From the Brothers Grimm to Disney Pixar, fairytales inspire us with stories of far-off lands becoming our first travel experiences, showcasing cultures and destinations that leave us dreaming of adventures beyond our borders. We discovered the sand dunes and souks of the Middle East in Aladdin and the local vampire folklore of television shows set in New Orleans. We imagined Arora asleep in her castle turret and had a perfect image curated in our minds of Mulan’s army practicing at a far-off monastery. These stories and the fairytale cities that inspire them hold a revered place in our hearts, so naturally as adults visiting these picture book places becomes a must on our travel list.
Most Beautiful Fairytale Cities in Africa
Chefchaouen is one of the most photogenic and colorful places in the world. The entire town was painted blue to symbolize the connection between the people of the city with the sky and heaven. For local people, it served as a physical reminder to live a spiritual life. The city’s gorgeous blue hues attract a variety of artisans making beautiful handcrafts such as colorful carpets, Moroccan lamps, ottomans, jewelry, caftans, and woven baskets.
Curated Experience: Cross the Rif Mountains to explore the Berber town of Chaouen. You’ll visit Ras Elma, the famous mineral water site, visit a riad and enjoy a rooftop lunch.
Distinctly different from Cairo and Luxor, Aswan is home to ancient Nubian culture, beautiful Nile Valley scenery, and significant archaeological sites like the Aswan Temple. Aswan is also the closest town to Ramses II’s colossal temples of Abu Simbel, which in our opinion is even more spectacular than the Pyramids of Giza.
Curated Experience: Tour the Philae Temple dedicated to the goddess Isis then visit with a local Nubian family. During your visit, you will get to explore the vibrantly colored village that jumps out against the vast tan Nile river bank. This tour is by motorboat but if you can find a tour that includes the felucca you will be even more enamored.
Djenne is the oldest city in Sub-Saharan Africa and has been a central fixture in trade and commerce since 250 BC. For thousands of years, Djenne has been pivotal in the distribution of both goods and ideas throughout the African continent. Best known for its stunning and distinctive adobe architecture, the small city is home to one of the most unique houses of worship in the region, The Great Mosque. In the 13th century, Djenne became the heartbeat of the teachings of Islam. Merchants visiting the city learned of the Islamic practices and brought the teachings home with them all over western Africa. Djenné to this day is a center of Islamic learning and pilgrimage, attracting pilgrims from all over West Africa.
Curated Experience: A tour Djenné town making stops at the manuscript, sacred well, and Tampama tomb.
The history of Gondar as we know it today really begins in the 17th century when Emperor Fasilides ended the practice of living in nomadic royal tent cities. He made Gondar the capital of Ethiopia and set out to build a walled complex surrounding his castle and churches. Today Gondar is best known for its series of castles and ruins built by two centuries of Ethiopian emperors. Fasil Ghebbi fortress and the emperors’ palace compound are the most famous of the UNESCO sites in the area. The city was forcibly segregated by religion in the mid-1600s, which created a beautiful mosaic of cultural influences, art, and historical references around the city. The architecture is a blend of Arabic, Indian, Portugues, and Baroque influences mixed in with local Ethiopian Axumite and Lake Tana styles. To this day, Gondar is the center of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the homeland of most Ethiopian Jews.
Curated Experience: Spend two nights and three days hiking through the Simien National Park. During your trek, you’ll stop at Genbar Falls and have the chance to spot wildlife like baboons, vultures, and foxes.
Stone Town, Zanzibar Tanzania
Stone Town is a labyrinth of alleyways, spice markets, children playing soccer, and shopkeepers. As the largest city on the island of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania – Stone Town has a history caught between cultures. The island has long been a major shipping port and an excellent example of Swahili coastal trading. Throughout history, Stone Town was known for trading spices, goods and you can take a guided history tour to learn more about the mixed history of the region. The island of Zanzibar is the perfect example of cultural fusions with African, Arabic, Indian, and European influences. The people of Zanzibar selected portions of each culture and many of their foods are infused with curries and saffrons learned from Indian traders – most of the people are Muslim and wear clothing made of east African patterns but draped in an Arabic manner. Stone Town is a travel destination that cannot be missed.
