Explore the Actual Locations of Iconic Disney Scenes
We all know that life imitates art, but did you know that some of your favorite Disney films were actually based on real-life places? It can be crazy to see firsthand, but the animators and designers have taken direct inspiration from some pretty cool places and taken the time to put in a lot of detail to put them on the screen.
These places look like they were ripped right off the films, but they’re very real and very much visitable. I’m not saying you should book your flight right this minute, but maybe start planning a trip to go see Tangled’s sea-side castle.
Sleeping Beauty Snoozed In Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria
The castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, Germany was the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s infamous castle. The real-life version isn’t covered in overgrown thorns and was home to the King until he died in 1886.
A fun fact about this castle is that its designer, Ludwig II of Bavaria, said that it was in part inspired by the music of his friend and opera composer Wagner. Looks like Disney’s Sleeping Beauty carried on this chain of inspiration.
Beauty And The Beast Was Filmed In A Provincial Town Of Alsace, France
The little provincial town Belle dodges Gaston in is actually inspired by a little region in France called Alsace. Because Alsace is on the Rhine next to Germany, a lot of its architecture is a delightful blend of French and German culture.
The iconic fountain in Belle’s town square is also inspired by a real-life one in Alsace. And though this water was contained, the region was often flooded because of its proximity to the Rhine. The houses were built “half-timbered” to make them easier to move (and easier on the eyes) so they look like the ones you see in the film.
The Little Mermaid Swam Up To Chateau De Chillon, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Ariel was completely justified in getting upset about all the stuff we humans have on the surface—except for the beautiful Chillon Castle in Lake Geneva, Switzerland. Situated on the edge of a lake, this “island” castle looks out into the water and is the inspiration for the one featured in The Little Mermaid.
Creepily enough, just like the original fairy tale of the little mermaid herself where she dies and dissolves into sea foam, this castle also has a dark past. During the 16th century Wars of Religion, it was used by Savoys to house their prisoners.
Tangled Let Down Its Hair In Mt. Saint-Michel, France
Located at the mouth of a river, this real-life inspiration for Tangled was built like this not so Flynn could have a romantic lantern ride with Rapunzel, but to make it defensible during France’s wars.
Not only does this gorgeous tidal city inspire Disney animators, but it also left its mark on the food industry. Occasional flooding made some of the surrounding areas perfect nutrient-rich salt marsh meadows that sheep graze in and inspired the local dish “salt-meadow lamb.”
The “Cozy Cone Motel” From Cars Came From Route 66’s Wigwam Motel In California
Cars certainly did its research when it was trying to recreate familiar Route 66 American tourist landmarks. The “Wigwam Motel” is one of these, and it got its iconic shape not from wigwams, but from tipis.
Today you can still stay in the wigwam hotel and you’ll be happy to know that there’s cable TV, bathrooms, and internet access in each of the structures. Because thankfully, the designers didn’t get too historically accurate.
Aladdin Stole A Loaf Of Bread From The Taj Mahal
Just like Aladdin would do anything to impress the girl he loved, the man who built the Taj Mahal, Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, would also do anything to impress the girl he loved. He commissioned it to house the final resting place of his favorite wife and himself.
This jewel of a palace was brought onto the screen as a representation of the life street-urchin Aladdin wished he could have, and I’d say it does its job well.
The Emperor’s New Groove Found The Llama In Machu Picchu, Peru
Of course, a movie about a llama king n Peru is going to feature Machu Picchu in some way, but you’ll be shocked about how closely Disney animators followed the mountain’s curves. Instead of temples, the animators put little houses on the peaks to make the village look natural in its setting.
A cool fact about the temple is that the ancient Incas built a temple at Machu Picchu similar to the “Temple of the Sun” found in Cusco. Now, I’m not saying that “Kuzco’s” name comes from that reference… but it is spookily similar.
Up’s “Paradise Falls” Fell For The Beautiful “Angel Falls” In Venezuela
It’s no mystery why this Venezuela waterfall was named “Angel Falls”—it’s downright heavenly to look at. This place holds the title of the “world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall” since the drop is 3,212 feet.
