Must-Visit Places For Disney Fans To Enjoy (That Aren't Parks)

Disney theme parks are undoubtedly magical places, but for true fans of the company, the magic extends far beyond the rides and attractions found within them. If you're a die-hard Disney aficionado, you'll want to explore some of the lesser-known destinations that offer unique and enchanting experiences for fans of all ages. We've gathered our list of these must-visit spots from our own experiences visiting the locations themselves, talking to knowledgeable Cast Members (what Disney calls their employees) on tours, and watching educational shows like "The Imagineering Story" on Disney+. From historic sites to real-life castles, these destinations offer a unique look into the world of Walt Disney — including the experiences and locations throughout the world that inspired him and his stories.

Starting with Walt Disney's birthplace in Chicago, Illinois, where visitors can learn about his early life and see artifacts from his childhood, to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, which inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland, there are at least fourteen must-visit destinations for Disney lovers. These non-park destinations offer a unique way to experience the infectious magic of Disney and gain a deeper understanding of the history and culture that have made the company what it is today. 

Walt Disney's Birthplace in Chicago, Illinois

The birthplace of Walter Elias Disney is a historic home located on North Tripp Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. In 1991, the property was in danger of being torn down, but it thankfully survived years of neglect and is now in the process of being restored to its original condition. Walt lived there with his mother, Flora, and father, Elias, as well as his three older brothers and one younger sister. The house is situated in the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago, and it provides visitors with a glimpse into the early life of the man behind the magic of Disney. This modest house, where he was born on December 5, 1901, offers an insight into what life was like for the Disney family during the early 1900s.

Walt Disney was just four years old when his family sold their Chicago home and moved to Marceline, Missouri, but Chicago is where it all began for devoted Disney fans. Visitors can currently view the exterior of the property, but the inside is still a work in progress. Watch this space.

Marceline, Missouri

Marceline, Missouri, is a town that holds immense significance in Walt Disney's life. It was the place where he spent his childhood and drew inspiration for some of his most iconic creations. The town served as a muse for Main Street, USA, in Disneyland, and Walt Disney considered Marceline to be his "hometown." The Walt Disney Hometown Museum offers visitors a glimpse into Disney's early life and features exhibits that celebrate his legacy. Walking down Main Street allows one to experience the magic of Marceline and appreciate how it inspired Walt Disney's imagination. 

A visit to Marceline is a must for any Disney fan looking to connect with the roots of one of the greatest creators of our time. Walt Disney was a well-known lover of trains, and the museum in Marceline honored that legacy by establishing the museum in the old Santa Fe train depot. Walt's sister, Ruth Disney Beecher, provided many of the items in the museum from her personal collections and keepsakes.

Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City, Missouri, is a city steeped in nostalgia and history, and it holds a special place in the legacy of Walt Disney. It was in the so-called "BBQ Capital of the World" that Walt began his journey into animation by starting his first studio, Laugh-O-Gram Films, before moving to Hollywood, California. A visit to Kansas City offers a unique opportunity to explore the origins of Walt Disney studios, although, unfortunately, there are currently no tours or exhibits of Laugh-O-Gram Films available to the public. However, the non-profit agency Thank You Walt Disney, Inc. is raising funds to renovate and preserve this unique spot in Disney and Kansas City history.

While in Kansas City, be sure to visit the Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium or take a ride on the Kansas City Northern Miniature Railroad, which was one of Walt Disney's favorite childhood memories. The city is full of wonders that are sure to ignite your imagination and transport you back to a simpler time.

Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Los Angeles, California

The Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round in Los Angeles, California, is a timeless attraction that has been enjoyed by generations. Constructed in 1926, this merry-go-round was one of Walt Disney's cherished activities to do with his daughters, Diane and Sharon. It boasts hand-carved horses and is embellished with enchanting music and lights, creating a truly magical experience. It is said that the idea for Disneyland came to Walt while he was sitting on a bench watching his daughters ride this iconic Los Angeles attraction. It is sometimes referred to as a carousel, and it can be referred to with either descriptor, although its official name is the Griffith Park Merry-Go-Round. Whatever the name, its place in Disney lore is undeniable.