Curated Experience: Join a Stonetown Historical Walking Tour to experience the best of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stops include the Old Fort, House of Wonder, Freddie Mercury’s house, and one of the largest markets in the islands.
Tunisia is a country avidly celebrating freedom. After spurring the Arab Spring in 2011 with the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali the people of Tunisia have a stable democracy, functioning economy, and history of hospitality. While Tunis is known for its gorgeous Medina, beautiful handicrafts, and peaceful beaches, it also has some of the most beautiful and underrated examples of ancient Roman architecture in the world. The Antonine Baths in Tunis is one of the largest Roman thermal sites in the world and if we’re being honest most of their Roman architecture is far more interesting and impressive than The Colosseum.
Curated Experience: Explore the seaside village of Sidi Bou Said during a Private Full-Day Tunisia Highlights Tour. You’ll also visit the media to visit with a local cap-maker and a perfume shop.
Most Beautiful Fairytale Cities in Asia
Bagan is an ancient city built between the 9th to 13th centuries best known for its historical roots as the capital of the Pagan Kingdom. Anyone with an Instagram account and a keen interest in travel has seen the stunning photos of the sun rising over the Old Bagan Archaeological zone. It’s an image that appears to be pulled straight from an adventure fairytale. With more than 3,500 ancient Buddhist pagodas, temples, and other religious structures occupying approximately 16 square miles of Old Bagan – it could easily be the setting for both an ancient legend and a Hollywood blockbuster.
Curated Experience: One of the most popular ways to view the revered temples is from above during a sunrise hot air balloon ride. Take in the reddish-golden hour light as your drift gracefully over the once-massive Pagan kingdom. If heights aren’t in your wheelhouse, explore Bagan with a Full-Day Temple Tour
Isfahan, Iran is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s constantly overlooked because of the extreme politics of the Ayatollah but few fairytales would be what they are without the presence of maleficent forces. Best known for its stunning Perso–Islamic architecture, Isfahan is covered in grand boulevards, walled gardens, covered bridges, jeweled palaces, tiled mosques, and minarets. The 17th-century Imam Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace, and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque are must-see sights in Isfahan.
Curated Experience: Enjoy a full-day private tour of Isfahan’s architecture with Tours By Locals. On the tour, you’ll stop at the Chehelsotoun garden, tour the Armenian quarter, and palace.
Muscat is a breath of fresh air in comparison to some of its Middle Eastern neighbors. A port city located in the Gulf of Oman, Muscat is best known for its delectable seafood, bustling souks, and the stunning Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. When visiting the city, take the day trip 90 minutes outside the city to Wadi Shab to experience the Bimmah Sinkhole a visually stunning mix of turquoise fresh and saltwater that is unlike any other in the world.
Curated Experience: This full-day tour of Muscat through the Nizwa Oasis will cover the most famous sites and architectural wonders in the Omanian coastal city.
Bhutan is a very small country located deep in the heart of the Himalayan mountains. Paro is even tinier, with only two real streets. Nestled in between India and Tibet, Paro makes our list because it’s home to some of the most revered Bhutanese monasteries. Tiger’s Nest, the most sacred monastery in Bhutan, is built straight into the rocky side of a cliff and is said to be the ancient home of an 8th-century Buddhist master. Paro is also home to Drakarpo Monastery, Dzongdrakha Monastery, Drugyel Dzong Fortress, Kichu Monastery, and the famous Bumdra trek.
Curated Experience: This two-day private tour of Paro includes your flight from Kathmandu and takes you through all the monasteries and historical sites of the Bhutanize city.
You may have heard of Shiraz at your local wine shop. The Persian city had a 7000-year-old wine tradition until The Iranian Revolution in 1979. Fortunately, the grape varietals made their way to other regions of the world before the vineyards of Shiraz were destroyed. Today, Shiraz is known as the city of literature, manicured walled gardens, and home to arguably the world’s most beautiful house of worship, Shah Cheragh or the Emerald Mosque. The Emerald Mosque is also known as the Shrine to the King of the Light. It was originally built in the 1100s as a funerary monument to Ahmad and Muhammad, brothers who took refuge in Shiraz during the 10th-century persecution of Shia Muslims. Unlike any other Mosque, the interior of Shah Cheragh is inlaid with shining emeralds and mirrored glass mosaics that create an emerald glow throughout the hallowed walls.
