From Elsa’s Frozen ice castle to Carl’s ultimate destination Angel Falls, Disney has created some seriously iconic settings in movie history. Sure, Epcot in Disney World is great for learning about parts around the real world, but what about the locations of the films? Turns out, you can actually visit your favorite Disney worlds! It just takes a passport and a lot of money (or a magic carpet!) to fly right into the magical places that inspired your favorite Disney films!
Let’s start with everyone’s favorite sisters:
The Disney Place: Arendelle
Arendelle, aka Elsa’s kingdom, makes little appearance in Frozen, as you know, aside from the scenes where it’s frozen and what not. The best imagery of the town is in the opening when all of the people arrive for Elsa’s coronation.
The Real Place: Aurland, Norway
Aurland is a municipality in the county of Sogn og Fjordane, Norway. It is located on the south side of the Sognefjorden in the traditional district of Sogn. The administrative center is the village of Aurlandsvangen. Other villages include Bakka, Flåm, Undredal, and Gudvangen.
The Disney Place: Arendelle Castle
We don’t see much of the outside of the castle because Elsa’s parents made a completely rational decision to lock Elsa up until she becomes queen (because locking someone up makes their powers go away, right?!).
The Real Place: Akershus Slott, Oslo, Norway
This medieval fortress was built to protect Oslo, the capital of Norway. It has also been used as a prison (I wonder if had a special unit for people with ice powers). It isn’t known exactly when the construction of the castle started but it is believed that it happened around the late 1290s, by King Haakon V, replacing Tønsberg as one of the two most important Norwegian castles of the period. Akershus fortress is still a military area—the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and Defence Staff Norway (armed forces headquarters) have a joint modern headquarters in the eastern part of Akershus Fortress.
The Disney Place: Elsa’s Ice Castle
After Elsa runs from Arendelle after her powers are exposed during her coronation, she builds herself one badass ice castle on the highest part of the kingdom’s North Mountain. Not only is the castle unbelievably beautiful, but that dress. Whoa!
The Real Place: Hotel de Glace
Turns out the Canadians can make a mighty ice castle, too. For 3 months of the year, Quebec City creates the Hotel de Glace out of 10,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice. As the only first and only true ice hotel in North America, the ice hotel offers warm blankets and giant snow jackets. You know, so you don’t get frostbite. The hotel has naturally been a hot spot for locals and tourists alike and is incredibly hard to get a reservation because of its fame. They have been making this hotel every year since 2001. No news on how to get an ice dress – yet!
The Disney Place: Rafiki’s Tree
Rafiki, whose name means “friend” in Swahili, resembles a baboon. He lives in a baobab tree in the Pride Lands and is an advisor for kings of Pride Rock. Oh, and he gets to show the newborn cubs to all of the animals. Sure, Simba was the one that took down Scar, but not without the help of good old Rafiki (who, btw, has amazing kung fu skills)!
The Real Place: Baobab tree, Africa
The baobab tree, aka the Adansonia digitata, is found in the hot, dry savannahs of sub-Saharan Africa. One of its popular nicknames is the “Monkey Bread Tree” because its soft, dry edible fruit draws lots of hungry monkeys.
The Disney Place: The Queen’s Castle
In the beginning of the film, we discover that Snow White is a princess living with her stepmother, a vain and wicked Queen. The Queen fears that Snow White’s beauty surpasses her own, so she forces Snow White to work as a scullery maid and asks her Magic Mirror daily, “Who is the fairest one of all?” For several years the mirror always answered that the Queen was, pleasing her. When she finds out that Snow White is still alive, she resorts to Plan B (because the huntsman option didn’t really work out and all) and poisons the poor princess. Thankfully, true love’s first kiss awakens the fair-skinned, red-lipped lady from her slumber and the two live happily ever after.
The Real Place: Segovia Castle
Like the Queen’s castle in Snow White, Segovia Castle rises out on a rocky crag above the juncture of two rivers near the Guadarrama mountains in Spain. This giant building that overlooks the area has served a bunch of purposes, including a Royal palace, a Royal Artillery College, and a military academy. Oh, and a state prison. Talk about multi-functional. I am sure there is a talking mirror in there somewhere.
The Disney Place: Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
After the witch curses baby Princess Aurora to die via spinning wheel, one of her fairy godmothers blesses her to alter the course of her death into a coma. King Stefan and Queen Leah still decide to send their daughter away to safety, but Aurora still manages to get pricked on her 16th birthday. Prince Philip falls in love with Aurora, beats Maleficent’s dragon form, and wakes her with true love’s first kiss.
The Real Place: Schloß Neuschwanstein
Schloß Neuschwanstein was commissioned as a retreat by Ludwig II of Bavaria and was paid for the palace out of his personal fortune and by means of extensive borrowing, rather than Bavarian public funds. Aside from being inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty castle (and all of the Sleeping Beauty-related castles you see all over Disney parks) the palace has appeared prominently in several other movies.
