Beloved Disney movies have the ability to transport viewers to beautiful worlds where colors are vibrant, magic is real, and everyone sings on-key. Children pretend that they too are adventurous princesses and quick-witted heroes, living in ornate castles that overlook forests and oceans. However, those childhood imaginings often fade away with age.
Despite this dismal truth, some Disney magic lives on well into adulthood. In fact, the most famous Disney movie castles and palaces were largely inspired by spectacular real-life buildings that can be visited today, giving adults everywhere the chance to fulfill their childhood dreams.
Elsa’s Castle (Frozen)—Hôtel de Glace in Quebec City, Canada
Hotel de Glace. Photo by Louise Leclerc.
Only open in the winter months, the Hôtel de Glace, a structure made entirely of snow and ice, has offered once-in-a-lifetime experiences for visitors since 2001. Bundled-up guests can take guided tours, stay overnight, attend weddings and other private events, or even just enjoy a drink in a glass made of ice. It’s not hard to see how the Disney Imagineers drew inspiration from the hotel to create the impressive ice castle in Frozen.
The Queen’s Castle (Snow White)—Alcázar de Segovia in Segovia, Spain
Alcazar de Segovia. Photo by Lopez_Grande.
Serving as inspiration for the castle in Snow White, the very first animated Disney film, the pink-tinged Alcázar of Segovia was originally a medieval stronghold, but it has since served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College, a military academy, and a museum. Notably, it is also recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The fortress proudly stands on a cliff above the convergence of two rivers, giving one side of the structure a unique appearance that is not unlike that of the bow of a ship.
Corona Castle (Tangled)—Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France
Mont Saint-Michel. Photo by Ridoe.
Despite its deceptively romantic appearance, this picturesque island in France actually accommodates a religious commune, with an eleventh-century abbey standing tall at the island’s center. Even more distinctive than its appearance, though, is the fact that the surrounding tides regularly cut the island off from the mainland. Today, the raised causeway, constructed in 1879, allows pilgrims of all types to admire the UNESCO World Heritage Site at their leisure, whether they are there for religious reasons or to see the real-life Kingdom of Corona from Tangled.
Sleeping Beauty Castle (Sleeping Beauty)—Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle. Photo by derwiki.
Widely renowned for its beauty and idyllic setting, Neuschwanstein Castle served as the influence for the castle in Sleeping Beauty as well as the iconic Disney logo. The castle, built in the Romanesque Revival style in the mid-1800s for the so-called “fairy-tale king” Ludwig II, remains one of the most popular castles in Europe. It attracts thousands of visitors daily to appreciate the stunning building, its impressive vistas, and the charming town nearby.
The Sultan’s Palace (Aladdin)—Taj Mahal in Agra, India
Taj Mahal. Photo by Koushik C.
This ornate marble mausoleum, thought by many to be a palace due to its striking appearance, represents a great love story: it was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in honor of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, as he grieved for her following her passing. Universally admired, the palace was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Less than ten years later, Disney would pay homage to the building by basing the Sultan’s Palace in Aladdin on its distinctive design.