Taking a ride on this carousel is like traveling back in time and getting a glimpse into the world of classic Disney. With its rich history and charming ambiance, it's no wonder that the Griffith Park Carousel remains a beloved landmark to this day. Unfortunately, due to ownership changes over the years, the carousel is currently closed, and it is somewhat in limbo as the previous owner had no will for his half of it. The merry-go-round's fate is being decided by the probate court of Orange County. Disney fans, keep those fingers crossed.

Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York

Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York, offers a unique Disney experience that transports visitors back to the iconic 1964 World's Fair. During this event, Disney introduced iconic attractions like "It's a Small World" and "Carousel of Progress." It was at this World's Fair that Walt Disney also unveiled his audio-animatronic figure of Abraham Lincoln. This figure was just the beginning of the use of audio-animatronic figures throughout Disneyland and other Disney Parks. Although some of the original buildings and attractions are no longer operational, the park still embodies the magic and wonder of Disney. Exploring the park is a surreal experience that allows visitors to appreciate its natural beauty while imagining what it must have been like during the fair. 

You can still see some of the structures left over from past World's Fair events today. The Unisphere, the main sculpture and World's Fair symbol in 1964, and the Flushing Meadows Carousel are still standing today. Whether you're a fan of Disney or just looking for an enchanting escape from everyday life, Flushing Meadows Park is definitely worth a visit.

El Capitan Theater in Hollywood, California

The El Capitan Theater is a renowned historic theater located in Hollywood, California. After being restored in the early 1990s by the Walt Disney Company and Pacific Theaters, the theater now showcases many Disney feature films and provides visitors with a unique movie-going experience. The world premiere of the 1991 Disney movie "The Rocketeer" was held at the El Capitan Theater. It was the first of many Disney films to make use of the theater as the location for its world premiere. Most recently, the Disney animated film "Wish" had its world premiere at the El Capitan Theater.

In addition to enjoying a film, guests can also witness live performances, special events, and even meet iconic Disney characters. The theater also boasts a shop where visitors can purchase Disney merchandise, making it an ideal place to find a distinctive souvenir or gift for Disney fanatics. The El Capitan Theater is not just a movie theater; it's an immersive experience that captures the magic of Disney and Hollywood.

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California

The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California, is a must-visit for all Disney enthusiasts. Situated in the Presidio of San Francisco, this museum narrates the story of Walt Disney's life, career, and legacy. The interactive exhibits, original artwork, and personal artifacts from Walt Disney himself allow visitors to experience the magic of Disney up close. The museum was founded by Walt's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, in October of 2009.

From his humble beginnings as an animator to the creation of Disneyland, this museum offers a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the life of the man behind the legendary brand. With its engaging displays and immersive storytelling, The Walt Disney Family Museum is a must-see attraction that will leave you feeling inspired and awestruck. It also gives visitors an in-depth look at the person of Walt Disney and not just his successful animation company. We have visited this museum in person, and it's safe to say that it will give you a better understanding and impression of Walt Disney, the person as opposed to Walt Disney, the public figure.

The Matterhorn, Switzerland and Italy

If you're a Disneyland fan, taking a trip to the Swiss Alps is a must. The iconic Matterhorn Bobsleds ride at Disneyland was inspired by the Matterhorn mountain, located in Zermatt, Switzerland. This majestic peak stands at just under 15,000 feet and offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. It's easy to see how the natural beauty of this mountain sparked Walt Disney's imagination and led to the creation of one of Disneyland's most famous attractions. A journey to the Swiss Alps will not only provide a chance to experience this inspiration firsthand but also allow you to immerse yourself in the stunning scenery and culture of this beautiful region.

While filming "Third Man on the Mountain," Walt Disney was inspired to take a hill inside Disneyland Park, affectionately named Holiday Hill, cover it with artificial snow, add a toboggan ride, and call it Snow Hill. Eventually, that hill became the 147-foot structure park guests know today as the Matterhorn Bobsleds. 

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle, situated in Bavaria, Germany, is an enchanting castle that resembles something out of a fairytale. The castle's stunning architecture, complete with turrets and towers, has captured the attention of many throughout history, including Walt Disney himself. It served as an inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle, the focal point of Disneyland Park, and the castle continues to captivate visitors with its picturesque surroundings. 

