If you’re wondering where The Queen’s Gambit was filmed and what the real-life filming locations are for the popular miniseries on Netflix, you’ll be surprised. The Queen’s Gambit just won two Golden Globe awards for Best Television Motion Picture and Best Television Motion Picture Actress for Anya Taylor-Joy. The Queen’s Gambit is based on a book of the same name by Walter Tevis and follows the plot of the book closely (Beth’s substance addiction is more extreme in the television show and she does visit New York City a few more times).
In the series, Beth goes to New York City once while training for with Benny Watts, and you’ll see in this article how they filmed it. A lot of the primary locations are filmed in Berlin in historic locations but made to feel like different cities through the gorgeous sets designed by Uli Hanisch, but other filming locations take place in the Western Hemisphere as well. Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays the main character Beth Harmon, says in a Netflix Behind the Scenes video, “The show really shifts along with Beth’s perspective. Every time I got to go on to a new set, I was always completely blown away by the way that it looked.”
Writer and director Scott Frank (who also directed the Netflix miniseries Godless, starring Michelle Dockery) says that shooting took place primarily in Berlin because he wanted to work specifically with Hanisch whom he calls a “genius.” Berlin also has a diverse range of architecture, with everything between Neoclassical and Soviet-style Communist due to its history divided between east and west.
Frank reveals, “We shot Mexico City here, Las Vegas and Paris, Russia, pieces of New York and Lexington, Kentucky [in Berlin]. Uhrich explains some of the process: “What Beth does is traveling and playing chess at tournaments and so we have [sic] hotel rooms, airplanes, hotel lobbies, restaurants, ballroom kind of situation for each tournament, so it was our target to repeat but to make it different.”
1. New York City
When Beth goes to New York City to train with Benny Watts (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster), the exterior location is filmed in Toronto. Eagle-eye New Yorkers will recognize that the typology of the townhouses shown are not quite like those in New York City, but it’s close. The interior is a set designed by Uhrich in Berlin. Frank says of that basement set: “That was amazing and right away I started changing the scene because of so many good things in the set.” In the book, Beth goes to New York City early in her chess career to play tournaments there, but in the show she goes for the first time to train with Benny.
2. Las Vegas
The scenes in Las Vegas were shot at the Palais am Funkturm in Berlin, a 1950s era ballroom and event space designed by architect Bruno Grimmek. The set designers added a lot of additional Vegas-esque set pieces to complete the scene.
According to Messe Berlin, the company that manages the building, the venue has quite the Modernist amenities which must have been truly futuristic when it opened in 1957: “With a retractable staircase, partitions and a chandelier adjustable for height, Berlin’s largest ballroom offers outstanding flexibility when it comes to organising available space. The Fifties and Sixties are back in vogue here, with curved designs, period decorations and a large patio complete with fountains.” It looks like the Palais am Funkturm is often used for conferences, but slid right in doubling as a hotel in The Queen’s Gambit.
3. Mexico City
The scenes in Mexico City at the Aztec Palace Hotel were filmed at the Friedrichstadt Palace in Berlin, which really does have those amazing stained glass windows. The Friedrichstadt Palace is home to the Palast Berlin, a popular “revue”, or theatrical show that harkens back to the early and mid-20th century. The original Palace was designed by Modernist architect Hans Poelzig on the site of a former venue, an arena where Max Reinhardt performed. Reinhardt went on to create the forerunner to the Palast Berlin called the Großes Schauspielhaus, and commissioned Poelzig for the building. The newest building, where The Queen’s Gambit was filmed, was built in 1985.
The zoo scenes in The Queen’s Gambit, where Beth sees Vasily Borgov with his family, are shot at the Berlin Zoo. This is a seminal moment in the book as well, where Beth understands what a tough competitor Borgov will be.
4. Moscow, Russia
The theater-looking room where Beth plays the chess tournament in Moscow are filmed in Berlin’s Old City Hall inside the room known as the Baerensaal or the Bear Chamber. The old City Hall is not used as its original function, but is still a government building — it houses the Senate and is used for events and as a filming location. The exterior of the building is notable, with a tower that reaches 260 feet high and a statue of the goddess Fortuna on top. The Bear Chamber, used for the Council of Ministers, has gone through significant alteration since its original creation. It once had windows and arcades on both sides, now closed off.
After her historic win, Beth asks to get out of her car and walks in Berlin, playing chess in a park. That scene is filmed in the Rose Garden on Karl Marx Allee.
The scenes where Beth goes to compete in Paris are filmed at the Haus Cumberland in Berlin, a former hotel built in 1911 that is now an apartment complex, and had also served as government administrative offices in the past. It is used to show the Paris hotel Beth stays at during a chess tournament there where she loses to Vasily Borgov (played by Polish actor Marcin Dorociński), her major antagonist of the series. Many scenes are filmed in the Cafe Grosz inside the Haus Cumberland. The building also appeared as a hotel in The Bourne Supremacy.
Other places near Toronto were used as places in Kentucky, where Beth lived with her adopted mother Alma Wheatley. The house Alma lives in, which Beth later buys from her adopted father, is a real house in Cambridge, Ontario.
Canada is a popular filming destination for productions, often used to recreate classic Americana towns (like in the many Hallmark-esque holiday-themed films out there). Recent shows filmed there include Firefly Lane on Netflix, where the city doubled for Seattle and Spinning Out where the city and the surrounding areas including a ski resort doubled for Idaho.
7. The Orphanage
The Schulzendorf Castle outside Berlin is used as the setting for the Methuen Orphanage for Girls, where Beth is sent after the death of her mother. An addition to the series, which is not present in the book, is the backstory of Beth’s mother and father. Cinematically, this works well to give more context to Beth’s genius and struggle.
The Schulzendorf castle was built starting in 1889 by Moritz Israel who founded the first department store in Berlin, Kaufhaus Nathan Israel. The castle was lost by the family during World War II when they fled the Nazis, became part of Soviet-occupied East Germany after the war, and was not restored to the Israel family until 1993. In The Queen’s Gambit, there is one significant alteration done in CGI: the tower of the castle is made to match the brick and stone of the facade on the building.
The lobby of the Gibson Hotel which Alma reserves for Beth’s first big chess tournament is filmed in the Spandau Town Hall in Spandau, located on the west side of Berlin. The town hall was built in 1910 and designed by Heinrich Reinhardt and Georg Süßenguth. The exterior is quite stately, almost resembling a train station with a central clock tower. The chess tournament in Cincinnati is filmed at the Meistersaal, built in 1910 as a chamber music concert hall.