Fairy tales have captured our hearts and minds since once upon a time, and these imagined lands are often so vivid that they stay with us into adulthood. We dream of escaping to these fantastic, otherworldly settings to escape the bore of daily life.
But the authors who imagine these enchanting lands often draw inspiration from locations in real life. From the mountains of Germany to the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, there are many places around the world which look like they’ve been ripped from the pages of a fairy tale. And that’s because the real world inspired the story.
If you love fairy tales and have a serious case of wanderlust, you can visit these real places that inspired some of the best stories of all time. None of these destinations require a fairy godmother to reach – just a short flight!
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These Real World Destinations Inspired Your Favorite Fairy Tales
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
In the southwest region of Bavaria, Germany, lies Neuschwanstein; the real world castle which inspired Sleeping Beauty, and which has been recreated at Disneyland in Anaheim and as the Cinderella Castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
This extravagant castle was built in 1868 by King Ludwig II who wanted to withdraw from public life. When he died in 1886, the castle was opened to the public, and is now one of the most visited castles in Europe.
You can reach Neuschwanstein as a day trip from Munich.
The Serengeti, Africa
Hakuna matata! A classic safari destination, the Serengeti was inspiration for the Lion King, and travelers can relive the magic while immersing themselves among the largest populations of mammals in the world.
The Serengeti is a 12,000-square-mile region that extends from north Tanzania into southwestern Kenya. You can spot lions, elephants, gazelles, zebras and buffalos on either a private safari, or by joining a group tour.
The annual Wildebeest Migration is one of the prime attractions of the Park when vast numbers of hoofed animals are seen migrating from December to July.
France’s Alsace Region
Inspired by the real villages of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, these charming provincial towns became the setting for Belle’s hometown in Beauty and the Beast.
Two neighboring towns in France’s Alsace region, lined with colorful homes, cobblestone streets, and quaint shops, these are among the best-preserved historical towns in eastern Europe.
Also in the Alsace region, Colmar is often quoted as the prettiest town in France, and also looks like it’s straight out of Beauty and the Beast. Or does Beauty and the Beast look like it’s straight out of Colmar? There’s even an identical fountain to which Belle twirled around with her books and a gaggle of sheep.
Pro tip: Include a visit to Chateau de Chambord while in France. The creators of Beauty and the Beast decided to revamp the initial version of the film after visiting to make the real-life castle the fairytale home of the Beast.
While not a hugely popular tourist destination right now, those seeking magical Arabian nights should take a magic carpet ride to Baghdad; a city that inspired tales of genies and magic lamps.
Disney’s Aladdin was actually meant to be set in Baghdad, but the film was in production during the First Gulf War (when the US was bombing Iraq), so they changed the name to Agrabah. The tale is based on Arabian folklore, and largely inspired by the 1940 film “The Thief of Bagdad.”
As far as inspiration for the Sultans palace, this is based on the white marble mausoleum that is the Taj Mahal, in Agra, India. We wonder if it also inspired the name of Agrabah.
The Forbidden City, China
A visit to the Forbidden City in China, and you’ll wonder if you’ve been transported into the legend and Disney classic that is Mulan.
Set during China’s Han Dynasty (from around 200 BC to 200 AD), the Emporers home is based on the Forbidden City, a Chinese imperial palace located in the heart of Beijing. It housed 24 emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties, from the 14th century through the 20th century.
Beware of the wolf in Ziegenhain. This is considered the capital city of Germany’s Fairy Tale Road, a region which inspired Little Red Riding Hood by the Brothers Grimm.
Little red actually grew up in the Schwalm Valley, 65 miles northeast of Frankfurt. Traditionally, women of this region wore a certain color to signify their status: red for youth; green for young married; purple for middle age; and black for old age and mourning. Travelers today can still see young women in their red caps.
There are numerous legends and tales in the towns of the Schwalm-Eder county, and before the Brothers Grimm and Disney’s interpretations, Little Red Riding Hood was a violent moral tale designed to keep young women on a righteous path.
➡ Angel Falls in Venezuela if you are a fan of Up.
➡ Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France for fans of Tangled.
➡ Notre Dame in Paris, France for fans of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
➡ Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru for fans of The Emperor’s New Groove.
➡ Kauai, Hawaii for fans of Lilo and Stitch.
➡ Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland for fans of Brave.
➡ The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia for fans of Finding Nemo.
➡ Trendelburg Tower in Germany’s Hesse region for fans of Repunzel.
➡ Zhangjiajie, China for fans of Avatar.
➡ Hobbiton, New Zealand for fans of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
➡ Hotel de Glace near Quebec City, for fans of Frozen.
➡ Ashdown Forest in Southern England for fans of Winnie the Pooh.
➡ The French Laundry, Napa Valley, California for fans of Ratatouille.
➡ Chateau de Chillon, Lake Geneva, Switzerland for fans of The Little Mermaid.
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Photo credits: Neuschwanstein Castle by Andrew Czap. Colmar by Fonzie D. Chateau de Chambord by Bert Kaufmann. Forbidden City by Vineet Radhakrishnan. Hall of central harmony by See-ming Lee. Sunset at Neuschwanstein in Pinterest image by Jens Fricke.