Some stories’ settings capture our imaginations so completely that we’re left wishing they were real. Sound familiar? If so, we have good news. Whether you geek out over Greek mythology or you’re a lifelong fan of fairytales, chances are there’s a real spot somewhere on the planet that inspired your favorite mythological place—and it’s waiting for you to visit. From a fiery crater in Hawaii to a legendary lake in the Scottish Highlands, here are 10 mythological places around the world you can actually travel to.
This jaw-dropping geological site on Northern Ireland’s coast comprises 40,000 basalt columns formed by volcanic activity more than 50 million years ago. It’s also one of the most famous mythical places in the country. According to legend, the unique landscape was created not by a volcano, but by a giant from Northern Ireland named Finn McCool. When his home country was threatened by Benandonner, a rival giant from across the Irish Sea in Scotland, McCool furiously grabbed fistfuls of earth from the coastline and flung them into the sea. The result: a direct route across the water where McCool could fight his foe. To see it all alongside our expert guides, take a cue from traveler Christy and add an excursion to visit the site on our Ireland: The Wild Atlantic Way tour. “The wind and mist at Giant’s Causeway was so fitting,” she said of the mysterious site.
Greece’s Mount Olympus is one of the most thrilling sites to visit for travelers who are intrigued by mythical places. After all, in Greek mythology, it’s home to many Greek gods, including Zeus. Today, travelers who visit Greece can take in views of its towering peak (at 9,570 feet, Mount Olympus is the tallest mountain in Greece), enjoy easy walks to a number of its trailheads, and explore its national park and postcard-worthy gorges. Mount Olympus is a two-plus-hour drive from Thessaloniki and more than five from Athens. Travelers who make the effort to visit during a free day on tour, or on an independent pre- or post-tour stay nearby, will be rewarded with beauty—and memories—of mythological proportions.
No list of mythological places to visit would be complete without Loch Ness, the legendary lake in the Scottish Highlands. It’s here where, in 1934, an English doctor first photographed the lake’s infamous and elusive monster, nicknamed Nessie. In the decades since, people have reported dozens more sightings, but Nessie’s existence has never officially been confirmed. Not yet convinced the Loch Ness Monster is real? Cruise along the 23-mile-long, 600-foot-deep, glacier-carved lake while on tour in Scotland and you might just spot her lurking in its mysterious, murky waters.
When it comes to mythical places that actually exist, this historical site in Turkey is a relatively new discovery. The Trojan War—the grueling, 10-year battle between the people of Troy and the Achaeans depicted in Homer’s epic poem The Iliad—was long believed to be the stuff of Greek mythology. But some experts’ opinions changed when archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann uncovered what historians believe are the remnants of Troy near Turkey’s northwest coast in the late 1800s. On our Grand Tour of Turkey you can explore the city’s 4,000-year-old ruins and wander along the promenade in nearby Canakkale, where the larger-than-life Trojan Horse from the 2004 film Troy now stands.
If you plan to visit Sicily on a guided tour, consider spending free time along the island’s eastern coast, near Catania. From there, you can spot the Cyclopean Isles, a row of towering, columnar rocks jutting from the sea. The rocks are more than just a pretty photo op; they’re also a can’t-miss for fans of ancient lore. In Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, Odysseus—sailing home after the Trojan War—makes landfall and stumbles into the cave of the giant Cyclops Polyphemus, who holds him captive there. Odysseus eventually escapes back to his ship and out to sea, leaving a fuming Polyphemus hurling the giant rocks into the water in a fit of rage.
Several destinations around the world are thought to have inspired Plato’s Atlantis, the utopian civilization whose founders the philosopher described as half-human and half-god. One of those places, which travelers can visit while on tour in Greece, is the sun-drenched island of Santorini. Staffer Steph, just back from a visit to the island herself, said, “In accordance with speculation that Atlantis was around Santorini, there is an amazing bookstore there called Atlantis Books. It even has a little seating area overlooking the cliffs of Oia, so you can read while looking out on where Atlantis might have been. It was a pretty magical experience!”
Looking for things to do on your own? Check out 5 ways to spend free time on Santorini →
Located in Nottinghamshire, a county in Northern England, Sherwood Forest welcomes more than a quarter of a million visitors each year. It’s no wonder why, either, as its most famous mythical resident, Robin Hood, has been a beloved folk hero for several centuries. Travelers on tour in England can plan a pre- or post-tour stay in the area—ideally timed to coincide with Nottinghamshire’s annual Robin Hood Festival. The weeklong event is packed with reenactments, storytelling, sword-fighting, archery, and more Robin Hood-approved adventures.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, rumors of a place called El Dorado—an Andean city of immense wealth—lured European explorers deep into South America’s interior. The Europeans came up empty-handed in their search for El Dorado, but they did find gold along the edge of Lake Guatavita—evidence of the Muisca people’s offerings to Chie, the goddess of water. Today, travelers who visit Colombia and plan an independent pre- or post-tour stay in Bogotá can venture to Lake Guatavita, which is set in a lush caldera an hour outside the city. Visitors might not return home with suitcases full of gold, but the dramatic views of one of the world’s most spellbinding mythological places are nothing short of priceless.
Cornwall is home to some of England’s most spectacular coastlines and beaches. But its true claim to fame? It’s where the legendary tales of King Arthur took place. Today, King Arthur enthusiasts traveling in England can visit Tintagel, which is said to be King Arthur’s birthplace, and its 13th-century castle. Other can’t-miss experiences in Cornwall include exploring Merlin’s Cave and walking through the fields where King Arthur and Mordred met for their final battle.
In Native Hawaiian culture, Pele is the highly venerated goddess of volcanoes and fire. It’s said she moves across the land in the form of violent volcanic eruptions, and that she makes her home in Kilauea volcano’s Halema’uma’u Crater. (Hiking along Kilauea’s Crater Rim Trail is one of many things to do in Hawaii beyond the beach.) Travelers on tour in Hawaii can see the crater in person—and pay homage to Pele—at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island. Fair warning for those who plan to go: Don’t sneak rocks or sand out of the park (or the state, for that matter); visitors who do will suffer a streak of bad luck, known as Pele’s Curse, until the earthly elements are returned.
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