5 Real Places Plucked Straight Out of Fairy Tales

The following are outright fantasy locations — from fairy tales, comic books, movies and other fictional stories — that are just plane tickets away. Like …

#5. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude (The Cave of the Crystals)

The Fantasy Location:

Superman’s home away from home, constructed from the massive crystals that also made up his home planet of Krypton:

It’s the only place on Earth isolated enough to hide the sound of his Superfarts.

The Real Thing:


That would be the Cueva de los Cristales in the Naica Mine of Chihuahua, Mexico. And we dare say that it’s actually more impressive than the comic book and movie locale.

It’s true that there are lots of crystal caves in the world — Steven Seagal started naming albums afterthem, after all. However, amid the countless ones that amount to little more than the Glitter Club Meeting Caves, there are a few that can grab you by the brain and gouge your eyes with furious wonder.

Cueva de los Cristales is every single one of them. On steroids. The sheer size of this thing is juststupid.


The quiet home to some of the largest selenite crystals in the world, Cuevo de los Cristales follows its “land of the flamboyant decorator giants” ethos all the way through — not only does it make you seem like you are an inch tall, it also can kill you with the snap of its proverbial fingers.

The cave’s breath is hot and moist: It is so close to an enormous underground magma chamber that air temperatures reach up to 136 degrees Fahrenheit. This, combined with constant humidity that hovers near 100 percent, renders much of the magnificent site unexplorable. As such, unless you are more resistant to the elements than the cockroach-sized vermin you are reduced to in this place, you should approach the site with caution.

On the plus side, though, the place does make for one hell of a spectacular tomb.

#4. Alice’s Looking-Glass Land (The Garden of Cosmic Speculation)

The Fantasy Location:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are two of the most beloved children’s stories of all time, and by far the most perfect way anyone has ever managed to disguise math in screaming insanity. The world is full of twisting scenery following nonsense logic.

Many rides and even whole amusement parks have tried to capture the peculiar feeling of Alice’s adventures, but their otherworldly atmosphere is extremely hard to nail down, since the point is that it defies reality. It turns out it just takes some work, since Scotland has managed to recreate the Looking-Glass Land. The planning stage of their version must have involved a hell of a lot of acid.

The Real Thing:

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation, by landscape architect Charles Jencks, offers a brief glimpse of what the world would look like if Mother Nature suddenly just stopped giving a shit. It’s not just a lot of random acid trip landscaping; drawing inspiration from science and mathematics, every little feature in the area has been designed to incorporate mathematical shapes derived from, among other things, fractals and the physics of black holes.

The result does a fairly good job of capturing the essence of Carroll’s worrisome landscapes while simultaneously managing to be one of the few places in the world that requires a higher education just to be properly confused by it.

And rest assured, you will be confused. Behold:

In all honesty, though, the garden does look like a pretty good place for a tea party.

#3. A Real Ice Palace (The St. Paul Winter Carnival)

The Fantasy Location:

Ice palaces litter the popular media, from various video games to that one James Bond movie with the invisible car to the residence of the White Witch of Narnia.

In reality, however, such structures are more or less impossible to build. The logistics of the process would be insane, and unless you live in a South Pole level climate you’d soon wake up to find that the leak in your roof is the roof.

The Real Thing:

Or, you could go to St. Paul, Minnesota, a city that builds a new ice palace every damned year.

While Minnesota serves an important role as the chamber pot that prevents Canada from spilling all over the U.S., you might think the state traditionally features fairly little to be impressed by. You’d be wrong. Every now and then, the proud people of St. Paul roll up their sleeves and produce the Saint Paul Winter Carnival, complete with a palace made of huge blocks of ice. Here are some awesome 360-degree panoramas of the project by photographer Ed Fink:

The festival was started as a way of getting back at a reporter who described the city as “another Siberia, unfit for human habitation” in 1885. Therefore, it has its roots firmly set in the healthy, time-honored American tradition of right back at you, you bastard.

Over the years, the town has built an elaborate mythology around the festival, complete with enough heroes, villains and magical happenstances to make most fantasy novels — and some religions — pale in comparison. The whole thing revolves around two elemental regents and their houses called the Royal Family (of ice) and the Vulcan Krewe (of fire). According to legend, the festival exists to appease them and thus enable the transition to summer.

