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10 Tourist Attractions Around the World Created by Groundbreaking Women

Female Travel Art + Architecture
by Suzie Dundas Mar 13, 2024

Google any major city’s top attractions, and you’ll find list after list of the most popular places to visit, the best vantage points for taking Instagram photos, and deals on admission. But what you’re less likely to find are lists of attractions built, designed, or established by women — which is a shame, as women have been the driving forces behind many of the world’s most-visited sights.

From a bridge that helped turn NYC into a global powerhouse to Italy’s newest modern art museum to Alaska’s tourism industry, female architects, advocates, engineers, and adventurers have contributed far more to the world of tourism than history books would have you know.

These 10 tourist attractions around the world only exist thanks to the efforts of groundbreaking women.

Everglades National Park, Florida

thanks to Marjory Stoneman Douglas

groundbreaking women - everglades national park

The Anhinga Trail Boardwalk through the Everglades National Park, Florida. Photo: Andy Lidstone/Shutterstock

Marjory Stoneman Douglas wasn’t just a conservationist; she was a force of nature herself. Born in 1890, her life spanned a period of immense change in the United States. She started her career as a journalist in the early 20th century, a time when women were rarely seen in newsrooms. But Douglas was a trailblazer. She tackled social issues like women’s suffrage while writing about the vibrant life unfolding around her in Florida. However, it was the Everglades, a vast and unique ecosystem, that truly captured her heart and ignited her lifelong passion for conservation, especially as the Everglades under threat from unchecked development and drainage projects in the early 1900s.

Douglas wasn’t one to stay silent. She wrote extensively about the Everglades, not just as a beautiful landscape, but as a complex and vital ecological system. Her most influential work, The Everglades: River of Grass, became a rallying cry for conservation. She co-founded the Everglades Tropical National Park Committee, a group dedicated to securing federal protection for the Everglades, despite facing ongoing opposition from powerful agricultural and development interests.

But her unwavering determination and ability to connect with the public through her writing kept the issue alive. Though the idea for the park was established back in 1934 thanks to Stoneman’s lobbying, the designation of Everglades National Park didn’t come until 1947, the year her book was published. While the fight to preserve the Everglades continues, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ legacy as the “Grand Dame of the Everglades” is undeniable.

The Brooklyn Bridge: New York

thanks to Emily Warren Roebling

brooklyn bridge - designed by emily roebling, groundbreaking women of engineering

Photo: IM_photo/Shutterstock

The Brooklyn Bridge is a marvel of engineering that connected Manhattan and Brooklyn in 1883. It allowed people to quickly move between boroughs, leading to an expansion of the city, a real estate boom, integration between people of different socio-economic segments, and a huge rise in industry as transporting goods became far easier. And there’s one person to thank for this marvel of engineering that came to represent the ingenuity and creativity of man: Emily Warren Roebling.

Though the project began under her husband’s leadership, illness soon forced him to take a backseat. Society expected women to stay home, but Emily refused to let the project flounder. She had studied mathematics, so she took control of the project, developing plans, consulting with experts, and project managing the construction site. She relayed instructions, oversaw operations, and made critical decisions to keep the bridge rising from the East River. She mastered complex calculations to ensure the bridge’s stability, faced . skepticism from male engineers, and battled challenges like worker deaths, material shortages, and public doubt.

There wasn’t necessarily a conscious effort to keep Emily Warren Roebling’s role a complete secret, but it wasn’t widely acknowledged due to societal expectations of women at the time. Engineering was a male-dominated field, and Emily’s significant contributions were often downplayed or overlooked. However, Emily did take the first carriage ride across the bridge on opening day, symbolically carrying a rooster to represent victory.

The Brooklyn Bridge may have been built by many hands, but Emily Warren Roebling’s unseen hand was a driving force behind this iconic symbol of American ingenuity.

Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

thanks to Dr. Dian Fossey

groundbreaking women - dr. dian fossey

A juvenile mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is a haven for endangered mountain gorillas, who live in Eastern Africa’s Virguna Range. And its creation is deeply linked to Dr. Dian Fossey, a primatologist who arrived in Rwanda in the 1960s and was an undeniable badass.

Fossey set up the Karisoke Research Center, a base for studying gorilla behavior. It was located deep in the jungle, away from development, and she interacted far more with gorillas than people. Though spending months in their presence, mimicking gorilla behaviors, and giving gifts like food, she earned their trust and became physically and emotionally closer to the gorillas than any researcher before. She was also an avid anti-poacher, defending herself and the gorillas as needed, and actively destroying poaching traps and camps in the rainforest.

Fossey’s dedication wasn’t just scientific. She championed gorilla conservation, raising awareness of the threats they faced from poaching and habitat loss. She was a well-known public figure who spoke tirelessly about the importance of protecting the gorilla habitats, and her tireless advocacy directly influenced the establishment of Volcanoes National Park in 1969. Since then, the mountain gorillas numbers have increased, and estimates put their current numbers around 600.

