If you’re looking for an otherworldly vacation, consider visiting the places that inspired fairy tales, movies and Disney films. You can explore the majestic “Sleeping Beauty” castle, meander the cobblestone streets of “Beauty and the Beast” or hum “Let it Go” inside the icy “Frozen” castle.
You’ll probably recognize many of these destinations from modern productions, but they have ancient stories that are just as fascinating. As all fairy tale stories need a good beginning, GOBankingRates sourced round-trip airfare costs to these dreamy destinations from June 21 through June 25, just as the summer travel season gets into full swing.
Add these fairy tale travel destinations to your bucket list and create your own “once upon a time” memories.
Where: Stonehaven, Scotland
Flights from: $1,580
You might recognize Scotland’s Dunnottar Castle from Disney’s “Brave.” Set on a towering rock made of pudding stone that juts into the water, Dunnottar Castle evokes the line from Elsie Spicer Eells’ story, “The Enchanted Castle in the Sea”: “Far out in the sea there is a castle lined with gold and silver.”
Countless stories of the castle’s actual history are suitable for tales beginning, “Once upon a time.” Visit to learn stories of Vikings and knights, queens and kings and the Scottish crown jewels that add to this castle’s fairy tale charm.
Even today, the impregnable fortress isn’t easy to access. Challenging stairs lead down surrounding cliffsides and back up again to the castle, so make sure your knees are up for it. Consider adding to the enchantment by making the 1.7-mile clifftop walk from Stonehaven. Dunnottar Castle is one of many stunning destinations in Scotland that are worth visiting.
Where: Cusco, Peru
Flights from: $1,761
“Thousands of years ago there lived in the highlands of Peru a megalithic folk who developed a remarkable civilization…” So begins the legend of the Inca empire, as told in Clements R. Markham’s “The Incas of Peru.” The people were chased from their idyllic civilization, and they fled to a rugged mountain valley guarded by nature itself until they became too numerous.
Three brothers who were the original leaders of the Incan Empire fled through three windows, which you can see today at the main temple, making their way down to Cusco, the capital of Inca culture.
You’ll also catch glimpses of Pacha’s village from Disney’s “The Emperor’s New Groove” when you visit these ancient ruins. You’ll feel as though you’ve gotten your groove back, too, when you see the awe-inspiring city that’s the best known archaeological site on the South American continent. Just plan a couple of extra days to adjust to the 11,000-foot elevation first.
Where: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Flights from: $1,520
In the center of the universe, a mythological golden mountain known as Mount Meru supports the heavens while delving into the very core of the earth, separating four continents. As the story goes, the palace of the gods lies on top of the mountain and seven rings of golden mountains surround it, separated by seas.
Buddhist traditions teach that the mountain exists on both the physical and spiritual planes. Scientists think it might refer to the north pole.
The vast Angkor Wat temple complex is a scaled-down physical version of the Mount Meru legend. It’s one of the largest religious monuments ever built and dates to the 1100s. It covers 500 acres, with a central tower that rises 213 feet, representing the sacred mountain. It was also one of many locales that served as inspiration for Disney’s “Atlantis.”
Where: Fussen, Bavaria, Germany
Flights from: $1,814
Perhaps the most beloved fairy tale written by the Grimm Brothers is “Sleeping Beauty,” which begins with “Once upon a time” and ends with “they lived happily ever afterward.” Most people are familiar with Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, but it was the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria that inspired both the setting for the tale and aspects of the walk-through Disney castle.
The castle’s name means “New Swan Castle” and its spires are vaguely reminiscent of a swan’s neck and wings. Its builder, King Ludwig II, drew inspiration from the romantic opera music of Richard Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” where a knight in shining armor travels in a swan-pulled boat. Entrance to the castle costs about $14.65 for a timed ticket and is only available at the ticket center for the day of your visit.
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The Alcázar of Segovia Castle
Where: Segovia, Spain
Flights from: $1,915
With its drawbridge, turrets and its location atop a rugged crag, it’s no wonder that the Alcázar of Segovia castle inspired Disney animators working on “Snow White.” As the royal palace of the monarchs who ruled Castile, the Alcázar presides over Segovia and its picturesque countryside.
A complete tour includes access to the Tower of San Juan II, accessed by a 152-step spiral staircase. For visitors whose legs aren’t up to it, reduced admission lets you enjoy just the palace and art museum. Visit the palace and museum for $6, only the tower for about $3, or all three for $9.
Where: Normandy, France
Flights from: $1,968
Some of the highest tides in Europe play at the feet of Mont Saint-Michel. Towering over the waters of the surrounding bay, the UNESCO World Heritage Site reveals a history rivaling any fairy tale. According to legend, its humble beginnings took root when the Archangel Michael asked the Bishop of Avranches to build a small church on the rock in 709.
The abbey expanded over centuries, becoming a stronghold that endured a 30-year siege during the Hundred Years’ War. Mont Saint-Michel graces modern fairy tales as the inspiration for Prince Eric’s Castle in “The Little Mermaid” and the kingdom of “Tangled.”
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The Taj Mahal
Where: Agra, India
Flights from: $1,371
You might recognize the Taj Mahal from Disney’s “Aladdin,” but its real story is even more romantic. Emperor Shah Jahan built the elaborate architectural masterpiece as a testament of love to his third wife, known as Mumtaz Mahal. Her husband gave her the title, meaning “chosen one of the palace,” after their wedding when she became his favorite wife.
