20 Real-Life Locations That Inspired Disney Movies

real life locations that inspired disney movies

Have you ever wondered how Disney always seems to come up with magical ideas?

Well, what if I told you that Disney gets a lot of their ideas from real-life places?

And what if I told you that you can visit these places too?!

You don’t have to wish on any stars for these dreams to come true. All you have to do is buy the plane tickets.

Since we’re huge Disney fans…

We made up a list of 20 real-life places that inspired Disney movies!

Check them out below!


1) Up – Angel Falls

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Angel Falls is the real-life version for the famous Paradise Falls in the movie Up. Paradise Falls is the waterfall Carl brought his house to with the help of Russel, Doug, and Kevin.

Carl and his wife Ellie always dreamt about visiting Paradise Falls someday. Unfortunately, Ellie passed away before Carl could surprise her with a trip.

The waterfall in the movie got its inspiration from Angel Falls in Venezuela.

I mean look at it…

It’s the same exact waterfall with a different name.

Angel Falls is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world! The height of the falls is 3,212 feet and the plunge is 2,648 feet!

You can find the falls on a mountain in Canaima National Park in the Bolívar State of Venezuela.

It’s a little challenging to actually visit the falls because you can only visit the national park by air. But there are a couple of airlines that can take you there!


2) Beauty and the Beast – Riquewihr, France

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Belle’s village in Beauty in the Beast resemble many towns in the Alsace region of France.

The town pictured above, Riquewihr, is one of the main inspirations of the village in the animated classic.

Riquewihr is an amazing town because it still has most of its 16th-century character. You can find the town on The Wines Road surrounded by hills and vineyards.

It’s a beautiful city with medieval features that include:

  • fortified walls
  • cobblestone streets
  • colorful, half-timbered houses
  • a castle overlooking the city from a distance

Hands down, it’s one of the most beautiful villages in France…

And in my opinion, in all of Europe!

The village is near the Rhine River border of France and Germany. It’s about an hour bus ride away from the city of Colmar.


3) Aladdin – Taj Mahal

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The creators of Aladdin drew a lot of inspiration from the Taj Mahal to create the Sultan’s Palace.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century. The masterpiece is a tribute to the emperor’s second wife that died during childbirth. It lies near the Yamuna River in the Agra District in India.

Agra? Agrabah?

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

The tomb took over 20 years to complete and it’s over 200 feet tall. The Taj Mahal is the greatest architectural achievement in Indo-Islamic architecture.

The Taj Majal is about 125 miles away from the city of Delhi and easily doable as a day trip.


4) Tangled – Mont Saint Michel

real-life locations that inspired disney movies
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Mont Saint Michel is the source of inspiration that created the kingdom is the movie Tangled.

If you look at the castle Rapunzel’s family lives in during the movie…

You can see how similar the kingdom looks like Mont Saint Michel!

Mont Saint Michel is an island that’s less than 1000 acres in size and had a population of only 50 people in 2015.

The island still has it fortifications from the 8th century intact. Then each level of the island has a strategic design:

  • houses and stores at the bottom
  • great halls for nobility in the middle
  • abbey and monastery on top

Today, the site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 60 monuments protected by France. It’s 3 million annual visitors makes it one of the most visited landmarks in France.

It’s a long 4-hour car ride from Paris which would make a day trip difficult. We recommend staying in Cancale or Granville for the night. There both only about an hour away!


5) Mulan – The Forbidden City

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The Forbidden City in Beijing inspired the Emperor’s Palace in the movie Mulan. Yep, the same palace where Mulan saved China from the invading Huns.

The Forbidden City is the largest imperial palace in the world. The building took over 14 years to build and over 1 million workers to complete it during the 15th century.

The palace got its name because ordinary people were not allowed inside.

Some of the impressive features of the palace include:

  • imperial rooms
  • governing quarters
  • valuable pieces of art
  • beautiful gardens
  • 52-meter wide moat surrounding the palace

Today, over 14 million people visit the palace each year and it’s one of the main tourist attractions in Beijing.


6) Atlantis: The Lost Empire – Angkor Wat

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The movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire is not as popular as the movies on this list, but it was still popular at the time of its release. You might have to go back and watch this one though to see the resemblance.

In the Disney movie, the city of Atlantis looks just like Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious temple complexes in the world.

Construction for the temple started in the early 12th century by Suryavarman II. The temple’s purpose was to be Suryavarman’s home and eventual tomb.

