In 2010, an American Express survey found that the average nuclear family spends $4,000 on vacation. But $4,000 doesn’t get us much these days. We flock to beach cottages and lake houses. We pull campers across the country to panoramic national parks, or fly to Disney World to slog through oppressive heat and wait in epic lines for popular rides.
But imagine if we could travel to Hogworts without having to wait in line at Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Imagine if Middle Earth or Narnia were real. Imagine if we could slip down a rabbit hole somewhere in the English countryside and end up in Wonderland having tea with the Mad Hatter. Now that would be a vacation.
Sadly, there’s no all-inclusive package to fictional locations. These places exist in legends and oral traditions. From Mount Olympus to Tarturus, mythological landscapes have housed Greek gods and acted as dungeons where souls are judged. Lemuria, Avalon, and the Isle of Demons – some of these places we’d like to visit, and some we’d rather avoid. Here are 10 mythological places we wish we had a passport for.
10. El Dorado – The City of Gold
The origins of El Dorado lie deep in the jungles of South America and are inspired by stories of a tribal chief who was ceremoniously covered in gold dust when he rose to power. While the legend of El Dorado began when 15th century Spanish explorers traded stories about “the gilded one,” it quickly gave rise to a tale of a majestic city of gold located somewhere in the jungles of the New World.
El Dorado has enticed centuries of explorers, from Spanish conquistadors who drained Lake Guatavita in search of the city to Sir Walter Scott, who made two trips to Guiana in search of the fabled golden empire.
Idealized as an advanced utopian society, Atlantis was first mentioned in Plato’s dialogues (Timaeus, Critias) in 330 B.C. Described as a technologically sophisticated city, Atlantis has captivated dreamers, occultists, and New Agers. Known for their formidable naval power, the people of Atlantis are rumored to be descendants of Poseidon.
Atlantis is said to have conquered most of Europe before sinking into the sea in 9000 B.C. Some folklorists say Poseidon punished the people of Atlantis for being morally bankrupt and bent on world domination, while others suggest the island sank because of an environmental disaster. It’s unknown whether Plato made up Atlantis as an allegory for the hubris of nations or if the ancient maritime city is really buried 20,0000 leagues under the sea.
Gaelic for “Isle of the Blessed,” Hy-Brasil is one of the many mythical islands of Irish folklore. According to legend, it was the realm of Breasel, the High King of the World, who could make the island rise and sink as he wished. Hy-Brasil was also known as Tir fo-Thuin (Land Under the Wave). Similar to Atlantis, Hy-Brasil is depicted as a utopian civilization and a place of contentment and immortality.
Hy-Brasil first appeared on a map in 1325. Daloroto, a Genoese cartographer, depicted it as a perfect circle southwest of Ireland. Numerous explorers searched for the island, including John Cabot, who led an expedition from Bristol in 1497. Some modern scholars have identified Brasil as Porcupine Bank, while others believe it’s Baffin Island.
7. Valhalla – Odin’s Court
In Norse mythology, Valhalla is a majestic hall located in Asgard and ruled by the god Odin. Valhalla’s ceiling is thatched with golden shields, and outside its doors grows the golden tree Glasir –described as “the most beautiful amongst gods and men.”
There’s just one problem with visiting Valhalla. It’s the hall of the slain, the place where Germanic heroes and kings and warriors who die in combat go to wait and prepare for Ragnarok. Nevertheless, Valhalla is a lively place filled with song and big steins of mead. It’s the great pub in the sky, so to speak, and a place where everybody knows your name.
Ys is a mythical French city built on the coast of Brittany by Gradlon, King of Cornouaille. References to Ys can be traced back as far as the 12th century. Supposedly, the king built the city in Douarnenzez Bay at the request of his daughter, Dahut, who loved the ocean.
At the time, Ys was the most beautiful city in Europe. Dahut, however, was a corrupt and sinful girl. She hosted decadent parties, held orgies, and even had the habit of killing her lovers. God’s wrath was stirred. One night, a violent storm broke out and a wave as big as a mountain swallowed Ys.
5. Camelot – King Arthur’s Court
Arguments about the location of the “real” Camelot have existed since the 15th century, but Arthurian scholar Norris J. Lacy sums it up best: “Camelot, located nowhere in particular, can be anywhere.”
Legend locates King Arthur’s castle and court somewhere in Great Britain. Winchester, Somerset, and the Welsh town of Caerlon have all laid claim to being the real life spot of Camelot. Winchester even has its own round table, while locals in Somerset insist that Cadbury Castle was the seat Arthur’s empire.
According to the texts of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, Camelot stands along a river downstream from Astolat and is surrounded by plains and forests. As Norris J. Lacy suggested… Camelot can be anywhere.
4. City of the Caesars
Located somewhere in South America, the City of the Caesars has several names. It’s known as the City of Patagonia, as that’s where Spanish explorers believed the mythical city could be found, as well as the Wandering City – some say it’s enchanted and only appears at certain moments.
Despite no evidence proving its existence, reports about the City of the Caesars circulated for over two hundred years. Every account describes it as a prosperous place full of gold, silver, and jewels. There are stories that say the city is located between two mountains in the Andes – one made of gold, and the other of diamonds.
3. Cockaigne – City of Excess
Rooted in medieval mythology, Cockaigne is an imaginary land of plenty. It’s a place where luxury and pleasure are always at hand, and idleness and gluttony the principle occupations.
Cockaigne is a medieval fantasy, and in the poem “The Land of Cockaigne”, it’s described as a society where restrictions are defied, food and drink is plentiful, and all the shopkeepers give away goods for free.
Some medieval scholars believe Cockaigne was created to satirize the rigidity of monastic life. Others say it represents wish fulfillment in an age known for hardship, struggle, and dearth.
The first mention of Shangri-La was by the Chinese poet Tao Yuanming in the novel “The Tale of the Peach Blossom Spring,” but the myth didn’t come to the notice of Europeans until 1530. The Himalayan city has since been synonymous with any earthly, utopian paradise.
In the 1933 novel “Lost Horizon,” British author James Hilton describes Shangri-La as a beautiful city enclosed in the Kunlun Mountains and isolated from the outside world. It’s a permanently happy land, a sacred place of peace and refuge. According to some accounts, Shangri-La is a lost Tibetan paradise where all the wisdom of the human race is being preserved.
1. Beimeni – The Fountain of Youth
Stories of the fountain of youth were prominent among the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean during the 16th century. The Arawak spoke of a mythical land called Beimeni where a spring with restorative powers could be found. They believed its location was in the Gulf of Honduras.
Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon was searching for the fabled fountain when he discovered Florida in 1513. Today, Beimeni is associated with Bimini, an island in the Bahamas. And while there’s a freshwater pool with a plaque commemorating the Fountain of Youth in South Bimini, the island was actually known as La Vieja during Ponce de Leon’s expedition. Beimeni and the curative waters of the fountain of youth still remain hidden somewhere in the Gulf of Honduras.