One of the most rewarding activities that we can do while we travel is to visit places where we can admire art in nature. When planning a trip, we essentially note down the location of museums, architectural works, and natural places inside main cities; we forget that the most interesting places are the ones a bit out of the way, where contemporary art often thrives. With further research and a little bit of luck, we uncover open-air museums that thrill us and fulfill our curiosity way more than visiting well-known landmarks does.
In this article, travelers tell us about dimensions where artworks live in nature blending into the environment, catalyzing attention, or dominating the landscape. Museums inside forests, gardens that have hosted artists from all over the world, installations in the landscape, underwater sculptures, burnt trees that come again to life. Discover where you can admire art in nature around the world.
Where you should visit to experience art in nature and open-air museums
1. Opera Bosco, museum of art in nature in central Italy
by Lisa from Travel Connect Experience
Hidden in the green heart of the gorge of the Treja Valley in northern Lazio, between Rome and Viterbo, you will find the museum of art in nature “Opera Bosco“. In this place, for more than twenty years, local and foreign artists have been creating artworks with materials naturally present in the landscape, which abounds with vegetation and tuff soil. Sculptures and bas reliefs emerge from boulders and welcome you along the trails in a forest so thick with vegetation that reminds you of a tropical one. The guides point at some of the works while others you’ll be surprised to spot as your eyes get used to the environment, baffling creatures that have inhabited the place for an indefinite time.
You can visit the museum with a tour of about one and a half hours that happens every Saturday and Sunday morning at 11:00, from March to December (€15). If you wish to visit the Museo Opera Bosco during the week, book a visit by emailing email@example.com or get in touch through Opera Bosco‘s page.
A couple of km from this open-air museum, you’ll find Calcata Vecchia, which is one of the most picturesque villages near Rome, castled on a cliff in the middle of a lush canyon.
2. Musa Museum, Mexico
by Chris from The Aquarius Traveller
The Underwater Museum, known as MUSA is a non-profit organization devoted to the art of conservation. The museum has a total of 500 sculptures, most of which were realized by the British sculptor Jason Decaires Taylor.
The sculptures were created with PH-neutral marine concrete and cleaned above ground before being taken underwater. This pH-neutral cement allows coral, seaweed, and algae to grow and develop better than on an old ship. The objective was to save the nearby coral reefs by providing an alternative destination for divers.
The statues also have holes in them, which allow marine wildlife to colonize and feed off the corals.
The corals grew as time went by, and so did marine life. The statues slowly began to be transformed by nature. In time, all the statues will be covered and their figures will barely be visible..
You will find sculptures ranging from simple objects such as time bombs to a group of people standing in a circle with their heads up to the sky praying for hope. Other Installations represent a group of men with their heads buried in the sand, and an actual beetle car.
The Museum is located off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and touring the exhibit can be done through a number of different boat operators on the island. Create your own aquatic memory gliding through these enticing waters while you dive or snorkel.
3. El Bosque Tallado, Argentina
By Or from My Path in the World
Situated only a few miles from the center of the town of El Bolson (which is only a 2-hour bus ride away from the Patagonian city of Bariloche), El Bosque Tallado is an extremely unique forest and museum of art in nature..
After the fire that had consumed a large part of the forest in the early 1980s, a group of artists from all around Argentina wanted to bring it back to life. Over the years, they’ve managed to create 60 sculptures from old trunks of trees that had died in that tragic fire, hence the name El Bosque Tallado – The Carved Forest. From a sleeping gnome to a wizard to a puma, you’ll find all sorts of creations scattered around the forest. Though some of them are not the most impressive, it’s clear that this place is a celebration of nature and art, and apart from the sculptures, you can also enjoy scenic views of the entire valley.
How to get there: You can take a taxi from El Bolson and take the short yet a bit steep walk from the parking lot (it’s better to arrange a group of people because some taxi drivers won’t take only one or two travelers) or take a full day hike.
Opening hours and prices: El Bosque Tallado is open every day from 7 AM to 9 PM and costs 150 Argentinian pesos to visit.
4. Naoshima Island, Japan
by Cecily from Groovy Mashed Potatoes
On Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, you will find an island dedicated to contemporary art that will leave you speechless. The minute you step off the ferry, you are greeted with one of Yayoi Kusama’s distinctive pumpkin sculptures sitting beside the sea. There are many fascinating art museums and exhibitions to discover on the island, from traditional Japanese homes turned into art houses to incredible artworks by James Turrell and Claude Monet. If you are an art lover, Naoshima Island is the perfect place to add to your Japan itinerary.
Must-see art museums and exhibitions of art in nature on Naoshima Island:
- Chichu Art Museum: a contemporary art museum built mostly underground within the natural environment. The changing natural light throughout the day becomes part of the incredible artworks by James Turrell, Claude Monet, and Walter de Maria. Buy your tickets online in advance.
- Benesse House: a contemporary art museum and hotel overlooking the sea, built by the famous architect Tadao Ando. Here you will find many artworks and installations by Japanese and international artists.