Curated Experience: Enjoy a half-day tour of the gardens of Shiraz including the of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Eram garden.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Home to Angkor Wat and the ruins of the ancient Khmer Kingdom – Siem Reap Cambodia is one of the most interesting and enchanting places on the planet. There’s a reason Angkor Wat is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. The first temples were built in the 12th century, making the complex 900 years old. Spend your days exploring the temple ruins by TukTuk, marveling at the archaeological feats of Ta Prohm, Bayon, and Preah Ko. But don’t forget to pay your respects to more modern Cambodia history with a visit to Wat Thmey’s Killing Fields Memorial as a tribute to those killed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. One cannot visit Cambodia without acknowledging and respecting the atrocities committed there.
Curated Experience: Book this three-day guided tour of Siem Reap to explore the Khmer Kingdom ruins, a local fishing village, and Phnom Kulen Park.
Wadi Musa, Jordan
Wadi Musa is home to Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and a destination on every avid traveler’s bucket list. It is also a world-renowned archaeological site in Jordan’s southwestern desert made of pink sandstone. It was the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom and dates to around 300 B.C. making the ruins 2000 years old. The Nabatean people became wealthy trading incense between the Middle East and Europe and used their wealth to build an aesthetic masterpiece of a city. The complex of ruins is a work of art, painted on a natural stone backdrop that changes color every hour depending on the light and time of year. The ruins were rediscovered in 1812 and archeologists have uncovered less than half of the sprawling complex.
Curated Experience: Explore the Petra ruins with a guided day trip from Amman.
Most Beautiful Fairytale Cities in Europe
Brasov Romania is a 13th-century medieval city that could easily be mistaken for the set of a tale from the Brothers Grimm. Founded by Teutonic Knights in 1211, Brasov is a perfect example of what life was like in the Middle Ages. Within striking distance of Transylvania, Brasov is the perfect base for history devotees. Known for its medieval Saxon walls, the towering Gothic-style Black Church, and lively cafe culture, Brasov is more than the region’s vampire origin stories.
Curated Experience: Take a 3 hour guided tour of Brasov’s most well preserved historical sites with an English-speaking guide.
Budapest might be one of the most underrated cities in Europe. The capital city of Hungary was once two cities, Buda on the hill and Pest with the Danube River down below. While the two cities are merged in modern times, visitors can still feel the unique differences between the two sides. The Buda side of the city is known for its grand tourist attractions like Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, and Matthias Church. The Pest side of the city is where the action happens with many of the city’s famous ruins, bars, baths, and noteworthy restaurants.
Curated Experience: Take a guided tour of Budapest’s Jewish quarter and pay your respects to the people who once lived in this cultural enclave.
Czech Republic, Prague
Nicknamed “the City of a Hundred Spires” Prague is best known for its castles, Baroque and Gothic cathedrals, medieval architecture, and picturesque bridges. While the aesthetics of Prague are straight out of the fairy tales Prague’s nightlife, hipster culture, and lively arts scene make for a unique juxtaposition of old and new.
Curated Experience: Visiting Prague Castle is like walking into a fairytale. Take a small group local tour to learn about Prague’s history and culture.
Sintra is an entire town that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s filled with Portuguese 19th-century Romanticist architecture, and massive royal castles. Pena Palace in particular is one of the most unique and visually distinct castles in the world with its bright red and yellow exterior and giant azulejo tile facades.
Curated Experience: Take this guided day tour to explore the castles of Sintra and the coastal towns of Cabo da Roca and Cascais.
