The various castles from Walt Disney animations are truly breathtaking fantasy structures. Many, though, are based on real life locations that you can still actually visit. Here’s a look at the real life versions of many of the most famous castles in Disney cartoon .
The castle from “Sleeping Beauty” is one of the most iconic Disney images, despite looking a little different in the actual movie than in subsequent adaptations that appear in theme parks and on the company’s logo. This setting was based on a very real castle in Germany that still stands today.
Built in the 19th century, Neuschwanstein Castle is actually fairly similar to the Disneyland castle in terms of its intended purpose. It’s an example of historicism, where architects create a building to mimic the romanticized historical design of centuries past. Thus, this building looks like it came straight out of a fairytale, even though it’s relatively young by castle standards.
Corona castle in “Tangled” is an impressive structure: a castle town that juts out of a relatively small island that can only be reached by boat or bridge. The surrounding water is the perfect place to launch hundreds of paper lanterns while commemorating a missing princess, or falling in love with a thief who has a heart of gold.
Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, provided the inspiration for Corona’s castle. This very well-defended castle and abbey saw off English invaders time and again during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France in the Middle Ages, and to this day remains an impressive military achievement.
The instantly recognizable palace at the heart of Agrabah is a wonder to behold if you’re a street rat, but less of an impressive view if you’re a princess in disguise. Its turrets can be blasted off like rockets if given suitable encouragement from the most powerful sorceror in the world.
The Taj Mahal
American artists at Disney based Agrabah’s palace on the design of the Taj Mahal, but this isn’t accurate to the movie’s setting. Aladdin is based on the “1001 Arabian Nights” legends which originate in the Middle East, while the Taj Mahal is located in India, over 2000 miles from the Arabian desert.
Kuzco’s palace in “The Emperor’s New Groove” is a glittering spectacle with thousands of steps hidden high above a Peruvian mountain range. The movie is filled with jokes about the difficulty of exploring and navigating this golden construction, and with good reason, considering how hard it is to explore the palace’s real life counterpart.
There’s not a lot left of the real Machu Picchu, but its structure is still clearly visible for anyone who is able to make the difficult journey up to its mountaintop location. The air is so thin at the top that tourists need to be careful not to get altitude sickness while journeying to the ancient ruins of the Inca trail.
Simply referred to as the Imperial City in the movie, this large palace provides the backdrop for the explosive climax in the movie “Mulan.” While the movie version of this palace looks a little different to its real world inspiration, it’s instantly recognizable to anyone who has visited China.
The Forbidden City was constructed in the early 15th Century and was used as the winter residence for the Emperor during the Ming dynasty. It is perhaps the most famous building in Chinese history, and is second only the Great Wall of China in terms of its cultural impact.
Prince Eric’s Castle
The above-ground castle in “The Little Mermaid,” simply known as Prince Eric’s Castle, is noteworthy for being at the very edge of the ocean. Considering how dangerous it would be to build a castle literally atop the sand on a beach, surely this can’t be based on a real castle, right?
While Chillon Castle is a little more boxy than the Disney alternative, this real life castle really did inspire the setting from “The Little Mermaid.” Built at the edge of the ocean, the castle is one of the most visited medieval buildings in Switzerland.
The Beast’s Castle
While warped and twisted by enchantress magic for most of the movie, the few shots in “Beauty and the Beast” that show off Prince Adam’s castle in all its glory display a gleaming white building with plenty of windows and circular rooms. It’s no surprise that this design was directly lifted from a real French castle.
Château de Chambord
Located in Loire Valley in France, Château de Chambord is one of the country’s most famous examples of Renaissance-era architecture. The castle was commissioned by Francis I and took twenty-six years to build, but was never actually finished. But then, it’s a late baroque-era castle, and as Cogsworth says, ‘if it’s not baroque, don’t fix it!’
Château de Chambord Served Royalty
A look inside Louis XIV’s ceremonial bedroom shows just how similar Château de Chambord and the Beast’s Castle truly are. The beautiful white walls with gold leaf trim are more visible only at the end of the movie, when the castle has been transformed back into its original state, but this architecture is visible in places throughout the film.
One of the most iconic scenes in the Beast’s castle takes place in its resplendant ballroom, which shows off just how beautiful those large windows are from the inside. The ceiling is a particularly stunning sight, with its phenomenal chandalier and stunning murals.
Hôtel de Soubise
The Beast’s ceiling is an example of rococo design (as namedropped by Cogsworth when he makes his awful baroque joke), and while the Hôtel de Soubise may not have been the exact inspiration for the castle ballroom, it is an excellent example of the style that the Disney artists were aiming to emulate.
