Disney film locations which were inspired by real-life places

Disney films are set in enchanting kingdoms and far away lands, but it seems that some of the iconic spots may be a little closer to home.

In fact, Disney animators have been taking inspiration from real-life places for decades, and putting their own magical twist on them to create the castles and kingdoms fans have come to know and love.

We’re not talking the chateaus which inspired its theme park castles . We’re talking beautiful landscapes and iconic landmarks which have been Disney-fied.

Think the African plains which inspired the Pride Lands in The Lion King, or the breathtaking Taj Majal which led to the creation of the palace in Aladdin’s Agrabah.

As for Belle’s provincial town in France? Animators looked to real-life, picturesque villages in the French countryside.

We take a look at 10 real-life places which inspired iconic Disney film locations…

1. Sleeping Beauty – Neuschwanstein Castle

Sleeping Beauty castle

It’s no surprise the Bavarian castle in Germany caught the attention of Walt Disney when he was researching ideas for Sleeping Beauty.

After all with its high towers, intricate architecture and fairytale-esque landscapes, it’s pretty jaw-dropping.

Neuschwanstein castle
Neuschwanstein castle

Oh, and considering it’s named after the Swan Knight from one of Wagner’s opera characters, the castle already boasts some serious storybook credentials.

This 19th century castle was originally built to be a home for King Ludwig II, but he actually only spent a grand total of 11 nights in the castle.

2. The Lion King – Kenya

The Lion King

That the production crew took inspiration from the plains of Africa when researching The Lion King should come as no surprise.

It was the breathtaking landscapes of Kenya which offered up the most inspiration for the team.

In fact, Disney animators stayed at the Borana Lodge in Laikipia so they could go on safari drives and get up close to some of the fascinating creatures.

Meanwhile, they learned Kenyan sayings which eventually led to the glory that is Hakuna Matata .

Oh, and yes – there is a real-life ‘Pride Rock’ that has long been a tourist attraction if you do fancy it.


3. Up – Angel Falls

Paradise Falls in Up

It’s easy to do a double take when you see pictures of the Angel Falls in Venezuela, which are nearly identical to Paradise Falls where Carl and Ellie see themselves spending the rest of their years.

Angel waterfall, with 979 meters drop, the highest waterfall in the world on the Auyan tepuy, Canaima National Park, Venezuela.

The world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall, this ethereal spot looks like something straight out of a film set anyway, boasting a height of 979m and a plunge of 807m.

4. The Emperor’s New Groove – Machu Picchu

Pacha’s house on the hill in Emperor’s New Groove

Pacha’s house boasts a breathtaking hilltop location so it’s no wonder that Kuzco eyed it up for his summer home. 

And as Kuzco may be Emperor of the Inca Empire, it’s fitting that an Incan icon served as the main inspiration – the world-famous of Machu Picchu.

Tucked away in the Andes Mountain, the 15th century Incan citadel has long been attracting thousands of tourists who wander around the ruins and take in the spectacular sites.


5. Tangled – Mont Saint Michel

The kingdom in Tangled

The kingdom of Corona in Tangled is the spitting image of Mont Saint Michel in France with its surrounding waters, picturesque houses and impressive towering castle at the top of the mound.

Le Mont Saint Michel

In fact, Mont Saint Michel is hailed as one of the most beautiful castles in Europe and has served as inspiration for plenty of Disney’s breathtaking castles.

The medieval abbey of this island boasts spectacular Gothic architecture and fortifications.

6. Palace in Aladdin – Taj Mahal


Agrabah in Aladdin was inspired by heaps of picturesque landmarks and palaces but it’s difficult not to make the comparison between the Sultan’s palace and the breathtaking Taj Mahal in India.

Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal

For the 2019 live action remake however it was the deserts of Jordan which served as the filming locations .

7. Beauty and the Beast – Alsace

Belle in Beauty and the Beast


Belle pretty much gives away the animators’ inspiration when she sings about the provincial town she’s living in, while Lumiere later reveals that Beauty and the Beast is set in France while singing ‘Be Our Guest’, so it’s clear that France would have been the inspiration here.

A pretty street in the region of Alsace

However you don’t need to be in a fairytale to wander through a similar town, as there are some pretty storybook-worthy villages throughout the Alsace region with beautiful colourful buildings and picture-perfect squares.

Oh, and you won’t be hassled by Gaston!

8. Hunchback of Notre Dame – Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Okay, so Disney animators probably didn’t need to stretch their imagination too much for the setting of this take on Victor Hugo’s iconic novel which is set in Notre Dame cathedral in France.

But they still managed to add a quirky twist to the tower making it appear a lot taller, and of course adding little quirks such as the gargoyles that come to life (we’re pretty certain this doesn’t happen usually).

Notre Dame is one of those iconic landmarks you need to see if you’re visiting Paris.

Unfortunately the Notre Dame fire that hit the cathedral earlier this year means that currently it’s closed to tourists, although you can still take in the views of the exterior.

9. Brave – Eilean Donan Castle

Castle DunBroch in Brave

Brave already had us wanting to book Scottish getaways immediately as it captured the sweeping landscapes of the Highlands, but for the castle where Merida and her family reside, it was Eilean Donan Castle which caught animators’ attention.

Looking across Loch Duich to Eilean Donan Castle

The 13th century castle offers some spectacular lochside views and is open to the public if you fancy having a Scottish adventure of your own.

Looking for somewhere to stay? We’ve got a round-up of the top cheap hotels in the Scottish Highlands to give you a helping hand.

10. The Little Mermaid – Chateau De Chillon

Prince Eric’s Castle

Prince Eric’s castle where Ariel spends her first few days as a human boasts a pretty spectacular oceanfront location – but so does Chateau De Chillon right by Switzerland’s Lake Geneva.

Chateau de Chillon

It’s easy to see the similarities between the two from the stone exterior to the tower details, as well as those waterside views of course.

We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for mermaids.


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