Art you can enjoy outdoors: the UK’s best sculpture gardens and art trail
There’s little better on a rainy day than retreating into the warmth of a museum or gallery and losing yourself in its displays, but on the rare occasions when the UK is graced with sunshine you may feel less inclined to closet yourself inside. Thankfully there is plenty of art throughout the country that you can enjoy outdoors. Here is ArtWeb’s guide to the UK’s best sculpture parks and art trails.
Starting in the middle of England, Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire, has plenty to offer culture vultures. Inside the stately home you’ll find an exceptional collection of art spanning 4,000 years of history, from ancient Roman sculpture to the work of Lucian Freud and Edmund de Waal. Outside, the garden and grounds contain more than 20 sculptures by modern masters such as Antony Gormley, Angela Conner, Elisabeth Frink, Allen Jones, Michael Craig-Martin, Nic Fiddian-Green, and Barry Flanagan. In 2020, those were joined by a new, monumental sculptural centrepiece: Natural Course, by Laura Ellen Bacon, created with more than 100 tonnes of local stone.
Henry Moore Studios & Gardens
At Perry Green, Hertfordshire, you can visit the home and studio of the iconic Modern British sculptor Henry Moore (1898–1986), who lived there for over 40 years. The house is set within 70 acres of gardens, where you can enjoy many of the artist’s best-known, monumental works.
Designed in the 18th century for the politician Sir Robert Walpole, Norfolk’s Houghton Hall is an important example of British Palladian architecture. Whilst admiring the historic country house itself, contemporary and modern art lovers can also enjoy an impressive collection of outdoor sculpture, which includes works by leading artists such as James Turrell, Richard Long, Anya Gallaccio, Stephen Cox, Jeppe Hein, Rachel Whiteread, Phillip King, and Henry Moore. Houghton also frequently hosts temporary exhibitions of outdoor sculpture by contemporary artists such as Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst.
Situated around 7 kilometres west of Edinburgh, Jupiter Artland is a contemporary sculpture park with an extensive (and growing) collection of sculptures, all specifically commissioned for the site by international artists including Charles Jencks, Phyllida Barlow, Christian Boltanski, Helen Chadwick, Nathan Coley, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Anya Gallaccio, Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Tania Kovats, Cornelia Parker and Joana Vasconcelos.
Ordinarily open between May and September (and occasionally open for winter weekends), Jupiter Artland is also home to five gallery spaces with a strong programme of exhibitions, and in August holds an annual festival of art, music and experimental performance called Jupiter Rising.
Also close to Edinburgh, Little Sparta is an internationally acclaimed sculpture garden created by the Scottish poet, writer, and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay CBE (1925–2006). Open to visitors from June to September, the garden forms a carefully curated artwork stretching across 7 acres of moorland, combining poetry, sculpture, and land art, and exploring themes such as classical antiquity, history, and our relationship to nature.
The National Botanic Garden of Wales
Since opening in May 2020, the National Botanic Garden of Wales in Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire, has developed a stunning collection of outdoor sculptures by internationally renowned artists. The sculptures engage with issues of conservation, the local landscape, and the Garden’s scientific research.
The Rosnes Benches
Farther north, visitors to Dumfries and Galloway’s Dark Skies Park can explore a trail of 30 sculptural sensory benches installed across 12 sites by artists Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion. Featuring cup and ring marks found on ancient recumbent stones, the Rosnes Benches are designed to encourage visitors to relax and reconnect with the natural world, as well as to comfortably lie and enjoy the night sky and constellations overhead.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Opened in 1977, and located near Wakefield, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park was the UK’s first public sculpture park, and is the largest of its kind in Europe. Envisioned as a “gallery without walls”, it extends over 500 acres of 18th-century parkland in the Bretton Hall estate, and displays a changing programme of around 80 modern and contemporary sculptures. The park’s collection is particularly rich in works by Modern British artists such as Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) and Henry Moore, and works on display include long- and short-term loans, gifts from artists and individuals, and site-specific commissions by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash, and James Turrell.
In addition to its outdoor sculpture displays, the Park also holds a year-round programme of temporary exhibitions in six indoor galleries.
The Hepworth Wakefield
A 15-minute drive away from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park you’ll find the Hepworth Wakefield, an award-winning gallery designed by David Chipperfield that opened in 2011. Alongside a strong permanent collection of modern and contemporary works, the gallery hosts major international exhibitions, and in 2019 opened the Hepworth Wakefield Garden. Designed by landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith, the garden features sculptures by Lynn Chadwick, Michael Craig-Martin, Barbara Hepworth, and Rebecca Warren.
Visiting parks and galleries
Please note that at the time of writing almost all of the venues listed require visitors to pre-book tickets online, and we would advise checking opening times and any COVID-19 restrictions in place before visiting.