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Although jigsaw puzzles date back to 18th-century England, when various maps were mounted to hardwood and sawed into small pieces, their popularity seems to surge in moments of darkness. As the United States battled unprecedented economic downfall during the Great Depression in the 1930s, many Americans found themselves in need of new, cheap sources of entertainment for the whole family, and cardboard jigsaw puzzles proved to be the perfect solution. They were affordable, provided hours of amusement, and could be taken apart and reassembled many times over. In the nine decades since, a certain stigma has grown around the notion of free time.
Most of us keep our schedules as busy as possible, and on the rare chance of respite, puzzles have largely been replaced by Netflix binges, video games, and online shopping. But with most of the world currently stuck at home in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic, there’s been a significant return to the nostalgia-drenched activities of yesteryear, from baking bread to reading actual books, and demand for puzzles has grown monumentally as a result.
Whether you’re hoping to take your mind off of work after a busy day of conference calls or you’re in search of a screen-free alternative to help pass the time, puzzles are the answer. Said to have a stress-reducing, meditative quality, working on a puzzle has been proven to improve cognitive speed and memory, and brilliant minds, like Bill and Melinda Gates, swear by them. Regardless of strategy—be it tackling the outside first or organizing pieces by color and shape—or level of difficulty, completing a puzzle offers a particular form of escapism from the often banal realities of life that we need now more than ever. You might select a puzzle because it reminds you of your most cherished memories, or perhaps it depicts a place you’ve long dreamed of visiting, but whatever the final destination might be, it’s the journey, the piecing the puzzle together bit by bit, that makes it all worthwhile.
Here, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite puzzles that will help you escape to some of the most beautiful and storied spots across the globe, and they might even inspire your next getaway.
Parc Güell, Barcelona Puzzle
When thinking of Spain’s Catalonia region, images of fruit-filled sangria, sandy beaches, and delicious tapas come to mind, but arguably more than anything else, the area is synonymous with the gothic architecture of Antoni Gaudí. While the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia basilica is at the top of every visitor’s list, the expansive and colorful designs of Gaudí’s Parc Güell in Barcelona’s Grácia district are not to be missed, and this 410-piece puzzle captures the space’s magic exquisitely. An homage to the wooden jigsaws that flourished in the 19th century, this creation from Nautilus Puzzles takes advantage of the medium by adding specially-designed whimsy pieces to surprise and delight their puzzlers. These unique pieces relate to the theme of each puzzle, and the whimsies in this Parc Güell beauty all honor the famous architect, Barcelona, and Catalan culture. Considered relatively easy on the puzzle difficulty scale, this puzzle measures 17 by 10.5 inches when complete.
To buy: $94.95, NautilusPuzzles.com
Indian Mosque Puzzle
Inspired by The New York Times’ highly-regarded ‘52 Places To Go’ travel series, this puzzle depicts the Jama Masjid, one of India’s oldest and largest mosques. Located in the city of Agra, not far from the Taj Mahal, the Jama Masjid, also known as “Friday Mosque,” was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1648 in honor of his daughter, and it took six years and 5,000 workers to complete. Spanning 261 feet and featuring high arches and marble domes, the structure is colossal both in size and stature, and its courtyard can accommodate up to 25,000 worshippers at any given time. In this 19 by 27-inch puzzle, available in either 300 or 1,000 pieces, a boy is seen playing atop the mosque, surrounded by its signature red sandstone columns and birds flying by.
To buy: $50 or $65, Store.NYTimes.com
Golden Gate Sunrise Puzzle
The shining beacon of California’s Bay Area, the Golden Gate Bridge became an American icon the minute it opened in 1937, and it remains the unrivaled symbol of San Francisco to this day. With its tall towers, Art Deco style, and signature ‘International Orange’ paint job, the 4,200-foot-long suspension bridge is beautiful from any angle–that is, when the famous Northern California fog isn’t blocking it–but the best vantage point is undeniably from Battery Spencer. This 1,000-piece puzzle from Ravensburger features the celebrated view with a magnificent sunrise behind it, as captured by photographer Susan Taylor. The sky is clear, the bay is sparkling blue, and the surrounding foliage is in full bloom, but it’s the Golden Gate herself that steals the show in this puzzle.
To buy: $20.99, Ravensburger.us
Flamingo Playground Puzzle
Australia might be known for its perfectly sunny beaches, but artist Karen Lynch somehow manages to take the sandy scenes one step further in this puzzle from Jiggy. Based in South Australia, the renowned collagist was inspired by the beaches of her native Adelaide. The colorful image here carries a sort of Slim Aarons-type nostalgia, but Lynch adds an additional element of playfulness by affixing a pale pink flamingo atop the landscape, striking the balance between reality and imagination that is so inherent to travel. The 450-piece puzzle measures 12.6 by 16.8 inches and comes with puzzle glue so you can enjoy your masterpiece long after you’ve put it together.