The Disney Place: Belle’s Village
We remember this toon town from Belle’s adventures as a bookworm wandering about. Somehow she managed to dodge creepy Gaston, avoid tripping, and not knocked into a single sales cart, all while never even looking up. Talk about reading skills.
The Real Place: Alsace, France
Like many princess’ villages, Belle’s is colorful and looks almost like someone had way too much time during the holidays and made a gingerbread town. Lo and behold, her town is based off of Alsace, France—a very real place. The smallest region in metropolitan France still looks like this. Even stranger, this picture-perfect town isn’t just a hole in the wall, it’s the seat of dozens of international organizations and bodies. This tiny town is one of the most politically important regions of the European Union.
The Disney Place: The Beast’s castle
Who could forget when Belle’s father Maurice and his horse Phillipe got lost in the forest while traveling to a fair to present his wood-chopping machine? After being chased by a pack of wolves, he comes across the Beast’s castle, where he is promptly detained. After his scared horse returns to town and leads Belle to the Beast’s castle, she offers to take her father’s place—officially winning the Daughter of the Year Award.
The Real Place: The royal Château de Chambord
The royal Château de Chambord at Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France, is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. Sadly, the building, which was constructed by King Francis I of France, was never completed. Maybe the petals of his rose ran out?
The Disney Place: The Emperor’s Castle
While most people think that Elsa from Frozen was the first Disney princess that told the idea of finding a prince to stuff it, I beg you to remember Mulan. Not only did she pass off in the army as a man to save her ill father, she saved All. Of. China. After fighting the Hun warriors, Mulan and her band of military friends headed to the Imperial City to save the Emperor before Shan Yu (the angriest Hun warrior with arguably the worst facial hair). After killing Shan Yu on the roof of the Emperor’s palace, Mulan attempted to apologize to the Emperor for lying under the law. He cut her off short though, thanking her for not saving only him, but all of China. Take that, Elsa!
The Real Place: The Forbidden City
The palace in the movie is based on the Forbidden City, which was also a palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. It served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government for almost 500 years. Oh, and Mulan is based on the folk tale of Hua Mulan, who is said to have disguised herself as a man to take her father’s place to enlist in the army.
The Disney Place: Prince Eric’s Castle
Prince Eric’s castle isn’t a huge part of the original Little Mermaid, but it is definitely more prominent in The Little Mermaid II. His castles is located on a “Danish-style” country and is surrounded by mountainous regions. The castle is kept safe on the edge of a sharp cliff with it’s entrance being ship ports.
The Real Place: Chateau de Chillon
Chateau de Chillon is an island castle located on Lake Geneva, south of Veytaux in the canton of Vaud. It is situated at the eastern end of the lake, on the narrow shore between Montreux and Villeneuve, which gives access to the Alpine valley of the Rhone. Chillon is one of the most visited castles in Switzerland.
The Disney Place: Radiator Springs from Cars.
The setting of Cars’ Radiator Springs is situated between Gallup, New Mexico and the Sonoran Desert in California. The film references a lot of Route 66 landmarks and the film’s epilogue shows a map of the area of Arizona around Radiator Springs, including car-related spots with names like “Carburetor County” and “Cadillac Range.” The latter is a large north-to-south mountain range with many fin-backed jagged peaks, a reference to the famous Cadillac Ranch sculpture in Amarillo, Texas.
The Real Place: Cadillac Ranch
Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, U.S. that was created in 1974 by the art group “Ant Farm.” It consists of a timeline of Cadillacs, representing a number of evolutions of the car line (most notably the birth and death of the defining feature of mid twentieth century Cadillacs: The Tailfins.) The cars are half-buried nose-first in the ground, at an angle similar to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
The Disney Place: Ramone’s Body Shop
We know this location as Lightning McQueen’s best friend’s shop where they hang and get handy police service.
The Real Place: The U-Drop Inn
The U-Drop Inn was built in 1936 in Shamrock, Texas along the historic Route 66 highway. Inspired by the image of a nail stuck in dirt, the building was designed by J.C. Berry. An unusual example of art deco architecture applied to a gas station and restaurant, the building features two flared towers with geometric detailing, curvilinear massing, glazed ceramic tile walls, and neon light accents.
The Disney Place: The Castle in Tangled.
Princess Rapunzel wouldn’t have made it into the world without the help of a golden flower. Because the flower had healing powers, Rapunzel’s ailing mother (the queen) was able to give birth. We all know that there’s a “but” coming, and it is. The flower is great (it also prevents decay or injury), but it was taken from Mother Gothel, who used it as her fountain of youth. Being the rational woman that she is, Mother Gothel decides to steal Rapunzel because aging gracefully is completely out of the question. Rapunzel gets to look out at her beautiful kingdom (that she doesn’t know is hers) from Mother Gothel’s tower. Lucky her.
