Landmarks top the list of the most popular travel destinations in the world. These structures, man-made marvels, and natural areas identify geographical locations. Some have been granted legal protection based on their architectural, historical, or cultural significance. For many of us, landmarks connect us with important events and milestones in human history. Their origin stories and legacies are as fascinating as the landmarks themselves. They attract millions of visitors each year and often appear on travelers’ bucket lists for destinations.
Construction of this Washington, D.C. homage to the 16th president of the United States began on February 12, 1914, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and 49 years after his assassination. Initial plans failed due to a lack of funds. Builders eventually finished the 99-foot tall Lincoln Memorial, complete with a 19-foot statue of the Great Emancipator seated in its central hall. The dedication on May 30, 1922, was a grand yet segregated event, attended by both Union and Confederate Civil War veterans, political leaders, and thousands of others, many of whom arrived via the latest technology — the automobile.
Today, this historic landmark is one of the most-visited and revered national park sites in the U.S. It’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. More than 30 million visitors stroll through its halls annually. On the monument’s steps, 98 years after the end of the Civil War, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream Speech.” In 2018, caretakers started the first phase of a $25 million overhaul, starting with roof and marble repairs resulting from a 2011 earthquake.
Following the conferences at the end of World War II, the Allies divided Germany into four zones. The Soviet Union oversaw the eastern half, while the western half went to Great Britain, France, and the U.S. Between 1948 and June 1961, millions of East Germans fled to West Germany. Nikita Kruschev, the Soviet leader, ordered the construction of the first wall to put a stop to the defections. Workers originally built the Berlin Wall using barbed wire fencing atop concrete cinder blocks. Over the years, it became a system of 15-foot concrete walls and watchtowers, fortified with electrified fences, 3,000 attack dogs, and mines, and extending 28 miles through Berlin.
Long before it became the glittering, neon-lit entertainment capital it is today; Las Vegas was little more than a modest mail service and railroad repair stop between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. Its humble beginnings started on 110 acres of land purchased from the railroad in what is now the western part of the city, where mining was the big draw. But in 1931, the state of Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling, issuing its first gaming license to a Las Vegas entrepreneur. Hotel-casino construction took off, and despite the Depression looming over the country, Las Vegas thrived. By the 1950s, the city established itself as a world-famous entertainment capital.
Although the city has experienced economic challenges since the turn of the 21st century, it always finds ways to adapt. In 2019 alone, more than 42 million people from all walks of life hit the Vegas strip. Historians say it’s because Las Vegas is more than a travel destination. It’s an experience. Despite dips in tourism numbers in 2020, developers plan to begin construction of new resorts and hotels. Las Vegas seems likely to keep the fun and entertainment rolling for a very long time.
The tallest free-standing structure in the world, the award-winning Burj Khalifa, is a reinforced steel and concrete structure in downtown Dubai. The plans for the 2,717-foot, 163-floor skyscraper included 57 elevators and eight escalators, along with the world's highest nightclub, restaurant, outdoor observation deck, and swimming pool. Around 12,000 workers, most from South Asia, put in more than 22 million man-hours on the construction between 2004 and its completion in 2010. The structure cost around $1.5 billion to build.
You can see the glimmering, prestigious structure from 60 miles away. While it may be an engineering marvel, everything past the height of 1921 feet — about one-third of the skyscraper — is not occupiable or usable space. The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat designate this space as "vanity height." The building contains both office and residential spaces along with a hotel. The double-deck elevators are the fastest of their type, moving at around 33 feet per second.
Most people recognize this beloved New York City landmark even though they may not know its name. Daniel Burnham, a prominent member of the “Chicago School” of skyscraper architects, designed the famous Flatiron Building. Builders completed construction of the 22-story, 285-foot-tall, triangular building in 1902. It sits between Broadway and Fifth Avenue in the Manhattan borough. The freestanding tower features a steel skeleton covered with limestone and terracotta tiling. It was home to a variety of small businesses through the years, including music publishers, dentists, milliners, and other small businesses. After 1959, St. Martin’s Press started taking over offices as businesses moved out.
Many TV shows and movies have featured this famous landmark through the years. Fans of the Spider-Man movies may recognize it as the offices of the Daily Bugle newspaper, Peter Parker’s workplace. Today, the Flatiron Building stands vacant. However, the owners have invested a massive $50 million restoration plan which they say will be completed in 2022. Renovations include repairing hundreds of terracotta tile pieces on the building’s facade. The owners say it will also feature solar panels and rain reclamation tanks on the roof to reduce its carbon footprint.
