Outdoor mazes and labyrinths have captured our imagination for centuries, harking back to King Minos of Crete’s elaborate, winding structure to corral the hulking Minotaur in Greek mythology.
Corn mazes, especially plentiful in the US, provide farmers an additional source of revenue. From the 14th to the 18th century, hedge mazes were a staple in the gardens of European manors and castles. These impeccably manicured mazes provided an elegant venue for a pleasurable perambulate or a playful detour through the grounds. Vast and immersive outdoor puzzles have proven to be a big tourism draw—creating instant landmarks in far-flung rural fields, giving a locale or a property immediate cachet.
While the terms “maze” and “labyrinth” have been used interchangeably in everyday language, technically a maze is a challenging series of pathways designed to confuse—recall that famous hedge maze and the harrowing chase scene in the film The Shining.
Though there are some exceptions (see below), a labyrinth is typically simpler, with a single pathway designed for meditation or thinking-on-foot. As John W. Rhodes, the former president of the Labyrinth Society, explained to Outdoor Magazine, “a maze is designed for you to lose yourself and a labyrinth is designed for you to find yourself.”
Of the thousands of mazes and labyrinths around the world, London-based design resource DesignCurial has winnowed the list of wonders to a shortlist of impressive landscapes, notably mostly in Europe and the US. “The goal was to identify some of the most beautiful and iconic mazes in the world, while uncovering some of the more exotic and unexplored labyrinths,” explained web editor Katherine Houston.
Here’s a selection from DesignCurial’s list:
Pineapple Garden maze, Dole Plantation, Hawaii, US
A maze that stretches across three acres with almost 3 miles of walking paths, the Dole’s Pineapple Garden maze draws an average of 1.7 million visitors a year and is among Hawaii’s most popular tourist destinations. Approximately 14,000 colorful plants native to Hawaii were used to create the expansive botanical installation.
Richardson Adventure Farm corn maze, Illinois, US
Snaking through 33 acres of corn field, the Richardson Adventure Farm’s maze is the largest, most intricate corn maze on the planet. Open till midnight on nights when there’s a full moon, the maze’s design changes every year.
Villa Pisani labyrinth, Stra, Italy
This nine-ring medieval maze built for the Venetian doge Alvise Pisani is said to be so challenging that legend has it that Napoleon once got lost in it. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler feared venturing into the labyrinth with the notoriously tall hedges when they were at the villa for talks in 1934. Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and arts awaits the intrepid who reach the heart of the maze and climb the storybook tower.
Peace Maze, Northern Ireland, UK
Inaugurated in 2001, the vast Peace Maze was created to commemorate reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland. People from across Northern Ireland were invited to plant the low-lying yew trees for the large-scale collaborative project. At the heart of the maze is a peace bell.
Penpont maze, Wales, UK
Created in 2000 to usher in the new millennium, the Penpont Green Man Millennium Maze houses lavender patches, secret gardens, and pools. It is said to be the largest depiction of the famous pagan symbol of growth and rebirth.
Hampton Court Palace maze, Surrey, UK
The Hampton Court Palace maze is the oldest surviving hedge maze in the UK. Erected in the late 17th century for King William III and Queen Mary II, the trapezoid-shaped creation is notorious for being tricky to navigate with many twists and dead ends.