Fossey was murdered in Rwanda, likely by poachers, but her legacy lives on. She wrote Gorillas in the Mist in 1983, which became an Academy Award-winning movie staring actress Sigourney Weaver in 1988. Today, gorilla tourism in the park is strictly regulated, generating revenue that supports gorilla conservation and local communities. And the park’s Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund continued Fossey’s legacy, raising funds to protect the gorillas and expand the size of the park.

Alaska’s tourism lodges, Alaska

thanks to Mary Joyce

Taku cabin alaska- groundbreaking women

Photo: Alexandre.ROSA/Shutterstock

Mary Joyce wasn’t just your average Alaskan pioneer; she was a whirlwind of adventure. In the 1930s, long before Alaska became a state, Joyce carved a unique path for herself in the southeast part of the territory. She lived at a remote home in Juneau, Alaska, called Taku Lodge, built in 1923. When the millionaire owner died young, she inherited the building. But that was the beginning of the story, not the end.

Joyce had a keen sense for business and opportunity and transformed the lodge into a thriving tourist destination. She saw Alaska’s potential as an adventure hub and catered to those seeking extreme experience. She developed the home into Taku Glacier Lodge, and under her leadership, it became the first official tourist lodge in Alaska, attracting visitors eager to explore the Alaskan wilderness. The lodge allowed Americans (albeit wealthy ones) to visit Alaska and discover the beauty of the 49th state, leading to both the development of the state as an adventure destination and the protection of many of its wilderness areas for outdoor recreation.

But Joyce wasn’t just an entrepreneur; she was a jack-of-all-trades. She became the first female radio operator in the territory, ensuring communication with the outside world. She even obtained her pilot’s license and flew her own bush plane, and took a 1,000-mile dogsled ride from Juneau to Fairbanks. Today, Taku Glacier Lodge is open for fly-in lunches and tours, though it no longer serves as a hotel-style lodge.

The New York Museum of Modern Art, New York

thanks to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller

 rockefeller was a groundbreaking woman who established the ny museum of modern art

Photo: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller wasn’t just the wife of a wealthy businessman — she was a passionate art collector with a vision. While her husband, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., favored established art forms, Abby gravitated towards modern art movements. That passion sparked the idea for the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) as a space to champion modern art forms otherwise overlooked by established institutions.

Rockefeller actively donated pieces from her own collection, including works by Matisse, Picasso, and Seurat, forming the foundation of the museum’s holdings. Along with co-founders Lillie P. Bliss and Mary Quinn Sullivan, she worked to secure funding and garner support for their unconventional project. The Museum of Modern Art opened its doors in a rented space in 1929 and Rockefeller remained actively involved, serving on the board and using her personal funds to acquire new works.

But Abby Aldrich Rockefeller was much more than just a wealthy socialite. She was a shrewd collector and a philanthropist who used her money and influence to champion modern art. She highlighted underdog and controversial artists, creating a space for avant-garde work in the world of art. She used her social influence to garner support and funding for the arts, and created a public space that made art accessible to everyone. By opening the museum to the public, she democratized access to art and helped develop a generation of artists that shaped the world’s aesthetic landscape.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorials, Washington, DC

thanks to Maya Lin and Diane Carlson Evans

vietnam memorial in dc, designed by maya lin

Photo: Brandon Bourdages/Shutterstock

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, is a powerful and moving tribute to those who served in the Vietnam War. While most associate the memorial with its designer, Chinese-American architect Maya Lin, it’s important to acknowledge the role of another groundbreaking woman as well: Diane Carlson Evans.

Maya Lin was a young architecture student at Yale at the time she won the design contest for DC’s new Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Her design was a radical departure from traditional war memorials, with two black granite walls, etched with the names of over 58,000 fallen soldiers to create a space for personal reflection. The design was controversial, and critics claimed it should have gone to a more established architect (Lin was 21 at the time), that it was too minimalist and didn’t feature uplifting messages, and even that Lin’s Asian heritage made her a poor fit for the project. However, the memorial was created, and since it opened in November of 1982, it’s been one of the most-visited memorials in all of DC.

But there’s two groundbreaking women involved in DC’s Vietnam memorials, and the second is Diane Carlson Evans. While Lin’s design honored those who died, it didn’t specifically address the contributions of women who served in the war. Vietnam veteran Evans spearheaded the creation of the nearby Vietnam Women’s Memorial, with bronze statues of nurses caring for wounded soldiers.

Together, the monuments exemplify America’s involvement in Vietnam. Lin’s stark design compels visitors to confront the war’s human cost, while Evans’ addition honors the service and sacrifice of women who were often overlooked. Both memorials are open-air and free to visit.

