30 Real-life Places You Can Visit That Inspired Disney Rides
Disney parks can feel like a fairy tale, but there’s plenty about their inspiring castles, vibrant design, and over-the-top mountain structures that are truly real. Ageless chateaus, Asian villages, and Arizona landmarks have all impacted the design of Disney rides and roller coasters more than you may have realized. From Indian rivers to Brazilian waterfalls and every mountain, national park, and historic city in between, these 30 locales will have you planning your next Disney vacation not to the parks, but the furthest ends of the earth.
The Amarillo, Texas public art installation, featuring a line of tipped-over cars, is idolized in the mountain range of Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure.
Millennium Biltmore Hotel
Downtown LA’s extravagant outpost—which has been declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument—served as a touchstone for the glitz and glamour of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World. Its gilded Rendezvous Court, complete with curved gold ceilings and plant-lined archways, is distinctly similar to that of the attraction’s cobweb-covered lobby.
The colors of this scenic desert city are a direct correlation to those of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Disneyland. When the ride was duplicated at Walt Disney World, its reddish hues were adjusted to match the Floridian sky.
According to Imagineer Joe Rohde, this Nepalese district—and specifically, its Kagbeni village—directly inspired the look and feel of Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. In fact, the wind-whipped prayer flags throughout this region led to them being hung across the section of the park.
The big waterfall moment at the beginning of Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure is rumored to be loosely modeled after this Arizona landmark.
This 174-year-old Danish theme park was pivotal in giving Walt Disney ideas for how to further create his very own. Perhaps no similarity between the two is closer than the Rutschebanen, a wooden coaster that flies in and out of a mountain, much like Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds.
The lush trees and greenery surrounding Africa’s 2,200-mile-long waterway were a source of encouragement for Morgan “Bill” Evans’ famed landscaping on Disneyland’s original Jungle Cruise.
The Black Forest region of southwestern Germany served as the inspiration for many Brothers Grimm fairy tales, and influenced the Bavarian village aesthetic of Fantasyland attractions like Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Pinocchio's Daring Journey at the Disneyland park.
The facade for The Great Movie Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is modeled after this historic Los Angeles theatre, most popularly known by its former name Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
The city’s elevated Seattle Center Monorail still uses original Alweg monorail trains, the kind that sparked the idea for Walt to bring such transportation to his parks—following an in-house system redesign—after witnessing them while on vacation to Germany.
Ranthambore National Park
The well-anointed art and design surrounding the Maharajah Jungle Trek’s Asian tigers in Disney’s Animal Kingdom were influenced by hill forts and murals of Rajasthan and Ranthambore—the latter of which houses a reserve of tigers to this day.
Kali River Rapids’ thrilling raft ride down the Imagineer-created Chakranadi River at the Animal Kingdom park is actually a thematic version of travels down this Indian body of water.
The nineteenth-century jewel of Bavaria appears in Soarin’ Around The World at parks in both Anaheim and Florida, but more importantly served as the main model for Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland.
The hallowed haunt for movie stars and power players, which opened on Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard in 1929, also served as a point of reference for the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel in The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Though all three Cars-themed attractions at Disney California Adventure are based on highway outposts that no longer exist, fans can dive into the movie’s motivations at this town’s Route 66 Museum, including items from traveling artist Bob Waldmire, the inspiration for movie’s VW bus, Fillmore.
Located deep in the Alps between Switzerland and Italy is a dead ringer for the namesake sled coaster at Disneyland in California—or perhaps, vice-versa.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah’s sprawling sienna-colored hoodoos served as inspiration for the boulders throughout Big Thunder Mountain Railroad’s rollicking ride at Disneyland in California.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Walt Disney World differs from Disneyland’s original, as imagineer Tony Baxter chose to instead mimic rockwork from the sandstone buttes of this Southwestern expanse for the Florida iteration.
The storybook home in France’s Loire Valley may have inspired the author of Sleeping Beauty, but its design and color scheme was one of a few structures in the area that ultimately helped formulate the royal castle of a different princess, Cinderella, at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.
The Grizzly River Run whitewater raft ride at Disney California Adventure and its surrounding Grizzly Peak rock formations emulate those of the famed mountain range and national park in central California.
With its sunset-hued buildings, surrounding mountains and storybook Bryggen neighborhood, the region served as the perfect inspiration for the Frozen film’s location of Arendelle, which has been brought to life as Frozen Ever After Epcot’s Norway Pavilion.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
The 16th-century San Juan citadel serves as the real-life touchstone for Castillo del Morro, the entrance and exterior of Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World bearing a resemblance beyond its name.
The spire atop the front of Pirates of the Caribbean’s exterior at Disneyland was modeled after that of this government building-turned-museum in New Orleans’ Jackson Square, which is also where the Louisiana Purchase was signed.
So much of the Indonesian island’s art, culture, and design have weaved its way into Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s here that locals partake in a tree carving ceremony that inspired the animal-covered trunk of the park’s Tree of Life, which houses the beloved “It’s Tough To Be A Bug!” show in its base.
Mother Colony House
The historic Anaheim, California landmark—located just a mile outside of Disneyland Park—is home to an oversized fig tree that served as the model for Adventureland’s Swiss Family Treehouse, now known as Tarzan’s Treehouse.
The Cambodian ruins inside the Jungle Cruise attraction are said to be inspired by this famed temple complex, as well as other structures from the Khmer empire.
The Serka Zong section of Animal Kingdom’s Asia, with its towering Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain attraction and museum-like queue, was designed as a Himalayan village melding Nepalese, Indian, and Thai influences.
One of the most wowing moments in Soarin’ Around The World, which can be seen at both Epcot and Disney California Adventure, comes from feet dangling freely over the stunning cliffs of this Brazilian waterfall system, the largest in the world.
Kennedy Space Center
Fans of Epcot’s Mission:SPACE can reach new heights with the Cape Canaveral base’s Astronaut Training Experience, allowing guests to further participate in outer space simulations of real NASA astronauts by mimicking inversions, microgravity, and shuttle launches on site.
The Norwegian city is home to the Sverresborg Open Air Museum of Cultural History and its Detli House, a 19th-century cabin that is a dead ringer for Anna and Elsa’s Royal Sommerhus meet-and-greet at Walt Disney World’s Epcot.