Taking a tour of Neuschwanstein Castle is like stepping into a magical world where dreams come true, and even adults can't help but feel like they're living in a fantasy. Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle is currently only available with a guided tour reservation, although it goes without saying that it is totally worth it. Children under the age of 18 do not have to pay for a guided tour, but they must reserve a free ticket to participate in the tour with their adult chaperone. While Disney's theme park castles are not exact replicas of real castles, the similar details throughout the designs give the Disney versions a familiar look and feel.

Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California

Located in Burbank, California, the Walt Disney Animation Studios is a must-visit destination for any Disney fan. This iconic studio offers a guided tour that takes visitors behind the scenes, providing fascinating insights into the history and process of Disney animation. As you explore the studio, you'll come across interactive exhibits that invite you to step into the magical world of Disney. One highlight is the voice-over booth, where you can record your own lines for famous Disney characters. Additionally, the studio store is a treasure trove of unique merchandise, including exclusive items that are only available at the Burbank location.

One of the most exciting aspects of visiting the Walt Disney Animation Studios is the opportunity to catch a glimpse of animators at work. If you're lucky, you might even get the chance to meet some of your favorite Disney artists. Tours can only be accessed two ways — as part of an Adventures by Disney Southern California vacation package or as a special event offered on rare occasions for members of D23, the official Disney fan club.

Buenos Aires, Argentina and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro are two cities that are said to have inspired Disney films and characters and left an impression on Walt Disney. Buenos Aires is known for its tango-filled streets, where you can dance the night away or watch a live performance in one of the city's many venues. Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro is famous for its colorful celebrations, including Carnival, which is a feast for the senses with its elaborate costumes, music, and dancing. You can now add an influence on Disney to your list of reasons to visit South America.

Both cities have played an important role in Disney's history, serving as inspiration for beloved stories such as "The Three Caballeros" and "Saludos Amigos." Exploring these cities allows you to immerse yourself in vibrant culture and discover the magic that has captivated audiences around the world. During his visit to South America, Walt Disney was inspired by the rich culture and breathtaking landscapes. In Buenos Aires, he marveled at the iconic Casa Rosada, where Eva Perón famously addressed crowds from the balcony. And in Rio de Janeiro, he was captivated by the stunning views from the cable car up to Sugarloaf Mountain. These experiences undoubtedly contributed to the magic and wonder of Disney's beloved films and attractions.

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark

Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark, is an amusement park that seems to have been plucked straight out of a fairytale. Established in 1843, it was visited by Walt Disney in 1951, who found it to be a source of inspiration for his own theme parks. Since its inception, Tivoli Gardens has always included multiple attractions to delight and entertain visitors. The park offers a magical experience with its stunning light displays, fireworks, and music shows that take place in the evening. During the day, visitors can indulge in delicious Danish cuisine and shop for unique souvenirs. 

An exciting way to visit the gardens is by booking an excursion during a European sailing with Disney Cruise Line. This excursion, called "The Footsteps of Walt Disney at Tivoli Gardens," allows guests to experience the gardens and see behind the scenes at the work involved in maintaining the gardens. If you are a Disney fan looking for some enchantment, Tivoli Gardens is definitely a must-visit destination.

The Real UP House in Herriman, Utah

The Real UP House in Herriman, Utah, is a real-life replica of the iconic house from the beloved Disney-Pixar film "Up." The Hamblin Family built this house to bring the magic of the movie to life, and it has become a popular attraction for visitors looking to experience the whimsy of the film. The colorful house makes for great photo opportunities, and visitors can learn about the heartwarming story behind the family who built it. If you're a fan of "Up" or just looking for a unique destination to visit, be sure to check out this one-of-a-kind attraction.

The Hamblins spent two years constructing the house and put in a lot of effort to make sure it looked exactly like the house in the movie. They even included a replica of the mailbox that was featured in the film. Because the family who built the home still lives in it, appointments for photoshoots are required unless you are just driving past and snapping a few quick photos. The house is actually the only Disney-authorized replica, another reason for Disney fanatics to add it to the list.