Admit it. As a kid, you totally tried pushing on the back of your parents’ wardrobe to see if you could reach Narnia. We’ve all dreamed of winning the golden ticket to visit Mr Wonka’s chocolate factory, or fantasized about receiving a letter inviting us to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Children’s fiction is replete with places of the imagination, which children dream about visiting. Here, we’ve put together a list of nine favourites, including notes on where they’re supposed to be located… just in case you want to go looking.
JM Barrie’s Peter Pan stories are the oldest on this list. The character first appeared in a play in 1904, and a novel in 1911, though is perhaps most famous today from the 1953 Disney film and its screen successors (and his London statue). The stories take us to various locations, but the best known is Neverland - the island home of Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, Pan and other characters. Inhabitants of the island have various magical powers and many are immortal. It’s an enchanted realm that would delight any child.
Barrie left the whereabouts of Neverland deliberately vague. It is more of a concept than a place, a land we each find, and flesh out, in our own imaginations. However, film fans have suggested that an atoll off the coast of Belize fits all the visual clues, and has similar wildlife to the novel. Probably not fairies, though.
From the Boy Who Never Grew Up to the Boy Who Lived. Harry Potter needs no introduction, and nor does the wizarding school at which he spent seven eventful years. Some pretty grim events happened at Hogwarts during that time, but none of this would deter any child from taking a ride on the Hogwarts Express and enrolling in their own classes at the school, given half a chance. The location of Hogwarts is reasonably well established if you study the clues in the books and films. We know right off the bat that it must be a lengthy journey north of London, because the Hogwarts Express is seen pulling out of King’s Cross, which serves destinations in that direction. The mountainous scenery suggests a location somewhere in the Highlands of Scotland. But the clincher comes in the third book and film, when Sirius Black is spotted in the real location of Dufftown, which is then described as not far from Hogwarts. We can guess, then, that the wizarding school is half way between Inverness and Aberdeen. Perhaps less tricky to visit for most muggles is the recreation of Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross station, where you can pretend to burst through a brick wall with your Hogwarts Express luggage.
It’s now over 70 years since the first of CS Lewis’s Narnia tales was published. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe remains the best known of the novels. This, I think, is partly down to the third object in the title. Finding a magical realm at the back of a wardrobe is such a delicious conceit, and something any child playing hide and seek can relate to. Once through the wardrobe, the four children of the tale encounter plenty of trouble, mostly due to the evil white witch who has cast a freezing spell over the realm. Yet the kids also have plenty of high adventure and even grow up to become kings and queens themselves. The final twist where they return home to find they are children once again, and no time has passed just seals the magic.
The Faraway Tree
As a child, the true magic of Enid Blyton’s enchanted tree was that it felt so discoverable. You might stumble across it anywhere. Every time I was taken to a wood or forest, I would look for the thickest trunk, peer into the canopy in search of fairy folk, and listen out for the leaves, singing wish-ah, wish-ah. I never found it, but that didn’t stop me pretending.
The Faraway Tree had everything that adventurous children still crave. Its boughs were populated with eccentric characters, like the Saucepan Man, Moon Face and Dame Washalot, whose dirty laundry water would cascade down the tree at unpredictable intervals. At the top, a new magical land awaited discovery with each climb. And rather than work their way down carefully, characters would speed along the slippery slip - an enormous helter skelter hidden within the trunk. Of all the places in this list, it’s the one I’d most like to visit as an adult. Well, apart from Hogwarts, perhaps.
Icy and imperilled it might be, but there are an awful lot of children who’d give anything to live in Arendelle. The city of Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen has a fairytale aesthetic of turrets and towers, but is set in a Nordic fjord to add natural beauty. Arendelle does not exist, but it is heavily sketched from reality. Many clues in the films suggest it’s somewhere in Norway. Arendelle almost shares its name with Arendal in southern Norway, while many of its buildings are styled after those of Bergen. The biggest clue of all comes in Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, where we see a giant cookie shaped like the Scandi nation.
The primary setting of PAW Patrol is the ideal destination for kids who are after a bit of excitement. As its name suggests, Adventure Bay is the kind of place where robots run amok, dinosaurs go on the rampage, and aliens search for lost toys (though just as often the plot revolves around the hapless mayor chasing her pet chicken). The Bay is surrounded by every type of terrain your kids could want to explore, from ice-capped mountains to steamy jungles, to undersea kingdoms. All of which makes Adventure Bay tricky to pinpoint. It seems to be North American - probably in Canada, which is where the programme is made.
Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory
What child wouldn’t want to visit Roald Dahl’s famous chocolate factory? Yes, OK, 80% of the children in the novel meet with potentially life-altering accidents, but Mr Wonka puts things right in the end, doesn’t he?
Just think of the adventures. A room where everything is edible; an everlasting gobstopper; a chocolate river; a TV ray that can shrink anything down; and a great glass elevator that can fly to space - what a wonderful complex for children to explore. You’d probably want to turf out the sanctimonious oompa loompas, though.
Every child I’ve ever met has had some kind of obsession with dinosaurs. It’s only natural, then, that many would want to visit Jurassic World if they could - despite the peril and carnage. The successor to John Hammond’s prehistoric theme park is a chance to see numerous extinct giants recalled to life, including genetically modified super-creatures that would never have walked the earth. Although the first attempt at opening a dinosaur attraction, Jurassic Park, went awry before it even opened to the public, the much larger Jurassic World has enjoyed many years of trouble-free operation and is perfectly safe for families to enjoy (right up to the point where the 2015 film kicks in). Jurassic World is set on the same fictional island as Jurassic Park - Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica.
And finally, if nautical nonsense is something you wish, then we have to pay a visit to Bikini Bottom. This, of course, is the home of the world’s most famous anthropomorphic invertebrate: SpongeBob SquarePants. His undersea city teems with things to do, from a visit to the Krusty Krab restaurant to various museums, to the popular Glove World theme park. As its name suggests, Bikini Bottom is located beneath the sea near Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
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