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8 Sculpture Gardens You Have to See to Believe

Updated: April 19, 2023

Green Animals Topiary Garden 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 Garden in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. 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.

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 Dalí, 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.

Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden, Los Angeles, California

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 the renowned Franklin D. Murphy 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.

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, this park was commissioned in 1552 by Prince Pier Francesco Orsini 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?

Hakone Open-Air Museum in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

Established in 1969, the Hakone Open-Air Museum 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 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 zigzag art installation designed with energetic little ones in mind. As a bonus, there’s a hot spring foot bath on-site, 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 exploring 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.

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 (or hire a car and driver) from San Miguel de Allende (about 5 hours).

Storm King Art Center 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.

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