7 Magical Real Life Disney Destinations
Elanor Parker, 16.07.19
If you’re as big a fan of Disney as we are, you’ll wish that you could just one day step into their storybook adventures. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of 7 real life places that are the spitting image of their Disney counterparts so you can bring a little Disney magic into your travels.
1. Beauty and the Beast - Riquewihr & Eguisheim, France
The quaint winding streets of Riquewihr
At the beginning of the Disney Classic Beauty and the Beast, Belle wanders through the quaint streets wishing to get away from her ‘quiet village’ and start an adventure. However, if you actually wouldn’t mind a taste of her provincial life then you need to fly to France. Riquewihr, close to the Swiss border, is the actual real life town which inspired the Disney animators working on Beauty and the Beast. Drifting through the medieval streets, you’ll soon notice familiar details: there’s the fountain where Belle reads her favourite book and you’ll be able to buy all of the lovely local produce Belle would buy, such as speciality fresh French bread at the boulangerie (that’s French for bakery).
A church in a vineyard near Riquewihr
Tourists are now catching on to Riquewihr’s Disney connection, but don’t get hung up on only visiting this one town. The whole Alsace region is filled with picturesque fairytale style villages. One we think is particularly worth visiting is the charming village of Eguisheim. Less than half an hour’s drive away from Riquewihr, this medieval village has been officially named as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Nestled in amongst the region’s vineyards, Eguisheim is a peaceful place to relax, wind down and, like Belle, read a good book. This sleepy village gets a little busier in August when they have a wine growers festival and a stork festival, which celebrates the bird that has become a much loved symbol of Alsace.
The streets of Eguisheim
The Alsace region is famous for its wine, especially its white wine, such as dry Rieslings. Over the centuries, Alsace has switched between German and French control and you’ll find influences from both competing cultures placed harmoniously side by side on menus, such as choucroute, the Alsatian version of equivalent of sauerkraut, and coq au Riesling, the regional variation of that French classic coq au vin.
Take me to Riquewihr & Eguisheim
If you’d like to experience the magic of the Alsace region (talking furniture excluded), then you can fly to Strasbourg Airport, which is only an hour away from Riquewihr by car. You can fly into Strasbourg on airlines such as Lufthansa and KLM.
Alternatively, why not create the ultimate Disney holiday and combine a visit to Alsace with a trip to Disneyland Paris? Strasbourg is only a 2-3 hour train journey away from Disneyland Paris, or you can always create a multi-city trip and book a flight into Strasbourg from Paris instead. Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport is open to plenty of international flights, with airlines including easyJet, American Airlines and Norwegian. Airlines that fly between Paris and Strasbourg include Air France and HOP!
2. Moana - Mo’orea, French Polynesia
Just like in Moana, Mo’orea is covered in mountainous outcrops and plenty of vegetation including palm trees, as well as pineapple, vanilla and banana plantations. Don’t forget to consider the coconuts! Moana’s fellow villagers can’t help but sing all about the coconut’s praises and you’ll find coconut groves here too. The Pass of the Three Coconuts is thought to be the most popular hike on the island which leads you to breathtaking panoramic views of an ancient volcano (which is hopefully a little more peaceful than the rageful volcanic goddess Te Kā who Moana has to battle against!)
Unlike Moana, you’re unlikely to hear a calling to ever want to leave the island, which is packed with activities. From glass bottomed kayaks to catamaran cruises and many people claim it is the world’s best place for snorkeling, where you’ll get to see colourful coral reefs populated by butterfly fish, rays and clams.
Mo’orea certainly isn’t a cheap vacation destination or one for a quick weekend away, but travelling there is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore one of the most stunning islands in the world. If you’ve got your heart set on visiting this dreamy island then you might want to consider a financing plan, such as Affirm which is offered to US residents, to help you spread the cost of your flights and make this dream trip easier to afford.
Take me to Mo'orea
Wherever you are in the world, it’s likely to be a long journey to get to remote island of Mo’orea. But with crystal blue waters and sunny skies calling, good things come to those who wait. To get to Mo’orea it’s best to fly to Papeete’s Fa'a'ā International Airport in Tahiti, which is served by airlines including Air New Zealand, French Bee, United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, who even chose to celebrate the release of Moana with specially decorated planes. From there, you can catch a ferry, or book a 15 minute flight direct to Mo’orae with Air Tahiti.
3. Frozen - Norwegian Fjords, Norway
The beautiful Norweign coastline
Disney’s smash hit 2013 musical Frozen took an astonishing $1.276 billion USD and is the highest grossing animated film of all time as the story of Princess Anna and her magical, yet troubled, older sister Snow Queen Elsa captured the hearts of millions worldwide.
The film was inspired by the short story The Snow Queen, which was written by Hans Christian Anderson, the author who also brought us The Little Mermaid. Although Hans Christian Anderson was Danish (and you can see the famous statue of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen), the animators for Frozen have stated they were inspired by Denmark’s Scandivanian cousin, Norway.
