Disney reveals 30 locations that have inspired its most-loved films

From Big Ben in Peter Pan to the fairytale castle in Frozen: Disney reveals 30 real-world locations that have inspired its most-loved films over the past 100 years

  • The quaint town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany inspired the village in the 1940 film Pinocchio
  • A French chateau and a Parisian restaurant were muses for Beauty and the Beast and Ratatouille respectively
  • READ MORE: American living in the UK reveals his adopted country’s ‘strengths’ and its ‘oddities’

To celebrate its 100th anniversary, The Walt Disney Company has opened its vaults to reveal a list of 30 locations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa that have inspired, and featured in, its films and theme parks over the past century.

These locations and productions are presented in a series of paired photographs, so fans can compare the real-world attractions with how they’ve been reinterpreted and used by Disney’s filmmakers and designers. 

Examples include the Norwegian fortress that partly inspired the castle in Frozen, the Tudor estate that influenced the maze in Alice in Wonderland and the enchanting forest that informed the setting for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 

Research commissioned by The Walt Disney Company found that two in five (42 per cent) Brits are unaware that many Disney films and park attractions are based on real-world locations.

The study also found that when Brits were asked which UK locations they would like to see featured in future Disney films, the Lake District topped the list (14 per cent), followed by Loch Ness (10 per cent) and Edinburgh Castle (10 per cent).

Scroll down for all 30 pictures to see how incredible real-world places have had starring roles in Disney productions – and fired up the imaginations of its creative staff…

The Beast’s castle in the 1991 Disney film Beauty and the Beast was inspired by Chateau de Chambord, an elegant landmark in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France that’s known for its Renaissance architecture

The filmmakers behind the 1994 Disney film The Lion King have said they were inspired by various landscapes in Africa, in particular the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, which is part of the Serengeti National Park. The iconic Pride Rock (picture one) in the animation – which symbolises the home of Simba – is not based on a specific real-life location, but it draws inspiration from the geological formations found across the continent, including those found in the Masai Mara National Reserve

During a 1935 trip to the UK, Walt Disney visited Great Fosters, a Tudor-era manor house in Surrey. Many years later, when working on Alice in Wonderland, it’s likely that Walt recalled the English manor’s topiary maze and used it to inform the maze that Alice gets lost within in the film, Disney reveals 

The design of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at the Disneyland Resort in California was partly influenced by Neuschwanstein Castle, which lies in the foothills of the Alps in Bavaria, Germany. The Disney castle, with its fairy-tale-like architecture, has been an iconic fixture of the park since it opened in 1955

London’s Big Ben appears in the opening scene of the 1953 film Peter Pan when Peter flies to Neverland with the Darling children. In the film, the children land on the big hand of the clock. The landmark also appeared in the 1961 animation One Hundred and One Dalmatians

Regent’s Park, one of eight Royal Parks in London, appears in the 1961 animation One Hundred and One Dalmatians, serving as the location where the main canine characters Pongo and Perdita – and their owners Roger and Anita – meet for the first time. In the scene, the Dalmatians can be seen knocking Roger and Anita into the pond after their leads get tangled 

Akershus Fortress in Oslo, Norway, is a historic 13th-century castle and fortress that was visited by the crew behind Disney’s 2013 animation Frozen and ultimately provided some of the inspiration for Anna and Elsa’s castle, Arendelle Castle, in the film. Disney says: ‘Frozen took inspiration from Scandinavian culture… and Akershus Fortress evokes a sense of enchantment and [a] fairytale-like atmosphere, similar to the setting of the film’ 

Wadi Rum, a desert valley in Jordan that’s known for its towering rock formations and ancient rock carvings, was used as a backdrop for scenes in the 2019 live-action version of Aladdin 

The island monastery of Skellig Michael, located off the coast of Ireland, served as a filming location in the 2015 film Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In the film, Luke Skywalker can be seen living in exile on the island. The isle also went on to appear in the 2017 film Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The quaint medieval Bavarian town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany, with its cobblestone streets, half-timbered houses and fortified walls, proved a source of inspiration for the village in the 1940 film Pinocchio 

The Black Forest region in southwest Germany, with its ‘dark, mystical woods’ and ‘crystal clear streams’, served as visual inspiration for the fairytale setting of the 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney reveals 

The island kingdom of Corona, the birthplace of Rapunzel in the 2010 film Tangled, is based on the tidal island of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France

Ashdown Forest, situated in East Sussex, is the real-life inspiration for Hundred Acre Woods, the home of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in A.A. Milne’s books, which were later turned into a Disney animation. Walt Disney discovered Pooh’s whimsical misadventures through his daughter, Diane Disney Miller, and sought the screen rights as early as 1937, Disney reveals

St Abbs village in Berwickshire, Scotland, was used as a filming location in Marvel’s smash hit 2019 movie, Avengers: Endgame. Disney notes that the village has since become a tourist hotspot, with Thor enthusiasts visiting St Abbs to see the filming location first-hand

Italy’s Cinque Terre region, famed for its colourful old buildings, served as the inspiration for the 2021 Disney and Pixar film Luca, which takes place in the fictional seaside town of Portorosso on the Italian Riviera. Cinque Terre encompasses the five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Disney added that the villages were used to help ‘capture the essence of Italian coastal life’ in the film

London’s iconic Liberty department store appears in Disney’s 2021 film Cruella. In the film, Cruella is an aspiring fashion designer and gets a job at the department store, where she showcases her talent. Disney says: ‘Her innovative designs catch the eye of the fashion world, resulting in this flagship store becoming a hugely influential location in the film’

