For the 50+ Traveler

Though they're very real, castles are still the stuff of dreams and legends. From the glories of King Arthur in Camelot to the fairytales of Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and of course Cinderella, a castle always plays a starring role. Then the castles from our legends found homes in Disney parks all over the world.

Cinderella Castle is the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom and the iconic logo of the Walt Disney Company. And it would not be far fetched to think that a man as creative as Walt Disney dreamed up Cinderella Castle on his own, but that would be incorrect. Even Disney had his influences.

The Alcazar De Segovia in Spain.

The Alcazar De Segovia

One of those influences just happens to be a 12th-century Spanish castle called Alcazar de Segovia, the country's most famous castle. It is located in the historic town of Segovia in central Spain’s Castile and Leon region, about 60 minutes northwest of Madrid.

According to Touropia, the castle sits atop a rocky crag above the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores rivers in Segovia. Built originally as an Arab fort, the castle has been home to royalty, prisoners, and soldiers in its long history. In fact, Spain's Queen Isabella I was crowned in the Alcazar de Segovia in 1474, 18 years before she sponsored Christopher Columbus on his attempt to reach the East Indies.

But Alcazar de Segovia is different from other castles in one unique way. “Most castles and fortresses have been founded upon spots which offer a natural defensive advantage,” according to an article on Exploring Castles. “The Alcazar of Segovia is particularly special in that it was built upon a large rock promontory, which is shaped rather like the bow of a ship.”

The Alcazar De Segovia in Spain.

The Inspiration For Cinderella

The Walt Disney Company has said that Cinderella Castle was “inspired by the great castles of Europe,” reports Exploring Castles, but it has never specifically said Alcazar de Segovia was the direct inspiration. But from there, urban myth takes over.

Legend holds that in 1937, during the creation of the Disney animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Wicked Queen’s castle was modeled after the Alcazar de Segovia. Fast forward to the 1960s, Disney Imagineers were looking for perfect castles to model the planned Cinderella Castle for the new Walt Disney World theme park. The lead architect, Herbert Ryman, was said to be fascinated by European architecture, and that the Alcazar de Segovia was indeed the chief inspiration for the now iconic castle in Orlando.

Just one look at the real castle's glorious turrets, or towers, and it’s not hard to link the two.

The Alcazar De Segovia in Spain during winter.

What Can Visitors Expect While Visiting

Segovia is about a 60-minute drive northwest of Madrid. Another option is high-speed rail, which can get you the same distance in half the time. There is at least one train running between Madrid and Segovia every hour.

The castle is now a museum and completely open to the public. Tour options vary. A full tour includes a visit to the palace, the military museum, and the Tower of Juan II. Many options include a day tour from Madrid, which will take care of your transportation to and from Madrid as well as entry to the castle.

The Alcazar De Segovia in Spain during winter.

Know Before You Go

Peak season for visiting Alcazar de Segovia is April 1 to October 31, when the castle is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. From November 1 to March 31, it is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Note that visiting the Tower of Juan II includes climbing a 153-step spiral staircase. Rewarding views from the top are said to be worth the work.

Editor's Note: Can't get enough castles? Here are some majestic movie castles you can visit in real life.