By Lydia Schrandt
Memorable books and movies transport us to faraway places where our imaginations are free to run wild. Sometimes when we turn that last page or watch the credits scroll past, we long to spend more time in these vivid fictional worlds.
Here are 10 places from books and movies we wish were real, as well as alternative destinations in the realm of reality where you can get your fix.
It’s hard to imagine there’s a single person out there who’s read the Harry Potter series and hasn’t wanted to cozy up inside The Three Broomsticks with a warming butterbeer or sample some sweets – including the infamous Every Flavor Beans – from Honeydukes.
Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure — Photo courtesy of Universal Orlando Resort
Go here instead: Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Orlando
While Hogsmeade started out as a place only in our imaginations, the folks at Universal Orlando have brought the wizarding town to life within the Islands of Adventure Theme Park. It’s not quite the same as the real thing – your chocolate frog isn’t going to hop away anytime soon – but it’s close enough!
2. Stars Hollow, Connecticut
There’s something undeniably charming about Stars Hollow, the close-knit community where Rory and Lorelai fall in and out of love in the TV series Gilmore Girls. The town calendar seems packed with events and festivities, and there’s always a cup of hot coffee and fluffy pancakes waiting at Luke’s Diner.
Go here instead: Washington Depot, Conn.
While much of the series was filmed on the Warner Bros. backlot in Burbank, Calif., the show’s creators took inspiration from the community of Washington Depot, Conn. While you won’t find a gazebo or town square, Washington does boast a cute local market, similar to Doose’s, as well as The Mayflower Grace inn, comparable to The Independence from the show. Come in October and you can even attend the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest.
Arendelle, home to Queen Elsa and Princess Anna from the Disney animated feature Frozen, sits on the banks of a tranquil fjord with snow-capped mountains as its backdrop. This fictional kingdom looked just as beautiful in the middle of an icy winter as it did in summer – year-round travel appeal!
Bergen, Norway — Photo courtesy of joaquinaristii/Foap/Visitnorway.com
Go here instead: Bergen, Norway
Inspired by the Western fjords of Norway, Arendelle most closely resembles the UNESCO World Heritage-listed town of Bergen, where colorful Hanseatic houses line the waterfront and towering peaks rise beyond a bustling harbor.
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4. The Water Gardens of Dorne
There are many locations in the world of the Seven Kingdoms (Game of Thrones) we’d be more than happy to pass up, but the Water Gardens of Dorne sounds simply sublime. Situated in the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms, this private palace of the House Martell features pink marble terraces overlooking fountains and pools, shaded by fragrant blood orange trees.
Gardens of Alcazar in Southern Spain
Go here instead: Alcazar of Seville, Spain
The Water Gardens might not exist in this world (and they probably wouldn’t let us in anyway), but the filming location for the Dornish estate used in the HBO TV adaptation is open to visitors. The Alcazar of Seville is a Moorish palace in Southern Spain, dating back to the 1300s. The grounds of this UNESCO World Heritage site encompass formal gardens dotted with pools and fountains, just like the Water Gardens of Dorne.
Director James Cameron once described the moon of Pandora – the main setting in the movie Avatar – as “the Garden of Eden with teeth and claws.” Setting aside the ‘teeth and claws’ bit, Pandora is seriously stunning. Brimming with technicolor life, this lunar landscape would be any photographer’s dream, and thrill seekers would pay a pretty penny for the chance to ride a mountain banshee.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park
Go here instead: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Hong Kong
The quartz-sandstone pillars of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park were rumored to be the inspiration for the floating Hallelujah Mountains depicted in the film. Whether or not those rumors are true, this UNESCO Global Geopark in China is certainly otherworldly.
6. The Shire, Middle Earth
Pastoral tranquility, stunning scenery and a cozy, if not somewhat meddlesome, community; it’s no wonder Frodo and Samwise were reluctant to leave the Shire. And while Rivendell is undeniably beautiful, hobbits know how to eat well and party, and that sounds like a fantastic trip!
Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand — Photo courtesy of Sara Orme
Go here instead: Hobbiton, New Zealand
You probably know by now that New Zealand served as the filming location for Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and those dying for a chance to visit the Shire are in luck. The Hobbiton movie set in Matamata has been maintained, giving fans an opportunity to wander the paths, have a beer at the Green Dragon Inn or even pop inside a Hobbit hole for a look at what life was like for Bilbo and company.
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7. Bikini Bottom
In Bikini Bottom, you can live in a pineapple under the sea, dine on crave-worthy Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab, catch a film at the Reef Cinema or snap a photo with the Golden Spatula inside the Fry Cook Museum. SpongeBob and his friends seem to have a good thing going in this fictional underwater city.
Go here instead: Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai
You won’t get to stay in a hollowed-out pineapple, but at Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai, you can spend the night with the fishes. Hotel rooms set alongside a massive aquarium allow visitors to gaze at marine life from the Persian Gulf gliding by the floor-to-ceiling windows, right from the comfort of a warm (and dry) bed.
8. Avonlea, Prince Edward Island
The novel Anne of Green Gables is set in the fictional town of Avonlea on Canada’s Prince Edward Island. The sleepy community comprises mostly farmers and lobster fishermen, making it a charming and friendly coastal destination where we’d love to get off the grid for a spell.
Coastal Prince Edward Island
Go here instead: Avonlea Village, Prince Edward Island
The Avonlea of the beloved novel might be fictional, but Prince Edward Island is very real (and full of quaint seaside communities). Fans of the series will find a recreated version of the setting, called Avonlea Village, complete with replica houses and shops, and the original schoolhouse L.M. Montgomery taught in.
9. Bluebell, Alabama
It says a lot about a place when a New York doctor pulls into town and doesn’t want to leave, as happened in Hart of Dixie. Southern hospitality, a lively social calendar filled with festivals and events, a romantic gazebo and historic plantations might have something to do with it, or maybe it’s the easy-on-the-eyes neighbors who seem to come out of the woodwork.
Go here instead: Dahlonega, Ga.
If you want a close approximation to Bluebell, cross the border into Georgia. The historic town of Dahlonega in the northern part of the state has a quaint town square, excellent food, foothill charm and its own lineup of festivals celebrating its heritage, including Gold Rush Days each October.
Ask just about any adult on a Monday morning if they’d like to escape to a land where they never get old, and you’d be met with a resounding “yes.” Add pirates, fairies and mermaids to the mix, and Peter Pan’s Neverland sounds like a pretty sweet place to spend some time.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Go here instead: Halong Bay, Vietnam
What UNESCO-listed Halong Bay lacks in eternal youth (and mermaids), it makes up for in its spectacular natural beauty. Sail between the lush karst formations through turquoise water, and it’s easy to imagine a pirate ship laying in wait around the next turn. So stunning is the scenery that it was used to create a 3D rendering of Neverland for the 2015 film Pan.
So there you have it. Did your favorite fictional place make the list? What city of the imagination do you wish you could visit?