17 Real Locations That Inspired Disney Movies

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©Douglas Olivares/Shutterstock
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To Sua ocean trench in Samoa
©Martin Valigursky/Shutterstock


The story takes place 2,000 years ago and follows young Moana as she ventures to save her island. The film's director drew inspiration from several South Pacific islands and modeled Moana's island, Motunui, after Samoa.

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©Aleksandr Zykov/Flickr, Creative Commons
Athens, Greece


Loosely based on Greek mythology, this story follows a young man through the Mediterranean ruins in Athens on his quest to reclaim his immortality. 

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Chateau de Chillon
©Ksenija Toyechkina/Shutterstock
Chateau de Chillon

"Little Mermaid"

Chateau de Chillon on the shores of Lake Geneva is the most visited castle in Switzerland. It's also the inspiration for Eric's castle, where Ariel explored her human side.

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Mont Saint Michel
©Lari Huttunen/Flickr, Creative Commons
Mont Saint Michel


This island commune off the coast of Normandy, France, inspired the castle that held Rapunzel in "Tangled." It was built in the 8th century and houses the Mont Saint Michel monastery.

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Forbidden City
©Colin Capelle/Flickr, Creative Commons
Forbidden City, China


For nearly 500 years, the Forbidden City served as China's imperial palace. It's where Disney's version of Mulan defeated the Huns, now a palace museum with the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world. 

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Machu Picchu
©ElinUK/Flickr, Creative Commons
Machu Picchu

"The Emperor's New Groove"

Pacha's village is based on the ruins in Machu Picchu. The shape of the hills in his village resemble those shading the ancient village in Cusco, Peru. Also, the emperor's name in the movie is Kuzco. Coincidence? We think not. 

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Alcazar of Segovia
©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Alcazar of Segovia

"Snow White"

This castle is now a museum but was once a royal palace, a state prison and a military college. It made a great home for Snow White's evil queen.

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Eilean Donan Castle
©Hugh Mothersole/Flickr, Creative Commons
Eilean Donan Castle


Much of the inspiration for rebellious Merida's home came from this 13th century Scottish castle that sits on its own island overlooking the Isle of Skye. It's one of Scotland's most-recognized landmarks.

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Angel Falls
©Douglas Olivares/Shutterstock
Angel Falls


A determined Carl ties thousands of helium balloons to his home to float to "Paradise Falls" in his golden years. His dream destination is based on Venezuela's Angel Falls, the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world.

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Cathedral of Notre Dame
©Gary Ullah/flickr, Creative Commons
Notre Dame

"The Hunchback of Notre Dame"

Based on Victor Hugo's novel, the Disney movie tells the story of a deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame, the medieval cathedral in Paris. It's one of the most well-known churches in the world.

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Taj Mahal
©Louis Vest/Flickr, Creative Commons
Taj Mahal


In reality, the Taj Mahal is an elaborate tomb built by a shah for his beloved wife. It's rounded spires and four columns served as the inspiration for the sultan's palace in Agrabah.

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Neuschwanstein Castle
©PKDENLNG/Flickr, Creative Commons
Neuschwanstein Castle

"Sleeping Beauty"

This stunning castle in Germany's Bavaria region is the inspiration for one of Disney's most iconic castles. The Sleeping Beauty Castle appears in the 1959 movie and also greets visitors at Disneyland.

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New Orleans Bayou
(©ccharmon/Flckr, Creative Commons)
New Orleans Bayou

"The Princess and the Frog"

The bayou in New Orleans is portrayed in the movie as both scary and magical, as Tiana and Naveen navigate its terrors and meet new friends in their murky depths. Guided tours of the swamp let visitors explore the real animals that live there.

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U Drop Inn
©Shamrock Chamber of Commerce/Flickr, Creative Commons
U Drop Inn


Several locations in this Disney/Pixar film resemble iconic landmarks along Route 66, but the U Drop Inn—once a gas station and restaurant—was exactly replicated as "Ramone's House of Body Art" in the movie.

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Kilauea Lighthouse

"Lilo and Stitch"

The antics of the Hawaiian heroine and her strange pet take place amid Kauai's lush landscape. The Kilauea Lighthouse is easily recognizable and is frequently seen in the movie.

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Chateau de Chambord
Courtesy Chateau de Chambord
Chateau de Chambord

"Beauty and the Beast"

This 1547 French chateau in the Loire Valley is the inspiration for the Beast's castle in both the 1991 animated film and the 2017 live action remake. The castle and stunning French formal gardens are open for tours daily.

By Lisa Kaylor on 08/23/2017

Disney writers and producers have traveled the world searching for inspiration for their popular fairy tales. Many of the characters play out their stories among well-known—and sometimes lesser known—landmarks. Visit these castles, ruins, temples and cities ancient and new that some of Disney's most beloved movies.