- Art House Project: seven art installations located in the Honmura district, where you will see traditional homes turned into contemporary works of art.
Naoshima Island is located about 2.75 hours west of Osaka. To get there, take the train to Uno Station. From Uno Station, it’s a 5-minute walk to Uno Ferry Port where you will take a 20-minute ferry ride to the island.
5. Tide and Time Bell, Great Bernera
by Suzanne from Meandering Wild
Great Bernera is a small island located off the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. On the tip of the island at Bosta Beach there is a bell that is placed in the water. This is one of 12 installations around the coast of Britain designed by Marcus Vergette, a sculptor, film-maker, and musician.
The bell is placed so that it will work as the tide rises and falls. The clapper is placed in a position to allow it to strike the bell with the movement of the water and the waves. This means that as the tide comes and goes the bell will play an ever-changing tune.
The bell has been placed on the shoreline and will act as a marker to show how the water levels change over time as the climate changes and how the sands move and the coastline changes.
The Tide and Time Bell is located on the beach at Bosta. The nearest town is at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis about 30miles away although the roads are narrow so the journey takes about 50 minutes. There is free parking at Bosta Beach and it is then a short walk down to the beach. On the beach, you will also find a reconstructed Iron-Age building that was discovered in the sand dunes.
6. Salvation Mountain, California.
by Vivien from The Dharma Trails
In the middle of a makeshift desert community sits a brightly colored, man-made mountain that spreads words of love. Built entirely out of scrap material over many years by one man, Leonard Knight, the structure is an icon of hope amongst the folk-art world.
The quirky colors and text attract visitors from around the world. It is a strange and memorable experience for anyone interested in unique destinations.
Things to know before visiting:
- There are volunteers that monitor the site to ensure people stay on the right areas for walking (some of the structures are off-limits)
- You can’t wear shoes with a heel (which might pierce the structures outer layer)
- The location is remote and the phone signal is non-existent
- No entry fee but there is a donation box for the volunteers
- Parking is free
It is a 1.5-hour drive from the amazingly artistic Airbnbs in Palm Springs, that will take you through arid desert, past the Salton Sea, and through ‘Slab City’, which is an off-grid community built around Salvation Mountain.
Overall, this is a great day trip from Palm Springs or Joshua Tree and is sure to spark inspiration into any art enthusiast. It is great to see what people can achieve in the middle of nowhere using the materials they have. Cheers to artistic upcycling!
7. Underwater Sculpture Park, Grenada, West Indies
by The Dharma Trails
This was the first of the infamous underwater sculptures by the talented artist, Jason deCaires Taylor. The reef structures were installed in 2006 so they’ve had plenty of time to attract marine growth and life.
There is an interesting array of characters in the exhibit, ranging from a ring of children holding hands, to the “Christ of the deep” (a recreation of another statue found in the Grenada port), to a “selfie” statue that sits by himself on a bench inviting divers to join.
The various sculptures are spread out over a pretty large area so it is best to visit the site with diving gear but you can also see the structures from the surface if you just want to snorkel.
Things to know before visiting:
- The sculptures are located inside a marine park so you will need to pay a small fee to enter (organized by tour operators)
- There are dedicated mooring points if you do arrive by your own boat (do not drop anchor)
- It is possible to visit the site and snorkel, but the sculptures are quite deep in some spots so it’s best visited during a dive
- There are multiple tour operators that visit the site from St Georges or Grand Anse Beach such as Dive Grenada
- Prices will vary depending on the operator, if you snorkel or dive, or if you include food and other locations in your tour
Be sure to check out the Grenada waterfalls while you’re on the island as they are equally beautiful pieces of art in nature!
8. Adelaide Hills Sculpture Trail, Australia
by Natalie from Curious Campers
Between 2012 and 2016, twenty-six sculptures were produced by artists from around the world at the Adelaide Hills International Sculpture Symposium. The sculptures were then located in sixteen towns throughout the Adelaide Hills and now make up the Adelaide Hills Sculpture Trail.
The Adelaide Hills form the backdrop to South Australia’s state capital. From the middle of Adelaide, you can be on the hills in just 15 minutes. The hills’ region is characterized by quaint villages and wineries set amongst farmland and native scrub.
The sculptures are positioned in parks and gardens and beside lakes and wetlands. In many cases, they were created specifically for the site so their design and meaning complement the landscape they’re in.
To experience the Adelaide Hills Sculpture Trail, you don’t need to book and there are no opening hours. What you will need is some transport. There are 60 kilometers between the first and last sculpture and many little detours in between. If you want to see them all, allow a couple of days so you can take your time and enjoy the locations.
One of the great things about the sculpture trail is that it’s the ideal way to explore the hills’ region. Many of the sculpture towns have their own gourmet food, art and craft and historical attractions. The Adelaide Hills is also an internationally recognized wine region so make sure you allow time to visit some of the vineyards as you move between the sculptures.
9. Dr Evermor Sculpture Park, Wisconsin
by Carol from IsThisEven Road
Dr. Evermor Sculpture Park is a feast for the eyes. At the heart of this astounding artistic creation is the 50 feet tall and 120 feet wide Forevertron, the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world and one of the coolest places to visit in Wisconsin.