The Real Place: Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France.
This island commune is in Normandy, France. It’s way overcrowded with a grand total of 44 residents. I am guessing there were more people before because it was a pretty boss fortification; it remained unconquered throughout the entire Hundred Years’ War. One of France’s most recognizable landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and more than 3 million people visit it each year.
The Disney Place: Rapunzel’s Birthday Celebration
Naturally, the King and Queen weren’t too stoked that someone kidnapped their only daughter. They searched high and low over the years and, though they never found her, they certainly never forgot her. Once a year, on Rapunzel’s birthday, the King and Queen released thousands of lanterns into the sky, hoping for their daughter’s return.
The Real Place: Lanna Thai Yi Peng festival (meaning “Full Moon Day”)
Swarms of floating lanterns are launched into the air to remind all that is a time to make merit—a Buddhist concept that, when performed, will result of good deeds, acts, and thoughts.
The Disney Place: Paradise Falls.
If you managed to make it through the first ten minutes of the movie without dying of heartbreak, you’ll remember that Ellie was an adventurer. She and her husband never made it to Paradise Falls, but after Carl was pressured to move out of their home, he decided to use thousands of balloons to take his house to the place they never got to go.
The Real Place: Angel Falls in Venezuela
Salto Ángel (meaning “waterfall of the deepest place” in Pemon language) is the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall. At 3,212 feet and with a plunge of 2,648 feet, this UNESCO World Heritage site in the Gran Sabana region of the Bolívar State, drops over the edge of the Auyantepui mountain in Canaima National Park. This waterfall isn’t only breathtaking, it’s incredibly hard to get to—because there are no overland routes, visitors must take planes over dense jungles just to get a peek of the peak.
The Disney Place: Sultan’s Palace
Who could forget where Aladdin and Jasmine’s first kiss took place? Or where Jafar totally failed at trying to mind-control the Sultan into forcing Jasmine into marrying him instead? Well, the real story behind the the iconic building that inspired the Sultan’s palace is even more romantic (and a tad bit morbid).
The Real Place: The Taj Mahal
Here’s another location that has an undeniable inspiration. The Sultan’s castle looks like someone took a palate of romantic colors and splashed them over the white marble mausoleum that is known all over the world: the Taj Mahal. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built this mausoleum for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in Agra, India. Meaning “Crown of Palaces,” the Taj Mahal is one of the most visited places in the world. Most people hope for a nice funeral attended by their loved ones, but Shah Jahan raised the stakes. This mausoleum not only shows his deep love for his wife, but also made sure that she would never be forgotten. All of these years, and for many more to come, the name Shah Jahan lives on through this famous marble beauty.
The Disney Place: Agrabah
As the seller in the bazaar at the introduction to the film describes it, Agrabah is a “city of mystery, of enchantment.”
The Real Place: The Round City of Ancient Baghdad
The first stones of Baghdad were laid in 762 by hundreds of thousands of workers closely overseen by Caliph al-Mansur. The ruler showed particular care to make sure that the all of the builders were paid in the growing city (can we get an internship?!) The center of the city was built as a circle around the palace and main mosque. With four main roads leading in and out of the city, the city formed a fortification around the city, called “Madinat as-Salem,” meaning “The City of Peace.”
The Disney Place: Pacha’s Villiage
Before Kuzco was a dopey llama, he was an even dopier Emperor. Being young, selfish, and accustomed to a lavish lifestyle, Kuzco decided to build a ridiculously over-the-top summer home, appropriately called “Kuzcotopia.” In order to do so, he selfishly tried to evict Pacha, a peasant man who just wants to save his family home.
The Real Place: Machu Picchu
The lovely hill that Emperor Cusco wants to use for his new waterpark has clear similarities to Machu Picchu. Similar to Cusco, most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti. Machu Picchu is in the Cusco region of Peru. Now I don’t think the fact that the main characters’ names, Cusco and Pacha, just happened to be a coincidence.
The Disney Place: DunBroch Castle
Brave is appropriately set in in Scotland, where the real castle happens to be. Like the badass she is, Merida not only refuses to marry a prince that she doesn’t want to, but changes the minds of the minds of all of the other clans to accept that the first-born child should be allowed to marry in their own time to whomever they choose. Merida FTW!
The Real Place: Dunnotar Castle
Like many of the more recent Disney films, the plot of Brave is set in a real-life location. This time: Scotland. The DunBroch clan’s castle is based off of Dunnottar Castle, the (clearly) ruined medieval fortress sits atop the north-east coast of Scotland. The few surviving buildings are from the 15th and 16th centuries, but it is believed to have been fortified in the Early Middle Ages. Sure, it doesn’t look like much now, but it’s best known as the the place where the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown Jewels) were hidden from Oliver Cromwell’s invading army in the 17th century. It may not look as fancy as it once way, but it still looks like an epic place to play hide-and-seek.