The Colorado Trail, Colorado

thanks to Gudy Gaskill 

groundbreaking women - colorado trail hiker

Photo: Matthew Andersen/Shutterstock

Gudy Gaskill, often referred to as the “Mother of the Colorado Trail,” wasn’t the trail’s sole founder, but she was the driving force behind its creation. In the 1970s, while serving on the Huts and Trails Committee of the Colorado Mountain Club, Gaskill saw the potential for a long-distance trail traversing Colorado’s stunning landscapes. She spearheaded the effort, planning the route, soliciting donations, and recruiting passionate volunteers.

Gaskill’s vision wasn’t simply about a path; it was about connecting people with the natural beauty of the state. She rallied teams of volunteers who worked in week-long shifts, building sections of the trail each summer. Her leadership and tireless work were instrumental in overcoming obstacles and securing support for the project. The Colorado Trail was completed in 1987, though Gaskill had been directing efforts to build the trail since 1974.

Today, the Colorado Trail is a 486-mile trail between Denver and Durango, winding through six national forests and wilderness areas. It traverses breathtaking passes, with high mountain lakes, towering peaks, and diverse ecosystems. Most hikers take about four to six weeks to complete the trail, though many segments of it are accessible for bikers, equestrians, and day hikers.

Hotel Figueroa, California

thanks to Maude N. Bouldin

In Los Angeles, in 1925, a group of determined women from the YWCA secured a significant loan to build a hotel just for women. At the time, it was the “the largest individual financial transaction ever undertaken by a body of women in the United States,” per the LA Times. Their vision was to create a safe and luxurious space for solo female travelers, who were often restricted from staying in hotels without a male chaperone. The hotel was built in a hacienda-style, featuring ample public spaces to foster conversation and encourage conversations among guests.

During the construction process, the women hired Bouldin to manage the property. She became the first female hotel manager in America, and the hotel itself became a meeting ground for some of the most influential movements of the 20th century. The California League of Women Voters and the Women’s International League held meetings at the hotel, and Bouldin regularly spoke out against the male domination of tourism. It’s partially because of Bouldin that the tourism industry in the US opened to women, and today, more than half of the people employed in tourism identify as female.

Today, the Hotel Figueroa is a luxurious Los Angeles hotel open to everyone and managed by Hyatt Hotels. While it’s received significant renovations, it still has an interior inspired by its Spanish roots, with a touch of Moroccan charm tossed in for good measure. There are plenty of historic photos around the hotel, dating back to its founding 100 years ago.

Butchart Gardens, Canada

thanks to Jennie Butchart

butchart gardens - victoria, BC

Photo: 2009fotofriends/Shutterstock

British Columbia’s Butchart Gardens, in Victoria, began in 1904 as a limestone quarry. But after it was mined, the owner’s wife, Jennie, saw potential in the leftover pit. She started by planting sweet peas, and gradually, the garden evolved to include a wider variety of plants and crops. Eventually, her work became the “Sunken Garden,” now the centerpiece of the sprawling, 55-acre tourist site.

Jennie Butchart didn’t use just her own creativity, but hired other leading landscape designers of the time. The early 20th century saw a growing focus on garden beautification, and Jennie commissioned a renowned Japanese designer, Isaburo Kishida, to design a Japanese-inspired section for the garden.

In 1921, the gardens opened to the public, and it continued to expand over time. A former tennis court was transformed into the Italian garden, and the family’s vegetable patch gave way to the award-winning rose garden. Today, it’s a National Historic Site of Canada, and the most popular tourist attraction in Victoria.

The MAXXI Art Museum, Italy

thanks to Zaha Hadid 

groundbreaking women - zaha hadid maxxi museum

Photo: DFLC Prints/Shutterstock

Built in 2010, the MAXXI Museum was the first major public museum in Rome dedicated to 21st-century art to be built in decades. And it was designed by Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-British architect who revolutionized the world of design. She had an architectural style unlike what was usually seen in the 1990s, embracing bold, futuristic forms with sweeping curves and dynamic shapes. These deconstructivist designs challenged traditional architecture and were often described as “unbuildable.”

Hadid was the first woman to win the illustrious Pritzker Architecture Prize, often called the Nobel Prize of architecture, in 2004.  She succeed as a woman in a field dominated by white men, and paved the way for countless women to pursue careers in architecture and design. The firm she started, Zaha Hadid Architects, is one of the most prestigious architectural firms in the world.

With the MAXXI, Hadid’s design rejected boxy museums, creating a dynamic space with curving walls and flowing spaces. It breaks away from the idea of separate, static exhibits, instead creating a continuous experience that reflects the ever-evolving nature of contemporary art. But if you can’t make it to Rome, you can also find her groundbreaking buildings in East Lansing, Michigan; Glasgow, Scotland; London, England; Guangdong, China; Cincinnati, Ohio; and many more cities around the world — she was extremely prolific during her long career.

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