8 Fairy Tale-Like Destinations You Can See in Real Life

The Chocolate Hills, a geological formation in the Philippines
The Chocolate Hills, a geologic formation in the Philippines, turn a stunning shade of brown during the dry season.

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Some regions of the world are defined by their landscapes—the deserts of the American Southwest, the Alps of Central Europe, the arid Outback of inland Australia. But some features defy definition. These unusual places might be more at home in a storybook. The whimsical appearance of these landscapes has made them popular among tourists seeking something different, but some of these exceptional destinations remain uncrowded, and the remoteness gives their otherworldly feel even greater depth.

Here are eight fairy tale-like destinations that are, in fact, very real.

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Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (China)

Trees and pathways of Zhangjiajie Forest Park, China

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Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is part of the larger protected Wulingyuan Scenic Area in China's Hunan province. The 3,000 towering sandstone pillars in this huge park are breathtaking. Some are more than 600 feet tall, and most have foliage growing on their sides and summits.

There are a number of ways to view the remarkable pillars. Visitors can walk along the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, take the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Cable Car, ride the Bailong Elevator. or take a hike up Tianzi Mountain.

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Mono Lake (California)

Tufa Towers at Mono Lake, California

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Mono Lake is an ancient desert lake in eastern California that has a high concentration of salt. Visitors come to see the phenomenal rock formations, which are located at various points around the lake, including the largest concentration in the Mono Lake Tufa State Nature Reserve. The most noticeable trait of Mono Lake, however, is its fanciful tufa towers. These rock spires got their shape from a process that began when the alkaline lake water came into contact with fresh spring water.

Despite its appearance, it's hardly a barren place. In fact, it's a haven for over 80 species of migrating birds, and the water is home to a species of brine shrimp. The area is also a popular destination for bird watchers, who come to see the one to two million birds that visit Mono Lake each year.

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The Chocolate Hills (Philippines)

The Chocolate Hills in the Philippines

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From a scenic overlook in the province of Bohol in central Philippines, the aptly named Chocolate Hills seem to stretch to the horizon. There are around 1,776 hills covering a 20-square-mile area in the towns of Carmen, Batuan, and Sagbayan, each with a seemingly perfect conical shape. The hills range from 100 feet to almost 400 feet in height. The most widely accepted theory of their origin is that they consist of coral deposits that were forced upward due to rainwater and erosion.

Much of the year, the hills are covered with green grass, which enhances their charming appearance. However, during the dry season, the grass turns deep brown, making the hills look like giant Hershey's Kisses and giving them their "chocolate" tag.

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Giant's Causeway (Northern Ireland)

woman standing on Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland at sunset

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Located along the Antrim Coast, Giant's Causeway consists of 40,000 black basalt columns that are interlocked with one another. The columns have distinct geometrical shapes at their tops, so it almost appears like they are oversize man-made paving stones. From the side, the causeway formations look like some sort of fictional fortification. Scientists say the causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, formed naturally 50 to 60 million years ago, the result of a volcanic eruption.

The area has been a popular tourist attraction since the 19th century. A tram was built in the late 1800s to take passengers to the causeway from the resort town of Portrush, Northern Ireland. Though some of the basalt formations lie on private property, most of the Giant's Causeway is owned and overseen by the National Trust, an organization that maintains sites of historic importance and natural beauty in the United Kingdom.

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Deadvlei (Namibia)

Dead trees in desert at Deadvlei in Namib Desert

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Deadvlei, also spelled Dead Vlei, is a plain surrounded by red sand dunes in the Namib Desert. Despite the presence of nearby salt pans, Deadvlei is a clay pan. The site is so unique because trees once grew there, but shifting dunes and climate change killed the foliage over time. The air was so dry that the trees never decayed, but they are not petrified.

These rare trees are estimated to be around 900 years old. The combination of tall red dunes, bright clay flats, and tree skeletons combine to create a surreal atmosphere that inspires tourists to visit.

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Antelope Canyon (Arizona)

vivid pink and red colors of Antelope Canyon in Arizona

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Antelope Canyon is part of the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park in northernmost Arizona. It's a slot canyon, a type of formation created when fast-moving water, often from recurring flash floods, erodes stone. Antelope is tall and very narrow, with walls that have been smoothed into uncommon shapes by centuries of erosion.

Upper Antelope Canyon is more accessible, so it's more popular with tourists. Visitors are also able to tour Lower Antelope Canyon, though it is a longer hike that includes five flights of stairs. The canyon is on Navajo Nation land; visitors are only permitted to tour these sites with a licensed guide.

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Pamukkale (Turkey)

Turquoise pools in travertine terraces at Pamukkale, Turkey

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The white travertine terraces and mineral water pools of Pamukkale, which means “cotton castle” in Turkish, have been formed over the millennia by deposits from the minerals in the water that flows from underground springs. The captivating terraces are an impressive sight and, as such, a popular destination. Pamukkale is one of the most popular attractions in Turkey, drawing approximately 1 million visitors per year.

The area is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hotels and spas built near the formation were demolished so that Pamukkale could be returned to a more natural state. Regulations to protect the site prohibit visitors from accessing the terraces. However, alternative areas have been established for visitors to enjoy a soak in the hot springs.

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Lake Hillier (Australia)

Aerial view of bright pink Lake Hillier in Western Australia

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Lake Hillier sits on Middle Island off the coast of Western Australia. It's separated from the ocean by a thin strip of shoreline. Hillier is a small lake, less than 2,000 feet in length, but it grabs people's attention because of its incredible bright pink hue. The color is especially noticeable because it contrasts with the adjacent blue ocean and the surrounding green foliage.

Why the lake is pink is not 100% clear, but the prevailing theory is that it's caused by the interaction between the saline in the water and a specific type of microalgae that thrives under these specific conditions. Hillier is one of several pink-hued lakes in this part of Western Australia, and it lies in a remote area. The color is best seen from the air—it's still visible from the ground but less distinct—so it's common to visit by helicopter.