The site of the complex lies on 402 acres!

Today, Angkor Wat stands as a symbol of Cambodia and it’s the country’s main tourist attraction.


7) The Princess and the Frog – Louisiana Bayous

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Well, this one is probably the most obvious one on the list…

But the inspiration for The Princess And The Frog came from the city of New Orleans and Louisiana Bayous.

I can’t say that I’m a big fan of swamps… or alligators…

But I am a big fan of New Orleans! It’s a super fun city filled with rich history and no open container laws.

And if you do want to visit the bayous then it’s only a short drive from the city. There are several options for swamp tours where you can ride in airboats or custom made swamp boats.

It’s the best way to see the exotic plant life and wildlife.

Just don’t forget to get some beignets while you’re there!


8) Arrendelle, Frozen – Aurland, Norway

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If you take a look at the panoramic shot of Arrendelle at the beginning of Frozen…

You’ll see a giant fjord and the castle and city in front of it…

Well, the town of Arrendelle got its inspiration from Aurland, Norway. Aurland lies right next to the fjord, Sognefjorden. The largest and deepest fjord in Norway!

They might not call it Sognefjorden in the movie, but you can see a giant fjord right next to Arrendelle. Just picture Aurland frozen and it will look a little more familiar.


9) The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Notre Dame Cathedral

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame got its inspiration from the famous Notre Dame Cathedral.

Construction for the Cathedral took place during the 12th century in Paris. It took around 300 years for the construction to complete.

Then the cathedral took on heavy damage and desecration during the French Revolution.

It wasn’t until the 19th century when there was enough to restore the cathedral.

Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name helped the cathedral bounce back! Once the book came out, people were ready to restore the church.

Today, Notre Dame Cathedral is the most popular tourist attraction in Paris and receives over 12 million visitors each year.


10) Sleeping Beauty – Neuschwanstein Castle

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Neuschwanstein Castle is the inspiration for what many might call the most iconic symbol in the Disney Universe… Cinderella Castle.

Walt Disney modeled Sleeping Beauty’s Castle off of Neuschwanstein. You can definitely see a resemblance in the towers and the main body of the castle.

And doesn’t the real-life castle look magical too?

Not only is it one of the most beautiful castles in Germany, but it’s also one of the most beautiful castles in the world!

You can visit Neuschwanstein Castle near the city of Fussen in Bavaria, Germany. It’s about a two-hour train ride from Munich.


11) Wreck-It Ralph – Grand Central Terminal

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Game Central Station in the movie Wreck-It Ralph is a replica of Grand Central Terminal in New York City.

In the movie, the station is the hub for all video game characters to travel to and from their respective games. It’s also the way to go Turbo if you want to abandon your own game and take over a different game!

In real life, Grand Central Terminal is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. It gets over 21 million visitors a year!

The station covers 48 acres and it has the most platforms in the world at 44 platforms.

You definitely have to visit Grand Central Terminal whenever you’re in New York City!


12) Brave – Eilean Donan Castle

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Eilean Donan Castle is the main source of inspiration for The Royal Castle in Brave. You can see the resemblance and similar characteristics of the two castles.

In real life, Eilean Donan Castle started out as a monastery in the 6th and 7th century. It didn’t become a castle until the 13th century.

After getting destroyed in the 18th century, restoration of the castle didn’t take place until 200 years later during the 20th century.

Today, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland.

The castle is near the beautiful village of Dornie on the tourist route to the Isle of Skye.


13) Beauty and the Beast – Chateau De Chambord

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The Beast’s Castle in Beauty and the Beast got its inspiration from the Chateau De Chambord in France.

The Beast’s Castle has a similar roof compared to the Chateau De Chambord. The number of chimneys and spires the castle has looks more like a skyline. Just think of the towers as skyscrapers!

The architecture and the castle grounds were also used for the live-action remake in 2017.

Chateau De Chambord is one of the most recognized castles in France and sees over 700,000 visitors a year. The castle is less than 2 hours away from Paris and well worth the day trip!

You can get a great look at the castle here!


14) The Little Mermaid – Chateau De Chillon

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The idea for Prince Eric’s castle in the Little Mermaid comes from a lovely castle in Switzerland.

Chateau de Chillon is a beautiful castle that lies right on top of Lake Geneva. It’s a gorgeous location!

Construction of the oldest parts of the castle took place in the 11th century. But the castle saw a large expansion during the 13th century.