Estonia is home to both one of Europe’s most beautiful medieval centers and one of the world’s most technologically advanced cities. The first country to have a digital residence visa while also maintaining common use of a town gate built-in 1404 – Tallinn is in a word – unique. It’s a city that appears to be stuck between times. While their art museum could be mistaken for an Apple Store, on the other side of Tallinn is the walled and cobblestone-lined Old Town dating back to the 13th century. Old Town Tallinn is so straight out of a fairytale that visitors can buy mead out of a cauldron from women ironically wearing cloaks during the winter months. Despite being the tourist hub of the city, the medieval bell towers, spires, and terracotta roofs retain an everyday charm without being kitschy or overly commercial. Meanwhile, on the other side of Tallinn, Telliskivi Creative City is the bohemian hipster hub of the city. Filled with world-class street art and over 100 independently owned boutiques, antique shops, vintage stores, and restaurants – this local hangout feels distinctly modern.
Curated Experience: Take a historical walking tour of Old Town with a local guide.
Venice is world-renowned for its architectural beauty, historical importance, art, and gondola-filled canals. The Grand Canal thoroughfares of Venice are lined with Renaissance and Gothic palaces and in the heart of Venice, you can visit St. Mark’s Basilica, one of the world’s most famous churches and one of the best examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. The floating city is also home to the annual Venice Biennale, a celebration of art, architecture, music, dance, and theatre that attracts culture and history buffs from all over the globe.
Curated Experience: Take a guided tour of St Mark’s Basilica and Doge Palace with a knowledgeable guide to discover their historical, religious, and artistic significance.
Most Beautiful Fairytale Cities in Australia
Middle Island may not have castles or archaeological sites of some of the locations on this list – but it’s one of the few fairytale cities to actually have multiple children’s tales based there. Off the coast of Warrnambool, Middle Island is the setting of the new Australian children’s classic Oddball. Based on the true story of how a team of dogs helped to save Middle Island’s penguin colonies, visitors to the island can experience both the penguins and the pups that saved them. Also on Middle Island, you’ll find lake Hillier which is a naturally bubble gum pink body of water that is best seen from above.
Curated Experience: Local legend has it that Black Jack Anderson, Australia’s only known resident pirate lived on Middle Island for nearly 10 years. Book one of the many guided cruises to Middle Island and learn all of its fairytale lore.
Deep in Australia’s Northern Territory, Tennant Creek is known for its cattle stations, gold mining heritage, Aboriginal culture, and otherworldly natural beauty. This is genuine Outback Australia. Once the third-largest gold producer in Australia, Over 210 tons of gold have been mined in Tennant Creek. Tennant Creek is the perfect intersection between Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu National Park.
Curated Experience:At Kelly’s Ranch near Tennant Creek, you can go on a bush tucker trail ride on horseback and experience life in the outback from the perspective of aboriginal people.
Most Beautiful Fairytale Cities in North America
Located an hour and a half from downtown Calgary the cozy mountain town of Banff in the heart of the Canadian Rockies is so beautiful it feels as if you’ve been dropped into the pages of a storybook. The staggering mountains surrounding the town, which are filled with cozy cabins, are practically begging for visitors to explore by hiking, skiing, or snowshoeing. While the winter temperatures can be extreme Banff is an all-season destination. In the summers the lakes shine in an almost unnatural shade of bright blue and in the winters those same lakes turn into picturesque natural ice skating rinks.
Curated Experience: Tour the iconic crystal blue mountain lakes and waterfalls through the Canadian Rockies with stops at Lake Louise, Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake, and Takakkaw Falls.
Merida has one of Mexico’s largest colonial centers with stunning examples of Spanish Colonial architecture throughout the city’s Centro District. Spend time exploring the brightly colored neighborhoods and enjoying local palatas along cobblestone streets. Merida is the capital city of the state of Yucatan and is home to several other nearby fairytale attractions including the yellow city of Izamal which has been honored as one of Mexico’s Pueblos Mágicos. If you’re in search of natural beauty, spend a day exploring the freshwater underground Cenotes sprinkled throughout the region. It wouldn’t be a trip to Yucatan without visiting the Chichen Itza ruins which are both a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the world’s wonders.
Curated Experience: Explore the rich history of the Yucatecan with a day trip from downtown Merida to visit the Pueblos Mágicos of Valladolid and Izamal.
New Orleans, USA
There’s a reason New Orleans is the setting to most of America’s modern fairytales. From the Vampire Diaries to True Blood to American Horror Story, New Orleans is home to all of America’s spookiest folklore. On your visit to New Orleans take one of their iconic ghost tours, pop into a Marie Laveau-inspired voodoo shop, or learn about the real-life horrors of America’s first documented serial killer, Marie Delphine LaLaurie.
