Atlantis! Valhalla! Shangri-La! Paradise locations shown over and over in movies, games and TV. Places of wealth, beauty and happiness that belong entirely in myth. If you found out one of them was real, you’d probably get on a plane before finishing this…oh, there you go. Well, while you’re readying that road trip, you can read up on some of the places of legend you can actually check out.
Hold on to your butts, gang, because while Shangri-La might not be real, you’d be amazed to find out some of the incredible mythological landmarks that are.
10. Mount Olympus, Home of the Gods
Olympus, home of the gods. A golden, sparkling, iridescent paradise where no mortal man dare tread. In Greek mythology, the likes of Zeus, Hera, and Ares shared a pad at the top of a mountain in what would certainly have been the greatest Real World season of all-time. As with most things in myth, it’s also based on a very real place.
The highest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus, to be exact. You probably could have guessed that, considering that’s what it was called in the myths, too. You’ve got to hand it to the Greeks – they could find any number of new and inventive ways for Zeus to take advantage of a mortal woman, but coming up with fake names for physical locations was where they drew the line with creative license. Rising high above Greece and its citizens, you can visit this treacherous terrain yourself, if you don’t mind climbing a large and snowy mountain. Don’t expect gods at the top though, just a beautiful view.
9. Troy, Site of the Trojan War
Troy. You might know it more from the Brad Pitt movie than from mythology, but it’s a well-spring that fueled the works of Homer. Here is where the Trojan war was fought, and heroes of legends were made, including Odysseus, and Achilles of the treacherous heel and even more wobbly accent that Pitt decided to give him. Ending with sea monsters and started by the Goddess of Discord, the Trojan War and its home were long thought myths. But Troy is a real place, because again – the Greeks sucked at creating fantasy lands.
Discovered in the 1800s, Troy is located in Turkey and was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1998. Though it is not in the same shape it was during the war, you can still touch the walls of Troy, behind which the Trojan Horse was rolled in.
8. The Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth. The spring of eternal life and ultimate desire of Ponce de Leon. Sought after by early settlers of North America, the Fountain of Youth is up there with El Dorado (the Lost City of Gold) with myths of the New World.
However, unlike that shining Mecca, the Fountain of Youth does exist. Despite its name, however, there’s no everlasting life to be found for you here. But there is wonderfully pure mineral water, a lovely tour, and Florida’s sunny weather. Located in St. Augustine, it really seems all-too fitting that the Fountain of Youth would be in Florida, doesn’t it? Suddenly we’re realizing why everyone’s grandparents move down there as soon as their social security checks start rolling in.
7. Atlantis of the Sands
Atlantis, the sunken city of Greek myth is, sadly, not real. However, its cousin city – a city consumed by sand, not water – is.
Iram of the Pillars, the Atlantis of the Sands, is a fabled lost city destroyed by God in the Quaran for her sins – sort of an Islamic Sodom and Gammorah. It’s known by another name though, one which Lawrence of Arabia used for it – Ubar. Located in a place that is almost as mythical as Atlantis, the Rub’ al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), one of the most isolated and inhospitable places on Earth, Ubar was recently uncovered in the desert wasteland. It was originally a trading post for the brave souls who dared to venture from one side of the Quarter to the other. You can travel there – if you dare – but be warned, legends warn the city is populated by spirits you can’t see…but that can see you.
6. Middle Earth (The Shire)
We’re cheating a little with this one, but Middle Earth is as fantastical as Valhalla or the Fountain of Youth with the proverbial kids these days. The land created by JRR Tolkein in his groundbreaking Lord of the Rings series is a wonderful place; from the dark mountains of Mordor, to the plains of Gondor, to the peaceful home of the Hobbits, in the Shire, it’s a land of myth and magic. And, as with the others on this list, you can go visit yourself.
While the New Zealand landscape (along with some hefty CGI) served as the stand in for Mordor, Rohan, and Gondor, Hobbiton itself is actually all there. Just prior to filming, they constructed an entire village that you can visit. There are even tours of the Shire. Now, we know that Tolkien actually based Middle Earth in Europe, and specifically the UK, but the movies and their locations embody the spirit of Tolkien as well as any physical locations used as a basis for the books.
