Through Dan Brown’s best-selling novels, you can travel to sacred sites and marvel at modern masterpieces. Here are 18 destinations you can visit courtesy of his award-winning imagination plus a chance to WIN a signed copy of Origin. (Entry form at bottom of article or click here)
Dan Brown, the best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code, was recently here in Kansas City to talk about his new book, Origin. After a few remarks, the creator of character Robert Langdon spent most of his time interacting with a packed house in an extended Q&A session.
A woman in the audience told Dan Brown that she was terrified of flying, and she thanked him for allowing her to “travel” to places she would never personally visit through his books. Her remarks made me think about how Dan Brown’s books had influenced my own travels. After reading The Da Vinci Code, I went out of my way to visit the Saint-Sulpice on my next trip to Paris. While reading Inferno, I learned I would be in our Turkish office on business. Although the schedule was demanding, I was able to dedicate a few hours of personal time to see the local sights that played a role in my favorite of Dan Brown’s novels.
With the exception of his latest book that is still a work in progress, I’ve read all of Dan Brown’s novels. (Yes, even the two that don’t feature the Harris tweed jacketed Professor Langdon.) While the places in his books (and on this list) are real, some aspects are fictionalized. After all, Dan Brown is a novelist, not a historian. Be careful to separate fact from fiction!
Here are 18 places you can “visit” via Dan Brown’s books…
Pro Tip: Rainy Day Books is a Kansas City-based, independent bookseller that’s been in business since 1975, when Amazon was just a river in South America. Check out the world-class talent they bring to Kansas City in the upcoming events section of their website. I love Amazon, but what has the world’s biggest online bookstore done to deliver 90 minutes of in-person time with your favorite author? Exactly!
Related Article: See why I think Rainy Day Books is one of the best bookstores in the world in this article published at Wondering and Wandering
1. Temple Church
From The Da Vinci Code
Built by the Knights Templar in the 12th Century, the Temple Church is one of only five surviving round churches in England. Although The Da Vinci Code states these circular churches were built to honor the sun, they actually resemble the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Pro Tip: If you’ve read The Da Vinci Code, join the discussion at Book Thoughts from Bed, a fantastic blog penned by my lovely friend Michelle who writes it from a hospital bed while battling ALS.
2. Westminster Abbey
From The Da Vinci Code
Westminster Abbey is the well-known site of coronations and royal weddings. While Sir Issac Newton is buried in the large, Gothic church, you won’t be able to make a brass rubbing of his grave as suggested by Dan Brown in his book. Another piece of fiction is the presence of metal detectors. It’s easy to imagine they were added for additional security when the book was published in a post-September 11th world in 2003. But, they don’t actually exist.
3. Louvre Museum
From The Da Vinci Code
Da Vinci Code starts and ends at the world’s largest art museum with murder and mystery packed into the pages in between. As Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu work feverishly to crack the Da Vinci Code without being killed, they discover hidden symbols in some of the museums most famous pieces. Nevermind that some of the pieces won’t be displayed where Dan Brown says if you visit the Louvre in person.
Fun Fact: To escape police at the Louvre, Sophie threatens to destroy the painting opposite the Mona Lisa. In The Da Vinci Code, the endangered painting is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. In reality, the painting opposite the Mona Lisa is Caliari’s The Wedding Feast at Cana.
Pro Tip: If you’re lucky enough to visit the Louvre in person, Paris City Vision has made it easy to observe the works of art in person with this list.
Pro Tip: Visit the Louvre’s website for a Da Vinci Code tour through the museum that helps you separate fact from fiction.
Related Article: 5 Tips to Help Kids of All Ages (Even Adults) Appreciate Art Museums
4. Church of Saint-Sulpice
From The Da Vinci Code
Slightly smaller than Notre Dame, Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris. A brass line embedded in the church floor is part of the gnomon of Saint-Sulpice, an astronomical way of telling time using the sun’s rays similar to a sundial. In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown incorrectly refers to the gnomon as the Paris Meriden and gives it a fictional name, the Rose Line.
Fun Fact: The Archdiocese of Paris wouldn’t give Ron Howard permission to film The Da Vinci Code inside Saint-Sulpice.
Pro Tip: If you haven’t read the Robert Langdon series, and you’re interested in reading all of them, I recommend Dan Brown’s books in the order they were published: Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, Lost Symbol, Inferno, and Origin.
However, the books can be read in any order. If you want to try one of them out before committing to multiple books, I would rank them in this order: Inferno, The Da Vinci Code, and Angels & Demons. Since I haven’t finished Origin yet, I’ll come back and update this list, if needed.
You won’t miss much if you skip his two non-Langdon novels: Digital Fortress and Deception Point.
Related Article: Literary Travels by Go! Learn Things
5. Brunelleschi’s Dome on the Santa Maria del Fiore
Waking up in an unfamiliar hospital wearing a bloody hospital gown, the first thing Robert Langdon spies out the window is a distinctive, red dome. As the rising Tuscan sun further illuminates Brunelleschi’s Dome atop the Santa Maria del Fiore, the dazed and confused professor realizes he’s in Florence.
