Good Will Hunting (left) and Forrest Gump (right) were filmed

We travelled on hassle-free roads, staying in economical Hilton Garden Hotels along the way, dropping in on Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. And of course we breakfasted royally — sometimes rather too well — at various branches of The International House of Pancakes.

Our longest excursion was a three-day stint to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, home of the Amish and location for Kelly McGillis and Harrison Ford's epic thriller Witness.

A word of advice: don't try to photograph the quaint and bearded Amish men and their long-skirted wives and daughters as they trot along the highway in their carriages. They don't like it at all. Driving at a steady 60mph, it took seven hours to get there from Boston.

After visiting the curiously named town of Intercourse, we drove on to Washington DC, the federal capital where we retraced Clint Eastwood's steps from In The Line Of Fire and took some photos of the area where St Elmo's Fire was shot.

Heading back north to Maine, we decided to take in the Marshall Point lighthouse at Port Clyde, the location of Tom Hank's Forrest Gump, although the bench on which he sat to make his famous 'life is like a box of chocolates speech' is actually in Beauford, South Carolina.

Along the way, we did our best to limit visits to the multifarious fast food outlets on the interstates — but the girls demanded a refreshment stop at Wendy's.

This chain, a kind of upscale McDonald's, offered The Baconator, a hamburger roughly the size of the conservatory on a semi-detached house in Surrey.

Was there an alternative? I asked. You can have Son Of Baconator, I was told. This was a junior version involving a minimum two hamburger stacks with bacon, cheese and assorted green bits.

'I'll have the Son Of Baconator, I said rather feebly. To which came the reply: 'Do you want two stacks, four stacks or six?'

We also took in Portland near Kennebunk, where Robin Williams filmed Jumanji, and en route we berthed briefly in the picturesque ocean side town of Ogunquit.

Nothing of note was filmed here, but it does boast Barnacle Billy's seafood bar where a delicious roll of fresh lobster washed down with a foaming pint of lager will cost you just over a tenner.


Epic setting: John visited Boston, where movies such as The Departed and The Town have been filmed

Even in twice the amount of time, we would only have been able to visit a small selection of the real-life locations used by Hollywood. But this is a fun way to tour the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Next time we'll simply close our eyes and stick a pin in a map of the United States. Wherever the pin lands there is bound to be the tyre marks of a Hollywood star's trailer. So study that map, book that jeep and hire that hotel. Lights! Camera! Action!

Travel Facts

Virgin Atlantic flies daily to Boston from London Heathrow from £583 (0844 2092770, Rooms at The Hilton Garden Hotels in the area start from £75 (