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Blog The real-life places and cultures that inspired Disney’s Frozen movies
Date: 17 January 2020

The real-life places and cultures that inspired Disney’s Frozen movies

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Ever wanted to pay a visit to the real Arendelle? How about catching a glimpse of the Troll King’s magic lights yourself? Or meeting Sven the reindeer in person (so to speak)?

In 2013, Disney’s Frozen captured the imagination of children around the world and became the highest grossing animated film of all time.

And in late 2019, the world was once again gripped by Frozen fever, as Anna, Elsa, and the gang returned for the long-awaited sequel.

If you want to keep the magic alive, why not follow in the footsteps of the famous sisters with a trip to Norway or Iceland? From stunning icy fjords to black-sand beaches, indigenous customs to folklore and costumes, the landscapes, cultures and traditions of these two stunning countries are said to have provided a great deal of inspiration for the Frozen films.

Do you wanna build a snowman yourself? Book your flights to any of Norwegian’s 14 destinations in Norway, such as Oslo, Trondheim or Tromsø, or head to Iceland and get started!

St Olaf’s Church, Balestrand, Norway

Stave church of St Olaf on a clear day
The beautiful stave church of St Olaf was the inspiration for Elsa’s coronation. Photo: Peter Wayne – Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The chapel where Elsa’s coronation takes place in the first movie is said to be based on St Olaf’s Church in Balestrand, Western Norway.

This stunning stave church has an idyllic location by the magical Sognefjord, and makes for an awesome photo. Plus, it shares its name with everybody’s favourite snowman!

Borgund stave church with mountain in the background
The buildings of Frozen look to be modelled on other Norwegian stave churches, like Borgund Church. Photo: Stevan Nicholas – Flickr / CC BY 2.0

It’s not just the chapel which takes its shape from this remarkable Viking-style of construction. In fact, much of the architecture in Frozen is based on stave churches like Borgund Church, one of Norway’s most popular and best-preserved stave churches.

There are only 28 of them left in Norway, so a visit to one is a must. Find out where to see some of the best in our tips on visiting Norwegian stave churches.

Akershus Fortress, Oslo & Stiftsgården, Trondheim

Akershus Fortress from the back with towers lit up against a darkening sky
Do you see any of Arendelle Castle in Oslo’s Akershus Fortress?

The exterior of Arendelle Castle is said to have been inspired by Akershus Fortress. You can see it in the brick patterns on the walls and the green peaked roofs.

However, the interior was based on the impressive Stiftsgården in the Trøndelag region. This royal residence is the home of the King of Norway (when he’s in town) and if you’re ever visiting Trondheim you can take a tour of this magnificent 18th century building during the summer months. Feel free to launch into a chorus of ‘Let it Go’ as you wander the ornate corridors.

Norwegian ‘bunads’

The ‘bunad’ is a traditional Norwegian folk dress, and resembles the Frozen sisters’ own outfits

The outfit Anna buys at Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna is based on the bunad, which is a traditional Norwegian folk costume. For women, it consists of a dirndl-style embroidered dress and cape, while for men it has a linen embroidered shirt, knee-length trousers, a vest, a jacket, and stockings – just like the character Hans wears.

If you happen to be anywhere in Norway on 17 May, you’ll catch a glimpse of these beautiful dresses, and their male counterparts, at the annual Constitution Day celebrations. You can also see them on display at the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo.

Nærøyfjord, Norway

Animated town by the water with mountain's in the background in Disney's Frozen
The towns and villages along Nærøyfjord look a lot like those pictured in the Frozen movies. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

While it’s rumoured that the Austrian town of Hallstatt inspired the setting of Frozen’s Arendelle, and the look and feel of the village came from Norway’s second city, Bergen, it’s also said that the mass of water next to it was inspired by the UNESCO-listed Nærøyfjord in Norway.