Go see where Bilbo’s going away party was, walk the roads Frodo did as he left the Shire, and see where Sam lived as he penned the last words in the saga of The Lord of the Rings. Chances are you’ll never want your trip to the Shire to end, which is fitting given how long they stretched out Return of the King.
5. Roanoke Colony
Roanoke’s mystery has plagued the world since the beginning of America. Early settlers came to the New World looking to make a new life, only to vanish, seemingly without a trace. The only clue to their disappearance was a mysterious word scrawled on a nearby tree – Croatoan. No one knew what it meant and the legend that the colony was wiped out by some supernatural entity has grown over the years, presumably never to be solved.
Except that’s not true, like, at all. The mystery was solved before it even began. Before settling, the early colonists told those who would follow that if they needed to leave for any reason, they would leave a sign of where they were going, and so they did. The mysterious “Croatoan” carved into the tree? That should have immediately tipped people off as to what happened.
The Croatoans were a tribe who lived in the area, on a nearby island. The early settlers travelled to the island, lived there, and even had children with the Croatoans. So if you want to see what happened to the early settlers of Roanoke, just stop by Hatteras Island and see for yourself.
4. Hindu Kingdom of God
Rama is the blue-skinned avatar of the Supreme God in Hinduism. His most famous story is about his fight against Ravana – a many armed, many headed king of Lanka – who kidnapped Rama’s most beloved wife, Sita, and held her captive. To get her back, he built (with the help of a monkey god, because even Hinduism appreciates a buddy comedy featuring talking simians) a huge bridge and travelled from his Kingdom to get her back.
And you can actually see all of that. Well, apart from the monkey god, regrettably. Lanka is now Sri Lanka, and the bridge is famous in the area, known as either Adam’s Bridge or Rama’s Bridge. It used to be an entire land bridge joining India and Sri Lanka, which is where Rama’s Kingdom was. Rama was a king of an actual place in India, called Adodhya. You can go live through the whole adventure, starting off in India, travelling across his bridge and finally getting to Sri Lanka. You’ll have to provide your own monkey sidekick, though.
3. Themiscyra, Home to Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is one of the most popular superheroes of all-time, despite what Hollywood wants to believe. She came from a beautiful paradise island called Themiscyra, home to warrior women who can compete with gods. It’s based on a mythological place in Greek mythology, and warrior women found in poems detailing the Trojan War. And like most things in the poem, it was considered mythological.
But, if you’ve been paying attention, you can probably figure out that Themiscyra is actually real. Don’t expect the Wonder Woman movie to be filmed on location though. Unlike the others mentioned on this list, Themiscyra itself was completely destroyed but you can still visit the former location on the coast of the Black Sea, which looks as close to Paradise as you’re likely to find on this list.
2. Gates of Hell
Travelling to the underworld is a popular journey for heroes of myth, whether it’s to save a loved one, or to gain hidden knowledge. Dante travelled through Hell in his Inferno; Orpheus to save his beloved. All damned souls will pass through the gates to the underworld, and it’s where demons and Satan make their way up to torment us. However, almost all gates of Hell are real places. Now, they are distinctly lacking the ability to transport you to Hell, but there are dozens of them.
From the Cape Matapan Caves, where Greek heroes descended to the underworld; to Hekla, an Icelandic volcano considered the eternal home of Judas Iscariot; to Actun Tunichil Muknal, the terrifying cave network underworld of the Mayans – the Gates of Hell are everywhere.
So, uh, great? Hey, at least it’ll cut down on our travel time once the end rolls around.
The End of Time. Not to be confused with a lousy Ben Affleck movie that you’d never admit to crying at (but you totally did), Armaggedon is from the Bible – the end of time, the battle between Satan and God for the whole Universe. However, in the Bible, Armaggedon isn’t the name of the battle, but the name of the actual battlefield.
Yes, Armaggedon is a real place. It’s located in Israel, and is protected as a World Heritage site. It’s known today as Megiddo. A tel (a type of false hill built from many different people settling in the same area) Megiddo has been home to many different people and wars. Luckily, though, none of them have involved the end of the world. While visiting the birth place of Christ and his crucifixion, make sure to stop by and check out where he’ll come back.