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8 sculpture gardens you have to see to believe

Visiting a sculpture garden while traveling serves a multitude of purposes.

It’s a great opportunity to enjoy art while also getting some fresh air and exercise. Want to dine alfresco? Pack up a picnic and enjoy it in a beautiful space. Have kids? It’s the perfect spot for them to burn off some energy, not to mention a fantastic conversation generator—what kid doesn’t love a larger-than-life elephant sculpture? Here are 8 sculpture gardens calling your name.

8 sculpture gardens you have to see to believe

Green Animals Topiary Gardens in Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Ever since I was a kid, topiaries have captured my imagination. These trees and shrubs turned art boggle the mind. How on earth do you turn a tree into an elephant?! There are a few notable topiary gardens around the world, but I love Green Animals Topiary Gardens in Portsmouth, RI. This seven-acre country estate dates back to 1872. Gardener Joseph Carreiro, superintendent of the property from 1905 to 1945, and his son-in-law, George Mendonca, superintendent until 1985, created the 80-plus topiaries, including many animals and birds. It’s impossible to not utter an awwww when viewing the adorable teddy bear and elephant sculptures.

8 sculpture gardens you have to see to believe

Ekebergparken Sculpture Park in Oslo, Norway

Heading to Oslo? A trip to Ekebergparken is a must. This 25-acre park offers sweeping views of the city and waterfront, a lovely restaurant, wooded walking trails, and an impressive array of European sculptures. You’ll see pieces from Salvador Dali, Rodin, Damien Hirst, and many more. To get the most out of the experience, sign up for a walking tour. Next door, there’s an indoor museum located within Lund Hus, a home dating back to 1891.


8 sculpture gardens you have to see to believe

Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, Los Angeles, CA

Located on the northeast corner of the UCLA campus, you’ll find one of the most impressive collections of outdoor contemporary art. The brainchild of UCLA Chancellor Franklin D. Murphy in 1967, the idea behind this renowned sculpture garden was to make art a part of everyday life. Here, you’ll find 70 sculptures by artists such as Deborah Butterfield, Barbara Hepworth, and Auguste Rodin. Bring a blanket and lounge on the soft green grass as you enjoy art drenched in the California sunshine. It’s a gem that’s hiding in plain sight, and certainly worth a visit.

8 sculpture gardens you have to see to believe

Photo by Olivia Notter

Park of Monsters in Bomarzo, Italy

Not all sculpture parks are happy-go-lucky spaces. Case in point: the Park of the Monsters, or “Parco Dei Mostri,” in the Garden of Bomarzo. Located about an hour north of Rome, Prince Pier Francesco Orsini commissioned this park in 1552 in a deliberate attempt to shock visitors. Having just been through a war, and having lost his wife, the Prince sought a way to process his grief. He hired architect Pirro Ligorio, the architect and artist who’d completed the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Rome after the death of Michelangelo, to create the park. The pieces here are quite dark, including a war elephant, and a piece dubbed “the mouth of hell,” which features a monster with a wide-open mouth. Inside, you’ll find a small picnic table, perfect for eating a picnic lunch. Um, enjoy?

Photo by Kristi San

Hakone Open-Air Museum in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

Established in 1969, the Hakone Open-Air Museum 1969 is the first of its kind in Japan. Here, contemporary and modern art sit with serene valleys and rugged mountains as their backdrop. The permanent exhibit includes about 120 sculptures from Japanese and international artists. The Symphonic Sculpture is more of a tower than a sculpture, where art enthusiasts may climb a spiral staircase surrounded by stained glass. At the top, you’re rewarded with views of the park and mountains. There’s also an indoor museum, with a two-story exhibit dedicated to Picasso. Kids will love running around the gardens or zipping through their zig-zag art installation designed with energetic little ones in mind. As a bonus, there’s a hot spring foot bath onsite, perfect for soaking your barking dogs!