Village on the banks of Nærøyfjord with mountains and blue sky in the background
The villages along Nærøyfjord draw many parallels with the landscapes of fictional Arendelle

Breathtakingly beautiful, the best way to take in the spectacular scenery is from the fjord itself. On this full-day guided tour of Nærøyfjord, you’ll explore the area on an electric ferry, take a bus to see the beautiful Tvindefossen waterfall, and enjoy a scenic journey on the Flåm railway.

Silfra Fissure, Iceland

Person diving in the blue waters of the Silfra Fissure with rocks on either side
Take a chilly dive between two continents at the Silfra Fissure in Iceland. Photo: Thomei08 – Wikimedia Commons

In Frozen II, Elsa encounters the Nokk, a water horse which is not dissimilar to the mythical Norwegian shapeshifting water spirits called ‘Nøkken’.

The setting of the watery scene is not unlike the Silfra Fissure in Iceland’s Þingvellir National Park. It’s the only place in the world where you can swim between two tectonic plates – and essentially two continents – making it a top-rated dive site and one for the bucket list.

Diving not your thing? How about a snorkelling tour with underwater photos instead?

Djúpalónssandur Beach, Iceland 

Grey skies over a black-sand beach and crashing waves
The black sands of Iceland’s beaches are said to have inspired scenes from Frozen II

In Frozen II, Elsa stands on a black-sand beach, looking out to sea during a storm.

The moody landscape was inspired by Djúpalónssandur, a black lava pearl beach on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in Western Iceland.

From the stunning glacier-capped volcano, Snæfellsjökull, to lava fields and basalt cliffs, the land of ice and fire has some incredible natural wonders to behold. If you’re headed there to recreate your favourite Frozen scenes, don’t miss these 14 breathtaking experiences in Iceland.

Reyjkavik, Iceland & Tromsø, Norway

Green Northern Lights over water with ice drifts
Iceland’s beautiful landscapes make the perfect backdrop for some aurora hunting

Frozen’s Troll King has many powers, but the colourful lights he summons aren’t magic, they’re the aurora borealis, one of the world’s most magnificent natural phenomena.

Thankfully, you don’t need Grand Pabbie to see them for yourself. If you’re lucky, you can can catch nature’s spectacular light show during the winter months at Grótta lighthouse, on the beautiful Seltjarnarnes peninsula in Reykjavik (or any other spot in Iceland with minimal light pollution).

There are loads of other hotspots to catch the aurora borealis, including Tromsø in Norway. See some more in our post on where to catch the Northern Lights in Europe.

Fun fact: Trolls like Grand Pabbie are an important part of Icelandic and Norwegian folklore. In fact, most people from the Nordics believe in the existence of elves, trolls, and other hidden beings. This is why they feature heavily in Frozen II.

Sámi culture in northern Europe

Northuldra people in Disney's Frozen II
The Northuldra people which feature in Frozen II are based on the indiginous Sámi of northern Europe. © 2019 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

The Sámi indigenous people live in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, and aspects of their culture can be seen throughout both movies.

Vuelie, a tribal-sounding chorus, opens the first film. The piece is inspired by a traditional form of Sámi song called ‘yoiking’ and was written for the film by South Sámi musician and composer, Frode Fjellheim.

Activities like reindeer herding and outfits reminiscent of traditional Sámi herder dress (think Kristoff and his loveable reindeer friend, Sven) can also be seen in both films.

Several reindeer grazing in a snow-covered field
Reindeer herding is a traditional Sámi activity. Photo: Tristan Ferne – Flickr / CC BY 2.0

In Frozen II we’re shown much more of the Sámi people, and we are even introduced to the fictional Northuldra people, who are based on the Sámi. Disney even signed a contract with several Sámi parliaments to make sure their culture was portrayed respectfully in the second film. In fact, Sámi representatives collaborated on many aspects of the second movie.

Let it go

A narrow fjord as seen from a cliff, with green and grey mountains either side
Nærøyfjord is one of the narrowest fjords in the world and one of the many places you can see real-life Frozen inspiration. Photo: Visit Sognefjord – Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Relive the magic of Frozen with a trip to Norway or Iceland and check out these fabulous filming locations and traditions which provided so much inspiration for the films.

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