We can’t talk about the Beast’s castle without mentioning Belle’s incredible library. The envy of book nerds everywhere, this is one of the most coveted fantasy locations in the history of animation. It also has a very real counterpart.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France
The Bibliothèque Nationale de France is an absolutely stunning libary with floor to ceiling bookshelves and a grand circular design in its reading room. While not necessarily the only inspiration for Belle’s library (her library’s decor more closely matches the inside of the Château de Chambord), this is one of many French libraries that show off just how good a large collection of books can look when displayed properly.
Castle DunBroch, Merida’s home in Pixar’s “Brave,” bears a lot of design features that were common in Scotland in the Middle Ages. The weathered rock already looks dated and worn even before Merida’s time in the castle, hinting at the long legacy of leaders that have come before her.
Not much is left of Dunnottar Castle in Scotland, but the pieces that remain show off a sturdy structure, designed for defense against both invading armies and the erosion of the waves. Built in the fifteenth century, it was of use throughout the eighteenth century during wars and uprisings between the Scottish and the English.
As can be seen in this concept art for Brave, Castle DunBroch is a forboding structure both inside and out, with mismatched stone walls made from various shades of grey, and small windows that don’t let in enough light to fill the space.
Another castle that inspired Brave’s architecture, Eilean Donan, clearly shows the same mismatched stone structure, with tiny windows to provide light. In more modern times, these windows have been fitted with glass, as unlike Dunnottar Castle, Eilean Donan is still in use.
When designing Atlantis for the movie of the same name, the production team didn’t want to rely on the same Greek-inspired architecture that is common in depictions of the fabled city. Instead, they turned their attention to a variety of different cultures for their architecture, including Mayan, Thai, and Cambodian buildings.
One building from which the Disney art team drew inspiration was Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which features a similar pointed tower design to the finished version of Atlantis. After mixing together a variety of different cultural elements, the design team made sure to stick closely to the art style preferred by “Hellboy” artist Mike Mignola.
One of the defining features of Arandelle Castle in “Frozen” is its large courtyard, complete with gates, all ready to be opened up for royal celebrations (or closed due to magical mishaps). This design serves the story well, but this courtyard has very real inspiration.
Much like Arandelle, Akershus Castle in Olso, Norway features a tall, wide wall around the outer courtyard, which is perfect for keeping invaders out (and princesses in). Akershus also features green roofs on its spires, much like Arandelle, which are the result of oxidized copper.
Another location which inspired Arandelle is Hallstatt in Austria, a small village that juts out into the sea and which gives a fantastic view of the Alps. Naturally, “Frozen” Fever has descended upon the village, with thousands of tourists flocking to the small community to take pictures and bask in the discount Disney goodness.
Elsa’s Ice Palace
Arandelle Castle isn’t the only locale from “Frozen” to be based on a real place; Elsa’s Ice Palace, built high up atop the North Mountain, also has roots in reality. The real buildings that inspired the castle are a little less magical in their origin, but that somehow actually makes them more impressive.
Hôtel de Glace
The Hôtel de Glace (Ice Hotel) in Quebec, Canada served as inspiration for Elsa’s enormous ice structure. The entire hotel is literally a palace made of ice, making it the perfect reference material for the movie. The Disney artists were able to study how light shines through large ice structures.
A similar ice hotel, Iglootel in Lapland, shows how ice can be carved into a variety of different shapes. Note that both of these ice hotels are lit with colored lights that look very similar to the lighting for Elsa’s Ice Palace.
Snow White’s Castle
The granddaddy of all Disney castles, Snow White’s castle first appeared in the original feature length animation. With its tall turrets and high rock walls, the castle certainly looks the part as something out of a fairy tale, but as with most Disney castles, it does have a real life counterpart.
Alcázar of Segovia
Alcázar of Segovia (or simply Segovia Castle) is in the city of Segovia in Spain. While this castle is a little more spread out than Snow White’s Castle, and while its color scheme is very different, the shared architecture is hard to ignore. Yet again, there are plenty of tall towers and turrets that give the castle an incredible fairy tale feel.
Nottingham Castle from “Robin Hood” has the rare honor of being named after a very specific real world location. In the movie, the castle is the headquarters for the evil Prince John, the phony King of England, and while some liberties are taken with this historical period (none more so than the fact that Prince John is a lion), the real city of Nottingham does indeed have its own castle.
Nottingham Castle Met a Sad Fate
Take one look at the real Nottingham Castle, and it’s plain to see that it bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to the castle that appears in the Disney movie. There’s a good reason for this, though: the original Nottingham Castle was burned down in 1831 during pro-democracy protests (the castle’s then-owner was staunchly anti-electoral reform).