In 1788, the King of Prussia, Frederick William II, ordered builders to construct an elaborate entrance to Unter den Linden, a boulevard in Berlin that led to the Prussian palace. It was completed in 1791. The sandstone structure stood 215 feet high and 36 feet deep, with two rows of six Doric columns supporting it. In 1793, a statue of a chariot drawn by four horses, a quadriga, was placed at the top but removed by Napoleon and the French in 1806. Leaders returned it to its rightful place in 1814. The Brandenburg Gate survived bombing raids during World War II, after which overseers closed off public access.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 198, public officials once again permitted access to the landmark. Today the Brandenburg Gate is a symbol of unity between East and West Berlin. More than 100,000 people gathered together at its reopening in December of that year. It is the site of a world-renowned New Year's Eve party each year. Around 12 million visitors head to Berlin each year, and the famous architectural landmark is one of its most popular attractions.
At the entrance to California’s San Francisco Bay sits an international icon and symbol of American engineering, connecting San Francisco with Marin County. Although proposals for bridge construction started as far back as 1869, city leaders deemed them “too visionary” for the time. Following a pro-bridge 1916 grassroots campaign by engineer-turned-newspaperman James Wilkens, designers and engineers finally drew up plans for the art deco-style Golden Gate Bridge in the 1920s. Construction began in the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression. Ten contractors completed the steel suspension bridge before the scheduled end of construction and $1.3 million under budget. It opened on May 27, 1937, with celebrations lasting more than a week.
More than 40 million vehicles drive across the bridge each year, with the one billionth car crossing over in 1985. Construction analysts say it would cost around $1.2 billion to build the Golden Gate Bridge today. It was a true marvel of engineering at the time. However, because contractors built the bridge on a fault line, the bridge faces a constant threat of damage from earthquakes. Its overseers have performed seismic retrofit measures over the years to bolster its stability.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, designers competed for an opportunity to erect an iron tower on the Champ-de-Mars. The completed project would have a grand opening at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. There were 107 projects proposed, but the winners were Gustave Eiffel, an entrepreneur, Stephen Sauvestre, an architect, and two engineers, Maurice Koechlin and Emile Nouguier. Construction kicked off in January 1887. Between 150 and 300 workers completed the construction in March 1889. They used 7,300 metric tons of iron, 2.5 million rivets, and 60 metric tons of paint to finish the 1,063-foot Eiffel Tower.
For 42 years, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world until the Empire State Building was built in 1931. The tower adapts to environmental changes. As temperatures increase, so too does its height. And when temperatures drop in the winter, it gets shorter. Every day at dusk, a beacon at the top of the tower and the rest of the landmark lights up thanks to light-sensitive twilight sensors. Four projectors turn on and off, creating a 360-degree rotating beam that adds a sparkling, golden splendor to the monument. It is the most visited monument in the world. Of its seven million visitors each year, around 75% of them are from other countries.
It’s the nation’s tallest monument and the tallest arch in the world, one that has welcomed visitors to St. Louis, Missouri, for the last 50 years. The 630-foot-tall, 630-feet-wide, stainless steel Gateway Arch honors Thomas Jefferson and his dreams of western expansion. Eero Saarinen, a respected and accomplished American architect of Finnish descent, designed the arch. Demolition crews razed forty blocks of warehouses and cast-iron buildings in St. Louis to make way for the arch’s construction. The final cost to build the arch was around $1.3 million. Amazingly, no workers died, despite the difficult two-year construction. It opened its doors for visitors in 1965.
The arch’s foundation completed a $380 million refurbishment in 2018. Today, a new walkway connects the landmark to the Old Courthouse on the west end of the park and a glass-walled visitor center. Six exhibit areas document not only the arch’s history but the history of the area dating back to the 1600s. The renovations also include a sprawling green space facing the Mississippi River's west bank and added walking and cycling paths. Around two million people visit the site every year.
In 1853, Los Angeles was still just a small city in the brand-new state of California. To the northwest, a prohibitionist from Kansas, Harvey Wilcox, staked out the subdivision of Hollywood in 1886 with the hopes it would become a shining example of religious principles, but it didn't quite live up to his vision. The first movie studio was created on Sunset Boulevard in 1911, and by 1915, Hollywood achieved the status as the center of the American film industry. The famous Hollywood sign originally said, "Hollywoodland" until the 1940s.
Around 25 million visitors head to Hollywood each year because it's home to some of the country's most popular and historic travel destinations. The Hollywood Bowl, built in 1919, is home to a nighttime series of concerts during the summer. Other famous landmarks in the city are Mann's Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Wax Museum, and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Travelers seek out the popular restaurants to sample food from famous chefs and hopefully catch sight of a favorite celebrity or two.