Castles in Disney movies are not only breathtaking, they often play a central role in the story. But did you ever wonder where the artists and even Walt Disney himself got their inspiration? The truth is, the castles in the Disney movies we all love are actually based on real castles, fortresses, and even a famous hotel. Fortunately, you can still visit the real-life buildings and structures.
1. Tangled: Mont-Saint-Michel In Northwestern France
Mont-Saint-Michel is more than just a castle — it’s an entire medieval walled city with old houses, narrow streets, hotels, and restaurants.
During the French Revolution, it also was a national prison. Today, however, visitors willingly travel to Mont-Saint-Michel. In fact, it’s one of the more popular tourist attractions in France — drawing approximately 2.5 million tourists annually.
It’s also easy to see why Mont-Saint-Michel was the inspiration for Rapunzel’s Corona Castle. Surrounded by sandbanks, it becomes an island during high tide. That makes it easy to defend, and it’s “ideal for a fortified cloister,” according to Disney Fandom.
2. Cinderella: Neuschwanstein Castle In Germany
Located high on a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in the German State of Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most popular destinations in Europe. And for good reason: It looks like a castle out of a fairytale.
The truth is, it is a castle out of a fairytale — sort of.
After a crushing military defeat in 1866 to Prussia, suddenly Ludwig II was no longer king of Bavaria. He began building castles inspired by Romantic literature and opera to create his own kingdom. Neuschwanstein Castle is one of those castles.
Walt Disney saw the castle and was so inspired that he used it as the basis for the castle in both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
3. Snow White: Alcazar Castle In Spain
There’s no doubt that Alcazar Castle, roughly an hour north of Madrid in Spain, is majestic. Even its name means castle. Indeed, the word Alcazar is Spanish and comes from the Arabic al quasar for fortress or palace.
Over the years, Alcazar de Segovia has served as a royal palace and even as a prison.
If the castle’s spires and turrets appear “picture-postcard perfect,” it’s because they are — intentionally. A fire in 1862 destroyed part of the castle, requiring significant repairs. Inspired by the Romantic architects building castles in Germany, the architects rebuilding Alcazar de Segovia created new spires and turrets with Romantic ideals in mind.
4. The Little Mermaid: Chillon Castle In Switzerland
Chillon Castle — or as it’s known in French, Chateau de Chillon, is more than 1,000 years old and its foundations date back to Roman times. Considering that history, it’s no wonder the castle is the most-visited historic site in Switzerland.
Sitting at an inlet at the end of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the castle is approximately two miles from Montreux. That location gave Chillon Castle both natural protection and strategic control of the water passage leading from the north to the south of Europe.
Sharp-eyed Disney fans will notice that Prince Eric’s castle in The Little Mermaid was inspired by Chateau de Chillon.
5. Brave: Dunnottar Castle In Scotland
As is often the case with castles, Dunnottar Castle was built in a strategic location.
The cliffs on three sides of the castle are nearly 165 feet tall — and happen to be pounded by sea waves. What’s more, Dunnotar can only be reached by taking a 200-step-long path that ends in a tunnel!
Interestingly, the team working on Brave first planned for Merida’s DunBroch family castle to be set against a loch in the Highlands. However, after visiting Dunnottar Castle, they decided to imitate the castle, and make DunBroch an outpost by the sea.
6. Frozen: Hotel De Glace In Canada
Frozen’s director Chris Buck stayed in the Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel in English) in Quebec City to conduct research and figure out how the film’s animators would draw Elsa’s ice castle.
Hotel de Glace is the only hotel of its kind in North America. Built new each year, it only operates from January to March.
Building the 42,000 square-foot hotel with 21 rooms and theme suites is a massive undertaking. It takes 50 people six weeks to build the hotel using 500 tons of ice and 30,000 tons of snow. Want to check it out for yourself? Read “A Cool Night’s Stay: 7 Things To Know About Quebec’s Ice Hotel.”