In the 1997 Disney animated film Hercules, Mount Olympus – which at 2,918m/9,573ft in height is the highest mountain in Greece – is depicted in animated form, reinterpreted in a fantastical fashion with swirls of clouds and shining golden architecture. It serves as the home of the Greek gods, including Hercules’ father Zeus, in the film 

The airport battle sequence in the 2016 film Captain America: Civil War took place on the tarmac at Leipzig/Halle Airport in Germany. ‘Shooting at a live, working airport on the scale that we needed to shoot is not an easy task,’ explained Kevin Feige, president of Marvel Studios. ‘There are many restrictions and you certainly can’t shoot explosions, car crashes and pyrotechnics’ 

The Croatian city of Dubrovnik partly inspired Prince Eric’s castle in the 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid. Disney says: ‘The city is known for its imposing medieval walls, red-roofed buildings, and seaside location, which inspired the castle’s coastal setting and medieval architecture’ 

Aerial shots of Iceland’s Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, known for its striking black sand and dramatic rock formations, were used in the 2016 film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 

The castle in Disney’s 1937 animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is based on Alcazar de Segovia, a medieval castle in the Spanish city of Segovia. Disney says: ‘The Alcazar’s distinctive shape, with its turrets and steep roofs, bears a resemblance to the castle depicted in the film’

Forte di Bard, also known as Bard Fortress, is a historical fortress located in the Aosta Valley region of Italy. The site was used as a filming location in Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, doubling as the facility where evil organization Hydra conducted experiments 

Gusteau’s restaurant in 2007 flick Ratatouille was inspired by a variety of Parisian restaurants including Guy Savoy, Le Train Bleu (pictured), Taillevent and La Tour d’Argent. Production designer Harley Jessup said: ‘We were inspired by several French restaurants but Gusteau’s is the most ornate restaurant of all. It’s filled with huge, gilded arches, ceiling murals and thick red drapes, and it’s palatial in scale, making it the perfect backdrop for tiny little Remy [the rat] to try to become a chef’

The team behind Disney and Pixar’s Brave said the Calanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland were ‘a key inspiration’ for the 2012 film, acting as a backdrop in several scenes. The ancient site comprises a cross-shaped collection of stones that were erected 5,000 years ago 

The 2021 film Black Widow was partially filmed in Budapest. It sees Natasha Romanoff – or Black Widow – confront her past in the city and reunite with her estranged family. Disney says: ‘The production filmed for two weeks in Budapest, from the streets to the top of the Exchange Palace, which once served as the Budapest Stock Exchange. Locations also included the Keleti (eastern) train station [and] the Nyugati (western) station underground.’ Scarlett Johansson, who plays Natasha, said: ‘We were able to use these iconic locations in a very practical way’

The Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris plays a significant role in Disney’s 1996 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as the main character, Quasimodo, lives in the cathedral’s bell tower. The cathedral is currently undergoing restoration works following a 2019 fire

While dreaming up the fictional location of Wakanda for the 2018 film Black Panther, filmmakers ‘looked to South Africa for inspiration, particularly the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve (above) and the Drakensberg Mountains with their sweeping vistas and natural beauty’, Disney reveals

Illustrator Eyvind Earle was tasked with the production design for the 1959 film Sleeping Beauty. One of his sources of inspiration was the 15th-century manuscript ‘The Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry’, which features the Chateau of Saumur in central France. Disney says this means it may have inspired the castle of Princess Aurora’s father, King Stefan, in the film 

The Ear of Dionysius, a unique cave in Sicily known for its acoustics, was used as a filming location in the 2023 film Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny. In the film, the cave is home to a secret tomb 

St Paul’s Cathedral has a key role in the 1964 Mary Poppins film – an elderly woman is seen feeding the birds outside the cathedral, as nanny Mary Poppins sings the classic ‘Feed the Birds’ song to the children in her care, Jane and Michael Banks. Disney says: ‘This poignant moment emphasises the importance of compassion and charity, contrasting with the bustling city life surrounding the location’



1. Cruella, 2021: Liberty department store, London

2. One Hundred and One Dalmatians, 1961: Regent’s Park, London

3. Peter Pan, 1953: Big Ben, London

4. Mary Poppins, 1964: St Paul’s Cathedral, London

5. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 2015: Skellig Michael, Republic of Ireland

6. Avengers: Endgame, 2019: St Abbs village, Scotland

7. Winnie the Pooh, 2011: Ashdown Forest, England

8. Brave, 2012: Calanais Standing Stones, Scotland

9. Alice in Wonderland, 1951: Great Fosters, England


10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996: Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

11. Ratatouille, 2007: Le Train Bleu, Paris

12. Tangled, 2010: Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy

13. Beauty and the Beast, 1991: Chateau de Chambord, Centre-Val de Loire

14. Sleeping Beauty, 1959: Château de Saumur, Maine-et-Loire


15. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937: Alcázar de Segovia, Spain


16. The Little Mermaid, 1989: Dubrovnik


17. Black Panther, 2018: Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, South Africa

18. The Lion King, 1994: Masai Mara, Kenya 


19. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937: The Black Forest

20. Pinocchio, 1940: Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Bavaria

21. Sleeping Beauty castle at the Disneyland Resort, California: Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria

22. Captain America: Civil War, 2016: Leipzig/ Halle Airport


23. Black Widow, 2021: Budapest


24. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2016: Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach


25. Avengers: Age of Ultron, 2015: Forte di Bard, Aosta Valley

26. Luca, 2021: Cinque Terre

27. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, 2023: Ear of Dionysius, Sicily


28. Hercules, 1997: Mount Olympus


29. Frozen, 2013: Akershus Fortress, Oslo


30. Aladdin, 2019: The Wadi Rum desert

Source: Disney 

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