The Rodin Museum in Paris, France

If you’re planning a trip to Paris, this museum is probably already on your list. Housed in the Hotel Biron, the Musée Rodin opened in 1919, dedicated to the works of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. The sculptor used the Hôtel Biron as his workshop from 1908 and later donated his entire collection to the state, provided they make the building a museum dedicated to his works. You’ll feel quite cultured roaming this collection of Rodin masterpieces, but don’t forget to allocate time to explore the spectacular grounds. Rodin himself launched this outdoor museum, placing antiques from his own collection amongst the overgrown garden. Today, the garden is filled with bronze statues, including Rodin’s famed piece, The Thinker.


Photo by Paco Trinidad

Las Pozas in Xilitla, Mexico

It’s definitely off the beaten path, but those who make the pilgrimage to surrealist English artist Edward James’ garden will not soon forget it. The 80-acre jungle park, which was built between 1947 and James’ death in 1984, features natural waterfalls, pozas (or “pools” in English), and 36 surrealist concrete sculptures. A notable piece is a winding staircase that leads to nowhere; the road of seven deadly sins; and a bamboo palace—all made of concrete. It’s a 3.5-hour drive from the Mexican beach town of Tampico; or you could rent a car/ hire a car and driver from San Miguel de Allende, about 5 hours.

Stormking sculpture garden

StormKing in the Hudson Valley, New York

When my family wants to escape the city, we head upstate. For a fun and easy afternoon activity, we love venturing to Storm King. This Hudson Valley 500-acre outdoor museum offers large-scale sculptures from artists such as Mark di Suvero, Roy Lichtenstein, and Alyson Shotz. Art tours are available, as are beekeeping tours. If you’re visiting with kids, check out their children and family programs, offered every Saturday from May through November. Expect hands-on experiences created by artists and environmental educators. No registration is required.

Visiting a sculpture garden while traveling serves a multitude of purposes. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy art while also getting some fresh air and exercise.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I vote to add the incredible Grounds for Sculpture in Trenton, NJ. One of NJ’s hidden gems, it is full of world-class art, some of it re-done in 3D by Seward Johnson. Many exhibits are there just for whimsy. Also has a great restaurant, Rat’s, attached; reservations generally needed.
    Another great sculpture Garden is the Kroller-Muller, a day trip by train from Amsterdam. Also has Van Gogh paintings:
    There is also a third sculpture garden worthy of a visit at Pepsico HQ:

    1. The Grounds for Sculpture is a must see! The iconic “Sailor kissing the nurse” was made here. Many more notable sculpture originated here.

  2. You need to visit the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis! It just recently had a major rehab, but retained a number of its iconic sculptures (Cherry Spoon Bridge), while making room for new art. A number of the removed sculptures have found new homes elsewhere in the city.

  3. Another great sculpture garden is Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ, near Princeton. Wonderful sculptures and a great place also to take kids.

    1. I unfortunately cannot watch your travel show as I do not receive Create. Will your show ever be on PBS? I enjoyed watching you on Rick Steves Monday Night Travel.

  4. I went to Japan for the first time this month and I’m so excited to see the Hakone Open Air Museum on this list. We didn’t plan to go there and it ended up being one of our favorite places.

  5. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City Mo has a very nice sculpture park featuring works by Henry Moore. When tire of the sculpture park walk around the museum building and look at the bias relief on the building. Another midwest sculpture park is in Saint Louis. You’ll have to google it I don’t remember the name but my family loved going there with our young children.

  6. Perhaps the biggest and best group of sculptures (80 of them) are located on the campus of Wichita State University. Joan Miro ‘s unique mosaic mural. And sculptures by all the big names : Henry Moore, Fernando Botero,, Ernst Trova, Joan Miro, George Rickey, August’s Rodin ( three) , Francisco Zuniga, Robert Indiana, Salvador Dali, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Otterness, Gerhardt Marcks, Arman, Louise Nevelson, Lynn Chadwick, Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, Aristide Mailol, Kenneth Armitage and so many more.

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