Poets regaled her loving compassion as much as her outward beauty. After she died giving birth to their 14th child, Shah Jahan poured 22 years and most of his fortune into commemorating their love with the grand Taj Mahal. The white marble mausoleum glows pink at sunrise, gold in the moonlight and milky white during evening hours. It’s certainly one of the world’s most breathtaking sights.
Hôtel de Glace
Where: Quebec, Canada
Flights from: $365
Make your “Frozen” fantasies come true by staying in an ice suite at the Hôtel de Glace. The 32,000-square-foot hotel is open from January through March, offering 44 rooms ranging from simple queen-bed rooms for $259 to themed suites with private spas and fireplaces for more than $600.
The temperature inside your frozen castle room hovers around 26 degrees, but you’ll feel cozy in the arctic sleeping bag atop your ice-pedestal bed. Watch the magical sparkles of glimmering ice as you nod off to sleep in this work of art. You’ll wake up to a free warm breakfast at the Valcartier Hotel’s restaurant.
If a night on ice sounds too cold, don’t worry. Instead, you can explore the hotel’s great hall, slip down the ice slide, unwind in arctic spas or grab a very cold one in the ice bar.
Wisteria Flower Tunnel of Japan
Where: Ashikaga, Japan
Flights from: $1,862
Lose yourself in a sweetly scented tunnel of flowers for a fairy tale feeling. Strings of wisteria flowers dangle tantalizingly overhead, creating a magical world of color and floral beauty.
Take the train from Tokyo to Ashikaga Flower Park, where more than 350 wisteria trees create a canopy of colorful blooms. The Great Wisteria Festival takes place from mid-April to mid-May. The park is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., letting you enjoy the blooms in early morning light, full daylight and even after dark, when they’re illuminated.
Where: Colmar, France
Flights from: $1,986
If you enjoyed Belle’s picturesque hometown in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” you’ll love immersing yourself in Colmar. Rows of colorful timber buildings date to medieval times along quaint cobblestone streets. Canals give the town the nickname “Little Venice” and offer the opportunity to experience the fairy tale town from the perspective of the water.
Check out the Église Saint-Martin, a 13th-century cathedral dominating the city skyline. Head to Musée Bartholdi, which commemorates famous local Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty.
Château de Chambord
Where: Chambord, France
Flights from: $1,844
If Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is your fairy tale fave, check out the castle that inspired the Beast’s residence. Château de Chambord dates to the 16th century when it was a royal hunting lodge. The French Renaissance style makes it a fairy tale classic, and its opulence offers enough to keep you busy for most of the day.
Your $15 admission gives you access to the chateau and its French formal gardens. After you’re done marveling at the 426 rooms, 77 staircases and 282 chimneys, stroll through the extensive gardens or take a guided safari through the surrounding nature reserve.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
Where: Waitomo, New Zealand
Flights from: $1,638
You’ll feel like you’re in a fairy tale when you take a magical boat ride at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves ($36). Glide along an underground river as thousands of living lights shine overhead.
The sources of the light are glowworms, or Arachnocampa luminosa, which are the larval form of the fungus gnat and are the size of a mosquito. The Maori name, titiwai, is much more romantic: it means “lights reflected in water.” The worms glow to attract flying insects to become tangled in their sticky threads.
Also be sure to stroll through the Ruakuri Cave ($52), Waitomo’s longest underground walking tour, to see fantastical cave formations and glowworms up close.
Where: Matamata, New Zealand
Flights from: $1,638
Immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery from “Lord of the Rings” when you visit Matamata. Although there are 150 places in New Zealand that loaned vistas to the trilogy, Matamata’s rolling green hills get you to the heart of Middle Earth, where lush dairyland portrays the peaceful Shire.
Visit Hobbiton ($57), the movie set created for the movie. Meander among the Hobbit Holes and venture to the Mill and the Party Tree. Slake your thirst at the Green Dragon Inn with brews unique to Hobbiton. Try a non-alcoholic Frogmorton Ginger Beer or Oatbarton Brew Traditional English Ale.
Sea of Stars
Where: Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
Flights from: $1,848
You don’t have to visit the cosmic wonders around the world to see gorgeous stars. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a magical fairy tale when you stroll along Vaadhoo Island beaches at night.
The sparkling blue waves glow with neon creatures. The dinoflagellates that cause the phenomenon known as the Sea of Stars emit a protein called luciferase that glows when mixed with oxygen from crashing waves.
If you take a kayak along the coast, you’ll see the luminescent trail of twinkling waters drip from your paddle. For an extra-magical adventure, rent an overwater suite (from $1,378) or book a private beach dining experience (from $600) at W Hotels Maldives.
The Dark Hedges
Where: Ballymoney, Ireland
Flights from: $1,583
Fairy tales have their dark sides, too. The Disney classic “Snow White” memorably portrayed the spooky forest with evil trees and their grasping, claw-like branches.
Make your own dark fairy tale scene with a trip to the Dark Hedges near Ballymoney. Twisted trees loom over the public road, forming a shadowy tunnel of branches that appear ready to reach out and pluck you up. If the trees look familiar, you’ve recently seen them on “Game of Thrones,” featured as the King’s Highway.
Methodology: All prices are based on travel from June 21 to June 25, 2017, the start of the summer travel season. Airfare was determined using Google Flights for direct, round-trip flights originating from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, named “The Best Airport in the U.S.” by travel website The Points Guy in 2016.