Disney Inspiration Spots in Europe
If you’re tired of the same old attractions, turning to the fairytale world of Disney inspiration can be a dream come true for your next backpacking trip. The legendary folklore, stunning scenery, and spellbinding streets and structures that are the basis of these dreams hold a special sort of magic. Did you know that many of these locations are in Europe and are pretty easily accessible? In this article, we have planned out a potential route dotted with spots of Disney, starting far in the frozen North and travelling right down to the idyllic Bavarian Alps. Along the way, we will meet fierce warriors, cuddly teddy bears, cursed princes and singing kittens. Don your Mickey ears and let’s set off!
We start with a modern source of Disney inspiration. The real-life royal residence of Norway, Stiftsgården in Trondheim helped build the newly minted Disney classic, Frozen! This fortress inspired the interior of the grand Arandelle Castle, home to famous sisters Elsa and Anna. Trondheim is located relatively far north, but you can reach it easily by flying from Oslo or Bergen. Of course, the spectacular Northern Lights in the very north of the country also echo the alluring aurora of Elsa’s frosty powers. It is quite a trip from Trondheim to see aurora borealis, but totally worth it!
Travelling to the south, you will come across even more Frozen locations. It isn’t hard to see how the magnificent fjords such as the Sognefjord and the UNESCO Heritage Site Nærøyfjord sparked the fantasy imagination of Disney masterminds and became the enchanting Arendelle. If you’re near these impressive natural wonders, you won’t want to miss out on St. Olaf’s Church in Balestrand, overlooking the Sognefjord. Though not the loveable character’s namesake, this church served as the design basis for the chapel of Elsa’s coronation. Other buildings in Frozen do also seem to be modelled on Norwegian stave churches, just like this one. You will recognise them right away!
Norway has astonishing scenery, but you can find Disney magic in the urban areas here too. The façade of Arandelle Castle was styled on the Akershus Fortress in Oslo, with its impressive outer walls and peak roofs. It is also said that Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen, inspired the cosy look and setting of Arandelle town centre.
Disney Inspiration in Great Britain
From the frosty scenery of Norway, we cross the North Sea to the rugged Scottish Highlands. Scotland is famous for its bewitching landscape and long history of intriguing folklore. Legend has it that a 2006 trip to Caledonia provided Disney producers with an abundance of ideas for a new film, Brave. The Calanais Standing Stones, Scotland’s answer to Stone Henge, sparked the imagination of the producers, who incorporated a tumbling menhir into the movie’s plot. Deep in the Highlands, you will find the spellbinding Eilean Donan Castle, standing proudly atop a lonely island at the confluence of three mighty lochs. This epic fortress was the clear choice for the setting of Merida’s adventures and is open to visitors!
Travelling down through the awesome natural landscapes of the Scottish Highlands, the Lake District, and Yorkshire will surely put you in an adventurous mood. Soon we will arrive in possibly one of the most famous forests in the land – Sherwood Forest, an hour’s drive from Nottingham. In the Middle Ages, the notorious archer Robin Hood is said to have robbed the rich and give to the poor around Nottingham. This legendary Sherwood Forest outlaw and his band of Merry Men were transfigured into cuddly yet feisty animals by Walt Disney Animations. Enjoy the green and pleasant English countryside before we journey onward to the sprawling urban metropolis, London!
For many people, the iconic red post boxes, double decker buses, and grand buildings of London already feel like walking around a fantasy world. It’s no surprise that the British capital provided inspired many fantastic tales.
Most recently, the Big Smoke served as the backdrop for the 2018 nostalgic Disney hit Mary Poppins Returns. Right from the opening scene featuring the historic Tower Bridge, this modern remake is a wistful wish for the smoggy days of centuries old. Landmarks such as the Bank of England, Regent’s Park, and St. Paul’s Cathedral are just as grand now as they were for Ms. Poppins. What’s more, the author behind the magical nanny, P. L. Travers, lived in the English capital for many years. You can visit her house and see where the magic began! A trip to Bloomsbury, the literature hub of the United Kingdom, is also a great stop on your trip. If you want to learn more about Mary, as well as visit spots from the film, you could also opt for a walking tour around the city. And after all that walking, why not take a seat in the luxurious Prince Edward Theatre and lose yourself in the stage musical dedicated to all things Poppins? With eight shows a week, it shouldn’t be too hard to plan this wonderful experience into your visit. Theatre buffs will also enjoy Disney’s Frozen and Newsies, two more West End smashes.
Leaving the theatre at night, buoyed by musical joy, you’re almost bound to think back to one of the most memorable Disney scenes of all time. On their way to Neverland, the Darlings’ first flight with Peter Pan saw the kids soar over the city, passing St Paul’s, as well as skip along the hands of the iconic Big Ben.