Fun Fact: Brunelleschi’s Dome is topped by a bronze ball and cross designed by sculptor Andrea del Verrocchio. A young Leonardo da Vinci worked in Verrocchio’s workshop as an apprentice where he sketched the machines used to hoist the ball into place.
Related Article: Postcard from Tuscany, Italy
6. Boboli Gardens
While fleeing a drone flown by a team of secretive soldiers, Professor Robert Langdon and Dr. Sienna Brooks seek shelter in the Boboli Gardens. Full of trees, flowers, sculptures, and fountains, the Boboli Gardens has inspired many European royal gardens, including Versailles in France.
Hidden in the 11-acre garden is the Vasari Corridor. This raised, covered passageway connects the Pitti Palace and Palazzo Vecchio. In the 1500s, it was used by the Medici family to travel between their residence and the government palace without having to mingle with commoners. In Inferno, the door to the Vasari Corridor happened to be precisely where our heroes needed it to escape the menacing drones. Convenient!
Pro Tip: Outside of a Dan Brown novel, it’s not so easy to escape the Boboli Gardens via the Vasari Corridor. At this time, the famous walkway can only be visited in small groups led by an official guide.
7. Palazzo Vecchio
At the other end of the Vasari Corridor, Professor Langdon and Dr. Brooks find themselves in the Palazzo Vecchio. Florence’s medieval town hall has been described as a giant chess piece, and I agree that it looks just like a rook. (Or “castle-thingie” as I’ve been known to call it during chess games with Bo. He doesn’t find it amusing, and usually captures both of my rooks fairly quickly. Along with my queen. And king.)
Pro Tip: You can follow Robert and Siena through Florence via this tour.
8. Michelangelo’s Statue of David
Dan Brown’s Professor Langdon saw Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery for the first time as a teenager. I saw Florence’s most famous statue for the first time as a second grader. My father noticed my sister and I staring up at the 17 foot tall, marble statue and immortalized the moment in a photo featuring David’s backside and our shocked, upturned faces.
The replica of David standing outside the Palazzo Vecchio is also mentioned in Dan Brown’s novel. In case you’re wondering, it is just as detailed (and naked) as the statue in the Accademia Gallery.
Fun Fact: Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons was published in 2000, three years before The Da Vinci Code. But it wasn’t until The Da Vinci Code became such a success that folks went back and read his earlier novel.
9. Sistine Chapel
From Angels & Demons and Inferno
Dan Brown’s first Robert Langdon novel is set partially in the Vatican City. In Angels & Demons, as in real life, the College of Cardinals elects the next Pope under the Sistine Chapel’s famous, painted ceiling.
It is probably no surprise that the Vatican didn’t allow filming inside the Sistine Chapel. After all, the leaders of the Catholic Church are probably not big fans of Dan Brown. If the movie version of the Sistine Chapel looks familiar, it could be because the same marble staircases and corridors were used to create Queen Amidala’s Theed Palace in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Fun Fact: While Dan Brown’s Professor Langdon states that the Swiss Guard’s uniforms were designed by Michelangelo, the Vatican’s website disputes this claim.
Pro Tip: If you are in Rome, you might enjoy this self-guided Angels & Demons tour.
10. Fountain of the Four Rivers
In Piazza Navona, Robert Langdon is waist-deep in the chilly water of the Fountain of the Four Rivers. With a gun. A battle between the good symbologist and a bad guy ensues, and when the spray of blood and water has settled, a naked Cardinal is dead in the fountain. Just another typical night in Rome for the polo-playing professor!
Fun Fact: The figures in the middle of the fountain represent one river from each of four continents:
- The Ganges River in Asia
- The Danube River in Europe
- The Rio de la Plata in South America
- The Nile River in Africa
11. Rosslyn Chapel
From The Da Vinci Code
The Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland became world-famous after The Da Vinci Code was published. Inside this 15th-century church, Robert and Sophie put all of the pieces together with Dan Brown boldly suggesting that it houses the Holy Grail. Fact or fiction aside, the Rosslyn Chapel’s website reports that increased visitors due to the novel helped fund a major conservation project. This should help ensure the chapel is around for generations of conspiracy-lovers to come!
Fun Fact: The Rosslyn Chapel is privately owned, and the current owner is Peter St. Clari-Erskine, 7th Earl of Rosslyn.
12. Giralda Tower
From Digital Fortress
Instead of Robert Langdon, Digital Fortress features Susan Fletcher, the NSA’s lead cryptographer. Fletcher’s fiance and professor of modern languages, David Becker, also plays a starring role. It doesn’t take a Harvard degree to identify which approach ended up being more successful for Dan Brown.