To buy: $40, JiggyPuzzles.com
Paris Artist Square Puzzle
It might seem crazy to spend upwards of $7,000 on a jigsaw puzzle, but if ever there were a puzzle worth the price of a Rolex, it’s one of Stave’s. Founded in Vermont in 1974 and made-to-order, Stave Puzzles are world renowned, even calling Queen Elizabeth II a customer, but unlike their more wallet-friendly alternatives, these puzzles go beyond providing mere entertainment and instead act as living art, intended to be passed on for generations. Each creation is hand-cut and includes theme-specific pieces and as many as 15 custom-crafted pieces, where puzzlers can reflect their hobbies, career, and family; for instance, a lawyer might request the scales of justice, a dog-lover might ask for their beloved four-legged friend, or a couple celebrating their April 15 anniversary might like 4/15. Stave Puzzles depict all sorts of alluring images and scenes, but this sprawling scene of artists painting in the streets of Montmartre with the famed Sacré-Coeur church in the distance just about embodies the quintessential Parisian escape. The company’s jigsaws fall under varying levels of difficulty, including the notoriously challenging ‘Tormentors,’ but even as a ‘Traditional,’ the Paris Artist Square puzzle is unlike anything you’ve seen before. The puzzle is available in 19 sizes, starting with 100 pieces and spanning just six by nine inches and rising to 1,000 pieces and 25 by 20 inches, and prices begin around $1,000 and increase accordingly.
To buy: $907-$6,997 (on web), StavePuzzles.com
View of China Puzzle
While The Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Shanghai’s Bund remain among the most visited destinations in China, any trip to the country would be incomplete without experiencing the breathtaking southern region of Guilin. Located on the west bank of the Li River, the city is known for its karst mountains, which cover the landscape and look like something out of a Lord of the Rings film. In this puzzle from Clementoni, the hilly typography is on full display, as a setting sun shines beams of light upon the region, and at 2,000 pieces, it’s the perfect option for fulfilling both wanderlust and the need for a challenge.
To buy: $37.95, SeriousPuzzles.com
Italy Two-Sided Puzzle
It should go without saying, but most travelers would struggle to find anything more charming than the Amalfi Coast. With their old-world elegance and wide array of colors, the beaches of Positano and Capri are so stunning that choosing just one would make for the ultimate Sophie’s choice. But luckily, with this double-sided puzzle from photographer Gray Malin, you can have the best of both Italian spots. On one side is the village of Positano, complete with its legendary bright blue water, rows of umbrellas, and seemingly endless stacks of colorful hillside homes, and on the other sits the dazzling island of Capri, where visitors go from their cobalt umbrellas and disappear into the sprawling sea. At 500 pieces and measuring 24 by 18 inches, this puzzle might seem like a coastal breeze, but with similar patterns and color schemes on both sides, the real challenge will be to figure out which is which.
To buy: $25, GrayMalin.com
Bahai Gardens, Haifa Puzzle
Although Bahai gardens can be found all around Israel and indeed the world, the Terraces of the Shrine of the Báb, or the Hanging Gardens, in Haifa are considered the most important. As one of Israel’s most popular destinations, this UNESCO World Heritage Site spans 200,000 square meters and has captivated visitors for nearly 20 years with its tiered gardens, streams, and terrace bridges. In this 250-piece puzzle from the Wentworth Wooden Jigsaw Company, the peace and tranquility found at the Bahai Gardens extends to your living room, and thematically whimsy-shaped pieces offer a fun challenge along the way.
To buy: $49.50, WentworthPuzzles.com
Rapa Nui Easter Island Puzzle
While Chile’s Rapa Nui National Park, also known as Easter Island, sits 2,300 miles from mainland South America and exists in total isolation, it is known around the world as the home of more than 600 enormous stone statues. As history tells us, the Easter Island heads, or moai, were carved between 1100 and 1680 AD by the island’s early inhabitants, who worshipped the carvings. Many remain intact and proudly standing today, and an estimated 100,000 people flock to the site every year. This 1,000-piece puzzle from National Geographic sees Jim Richardson’s 2009 vivid photograph of the island, with two statues lit by the setting sun in the foreground, while others sit in the distance and wrap around the island’s ancient volcano.
To buy: $19.95, NewYorkPuzzleCompany.com
Hamnoy, Lofoten Puzzle
A small Norwegian fishing village might not sound like a bustling dream destination, but one look at the picturesque town of Hamnoy in the country’s Lofoten archipelago will have you booking your next vacation there. The area is acclaimed for its excellent fishing (namely cod), its views of the northern lights, and its midnight sun in the warmer months, and the village offers unparalleled glimpses at the scenic landscapes beyond. Ravensburger’s 3,000-piece puzzle captures the beauty and majesty of the Norwegian town during winter, with snow-capped mountains behind and icy waters below, and it is an ideal jigsaw for those who’ve already mastered the 1,000 and 2,000-piece range.
To buy: $39.99, Ravensburger.us