There are very few countries in the world that don’t have some sort of legend or connection with dragons. With so many legends, so many stories, and depictions of dragons, it is odd that they are regarded as mythical creatures. How can countries so far apart on this earth come up with the same creature, with virtually the same look and the same behavior, if dragons never existed except in our imagination?
I personally love a good dragon, having been born under the Dragon sign in the Chinese Zodiac, and if I could have a pet dragon (a little one, mind you), then I sure would. And I firmly believe that at some time in some place, dragons existed. Yes, they might have been misunderstood dinosaurs (just look up a picture of the pterodactyl Dimorphodon macronyx) and whether they actually breathed fire and ate princesses is still unproven, but the following locations seem to be on my side when it comes to believing in dragons.
Here are some great destinations to get a dragon fix.
Let’s start with one of the most amazing dragons of them all: one that is actually dragon-sized, standing 33 feet tall, 82 feet long, with a wingspan of more than 55 feet. It walks and moves as you would imagine a dragon does, and you can take him for a ride. The brainchild of the Machines de l’Ile in Nantes, the Calais dragon is a mechanical wonder, just like the Nantes elephant, that is nearly too real to be called a fairground creature.
Pro Tip: When you are in Calais, make sure you see Rodin’s Burghers of Calais sculpture in front of the pretty Town Hall.
In the UK, you will find a proud dragon country — Wales. Here there is The legend of not just one dragon, but two: one white and one red. Wales’s lore depicts the two dragons fighting and the red one winning, so you will find it difficult to hurry about the country without bumping into a (red) dragon. Dragons are sold in souvenir shops, sit by ancient castles, hang around in King Arthur’s Labyrinth, and are featured on the national flag.
Pro Tip: For those traveling with grandchildren or simply those young of heart, you can download an app that allows you to catch dragons in Wales.
The Imperial city of Hue in central Vietnam had me spellbound with all the different dragons to be found in the vast Imperial Citadel. There are dragons at every corner within the more than six-mile-long walls surrounding the historic sites. They appear on roofs, by doors, on incense pots, on temples — and every single one seems to be different from the other. This place is a dragon enthusiast’s paradise.
Pro Tip: When in Hue, don’t miss the chance to cruise down the Perfume River, it is a magical experience.
Komodo Island, Indonesia
There is a place in the world where real dragons still exist. In the designated UNESCO Komodo National Park on Komodo Island, one of 17,500 odd islands of Indonesia, you can get up close and personal with the world’s largest lizard, the Komodo Dragon, on a guided tour.
Pro Tip: The Komodo Dragon is an endangered species due to its rather special way of breeding, so please donate to the national park, if you can.
Hong Kong and China
In China and Hong Kong, dragons are a big affair and always have been. They are featured in legends and myths, superstitions, on MahJong tiles, on Dragon boats, and as Chinese Zodiac signs. Even the weather is ruled by dragons. There is no celebration where a dragon dance isn’t performed. They appear in various shapes and forms, usually with a big head and a long, colorful serpentine body. Mythology relates that a carp that jumped over the Dragon Gate atop a waterfall turned into one of the dragon creatures. Despite being a tall tale, many believe the Jiulong Waterfall is that waterfall.
Pro Tip: On 10 February 2024, the dragon is destined to rule the year ahead according to the Chinese calendar. If you’re a fan of dragons, mark this day on your calendar and travel somewhere where the Chinese New Year is celebrated.
The Vikings knew a thing or two about dragons. If you believe the lovely, animated film How to Train your Dragon (2010), they even flew them. But seriously, when you dig into Norway’s Viking history and Norse mythology, you will find dragons mentioned everywhere, and they do not tend to be as cute as the animated ones. From the intricate figurehead in the Viking Ship Museum to jewelry, and decorations on buildings, be on the lookout for them when visiting Norway.
Pro Tip: For a more modern depiction of a dragon, visit the amazing Ringebu Stave Church some 150 miles north of Oslo, which has the sleek dragon sculpture in the park.
Wales is not alone in featuring a dragon on its flag. So does Bhutan. In this Himalayan country, the mythical Druk, or Thunder Dragon, is the national symbol and appears everywhere. The country is called Land of the Thunder Dragon, or Kingdom of Druk, and he’s part of the national anthem. Despite his fearful name, he is actually rather cute. The legend purports that thunder echoing through the mountains is actually the dragon roaring.
Pro Tip: Bhutan is still one of those places that is difficult to access, so maybe go as part of a tour to make it less stressful.
Many of us are fascinated by tales of adventure so why not consider creating one of your own on your next vacation?