Share on Facebook

Here’s Where You Can Visit the Real Places That Inspired Disney Attractions

These real-life locations that inspired popular Disney rides will make you believe in magic.

Giraffe Walking in Front of Mount Kilimanjaro in AmboseliVicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography/Getty Images

It really is a small world

The Disney parks are known for being a slice of magic and fantasy in the middle of the real world. But not everything in them is completely imaginary—and, in fact, more rides and attractions than you might think have a solid basis in reality! While attractions like Animal Kingdom’s “Expedition Everest” are pretty obvious when it comes to their real-life inspiration, there are several more of your favorites that you might not know have real-world parallels. Here are our favorite parallels—and the real places you can visit (when travel is safe again, of course). Get a look at what Disney World looks like now that it’s open during COVID-19.

Amazon-riverAlewtincka/Shutterstock

If you like Jungle Cruise…

…Head to the Amazon, Congo, Nile, and Mekong Rivers. Jungle Cruise, the classic ride located in both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resorts, simulates a riverboat cruise down some of the major rivers of Asia, Africa, and South America. Park guests board a 1930s British explorers’ lodge, and are then taken on a journey to see various faux jungle animals with the help of live Disney cast members keeping things light with scripted and ad-libbed narration for humor. The Amazon, the Congo, the Nile, and the Mekong are the four great rivers that inspired the scenery along the downstream voyage. Headed to the park itself? Here’s what you should know about going to Disney World right now.

Raft Riders in the WaterBettmann/Getty Images

If you like Grizzly River Run…

…Head to Redwood Creek and the Sacramento River, California. If you’re looking for a little splash and a lot of laughs, Grizzly River Run, located at Disneyland’s California Adventure, is a safe bet. The ride is meant to mimic a toned-down version of California’s best white-water rafting with a free-floating river ride up, down, and through Grizzly Peak. Learn the things Disney employees aren’t allowed to do anymore.

The Matterhorn above a dandelion meadowBuena Vista Images/Getty Images

If you like the Matterhorn Bobsleds…

…Check out…the Matterhorn! This one’s pretty straightforward: The Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland are based on a real mountain called the Matterhorn. Just looking at the real-life mountain, you can see the resemblance. The Matterhorn is located on the border of Switzerland and Italy, part of the Swiss Alps, and reaches a height of 14,692 feet. While not quite that high—it’s 147 feet—Disneyland’s version uses a “forced perspective” technique that makes it look taller than it is. This is a process it also uses for its famous castles! And speaking of the castles…

Neuschwanstein castleHerbert Kehrer/Getty Images

If you like Sleeping Beauty Castle…

…Check out Neuschwanstein Castle. Cinderella’s Castle in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom might garner the most fanfare and selfies, but Sleeping Beauty Castle, in Disneyland, is the original. The idea for its design came in large part from Neuschwanstein Castle, located in Bavaria, Germany. This gorgeous 19th-century palace looks like a transplant from a fairy tale in the real world. And while it was built for royalty, and King Ludwig II lived there until his death in 1886, nowadays the castle is open to the public! Check out the biggest differences between Disneyland and Disney World.

TheaterGimas/Shutterstock

If you like Hollywood Studios…

…Head to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. That Exotic Revival-style building with a primary spot in Disney World’s Hollywood Studios is (on the outside) an almost exact replica of this Los Angeles theater. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is famed for its hand- and footprints of legendary actors and was named a historic-cultural landmark in 1968. It was also the location of three Academy Award ceremonies in the 1940s. Disney’s version now serves as the facade for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, but fans of the late, great Great Movie Ride, which closed in 2017, will recognize this theater from that bygone attraction as well. We love Runaway Railway, but here are the discontinued Disney attractions that we wish could come back.

