Fairytale locations aren’t merely the things of your favourite childhood storybooks: from the Bavarian hills to the shores of an island in the Maldives, you’ll find surreal sights sure to enchant you. These are the misty mountains, character-packed castles and picture-perfect gardens designed to inspire your next big escape.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
The epitome of romance and wonder, Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle is perhaps as magical as castles get: surrounded by a hilly landscape and endless valleys, this Bavarian beauty was brought to life by the reclusive King Ludwig II and comprises 14 rooms decorated with unrestrained opulence and drama. A curious highlight is the grotto – an artificial dripstone cave that leads out to a conservatory with far-reaching vistas. Neuschwanstein Castle is frequently cited as the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle.
Wisteria Tunnel at Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Japan
A five-hour train ride from Tokyo will take you to the romantic Wisteria Tunnel in Japan’s Kawachi Fuji Gardens. Overflowing with colour and grace, it comes to life in the spring and offers a mesmerising floral display and an explosion of pastel colours – a delight for lovebirds and lovers of nature, alike.
Admont Abbey, Austria
This Benedictine monastery in Styria combines centuries of religious history with the regal charm for which Austria is famed. Its imposing yet unassumingly white exterior belies the world’s largest monastic library, home to 70,000 restored books and a grand main hall decorated with ceiling frescoes, refined sculptures and lush gold embellishments.
The Dark Hedges, Ireland
A gorgeous avenue by day and a haunting tunnel by night, The Dark Hedges dates back to the 18th century and remains an unmissable natural attraction in Ireland’s Ballymoney. Characterised by tall beech trees looming over a narrow path, it possesses a most atmospheric and eerie appeal – one notably made famous in Game of Thrones.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Located in the idyllic Julian Alps in northwest Slovenia, and surrounded by verdant peaks and dense forests, Lake Bled comprises a magical 35 square metres of emerald green waters. Take a leisurely boat ride to reach the islet at its heart, home to a small church built at the end of the 17th century.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Closer to home, Scotland‘s Isle of Skye is replete with dashing, dramatic and rugged landscapes. The island is home to the adequately-named Fairy Glen and Fairy Pools – a bold valley and clear blue, waterfall-adorned pools fit for scenic walks and wild swimming in the warmer months.
Situated across Anatolian plains in central Turkey, captivating Cappadocia is home to houses carved into soft stone caves and uniquely-named fairy chimneys – cone-shaped rock formations that give the landscape its otherworldly appearance. A hot air balloon ride offers vast views over the region’s remarkable topography, while the maze-like Kaymakli Underground City offers up a wholly different perspective of the region.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Russia
Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow certainly makes its mark as one of Russia’s more curious and compelling sights. Built in the mid-1500s on orders from Ivan the Terrible, its distinctive features include swirls of bright colour, spiral domes topped with gold crosses, and intricate patterns on the walls of its ten chapels. The cathedral makes a particularly impressive sight by night, when it lights up to resemble a cartoon-like cardboard cut-out.
Tunnel of Love, Ukraine
The leafiest location you’re likely to encounter is Ukraine’s Tunnel of Love – a passageway for lovers as much as for trains. Situated near the town of Klevan, its three kilometre-long track serves a train that delivers wood to a local factory, and it remains a place of incredible charm come sun or snow.
Sea of Stars, Maldives
Curious yet decidedly dazzling, the Sea of Stars adds more than a touch of magic to the shores of Vaadhoo Island in Raa Atoll, Maldives. This phenomenon is the result of a disturbance of bioluminescent phytoplankton, which results in a glowing blue network of underwater stars that illuminates as much as it inspires.
Sintra Castle, Portugal
Set high in Portugal‘s Sintra Mountains, Pena National Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the country’s Seven Wonders and a particularly creative symbol of romantic architecture. Dating back to the 19th century, its façade was individually styled by section and inside, decorative touches are just as artistic. Experience the palace’s magic beyond its multicoloured walls with a walk through the surrounding forest and gardens.
Zhangye Danxia Landform, China
Spread across several provinces in southeast, southwest and northwest China, this intriguing rocky landscape is a natural work of art at its finest: splashed and strewn with colour, these sculpted cliffs and valleys are the result of sandstone and mineral deposits being laid down for 24 million years. With a breadth of 510 square kilometres, Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park in Gansu province makes for a surreal and particularly scenic stroll.
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