Curated Experience: Tour the French Quarter Walking Tour the oldest, most famous, and most unpredictable neighborhood in New Orleans. Take in live music as you wander amongst the 18th and 19th-century homes.
San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico
San Cristobal de las Casas is a highland town in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. It might also be one of Mexico’s most underrated destinations. If you want culture, history, adventure, and nature – San Cristobal has it all. Visit San Cristobal’s Zocalo – or town square – to experience the bustling handicraft market, see street food vendors selling local favorites, and marvel at the colonial architecture. Perched on a hilltop above San Cristobal are the two colonial churches Iglesia de Guadalupe and Iglesia de San Cristóbal, head up there for the beautiful architecture but stay for the breathtaking view of the city below. If natural beauty is more your speed, book a rappelling tour into the Sima de las Cotorras, a 160-meter deep cavern home to a colony of green parakeets.
Curated Experience: Sign on for a full day of exploration from San Cristóbal to experience the Chiflon Waterfalls & Montebello.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
San Miguel de Allende was once a sleepy artist village but is now an international destination for experienced and serious gastronomical travelers. With a mixture of UNESCO-recognized Mexican Baroque, Spanish colonial, and neoclassical architecture, the buildings themselves are works of art. In San Miguel, you’ll find world-class restaurants nestled amongst artist galleries and local handicraft vendors.
Curated Experience: Explore the most famous San Miguel Landmarks including churches and markets.
Most Beautiful Fairytale Cities in South America
El Calafate, Argentina
El Calafate is a rugged outdoorsy town with high-end eateries sprinkled through the small downtown. Making the journey to southern Argentina near the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field isn’t for those afraid of adventure or the cold for that matter. El Calafate is the starting point for visitors ready to explore Los Glaciares National Park, home of the Perito Moreno Glacier. Put on your drysuit and set out on Upsala Lake where you can kayak around the bright blue Upsala Glacier or hike to the granite peak of Mt. Fitz Roy to take in the landscape from above.
Curated Experience: Walk on the 5km steel walkway overlooking the icefield and famed Perito Moreno Glacier on a private tour.
Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia
Often considered one of the most beautiful churches in the world, Las Lajas Sanctuary is a Gothic Revival-style church built in a canyon over the Guáitara River in Colombia. Accounts of divine intervention lead to the building of this church. In 1754, an Amerindian woman and her daughter found themselves caught in a brutal storm. Hiding out from the weather in the gorge, the women felt a force calling to them, and to their amazement looked up and saw the image of the Virgin Mary on the rocks above. At that moment, the woman’s daughter was simultaneously cured of her inability to hear and speak. Now religious and non-religious visitors regularly make the pilgrimage to the famed church perched on a bridge 150 feet above the river.
Curated Experience: Take a teleferico ride and view the church and valley from a whole new perspective.
Puerto Natales, Chile
The southern Chilean port city of Puerto Natales serves as the gateway to trekking in Torres del Paine National Park and the port for exploring the Patagonian fjords. The city itself is quiet and rural but its access to some of South America’s most raw natural beauty fuels its growing lust as an adventure destination not to be missed. Cruise through the glaciers, spot the penguins, hike through the mountains, and if you’re lucky see a condor flying from the cliffs.
Curated Experience: On the Puerto Natales: Torres del Paine Full Day Tour you’ll drive through Torres del Paine making stops at many of the most famous lookouts and even taking a short hike.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located in southwestern Bolivia the Salar de Uyuni, one of the most extreme destinations in South America looks like it belongs on another planet. The salt flats stretch over 4,050 square miles, roughly the size of Connecticut. When the salt is dry it appears in hexagonal patterns but when the surrounding lakes overflow covering the flats with a few inches of water it transforms into a reflective surface, that for as far as the eye can see makes for some truly jaw-dropping, fairytale images.
Curated Experience:Uyuni Salt Flats with Sunset and Wine Tasting take in a sunset over the salt flats while sipping a glass of wine.