In woodlands and jungles, along coastlines, and on mountaintops, parks and trails have been created where you can enjoy nature and art together.
Here are our picks for the ten best sculpture parks in the world:
> North Mayo Sculpture Trail or Tír Sáile (Ireland)
The discovery of the most extensive Neolithic site in the world at Céide Fields on the north Mayo coast inspired this trail, which follows the coast road west from Ballina. More than a dozen sculptures, representing figures, refuges, and shelters, celebrate the wild beauty of the area and its long history of human habitation.
- Planning: The trail can be followed by car, starting in Ballina.
> DeCordova Sculpture Park (Massachusetts, USA)
More than 40 large-scale, colorful, contemporary sculptures are distributed through a beautiful woodland setting with hiking trails and picnic tables. Mainly by New England artists, the sculptures are a mixture of commissioned pieces and works on loan, and the selection changes from year to year.
- Planning: The park is 15 miles (24 km) west of Boston and includes an art museum. Open year-round.
> Naoshima Island (Japan)
This tiny fishing island in the Seto Inland Sea is a treasure trove of modern art, including the giant “Red Pumpkin” that greets travelers arriving at the harbor. Two-hundred-year-old village houses have been converted into contemporary installations, and a Shinto shrine has a flight of glass steps leading from an underground pool up through the ground.
> Artscape Nordland (Norway)
Beacons, shelters, huts, human figures, pyramids, and other monumental sculptures by internationally renowned artists such as Anish Kapoor and Antony Gormley have been installed on rocks, beaches, cliffs, and in fields along northern Norway’s beautiful, remote, and sparsely populated Atlantic coast.
- Planning: The sculptures can be found in 33 of Nordland county‘s municipalities. They can be reached by a combination of road, ferry, and air travel.
> Poustinia Land Art Park (Belize)
The park is hidden in the Belize rain forest alongside ancient Maya ruins. A day’s hike along a grassy track through the jungle takes you past more than 30 site-specific works, such as “Returned Parquet,” part of a 100-year-old parquet floor made from Belize mahogany and relaid on the jungle floor, and “Downtown,” a miniature metropolis cast in concrete, all being reclaimed by the jungle.
- Planning: The park is 80 miles (129 km) from Belize City. Visitors must make an appointment in advance.
> Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail (England)
A 4.5-mile (7 km) woodland trail links a series of sculptures that celebrate the life and history of this ancient forest in Gloucestershire. Set among the trees are swings, observation towers, and giant acorns, while works resembling mine shafts, railroad tracks, and charcoal hearths are reminders of the forest’s industrial past, which dates back to pre-Roman times.
> Stone Quarry Hill Art Park (New York, USA)
Four miles (6.4 km) of trails meander across 104 acres (42 ha) of rolling hills, linking site-specific works by emerging and established artists. Installed in woods and meadows and around ponds, the sculptures are inspired by the relationship between art and the environment.
- Planning: Twenty five miles (40 km) southeast of Syracuse. Open year-round.
> Refuges d’Art (France)
High in the mountains of Haute Provence, art-loving hill walkers can enjoy the stunning scenery and a series of art works by British land artist Andy Goldsworthy. Along 100 miles (160 km) of ancient paths, Goldsworthy has created three “Sentinelles,” or stone cairns, and renovated a series of overnight shelters in deserted buildings, adding an artwork in each one.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
> Connells Bay Sculpture Park (New Zealand)
On beautiful Waiheke Island, near Auckland, around 25 sculptures by leading New Zealand artist are arranged across farmland and among great sweeps of native trees. Works include “Guardian of the Planting,” two heads reminiscent of those on Easter Island, and Jeff Thomson‘s “Three Cows Looking Out to Sea.”
- Planning: The island is 30 minutes by boat from Auckland. The park is open from October through April. Walks are guided and must be booked in advance.
> Chianti Sculpture Park (Italy)
Tree stumps carved in marble, a cypress tree made from layers of glass that sparkle in the sunlight, a glass labyrinth, and the ribs of a ship are just some of the sculptures along a woodland trail in the Tuscan hills. They have been designed to harmonize with the colors, light, and trees around them.
- Planning: The park is near the village of Pievasciata, about 7 miles (11 km) northeast of Siena.
For more lists about the world and all that’s in it, pick up a copy of the National Geographic book, Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems.
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