The man behind the metal is Wisconsin born Tom Avery A.K.A. Dr Evermor (1938-2020). Avery worked in his career as an industrial wrecker, demolishing factories, breweries and other structures. He retired in 1983 and began creating.
Avery built the park and the persona of Dr Evermor, a Victorian-era inventor from England. Forevertron was designed to launch Dr Evermor himself “into the heavens on a magnetic lightning force beam.” A giant telescope sits alongside where Dr Evermor’s ascent could be observed. Nearby is a tea house gazebo for Queen Victoria to view the launch.
The sculptures are made from industrial scraps, metal from an army ammunition plant, a NASA decontamination chamber from Apollo 11, two dynamos built by Thomas Edison, a lightning rod, and a huge variety of other materials.
Some of the eye-popping metal creations include a bird band and orchestra with 70 sculpted birds and musical instruments, giant insects, and the Epicurean barbecue train.
Dr Evermor Sculpture Park can be found off highway 12 in North Freedom WI (Less than an hour from Madison.) Admission is free but donations are accepted and souvenirs are available for purchase. Dr Evermor Sculpture Park is open from April to December. Plan accordingly, they are only opened Thursday through Monday from 11-5.
10. Inhotim Museum, Brazil
by Bruna from I Heart Brazil
“Unique and surrounded by nature, Inhotim Museum is one of the largest foundations of contemporary art in Brazil, let alone Latin America.
Here, nature and art intertwine as the museum is located in Brumadinho, a culturally, naturally, and historically rich town, making it one of the best tourist attractions in Brazil.
Beyond that, the Inhotim Museum houses a complex with a series of pavilions and galleries with works of art and sculptures exposed outdoors.
Inhotim’s gardens are unique with rare beauty and a landscaping concept that explores all the aesthetic possibilities of the botanical collection. The gardens are not only a place for contemplation but also for floristic studies, cataloging new botanical species, conservation, and educational initiatives. In 2010, the institute was also recognized as a botanical garden.
Art-wise, Inhotim is the only Brazilian institution that continuously exhibits a collection of international excellence in contemporary art. To have access to the institute, you must buy a ticket in advance or at the entrance. However, admission is free of charge on the last Friday of each month, except on holidays.
Preschool children don’t pay, and people with a proper student ID as well as over 60 years old pay half.
As the museum and garden are vast, you will want to wear comfortable shoes and take water in your backpack. If you plan on visiting everything, you might want to reserve two days for it. Inhotim is a massive project of art in nature!
11. Kitty Harri’s Sculpture Garden, Spain
by Joanna from The World in My Pocket
Kitty Harri’s Sculpture Garden is one of the most peculiar and interesting places to visit on Costa Tropical, in Southern Spain. Located near the beautiful town of Salobrena, hidden at the foothills of the Almijara mountains and overlooking the sea, Kitty Harri’s Garden is an oasis for artists who come here from all over the world, to get inspired and create.
Kitty Harri’s garden is a project that started after she permanently moved to Spain. The garden is terraced and has over 160 pieces of art created by Kitty herself or her guest artists. Sculptors, painters, creators from all over the world come to this idyllic location to get inspired and create. Then, they leave their creations here, to be part of the never-ending growing collection. The garden is filled with intricate art installations, sculptures, mosaics, and paintings. There are pieces of art everywhere, even at the bottom of the pool.
The garden is open for visiting the first and third Sunday of the month, and bookings are required for guaranteed entrance. Kitty puts on a proper relaxation program for her guests, with classical baroque music concerts, played at the harpsichord by her husband’s band, held by the pool, over a glass of wine or bubbly. The entrance costs 10 euros.
12. Hanmer Springs New Zealand
by Jennifer from Backyard Travel Family
The Forest Amble Walk in Hanmer Springs, New Zealand is a lovely easy walk with an incredible display of wooden sculptures. These sculptures were created by talented members of the community for everyone to enjoy. It is completely free and can be accessed in the Hanmer Forest Park.
The walk takes about 20-30 minutes to meander and is accessible to all. It is perfect for parents with strollers and if your wheelchair is comfortable off-road, then this flat track is accessible for you too.
There are around 8 different wooden installations ranging from a guard dog at the entrance, a bear climbing a tree, a collection of mice exploring some logs of wood, and a beautiful eagle. The sculptures are so detailed and lifelike, they really are quite incredible. They fit in well with the natural surroundings and make a great scavenger hunt for kids who are learning to explore the outdoors.
There are some awesome Hanmer Springs activities in the nearby township and it is a popular holiday spot for locals and international tourists. Popular things to do include bathing at the hot pools, jet boating down the river, bungy jumping, and taking 4WD tours in the hill country. Whatever you choose to do while you visit this hidden gem, make sure the Forest Amble sculpture walk is on your list.
This is just a taste of what you can experience exploring the contemporary museums of art in nature all over the globe. Let me know what you’ve found interesting in the comments, and also if you know of any places that should be added to this list!