Real-Life Locations That Inspired Fictional Places

How many times have you watched a television show and thought "I wish I could go there!" Fiction, regardless of medium, gives us beautiful places to add to our travel bucket lists. Fortunately, many fictional places aren't truly fake. Instead, the storytellers were inspired by places they saw or visited. Here are four real-life locations that inspired fictional places.


The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado

The front steps of the haunted and historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park
Credit: Sopotnicki/ Shutterstock

Located about an hour from Denver in the Rocky Mountains, The Stanley Hotel is known for the ghosts that call the huge resort home. Yet, The Stanley Hotel is most famous for inspiring The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King's novel The Shining.

Room 217 is allegedly the scariest of all the rooms at The Stanley Hotel. Guests report that the ghost of a chambermaid, Mrs. Wilson, cleans up the room. When she gets angry at sloppy guests, she pokes them in the ribs while they sleep. Room 217 is also where Stephen King and his wife slept when they visited The Stanley Hotel in 1974. King dreamt that the fire hose hanging outside of his room was chasing his son down the hallway and he awoke startled. He stepped on the balcony to smoke a cigarette and came up with the outline for The Shining, his best-selling novel about a writer who goes insane.

Famed director Stanley Kubrick later made King's book into a movie, starring Jack Nicholson among others. Kubrick didn't film at The Stanley Hotel, but the hotel did serve as a filming location for The Shining miniseries and Dumb and Dumber with Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Visitors to the Stanley Hotel can take a day tour to learn about the hotel's haunted history, and those who are really brave will opt for the night tour.


Angel Falls, Venezuela

The breathtaking 3,200-foot waterfall, Angel Falls, in Venezuela crashing to the jungle below
Credit: FabioFilzi/ iStock

Buried in the dense jungle of Venezuela's Canaima National Park, the world's tallest waterfall awaits explorers. Angel Falls plunges more than 3,200 feet from a plateau into the Carrao River of Devil's Canyon. This magnificent natural wonder served as the inspiration for Paradise Falls in Disney's animated movie Up, a story about a friendship between a young boy and a widower who fly away in a house powered by hundreds of balloons. The movie's director, Pete Docter, was brainstorming with his team about places to send the main characters. After watching a documentary by Adrian Warren, the team decided they needed to visit Angel Falls. Warren led a group of six Pixar animators on an expedition to Angel Falls, where they drew pictures of the majestic waterfall, dramatic rock formations, and dense foliage. Angel Falls also served as a backdrop for the novel The Lost World, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1912.

Angel Falls' namesake is James "Jimmie" Crawford Angel, an American pilot. In the 1920s, Angel flew an American mining geologist to a tabletop mountain in search of gold. In the 1930s, when Angel heard the miner died in the United States, he began exploring for this river of gold. He saw Angel Falls for the first time in November of 1933 and shared it with the world.


Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration behind Sleeping Beauty's Castle, within the Alps of Bavaria
Credit: Naumenko Aleksandr/ Shutterstock

Visitors to the "Happiest Place on Earth" can see Sleeping Beauty's Castle, which was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany. Walt Disney visited the castle on a tour of Europe, and the castle gave Disney the idea for the fairy-tale palace.

King Ludwig II built Neuschwanstein Castle in 1869 near the Bavarian town of Fussen in the Alps. The king, a fan of world-famous composer Richard Wagner, devised the castle in Wagner's honor and designed many of the rooms after characters in Wagner's operas. In fact, the castle's name comes from the "Swan Knight," one of Wagner's opera characters; Neuschwanstein literally translates to "New Swan Stone." King Ludwig II only slept in the castle for 11 nights and Richard Wagner never had the chance to visit before he passed.

You can find the castle in other Disney projects too. It also served as the inspiration for Cinderella's castle in the 1950 Disney classic, and when Dick Van Dyke flies his magical car in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, he passes over Neuschwanstein Castle. Today, the castle receives almost 1.5 million visitors each year and remains one of the most popular tourist sites in the world.


Cincinnati Union Terminal, Cincinnati, Ohio

The concrete arched exterior of the Cincinnati Union Terminal
Credit: DBrower/ Shutterstock

If you are of a certain age, you remember the animated series Super Friends, which showcased the crime-fighting moves of famous Justice League members such as Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman. In each episode the superheroes had to meet at Justice League headquarters to plan their next move to save the world from a criminal. Cincinnati's Union Terminal serves as the inspiration for the headquarters in the cartoon.

The huge dome-shaped, Art Deco facility was completed in 1933 after four years of construction. The terminal is instantly recognizable with its stunning arched façade, large clock, and majestic fountain to welcome travelers. The interior dome, noticeable in the Justice League version, spans 180 feet and is 106 feet high.

Cincinnati Union Terminal was one of the last grand train stations built in the United States. The rail hub thrived for a few decades, but started to fail in the 1950s with the increasing popularity of air travel and automobiles. The terminal fell out of operation for many years, but has undergone a recent restoration in 2018. Today, Cincinnati Union Terminal primarily serves as one of Ohio's most famous museums and historic sites, but Amtrak does offer limited service to the station.


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