It almost looks like the water comes out of the rock and disappears into the air, which is probably why Up’s animators chose such a distinct inspiration for Carl, Russell, and Doug’s dreamy adventure. Hopefully, there’s talking dogs in the real-life location too.
Mulan Is A Perfect Reflection Of The Forbidden City, Beijing
Mulan really had an uphill battle, showing the guys in the army she was just as good a soldier as they are—so it’s only natural Disney animators turned to historical landmarks to show how badly she wanted to break down their walls.
What better place than the Forbidden City in Beijing? The reason it’s called “The Forbidden City” is because of the rule that nobody could enter or leave the city without the Emperor’s permission since his palace was located there.
Wreck-It-Ralph Was Terminally Cool In Grand Central Station, NYC
“Game Central Station” in Wreck-It-Ralph was very clearly inspired by Grand Central Station in New York City—you can probably guess why. There’s no more obvious choice to show video game characters going from game to game than the busiest station in the world.
Every day the station sees over 750,000 commuters pass through its doors, which is roughly the population of San Francisco. If Wreck-It-Ralph‘s designers really wanted to be true to life, animating an entire city’s worth of people would be quite a job.
Atlantis Wasn’t Lost After Seeing Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The lost city of Atlantis located deep in the heart of the Earth luckily isn’t really lost—its counterpart can be found in Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Angkor Wat is a group of ancient Hindu temples and holds the title of the largest religious monument in the world!
While Atlantis was abandoned, Angkor Wat only fell into neglect in the 16th century (but still had pilgrimages) until it was rediscovered by a French explorer in the 19th century. We’re glad that this monument was found and continues to be an active part of the Buddhist faith today!
The Hunchback of Notre Dame Took A Page From The Notre Dame In Paris
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was clearly inspired by the real-life cathedral, but you’d be shocked how much impact the movie has had back on the building. The novel that inspired the movie, Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was published in 1831, and led to a bunch of restorations being done on the church.
The Lion King Was Inspired By Everything The Light Touched In Amboseli, Kenya
Amboseli National Park is the scene for The Lion King and it’s pretty clear why—it’s absolutely gorgeous. Just like most scenes in the movie have Pride Rock in the backdrop, Mount Kilimanjaro also overlooks the park.
The volcanic hyena cave is also close to reality too since it’s well known that Kilimanjaro is a volcano itself. It’s dormant now, but who knows, it could be waiting for some hyenas to come along looking to trick a young lion cub before it erupts again.
Brave Went Medieval On The Eilean Donan Castle In Scotland
Just like Disney’s Brave focused a lot on family ties and the arguments we can have with the people we love, so does the history of the landmark it was based on! The Eilean Donan castle in Scotland also boasts a pretty chaotic history.
The site was home to the Scottish Clans Mackenzie and MacRae, and following the Jacobite rebellion in 1715, the English Royal Navy destroyed the castle for being a stronghold for Jacobeans. It was restored in 1932, but you could say the conflict in Brave definitely fits right in with the castle the movie’s stronghold was inspired by.
Princess And The Frog Kissed The Louisiana Bayous
Disney’s Princess and the Frog took some liberties with the original tale, namely making both characters turn into frogs, and set the tale in the heart of Louisiana. It’s funny they set the tale here since in a bayou where there’s a lot of frogs, “frog’s legs” might be a local dish.
The Louisianna bayou region stretches along the Mississippi Delta and can be near New Orleans. Not sure where there’s royalty in New Orleans, but a Mardis Gras necklace is a close second in importance to actual royal jewels.
Moana Got Tropical In Bora Bora
In Moana, there’s a big focus on protecting our planet because it can lash right back out at you. While that’s a good mantra to have, it makes sense to set the movie in the French Polynesian islands of Bora Bora.
This is because Bora Bora’s beauty rises out of an extinct volcano with two peaks in its center. Luckily, it’s not going to be going off any time soon because this place is seriously gorgeous.