With the Walt Disney Company conglomerate taking over the entertainment landscape, there’s no doubt that Disney and its subsidiaries of Marvel Studios and Lucas Films are having an impact on other cultural industries as well, including tourism.
As filmgoers dream of roaming the Pride Lands, taking in Arabian Nights, and running away to the enchanted castles they see on the big screen, travel decisions are being influenced by the cinematic universes of Disney, the Avengers, and Star Wars.
Be transported to a whole new world by exploring the real-life travel landmarks and destinations that inspired the fairy tale and fantasy dreamscapes found in your favourite Disney films.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany for Sleeping Beauty
Standing tall atop the mountains of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle is the stuff that royal dreams are made of. Built in 1869 by Germany’s King Ludwig II, the Romanesque fairytale fortress has come to symbolize fairytale enchantment and romance. Not only is Neuschwanstein the inspiration for Princess Aurora’s castle in Sleeping Beauty, it is forever immortalized as Disney’s iconic logo, as well as serving as the iconic castle found in the heart of Disneyland Resort in California.
2. The Forbidden City in Beijing for Mulan
The Imperial City in Mulan is the setting of the Emperor of China’s palace and the fierce heroine’s climactic battle against the Huns, inspired by none other than the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. Beginning in the 15th century, the 980-building compound housed the Chinese emperors of the Qing and Ming dynasties for over 24 generations. Today a UNESCO-protected complex, the largest imperial palace on the planet (once forbidden to the people, hence the name) is now a historical landmark and museum for ancient art and artifacts.
3. The Taj Mahal in India for Aladdin
There’s no denying that the Sultan of Agrabah’s palace in Aladdin bears a striking resemblance to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Considered one of the wonders of the new world, this magnificent marvel of a monument was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Considering how the Taj Mahal is a tomb for the emperor’s late wife, how the sultan is a widower, and Jasmine sees her palace as a prison, the correlations are even more undeniable.
4. Alsace, France for Beauty and the Beast
Alsace, a region in the northeast of France with villages that have similarities to those right along the Romantic Road in Germany with its brightly coloured, steep-roofed cottages, is the real-life setting of Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast. Though the small-town girl desires to escape the confines of her small provincial life, the quaint storybook charm and pastoral atmosphere of medieval towns like Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé are a welcome escape for travellers.
5. The Fjords of Norway for Frozen
Within Norway’s Scandinavian wonderland are the breathtaking fjords that inspired the frosty landscapes of Frozen. Nærøyfjord, the world’s most narrow fjord, and the harbour town of Bergen, located in the western fjords, were the scenic models for Anna and Elsa’s home, the kingdom of Arendelle.
6. The Serengeti Safari in Africa for The Lion King
The inspiration for the Pride Lands comes from various African landscapes that sprawl across Kenya to Tanzania, from the Samburu National Reserve and Hell’s Gate National Park to the vast plains of the Serengeti. When on safari in Africa, explorers will instantly be transported into the land of The Lion King with the wildlife that roam the vast savannas and deep jungles.
7. The Bayous of Louisiana for The Princess and the Frog
The Princess and the Frog pays tribute to the southern heart and soul of Louisiana. In New Orleans, where Princess Tiana calls home, the French Quarter is the perfect spot for taking a stroll along the colourful architecture that lines the streets and tasting the flavourful, sweet, and soulful southern cuisine of gumbo, jambalaya, and beignet. The heart of the story of The Princess and the Frog is found in the bayou. Inspired by the swampy marshes that characterize the southern heart of Louisiana, the bayou is featured in the movie when Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen have their iconic kiss.
8. Angel Falls in Venezuela for Up
In Up, over a thousand helium balloons were used to float Carl (and his house) up to Paradise Falls. It will take quite the journey to reach the real waterfall in South America at Angel Falls, the highest uninterrupted waterfall on earth, in Venezuela’s Guayana highlands. With a flight to Canaima National Park, followed by a four-hour boat trip upstream the Churun River, and finishing with a 90-minute hike up steep trails to reach the base of the falls, it’s a tough trek, but an undeniable adventure.
9. Iguazu Falls in Argentina for Black Panther
From the King’s coronation to the combat showdown between Black Panther and Killmonger, Warrior Falls is the dramatic backdrop behind several key ritual moments in Black Panther’s fictional African nation of Wakanda. The real waterfall, the massive and powerful Iguazu Falls, is located on the border between Argentina and Brazil.
10. Skellig Michael in Ireland for Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Introduced in Episode VII: The Force Awakens and a major setting in Episode VII: The Last Jedi. the planet of Ahch-To, the birthplace of the Jedi Order, is where Rey finds Luke Skywalker taking refuge and where the heroine eventually goes through training with the legendary Jedi. These scenes were filmed at Skellig Michael, a set of rugged, remote islands found off the western coast of Ireland. Today, visitors can hike up the 600 steps to the monastery at the top of the rock for incredible views of the surrounding ocean.
Now that you’ve opened your eyes and explored in the footsteps of your favourite Disney heroes, princesses, and characters to the most magical places on earth, we imagine these locations will inspire you to take a magic plane ride around the globe.