You don’t need to delve into the pages of a Hans Christian Anderson story to experience a fairy tale. Instead, put one of these whimsical and romantic destinations on your bucket list.
Looking to find your happy ever after and appease your need for wanderlust? Put some magic into your next holiday with these destinations that have to be seen to be believed.
1. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
If Sleeping Beauty were real, there’s a good chance she would be living in the whimsical Neuschwanstein Castle, located in southwest Bavaria, Germany. In fact, the castle is so fairy princess-perfect that it served as inspiration for her castle in Disneyland, and makes an appearance in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Originally built by the reclusive Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1868 as a sanctuary, the castle is truly a sight to behold. He spent so much money on the outside that many of the rooms were left unfurnished, but it’s interiors and surrounding gardens are still just as beautiful - and surreal - as its façade. One of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions, visitors can tour the castle all year round.
2. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, Scotland
Image: Charles Jencks - www.charlesjencks.com
If your idea of fun of a perfect holiday is more down-the-rabbit-hole than wandering fairy castles, then The Garden of Cosmic Speculation may be your speed. Designed by landscape architect Charles Jencks, the 12-hectare garden is littered with fantastical sculptures, and Dr Zeus meets Mad Hatter landscapes that draw inspiration from fractals and the physics of black holes. Designed to ‘celebrate nature, both intellectually and through the senses… including humour’, the Garden of Cosmic Speculation is located at the artists’ home near Dumfries in South West Scotland. Although it’s private property, he opens the garden one-day each year to raise money for various charities so time your trip accordingly.
3. Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Russia
You could be forgiven for thinking that the spectacular Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Russia was plucked directly from Candy Cane land with it’s fantastical cherry shaped domes and hyperbolic colours – but it in fact was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in 1561 – and 450 years later, still stands as Russia’s most iconic landmark.
Whoever visits the chapel are bound to learn some of the gory legends associated with the construction. A popular myth is that Ivan ordered the architects to be blinded so they could not build anything of comparable beauty (there is no concrete evidence to support this theory)- but ghost stories aside, you can be sure that you’ll never lay eyes on anything like it anywhere else in the world.
4. The Glowworm Caves New Zealand
Photo: Discover Waitomo - www.waitomo.com
If you grew up in the 90s, chances are, you have Crystal and Eric’s romantic cavort in the glow-worm pools of Fern Gully firmly etched in their memories. But even those who aren’t familiar with the hit animated film will still feel romance and be in slack-jawed awe of the Glowworm Grotto in New Zealand, where the native glowworm species ignite into a wondrous galaxy of stars. First discovered by a local Maori chief and a English surveyor, today, the site attracts thousands of visitors and is a must-see if you’re visiting Aotearoa.
5. Huangshan Mountain Range, Southern Anhui Province, Eastern China
No fairy tale is complete without a love story. To seal your happy ever after with your beloved, buy a lock, climb the precarious Huangshan Mountain Rage in China, and after locking the “Tong Xin Suo” (lover lock) on the chain on one of the bridges, throw they keys off the cliff and you will be locked in love forever. Sure beats a candle-lit dinner!
6. The Dark Hedges, Ireland
Most visitors to The Dark Hedges can’t help but feel a haunted-forest vibe, and for good reason. One of the most photographed attractions in Northern Ireland, the avenue of majestic and eerie beech trees was first planted in the 18th century by the Stuart family to impress visitors upon the entrance of their home. Now, you’re just as likely to find newly-wed couples snapping the perfect wedding shot as you are to find ghost hunters – the road itself is thought to be haunted by the Grey Lady, who appears at dusk. Game of Thrones fans will also recognize the beautiful yet sinister-looking road, which will send tingles up your spine and elicit gasps of delight, especially as the light fades.
7. Colmar, France
Dubbed the “Disney princess of towns,” the quaint town of Colmar in north-eastern France has been known to make even the most cynical visitor feel like bursting into song and skip down the enchanting cobblestone lanes with flower-laden baskets. With it’s flowery cannels, exquisite churches and architecture dating back eight centuries, the medieval town has a remarkably rich history and culture that’s just as fascinating as the quaint houses and dreamy waterways. If you needed any other reason to visit, it’s also the Alsce wine capital!
8. Wisteria Tunnel, Japan
This breathtaking scenery of purple blooms is enough to inspire almost anyone to start gardening. Home to almost 150 plants made up of over 20 species, the Wisteria Tunnel Kawachi Fuji Garden in Kitakyushu draws visitors from around the world that can experience the magical walkway in full bloom from late April to mid-May. All you need is to gallop in on a noble white steed to complete the fairy tale scene.
9. Stone House - Fafe, Portugal
Why move bulky boulders when you can just build your house around them? We can only imagine this is what the original inhabitants of the stone house asked themselves when they decided to construct a house nestled into the crook of the humongous stones. Called the ‘real life Flintstones house’, the house is not from the Stone Age, but was built in 1974 as a family’s rural retreat. Thanks to its fame, the property was so swarmed with tourists and architecture enthusiasts that it’s owner Vitor Rodrigues has had to move to find solace.
10. Hobbiton – New Zealand
You don’t need to be a lord of the rings fan to appreciate the hobbit holes of Matamata, New Zealand. Constructed specifically for Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy, the green pastures, rolling hills and ancient, overhanging trees of Hobbiton really do look like they’ve been plucked straight from H.R Tolkien’s imagination. Local government didn’t need much convincing to leave the structures after filming finished – thousands of Hobbit fans every year flock to the Hobbiton Movie set to peer into 44 hobbit holes, including Bag End.