Nottingham Castle’s Design is Well Recorded
A look at a Victorian sketch recreating the design of the old Nottingham Castle reveals that the original building did actually look very similar to the Disney equivalent, right down to the river encircling the castle, and the large open courtyards.
The land of Kumandra in “Raya and the Last Dragon” is a melting pot of art and architecture from across South-East Asia. Fang Palace is notable for its position atop a terraced hill, and for featuring roofs that peak upwards towards the ends, which likely come from a specific culture.
Rumah Gadang are the traditional houses of the Minangkabau, who live in Indonesia. The points on their roofs are even more pronounced than those on Fang Palace, and as with all aspects of design within Raya and the Last Dragon, it’s difficult to know how much any one culture influenced any given element of the movie’s design.
Fang Palace is built atop a huge terraced hill that is very similar to those found throughout Vietnam, the Philippines, and other mountainous East-Asian countries. These artificial terraces are designed to make farming easier, reducing the risk of avalanche on steep inclines.
As with Atlantis, the interior of Fang Palace was inspired at least in part by Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It’s difficult to say how much of the movie’s inspiration comes from this one palace alone, as elements from many other countries have been thrown together to create the world of Kumandra.
Castle Wyvern is an important location from the popular Disney television cartoon “Gargoyles.” After starting life on the edge of the sea, it’s eventually transported to instead rest atop a massive skyscraper. While the idea of a medieval castle at the top of a skyscraper is pure fiction, this castle is not.
Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, UK served as the inspiration for Castle Wyvern. While not much of the castle is left now, much like Wyvern Castle, its remains rest atop an enormous cliff overlooking the ocean. In legend, Tintagel Castle was the home of Ulric Pendragon and the birthplace of King Arthur, before he was taken away by Merlin to be raised in secret.
The castle in Cinderella (known primarily simply as King’s Castle, but we all know that its most important resident is Cinderella) is a precursor to the iconic Disneyland castle, and is notable for its incredibly tall, narrow structure. There is a castle in the real world that looks very similar, and it’s believed by some to have inspired Cinderella’s lanky home.
Locals insist that Craigievar Castle in Scotland was the inspiration for Cinderella’s famous castle, and looking at the two, it’s definitely true that there are a lot of similarities. While this rumor has not been confirmed by officials at Disney, Craigievar Castle does at least have one thing going for it: the castle is bright pink. Whether or not it’s an official Disney castle, who wouldn’t want to live in a bright pink castle?!
One of many castles to be absorbed into the Disney empire after the company purchased “Star Wars” and Lucasfilm, Theed Palace is Queen Amidala’s home on the lush, green planet of Naboo. While Amidala might not be an officially branded Disney princess, she’s certainly a Disney character with a castle, and that’s good enough for this list.
Marin County Civic Center
While most of the castles on this list were inspired by beautiful ancient buildings across Europe and Asia, Theed’s domed roof was inspired by somewhere a little closer to home. The design was borrowed from Marin County Civic Center, which also sits amid a lush green forest, but doesn’t feature a large waterfall.
While not as ancient as many of the castles and palaces on this list, Tiana’s Palace nevertheless is without a doubt the most stylish royal abode among the Disney canon. While Tiana initially intends to call her restaurant Tiana’s Place, she amends the name to better fit her royal status following her marriage to Prince Naveen.
Dooky Chase’s Restaurant
While Dooky Chase’s Restaurant may not look like Tiana’s Palace, the story behind the restaurant was one of the big inspirations for the plot of “The Princess and the Frog.” Leah Chase was a black chef in New Orleans who married Edgar “Dooky” Chase Jr., a jazz musician. Together they ran Dooky Chase’s, an integrated restaurant, with Leah providing a menu that was otherwise primarily only available in all-white establishments. Both the restaurant and the Chase family were an important part of the Civil Rights movement, and Leah Chase served as an inspiration for Tiana.
While not technically a castle, Casa Madrigal (Casita) and the surrounding Encanto Village do everything that a traditional castle town would do: there’s a big, fancy house on a hill that’s used for village celebrations and special events which is home to the community’s leaders. While there’s no one building that Casita was based upon, its design (and the design of the surrounding village) comes from a very specific place in Columbia.
A small town in Santander, Columbia, Barichara looks strikingly similar to Encanto Village. The creative team behind the look of “Encanto” visited Barichara for inspiration, and while the real town is a lot less colorful than the hyperreal Encanto, it’s clear to see how this town provided the foundation for the movie.