And where there are kings, there must be castles. That is why, each and every year, the townspeople painstakingly construct an elaborate palace for their royalty to cavort in. The beautifully lit buildings are expertly put together from ice blocks from nearby lakes. When the palace is finished, it plays the central stage to the numerous ice-themed happenings throughout the festival. Oh, and they vary the design most every year, because it would just be too easy otherwise.

The festival has continued without interruption since 1946 and continues to house some of the most spectacular works of ice art and architecture the Canadian jet stream has to offer. And after it is over, the palace is dismantled, as if it had never been there. Until it’s time to do it all over again.

#2. The Gargantuan Cave of Wonders (Majlis al Jinn)

The Fantasy Location:

The Cave of Wonders from Aladdin is a vast, magical cave hidden deep in the desert. It contains illusions of great riches and an unassuming old lamp that would probably look a lot more decent if you gave it a little rub.

Of course, what makes it something that exists in a Disney cartoon instead of real life is the sheer scale of the thing — you can see the tiny Aladdin scaling the cave.

The Real Thing:

“Oh God, I suddenly have to poop.”

Majlis al Jinn, translating to “The meeting place of the Jinn,” is the ninth largest cave in the world. Like its fairy tale counterpart, it is accessible only through a tiny opening in the desert above. It is also commodious enough to accommodate a whole magical treasure, or an entire graveyard of jumbo jets. What we’re saying is it’s big.

Although regrettably lacking in sentient giant cat heads, the entrance of Majlis al Jinn more than makes up for it by not having any sissy stairs or, for that matter, footholds. The only ways in or out are tiny holes on the roof, some 400 to 500 feet from the floor. You are only allowed to climb down via rope if you are an experienced spelunker or easily duped by shifty-looking Grand Viziers.

And while you’re down there, the standard magical cave rules apply: Don’t touch anything. The reason for this, however, is less fairy gold and more common sense: Due to the cave’s spectacular drop, masses of dead animals have found their final resting place in the belly of this beast.

#1. The Disney Castle (Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria)

The Fantasy Location:

Quick: When we say “Disney,” you picture …

… a ridiculously stylized castle seemingly plucked out of a cartoon.

The Real Thing:

Holy crap, that’s just about the fakest real picture we’ve ever seen. If you stepped out of the fog and saw that shit, you’d immediately hydrate to combat your hallucinations.

How does a place like that come about? Well, every once in a while, history is graced with eccentrics so wealthy and insane that they end up throwing the freakiest figments of their imagination at the planet until they or their bank accounts self-destruct. Neuschwanstein Castle, the retreat of Ludwig Ilof Bavaria, is the product of one of those eccentrics.

Throughout his life, Ludwig was infatuated with beautiful things and wasn’t afraid to show it with all the might of his kingdom’s treasury. He had dabbled with the whole “Let’s build ridiculously cute stuff” concept many times before, but Neuschwanstein Castle was to be his masterpiece.

The enormous structure was deliberately built in the style of castle romanticism — i.e., the architectural school of little girls in the middle of their worst princess phase — to look like the ultimate fairy tale castle. And it should, otherwise the ad wizards at Walt Disney Co. are asleep at the switch. Neuschwanstein Castle was their inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle and its numerous rehashes around the Disneyverse.

But built for the impressiveness factor as they might be, Disney castles can’t hold a candle to the original. This is because of the oldest saying in the real estate business: Location, location, location. Sleeping Beauty’s castle is located in a crowded amusement park, with sugar overdosed-kids in Mickey-ear hats vomiting in its pissy moat. Meanwhile, Ludwig showed slightly more tact in his choice of site. This is where Neuschwanstein Castle is located:

A shining gem of 19th century building technique and ability as it may be, Neuschwanstein clicks with the Disney castles in more ways than one: Like them, it is merely dressed to impress. The castle was (understandably) a giant money pit, and although its exterior is more or less finished, the vast majority of its interior remains unfinished. The 15 or so rooms that were finished look like this:

The original plan was to include over 200 of those babies.