Iguazu-fallsJakub Barzycki/Shutterstock

If you like Soarin’…

…Head to Iguazu Falls, South America. Iguazu Falls are waterfalls of the Iguazu River on the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Parana—they’re even bigger than Niagara Falls. Soarin’, also known as Soarin’ Around the World and Soaring Over the Horizon, at Disneyland’s California Adventure and Disney World’s Epcot, is a flight-motion simulator attraction. The portion of the ride where park guests’ feet dangle freely over the immense cliffs of the Brazilian waterfall system is inspired by the magnificent spectacle of these 275-individual drops waterfalls. Find out the most authentic country in Epcot’s World Showcase.

Castillo-de-San-Felipe-del-MorroDennis van de Water/Shutterstock

If you like Pirates of the Caribbean…

…Head to Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico. A 16th-century citadel named in honor of King Philip II of Spain, Castillo San Felipe was designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay, and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from seaborne enemies. The citadel inspired the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. The ride (and the movies it inspired) tells the story of a band of pirates and their adventures. Here’s how to take the best Disney rides virtually.

Millennium-Biltmore-HotelUsa Pyon/Shutterstock

If you like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror…

…Head to Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. This luxury hotel located in downtown L.A. boasts some incredible ceilings, and Disney’s Imagineers took note. The Rendezvous Court, for one, which was once the hotel’s lobby and is now used for afternoon tea, is decorated with a Moorish Revival styled plaster ceiling painted with 24-karat gold accents, two original imported Italian chandeliers from 1923, and a grand Spanish Baroque Revival bronze doorway.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, also known as Tower of Terror, at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios pays homage to the Biltmore. In the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel guests are taken into an abandoned and haunted hotel for a death-defying elevator ride. Find out the awesome Disney rides you can only see in the international parks.

Bryce-canyon-utahronnybas/Shutterstock

If you like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad…

…Head to Bryce Canyon, Utah. The American Southwest is home to some incredible landscape, including Utah’s Bryce Canyon with its crimson-colored hoodoos, a column, or pinnacle of weathered rock. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a mine train roller coaster located at Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, will give wilderness lovers something to look forward to, as well as history buffs, with its biggest inspiration pulling from Bryce Canyon and the discovery of gold in the late 1800s in the American Southwest.

Mustang-NapalYongyut Kumsri/Shutterstock

If you like Expedition Everest…

…Head to Mustang, Nepal. Residing on the edge of the Tibetan plateau, Mustang has been a part of Nepal since the 18th century, but it only opened up to a limited number of travelers in 1991. The district survives a Tibetan culture in isolation among a high altitude desert of deep red and ocher land, intense gorges, and a dreamy blue sky.

Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was inspired by Mustang. Joe Rohde, one of the Imagineers of the thrill ride, along with his team, traveled to Nepal to become more immersed in the environment, finding great affection for the land, particularly a 1,000-year-old monastery near Mustang. Learn if Disney World has a maximum capacity—and how many people are being let in now.

KilimanjaroAndrzej Kubik/Shutterstock

If you like Kilimanjaro Safaris …

…Head to an East African Safari. African safaris are just one way people can spot the annual wildebeest migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti, rare desert-adapted elephants and rhinos in Namibia, and chimpanzees and mountain gorillas in the jungles of East Africa. Or you can stay in the U.S. and hop on Kilimanjaro Safaris at WDW’s Animal Kingdom. It was inspired by the raw experience of an African safari and is the next best thing.

Row of brightly painted Cadillacs in the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, USA.Tiago_Fernandez/Getty Images

If you like Radiator Springs Racers…

…Head to Cadillac Ranch. If you’ve seen the Cars films, you probably know there’s lots of inspiration from the real world. Route 66 is in the original film! While Radiator Springs is a fictional town, the distinctive mountain ridge in the back of the ride has a very real—and cool—inspiration. While the Radiator Springs rocks somewhat resemble cars, Cadillac Ranch, in Amarillo, Texas, is an art installation featuring ten Cadillac cars stuck into the ground! And, oh yes, as the picture shows, they’re brightly colored and covered in fun graffiti. Next, get a look at some Disneyland attractions you never knew existed.

Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine, and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty, and scientific news. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected], and check out her website: livingbylex.com