THE BLOG
01/16/2015 02:25 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

8 Real-World Locations That Inspired Disney Movies

by Pretty Prudent's Jaime Morrison Curtis

2015-01-14-sleepbeauty.jpg
Photo courtesy Nagelestock.com/Alamy

The magical worlds inhabited by Disney characters have inspired children for generations, but did you know that the creative teams behind these visions were often themselves inspired by authentic villages, castles, and vistas? We took a journey through the Disney film archives, matching up enchanting fairy tales with their real-world locations.

1. Disney location: The castle from Tangled

Real-life location: Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy

2015-01-14-tangled.jpg
Photo courtesy Stock 4b GBH/Alamy

French artist Laurent Ben-Mimoun looked to the romantic oil paintings of 18th-century artist Fragonard to create the concept art for Tangled. He started with the vision of a Renaissance castle from which Rapunzel could let down her hair, recalling Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. As production progressed, he added medieval and French Renaissance influences--like small round towers inspired by Château de Chenonceau--as well as hints of modern architecture, like the triangular composition of the Century City Twin Towers in Los Angeles.

2. Disney location: Sleeping Beauty's castle

Real-life location: Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

2015-01-14-sleepbeauty.jpg
Photo courtesy Nagelestock.com/Alamy

One of Germany's most famous landmarks also served as the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty's castle, both in the 1959 film and at Disneyland itself. Before construction began in Anaheim, Walt Disney visited Neuschwanstein Castle, a 19th-century Romanesque Revival structure, on a European tour. He was inspired by the bright colors and majestic setting of to create the fairytale castle at the heart of Disneyland.

3. Disney location: Paradise Falls from Up

Real-life location: Angel Falls in Venezuela

2015-01-14-up.jpg
Photo by Alice Nerr/Alamy

Updirector Pete Docter traveled with a team of Pixar creatives to Venezuela's tepuis (table-top mountains) to gather inspiration for the lost world of Paradise Falls. Their trip culminated with a trip to Angel Falls, the world's tallest waterfall, which the team recorded with thousands of photographs, videos, and sketches before taking that inspiration home to create the bucket-list destination for the film's elderly hero Carl Frederikson (voiced by Ed Asner). "My feeling is that the location is also a character in the movie," Docter told USA Today.

4. Disney location: Pacha's village in The Emperor's New Groove

Real-life location: Machu Picchu

2015-01-14-empnew.jpg
Photo by Henk Meijer/Alamy

The mystical Inca ruins, perched 8,000 feet above sea level in Peru, served as the no-so-subtle inspiration for Pacha's village in The Emperor's New Groove, where Emperor Kuzco has grand plans to build a Kuzcotopia theme park. Ironically, Machu Picchu has become a major Peruvian tourist attraction since the Inca abandoned this site in the 16th century. Adventure travelers hike (or bus) to see the Temple of the Sun, the Room of the Three Windows, and Inti Watana, the ritual stone that is thought to have served as an astronomical clock for the Inca.

5. Disney location: Ramone's House of Body Art in Cars

Real-life location: U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas

2015-01-14-cars.jpg
Photo by Morten Larsen/Alamy

In the 2006 film Cars,the fictional town of Radiator Springs is meant to be a neglected stop along Route 66. One clear connection to that famed stretch of highway is Ramone's House of Body Art--based on the U-Drop Inn, a rest stop located in Shamrock, Texas. Its Art Deco design by J.C. Berry is easy to spot in Pixar's re-creation; Ramone's has a similarly shaped building and large spire (these can also be seen in Cars Land at Disneyland).

6. Disney location: DunBroch Castle in Brave

Real-life location: Eilean Donan Castle in the Scottish Highlands

2015-01-14-brav.jpg
Photo courtesy Imagebroker/Alamy

Disney's design team visited the glens and highlands of Scotland for its recent feature Brave,about rebellious red-headed princess Merida who wants to brake the shackles of tradition. They took inspiration from Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness and Dun Carloway broch on the Isle of Lewis, but the bulk of the design--the sprawling, rich interiors of Merida's DunBroch Castle--were drawn from the 13th-century Eilean Donan Castle on Scotland's west coast. Clan MacRae's grand table at the center of the Banqueting Hall is the model for Merida's royal family gatherings; the towers, stairwells, and turrets of the castle inform all the nooks and crannies the princess haunts throughout the movie.

7. Disney location: The castle of Arendelle in Frozen

Real-life location: Akershus Fortress in Oslo, Norway

2015-01-14-froz.jpg
Photo courtesy Imagebroker/Alamy

From the traditional folk costumes to the stunning vistas of the fjords, Norway inspired the look and feel of the magical world of Anna and Elsa in Frozen. The castle itself imitates the 800-year-old Akershus Fortress in Oslo, drawing on its brick patterns and ancient stone stairways to create a royal feel in the snowy city. Castle interiors--where Elsa was holed up in her bedroom while Anna sang at the doorway--draw from the 1778 royal residence of Stiftsgården in Trondheim, Norway. The fictional town of Arendelle is itself modeled after UNESCO World Heritage Site Bryggen in Bergen, Norway, the only preserved (and still functioning) business district from the Hanseatic period. Read more: Places in Norway That Inspired Disney's Frozen

8. Disney location: The Sultan's Castle in Aladdin

Real-life location: The Taj Mahal in Agra, India

2015-01-14-aladdin.jpg
Photo by David Pearson/Alamy

While Agrabah--a city of "mystery and enchantment"--is meant to be located near the Jordan River, the Sultan's palace at the center of the Aladdin's action bears more than a passing resemblance to the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. The Taj Mahal itself is not actually a palace, but rather a tomb for a sultan's wife--which makes sense, since the Sultan of Agrabah in the film is himself a widower, while Jasmine, the film's heroine, views the palace as a sort of prison.

More from Condé Nast Traveler:
The Best Cities in the World
Top 25 Cities in the World: Readers' Choice Awards 2014
15 Places You Won't Believe Actually Exist
The Friendliest and Unfriendliest Cities in the U.S.
The 10 Best Small Cities in the U.S.
How Not to Look Like a Tourist in Paris