Today, the castle is one of the most visited castles in Switzerland and in Europe. It’s also in one of the most beautiful areas of Europe.

With the Alps and Lake Geneva right next to it, why wouldn’t you visit this historic castle?

Chateau de Chillon is near the city of Montreaux and it is also a quick day trip from Lausanne and Geneva.


15) Tangled – Yee Peng Festival

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When the Kingdom of Corona releases the lanterns for the lost princess each year…

Just know that…

That idea actually came from real-life events!

That’s right. The movie Tangled did not invent that.

There is an annual festival in Chiang Mai (and other places) where they release paper lanterns into the sky!

The local monks, residents, and tourists all take turns in launching fire-powered paper lanterns into the sky.

But instead of helping a lost princess find her way home…

Messages, prayers, and wishes of good luck get inscribed on the lanterns instead!

The Yi Peng festival occurs on the night of the full moon in November. It’s really one of the most magical events you can ever witness.


16) Arrendelle Castle, Frozen – Akershus Castle

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The castle that Anna and Elsa live in got its inspiration from Akershus Castle in Oslo, Norway. The castle used to be a military base and a prison… but now it’s the office of the Prime Minister of Norway.

Since Frozen is based in Norway…

It makes sense the inspiration came from the most important castle in the country.

Many believe the castle is from the 13th century and its purpose was to defend against attacks on Oslo.

You can see the castle of Arrendelle is there to protect the city. And the castle’s walls protect both the city and the castle itself.


17) Cars – Route 66

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The road that Lightning Mcqueen tears up in the first Cars movie is a replica of the historic Route 66. The U-Drop Inn is another real-life place on Route 66 that the filmmakers used to create Ramone’s Body.

Route 66 is the most famous road in the United States and one of the most famous in the world.

The route stretches over 2,400 miles from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. You can still drive over 80% of the original Route 66 today.

It’s one of the best adventures you can go on in the United States!


18) Elsa’s Ice Castle, Frozen – Hotel de Glace

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The inspiration for Elsa’s Ice Castle came from The Ice Hotel (Hotel de Glace) near Quebec City, Canada.

Each December, the hotel get constructed for the upcoming winter. The hotel is only open from January to April. Then they take the hotel down after the season ends.

It takes about a month and a half for 50 workers to complete the hotel. Think about all that hard work for just 3 months of business!

The hotel contains over 30,000 tons of snow and 500 tons of ice. All the furniture and beds come from blocks of ice and the hotel’s walls are over 4 feet thick. Don’t worry, the mattresses are not made of ice.

The hotel is one of the hottest tourist spots in Quebec City and it’s worth an overnight stay. It helps that it’s in one of the best cities in Canada too.


19) Snow White – Alcazar of Segovia

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The queen’s castle in the movie Snow White got its inspiration from the Alcazar of Segovia in Spain.

If you compare the two castles, you can see the similar characteristics they have. Both castles lie on top of a cliff and the towers of the castles share the same design.

First references of the castle’s origins go back to the 12th century. Although not much of the original castle remains, the castle holds a lot of history.

The castle has held the duties of being a defensive fortress, a royal palace, a prison, and a military academy. The castle still serves as a military archives building.

It’s safe to say the castle has worn many hats in its days.

Today, the castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it serves as a museum for tourists. You can easily make a day trip from Madrid. It’s only a 1 and 20-minute car drive or a 2 hour and 15-minute train ride!

Many believe the Alcazar of Segovia and Neuschwanstein Castle both teamed up and helped inspire Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle too!


20) The Emperor’s New Groove – Machu Picchu

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One of the great wonders of the world inspired one of the silliest Disney movies to date. Machu Picchu is responsible for inspiring the setting of the Emperor’s New Groove.

The area surrounding Pacha’s village and the palace is similar to the landscape near Machu Picchu.

Located almost 8,000 feet above sea level in the Cusco Region of Peru.

Many believe Machu Picchu served as the home for Emperor Pachacuti in the 15th century.  But the Spanish Conquest forced the residents to abandon the area. Because of this, Machu Picchu did not gain worldwide popularity until the 20th century.

It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of The World. It’s also one of the best hikes you’ll ever experience!

Cusco, Peru? Emperor Kuzco?

Emperor Pachacuti? Pacha?

Coincidences? I don’t think so.



Weren’t all these places magical?!

We can see why they were a big inspiration to the Disney company.

Have you been to any of these places?

Or are any of these Disney movies your favorite?

Tell us about it in the Comment Section!


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