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20 Real World Places That Have Inspired Disney Movies

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by Albie Hartshill Jan 26, 2015

DISNEY IS FAMOUS for creating fantastic, otherworldly, fairy tale settings for its movies. But the artists who create these other worlds draw heavily on real-world locations for their designs. Whether it’s in the mountains of Germany or France, in the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, or in the swamps of Louisiana, the world is covered in places that have been adapted into Disney settings.

So if you’re a traveler — and a Disney fan — and you’re looking for a fairy tale place to go on your next vacation, try visiting some of these real world locations that you can also find in Disney movies.

Machu Picchu

View of Machu Picchu from above

Photo: tako_kr

The art and design of The Emperor’s New Groove is heavily influenced by Incan culture, but Pacha’s village in particular is set on a set of very familiar-looking mountains.


Angel Falls

Photo: Eileen Kumpf/Shutterstock

Carl Fredricksen’s South American destination of Paradise Falls in the movie Up is based on the real life Angel Falls in Venezuela.


New Orleans

New Orleans, Louisiana, Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Okay, so the setting of The Princess and the Frog isn’t based on New Orleans: it is New Orleans. From the French Quarter to the Bayou, all of New Orleans and the Mississippi River Delta is recognizable in this movie.


The Great Barrier Reef

Photo: Lewis Burnett/Shutterstock

Finding Nemo starts in the Great Barrier Reef, and follows the clownfish Marlin, his son Nemo, and his blue tang friend Dory all the way to Sydney Harbor in Australia.


Route 66

Texas Panhandle

Photo: YuniqueB/Shutterstock

Both in design and plot,Cars is heavily influenced by the classic Americana of the mother road, Route 66. A set of mountains visible in the background of one shot heavily resemble the famous Route 66 landmark, Cadillac Ranch.


Alsace, France

Riquewihr, France

Photo: Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

The creators of Beauty and the Beast looked to the small villages and towns of Alsace in France to create Belle’s home of Little Town.


Mont Saint-Michel

Beautiful Mont Saint Michel cathedral in Normandy, France

Photo: Gaspar Janos/Shutterstock

Rapunzel’s parents’ castle in Tangled is based off of the beautiful French commune of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.


The Serengeti

Photo: dktirol/Shutterstock

The art in The Lion King is largely based off of Africa’s Serengeti plains in Tanzania, famous for it’s incredible animal migrations and, of course, for its lion prides.


The Forbidden City

Forbidden City

Photo: Allen.G/Shutterstock

Mulan is set during China’s Han Dynasty (from around 200 BC to 200 AD). Though the Forbidden City wouldn’t be built until about 1200 years later, the design of the Emperor’s home is very clearly based on Beijing’s Forbidden City.


Hotel de Glace

Photo: Anne Richard/Shutterstock

Elsa’s Palace in Frozen drew inspiration from the Hotel de Glace — a hotel made primarily of Ice — near Quebec City in Canada. 


Neuschwanstein Castle

Photo: Naumenko Aleksandr/Shutterstock

The gorgeous Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany, served as inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty Castle, which would later become adapted into the famous Disney castle at the beginning of each Disney movie.


Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Photo: Jacky D/Shutterstock

Obviously, the centerpiece of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the gorgeous gothic cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, located on the Seine in the heart of the city. The movie capitalized on the building’s gothic architecture to the point of including its famous gargoyles as actual characters in the film.


Ashdown Forest

Photo: Matt Gibson/Shutterstock

In Winnie the Pooh, the famous Hundred Acre Wood is actually based off of the real life Five Hundred Acre Wood in southern England’s Ashdown Forest.



Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, Kauai, Hawaii

Photo: Adam Springer/Shutterstock

The art of Lilo and Stitch is obviously Hawaiian, but it based specifically on the beautiful island of Kauai.


The Taj Mahal

Side view of the Taj Mahal

Photo: muratart/Shutterstock

In Aladdin, the Sultan’s palace is based in look on the famous Taj Mahal. The movie itself is based in the Middle East — likely Jordan — which is a solid 2,600 miles away, but who could pass up a hat tip to the Taj?



Photo: Krunja/Shutterstock

In Tangled, in order to commemorate the loss of their daughter, Rapunzel’s parents release sky lanterns each year. This is actually based off of the Thai festival of Yi Peng.


The French Laundry

Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky/Shutterstock

Ratatouille is set in Paris, but the kitchen is based off of that of the French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley restaurant that is consistently ranked among the best in the world. It should be noted that there isn’t any record of their ever being rats in the French Laundry.


Chateau de Chillon

Photo: BearFotos/Shutterstock

Prince Eric’s seaside castle in The Little Mermaid is believed to be based off of the Chateau de Chillon, which sits on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.


Eilean Donan

Photo: Jan Miko/Shutterstock

The Pixar movie Brave is set in the Scottish Highlands, so much of that area is recognizable in the movie, but one of the primary sources of inspiration was the Eilean Donan Castle.


Chateau de Chambord

Photo: yvon52/Shutterstock

The Chateau de Chambord in France was the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in Beauty and the Beast

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