Norway is certainly famous for its fjords, which are long and narrow inlets between high cliffs, connected to the sea and carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago. This incredible process has created some of the most picturesque icy landscapes in the world. The UNESCO protected Nærøyfjord is thought to be the place that specifically inspired Frozen and the astonishing steep mountains rising dramatically up from the sea is a sight you’ll never forget. The best way to see them is to take a day cruise from the cities of Oslo or Bergen, as being out on the water is the best place to see those jaw dropping peaks in all their glory.
If you want to build a snowman then you’ll need to visit in winter as in the summer Norway can reach 25°C (72°F) or 30°C (86°F). Skiing is a very popular pastime in Norway, with Trysil being the most popular with families and it’s easy to get a transfer there from Oslo, although there will be a brand new airport opening there in December 2019 to make visiting even easier. There’s even Valle, the resort’s snowman mascot, who is dedicated to planning fun activities for all the kids. So, even if you don’t get round to making a snowman, you can still ski with one!
If you arrive into Norway via Oslo, then make sure you visit Akershus Castle. This city fortress originally dates from 1299, although it was later developed into a renaissance style castle in the 17th century. Although it has fewer turrets than Elsa and Anna’s childhood home of Arendelle Castle, with decorative rooms very similar to those seen in the film it’s a great stop off for any budding little princes and princesses wanting the royal treatment.
Take me to the Norweigan fjords
If you can’t hold it back anymore and need to see Norway before the highly anticipated release of Frozen 2 later this year, then you should fly to Oslo Airport, which has flights from airlines such as Norwegian, Scandinavian Airlines and British Airways.
4. Aladdin - Amman, Jordan
A view of King Abdullah Mosque in Amman, the capital of Jordan
Whether you’re a fan of the 1993 original, with Robin Williams’ cult performance as the Genie, or prefer the spectacle of the Guy Ritchie directed remake released just this year, there’s something enchanting about Agrabah, where much of the action in Aladdin is set.
There’s much discussion over where the story of Aladdin actually comes from. Some argue it’s got roots in China, whilst others argue for Baghdad or Syria to be the base for this distinctly Middle Eastern tale. However, if you’re looking to experience a bustling city in the middle of a desert nation, then we say look no further than the capital of Jordan: Amman.
The merchant we meet at the very beginning of Aladdin describes Agrabah as a ‘city of mystery and of enchantment’. However, Amman may be better described as a city of history. With settlements here since Neolithic times, there’s plenty to see from throughout the ages as different civilisations have settled here and left their mark. The most famous Roman ruin in the city is The Temple of Hercules. Climb up early in the morning and you’ll be rewarded with a lovely view over the city, as well as a chance to see these ancient ruins up close. Although now destroyed, there was once an enormous statue of Hercules himself here — which would have once been around 13 metres (42ft) high! Sadly, only fragments remain, but you can still get a glimpse of what once was as three giant figures are still at the site today.
Temple of Hercules in Amman
If you’d like to shop for a hidden treasure to take home (perhaps a lamp?) then check out Souk Jara. Only running on Fridays during the summer months, this open-air market stocks all kinds of handmade goods and antiques, which make perfect souvenirs. Afterwards, stop by nearby Rainbow Street, a cultural hub with trendy cafes and galleries which is even sometimes frequented by the Jordanian royal family. You can even pop by the Bani Hamida Women’s Weaving Project showroom, where you can buy a rug handcrafted in traditional Bedouin style (no flying carpets available unfortunately). If you’re travelling at another time, then there are plenty of other souks to explore in the city, some which specialise in goods such as fresh produce, as well as material and haberdashery supplies.
One of the most distinctive landmarks is the King Abdullah Mosque. Although it’s certainly not an ancient relic (it was built in the 1980s), it’s domed rooftop and accompanying minarets, both key features in mosque architecture design, are reminiscent of the Sultan’s palace. The only mosque in Amman that welcomes non-Muslim visitors, dress respectfully before you enter (you may be provided with appropriate robes before entering) or simply admire its distinctive look from afar.
Despite its location, Jordan is considered to be one of the safest Middle Eastern countries to visit and there’s plenty to see and do away from Amman too. Being a small country, it’s easy to travel from Amman to other Jordanian top tourist sites such as the Dead Sea and Wadi Rum. Don’t forget to visit Petra too, this astonishing kingdom built into the walls of a canyon certainly gives the Cave of Wonders a run for its money.
Take me to Amman
If you want to discover a whole new world in Amman, then you can fly to Queen Alia International Airport on airlines including the flag carrier Royal Jordanian, Turkish Airlines and Ukranian International Airlines.
5. Mulan - Xi’an, China
A Xi’an temple
The tale of a young woman who runs away from home to take her father’s place in the Chinese army’s fight against the Huns, Mulan is a much loved favourite that is getting a live action update in spring 2020.
Inspired by a Chinese folklore hero, Hua Mulan, it’s not exactly clear in which part and era of China the Disney retelling is set in. However, Xi’an is the perfect city to give you a taste of what life in historical China was like.
