It’s no secret that the magic of Disney movies have been captivating audiences from around the globe for decades, their enchanting worlds taking us out of reality and into dreamland.
While some feature famous landmarks, from London’s Big Ben in Peter Pan, and India’s Taj Mahal in Aladdin, to The Great Barrier Reef in Finding Nemo, and Grand Central Station in Wreck it Ralph, if Pixar is more your thing, the inspiration behind many other movies was somewhat more obscure.
If you ever dreamed of visiting the castle of your favorite Disney Princess as a child, or if you’ve exhausted your trips to the land of Mickey Mouse, your fantasy can finally become reality. Below are some of the lesser-known locations that inspired your favorite Disney movies, so you can finally visit dreamland for real.
Château de Chillon, Lake Geneva, Switzerland: The Little Mermaid
Remember Prince Eric’s beautiful seaside castle in The Little Mermaid? Word on the street says the inspiration behind it was this chateau on Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, one of the country’s most visited historic destinations. Its position on Lake Geneva not only makes this the perfect fairytale setting but also offers visitors stunning views of surrounding areas. Visit now and thank us later.
Although this animated feature takes place on the fictional island of Motunui, it bears striking resemblance to the South Pacific island of Samoa, which was the main inspiration for Moana’s home, alongside Fiji and Tonga. The movie’s storytellers also drew a lot of inspiration from the culture and mythology of the Polynesian people who originally settled on these islands, from their music and language to their costume and heritage.
The Forbidden City, Beijing: Mulan
The home of the Emperor of China and the scene in which Mulan fights her final battle with Shan Yu in this beloved Disney tale was unsurprisingly modelled after Beijing’s Forbidden City, a popular tourist attraction to this day which was historically home to Chinese emperors years ago. Those who visit can explore 5,000 years of ancient Chinese history with extensive galleries containing various art forms and artifacts.
Alcázar of Segovia, Spain: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs
The palace belonging to the Evil Queen who, (spoiler alert), tricks the princess with a poison apple, is rumored to be based on Spain’s most famous castle, the Alcázar of Segovia. Perched on a rocky crag just like the one in the fairytale, it’s also a World Heritage Site and was formerly used by Spanish monarchs in the 1800s before being damaged by a fire and later restored. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your own prince charming here.
U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas: Cars
Another fictional town created by Disney, Radiator Springs is a neglected stop along Route 66 which, although not a castle or a luxurious island, can be clearly linked to a real location. U-Drop Inn, a rest stop in Shamrock, Texas, is almost identical to Ramones House of Body Art in the movie. A recommendation for road trippers wanting a taste of the ‘real America,’ U-Drop Inn has been in operation since 1926, and is considered a piece of American history and well worth a stop on your journey if only for some Insta snaps.
Louisiana Bayous, USA: The Princess and The Frog
If you ever fancied going to a real-life swamp, Louisiana is the place. A huge inspiration behind the hit movie, the location is also likely to be the driving force behind Louis the Alligator’s name. Here, you can encounter real-life swamp creatures, exotic bird species, as well as learning about the pirates that once hid here. And if the word ‘swamp’ doesn’t scream dream vacation to you, the popular city of New Orleans which is also frequently featured in the movie is just a short drive away.
St. Olaf's Church, Balestrand, Norway: Frozen
As well as likely giving everybody’s favorite fictional snowman his distinctive name, this Nordic Church also served as inspiration for the chapel in which Elsa is crowned Queen of Arendelle in Frozen. And you don’t need to be religious to appreciate the gorgeous architecture here. Complete with a tower, spires, slate roofs and beautiful stained glass windows, this traditional English church is truly one-of-a-kind and will have you feeling like a princess at the end of your visit.
If you're more of a Finding Nemo fan, you'll want to head to Sydney, Australia.