Just across the Channel, our next Disney inspiration treasure trove is another spellbinding UNESCO World Heritage Site. The petite tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel houses an epic Benedictine abbey, reflected in the calm waters surrounding it. 29 lucky inhabitants get to live on the embankment that would become Rapunzel’s beguiling island castle in the 2010 Disney hit Tangled.
Once of the most significant pilgrimage sites in Europe, Mont Saint-Michel now welcomes nearly 2.3 million visitors a year, both tourists and pilgrims alike. Admission to the island commune itself is free, while tickets to the abbey will set you back 11 euros. EU citizens and French residents aged 18-25 get free access, though. If you do want to visit the abbey, we recommend reserving the ticket online in advance. The island can get pretty crowded, and it’s always better to have more time to explore rather than stand in a queue, no matter how spectacular the surrounding view is!
No prizes for guessing which Disney film drew inspiration from the Gothic towers and gargoyles of the Notre-Dame cathedral! The most-visited monument in Paris and a worldwide symbol of the French nation, Notre-Dame stands tall on the dream-like Parisian landscape. Legendary novelist Victor Hugo drew popular attention to the structure with his 1831 book, Notre-Dame de Paris. Following the novel’s huge and lasting success, Disney dedicated its 34th animated feature film to the heart-warming tale of the unlikely hero Quasimodo.
Tragically, a large fire destroyed part of the Notre-Dame in 2019. Since 2020, small sections of the cathedral have been re-opened and are accessible to visitors once again. Though restoration work is ongoing, Notre-Dame is still worth a visit.
Plus, Paris also had a starring role in another Disney classic, The Aristocats, as well modern favourite Ratatouille. Though the restaurant which the gourmet setting of Ratatouille was based on is in fact in California, it would be rude not to sample some of the renowned French delicacies while you’re here. Just strolling through the city’s gorgeous streets will transport you to a world of romance and possibility – even better if you have a croissant in hand! Of course, if you want full Disney immersion and a chance to meet Mickey, Minnie and more, Disneyland Paris is a magical daytrip away from the city itself.
Tucked in the easternmost corner of mainland France, the enchanting region of Alsace boasts a singular cultural heritage, blending both French and German traditions. Wandering around Alsace’s idyllic streets will surely have you feeling like you’re in a fairytale. The region had the same effect on Disney designers, who used its quaint villages as inspiration for the fantasy world of Beauty and the Beast. The influence is so clear that you’ll be expecting Belle to pop out around every fountain, or candlesticks to burst into song. The fanciful villages of Eguisheim and Riquewihr offer photo opportunities straight out of a story book. If you are looking for a bigger city with a similar charm, check out Colmar – you can go on day trips from there to the smaller villages.
Though not strictly related to the Disney film, Château du Haut Koenigsbourg could very well be the residence of the misunderstood beast. Standing proudly on a hill in the Vosges mountains, this magnificent Medieval-style castle was restored in the 19th century at the behest of the German Emperor. A structure steeped in grandeur, there’s even a room decorated with antlers, just like Gaston sings about in Beauty and the Beast – so a pretty accurate historical renovation if you ask us!
You can reach the site best by car. It’s a pretty steep climb up, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Vosges mountains. On a clear day, you can even see across to the Black Forest and the magnificent peaks of the Alps. An entrance ticket to the castle itself will set you back around 9 euros.
We end our tour by crossing the German border and journeying down to perhaps the most beloved Disney attractions outside of Disney World itself! Indeed, aside from being a textbook Disney inspiration spot, the quintessential fairytale-turned-reality castle Neuschwanstein is also one of the most well-known castles in the whole world. Neuschwanstein makes for an exciting and accessible daytrip from Munich.
Used as inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, Neuschwanstein also has its own intriguing legends surrounding the structure and its creator, the ‘mad’ King Ludwig. Ludwig had a real penchant for castles – especially ones named after swans (Hohenschwangau is right next door!). The king dedicated a lot of his royal budget to building these extraordinary palaces. In fact, people say that the construction of Neuschwanstein was the region’s biggest employer at the time the castle was built. And you can certainly see why – this five-story masterpiece of castle Romanticism is just as stunning as the magnificent Alpine backdrop.
Whether you want a full Disney tour or prefer to pick and mix different attractions on your backpacking trip, you’re sure to find amazing options wherever you are. From enchanted forests to breathtaking fjords, the rich and varied European landscapes are straight out of a story book. Similarly, the romantic streets of London, Paris, and smaller villages form a beautiful contrast with the impressive cathedrals and castles that house many legends and curiosities. The cobbled streets of the continent really show how Europe is at the heart of Disney inspiration. We hope this article has inspired you to seek a little sprinkle of magic on your travels!