As the story unfolds, the NSA asks Susan’s fiance to travel to Seville to recover a ring. Seems plausible. I’m sure the National Security Agency often asks family members who are professors to travel abroad on government business…
In Seville, Becker uses the Giralda Tower (and its ringing church bells) as compass north as he navigates the Andalusian capital. At one point, our alternative professor hangs by his fingertips outside the tower window to avoid one of the bad guys chasing him.
Fun Fact: Dan Brown studied art history at the University of Seville back in 1995.
Fun Fact: Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza is home to a Seville-inspired landmark, The Giralda. It is a half-scale replica of the Seville Cathedral’s bell tower of the same name. (See it in the Instagram image below on the left behind the J.C. Nichols Fountain.)
Fun Fact: The other non-Langdon novel written by Dan Brown is Deception Point. Personally, it is my least favorite of his works. I’m not sure if that’s because it takes place on the Milne Ice Shelf, and I hate being cold. Or, if it was because I read the book the week my newborn daughter was unexpectedly in the hospital and I was generally in a stressed-out state of mind.
13. Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia was originally a Christian cathedral, first Eastern Orthodox and then Roman Catholic. When it was converted into a mosque in 1453 Christian symbols — like altar, bells, and statues — were replaced with Islamic features — such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets. But many of the Christian mosaics were simply plastered over. In 1935, the Hagia Sophia was secularized and opened as a museum. Today the Hagia Sophia retains both Christian and Islamic features, especially as centuries-old mosaics re-appear as the plaster ages and flakes off.
In Dan Brown’s novel, Professor Langdon gains access to the Hagia Sophia after hours thanks to a favor called in by the General-Director of the World Health Organization.
Fun Fact: The Hagia Sophia’s dome is so massive that Paris’ Notre Dame could fit inside and the Statue of Liberty could do jumping jacks.
14. Galata Bridge
In the rain-soaked, cobblestone streets of Istanbul, recreational swimmer Professor Langdon catches his breath after losing the character he’s been chasing. As a bus with “GALATA” listed as its destination pulls away from the curb, our favorite Harvard professor charms a ride from a turbaned bystander who tails the bus across the Galata Bridge in his silver Bentley.
15. Basilica Cistern
Located less than 500 feet from the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern originally served as a water filtration system. The size of a cathedral, the ceiling of the cistern is similarly supported by more than 300, massive columns. Out of respect for those who haven’t read my favorite Dan Brown novel yet, all I will say is that the suspenseful story reaches a climax in this unique, underground place.
Fun Fact: Although the Basilica Cistern can store 100,000 tons of water, today it only holds a few feet of water. And fish.
16. United States Capitol
From Lost Symbol
While most of Dan Brown’s thrillers are set in old world cities throughout Europe, the Lost Symbol takes place on this side of the Atlantic. Where The Da Vinci Code starts and stops with the Louvre, Dan Brown’s third Robert Langdon novel starts and stops at the US Capitol. Our favorite Harvard professor is invited to lecture at the Capitol, but it isn’t long before he is snaking through secret, underground corridors avoiding killers instead.
17. Washington Monument
From Lost Symbol
In a story full of plot twists, tattoos, and Freemasons, it’s only logical that the obelisk honoring George Washington is prominently featured. As one should expect from Dan Brown, a shroud of symbolism and mystery covers the monument from cornerstone to pyramid-shaped capstone. Ascending the stone column blindfolded, our fearless protagonist has an epiphany 555 feet above Washington, DC.
Fun Fact: Freemasons really did lay the monument’s cornerstone on the nation’s birthday back in 1848. The stone was embedded with a box including a portrait of the first President, a Bible, a map of the city, and a copy of the Constitution. In attendance was a (then) little-known congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln.
Fun Fact: As of 2018, 14 US Presidents have been Freemasons. Gerald Ford (#38) was the most recent.
And a Bonus Destination
Because I’m still working my way through the latest Robert Langon book, Origin, I’ve added a bonus destination that is distantly related to it.
18. Maman at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
From Origin (sort of)
In the opening chapter of Origin, Robert Langdon observes Maman, a 30-foot bronze spider statue. While Langdon sees artist Louise Bourgeois’ ode to her mother outside the Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, the only edition permanently on display in the United States is at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. (Elsewhere in North America, Maman can be seen at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. Other than that, you’ll have to cross an ocean if you want to spend time with a 30-foot tall spider.)
"Spiders are friendly presences that eat mosquitoes. We know that mosquitoes spread diseases and are therefore unwanted. So, spiders are helpful and protective, just like my mother." ~ Louise Bourgeois The French artist behind "Maman" explains why she named her masterpiece after her mother #spider #sculpture #maman #visitar #visitarkansas #artmuseum #museum
Related Article: 7 Things to Expect When You Visit Crystal Bridges
Win a Signed First Edition Copy of Origin
Complete the form below for a chance to win a first edition copy of Origin signed by Dan Brown. The winner will be selected on March 18th, The Da Vinci Code‘s 15th birthday.
Please note: Photos not watermarked with my name are courtesy of the community of talented photographers over at Pixabay