Most famous of all the attractions in Xi’an is the Terracotta Army. These lifesize sculptures represent the armies of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang and are one of the most respected treasures in the whole. Allocate a few hours to visiting the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor - it will be busy, but you will get a unique understanding of what army life might have looked like for Mulan and her friends.
The Terracotta Army
To learn more about Chinese culture, then you can visit the Shaanxi History Museum, which has plenty of artifacts and exhibitions. You’ll get an insight into everything from great art, such as the jade Empress’s Seal, to representations of everyday life, such as the Four Footed Li, a bronze cooking utensil. You could even find dragon statues that will remind you of Mushu, although don’t try banging any gongs to wake them! The museum is located near the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, which is worth a visit in itself to admire its impressive seven stories.
Although characters in Mulan are often seen eating rice dishes, Xi’an is increasingly becoming world renowned for its cold noodles, known as liangpi. These delicious hand stretched noodles are typically wider and longer than normal and are covered in spicy chilli and vinegar based dressings and often served with cucumber.
Take me to Xi'an
As one of the largest cities in China, Xi’an Xianyang International Airport receives flights from all over the world. You can fly there on airlines such as China Eastern, United Airlines and Air China.
If you’re keen on seeing more of China, you could even fly from Xi’an to Beijing where you can visit the most popular section of the Great Wall of China, glimpsed at the beginning of Mulan when the Huns manage to breech its defences. If you’d like to add Beijing to your trip, then there are plenty of direct flights, including those from Hainan Airlines.
6. The Lion King - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
A male lion in the Serengeti
One of the biggest movies of the year is bound to be The Lion King, the live action remake of the 90s classic with a star studded cast including Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Donald Glover and the returning talent of James Earl Jones. However, the real star of the film is bound to be the detailed representation of the African bush, which is home to all kinds of impressive wildlife.
If a day out at the zoo isn’t enough, then take a trip to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania for a safari trip you’ll never forget. With the largest population of lions in Africa, you’re more than likely to see a real life Simba or Nala prowling the prairies. Although it’s one of the world’s best spots to see the ‘big 5’, you’ll be amazed at every animal encounter, big or small. From hyenas (which look just as cunning as Shenzi, Banzai and Ed) to Masai ostriches, the whole circle of life can be seen on a safari trip here.
Unfortunately, Tanzania is not home to meerkats like Timon (you’d have to travel to different African countries further south for that), but you may well see a warthog like Pumbaa hanging out near a water hole! The Serengeti is actually home to the ‘Great Migration’ where over two million wildebeest, zebra and other animals cross the great plains as the beasts follow the rainfall. Go on a guided tour to safely experience this awe inspiring natural spectacle.
Take me to Serengeti National Park
For advice on visiting African safaris, you can read more about how to fly to safari locations here. However, if you’re already singing Hakuna Matata in preparation then, depending on the safari you’ll wish to take, you’ll probably be best flying to Arusha - Kilimanjaro International Airport, which you can get to on airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines, Air Tanzania and Kenya Airways.
7. Emperor’s New Groove - Cusco, Peru
This hilarious buddy comedy sees Kuzco, the egotistical Emperor of the Inca Empire, turned into a talking llama by his evil advisor Yzma before having to pair up with kind hearted peasant Pacha in order to get home safely.
The story starts when Kuzco wants to build a summer palace on one of the beautiful hilltops and although the film certainly isn’t an accurate representation of life in medieval South America, it’s love for the local landscape shines through. To get into a groove like Kuzco, then you should visit his namesake city: Cusco in Peru.
Yes, Peru’s most famous ancient Incan monument is Machu Picchu. It’s certainly a worthwhile bucket list destination, but there’s plenty more to explore elsewhere too. The city of Cusco itself is one of the oldest cities in the world and is home to one of its wonders: the Coricancha. This historic temple, known as the Golden Temple of the Sun, was one of the most important in the Inca Empire and was once completely covered in gold until it was ransacked by the Spanish conquistadors. Today, it’s open to visitors, and you can wander around its stone walls and pretty gardens.
Rainbow Mountain, Peru
A newly popular day trip from Cusco has been to Rainbow Mountain. This rocky outcrop is Instagram ready; its colourful stripes look painted on but are actually down to mineral deposits in the natural rock formation, which were only uncovered in 2015 when the mountain’s snow and ice melted away. If you visit, make sure you go on a dry day as the stripes don’t look their best in damp weather.
The desert oasis of Laguna Huacachina, Peru
If you’re hoping to explore more of Peru, you can catch a flight over to Lima, the current capital of Peru. An exciting city in its own right, you can also take a day trip from there to Laguna Huacachina, a desert oasis. Legend has it that a mermaid lives in this surprising lagoon, but the village’s magical appearance alone is enough to draw in tourists keen to watch the sun set over this enchanting village.
And, of course, you couldn’t travel to Peru without seeing a llama or two. These cute and fluffy animals are often seen wandering around the local villages and mountains - they’re a part of everyday Peruvian life. Although you may well get confused between llamas and alpacas - remember that llamas have much longer, curved ears and a longer face than a typical alpaca. They’re also much more likely to spit at you, so keep your distance!
Take me to Cusco
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