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10 of the best: outdoor art

Monday 13 Feb, 2017


April 15 is World Art Day, which celebrates the contribution the arts and artists have made to society. It's a perfect time to see some of Britain's art - found not only in galleries and museums, but also in the great outdoors. From open countryside, to stately homes, to city centres, here are 10 of the best places in Britain to enjoy outside art.


1) One of the most dramatic pieces of public art in Britain, The Angel Of The North first spread its massive wings in 1998. Standing on a hilltop beside the A1 motorway near Gateshead in north-east England, Antony Gormley's heavenly steel sculpture dominates the skyline. With a wingspan of 54 metres, it's seen by more than 90,000 passing motorists every day - the site has a small coach and car park for those wanting to give the Angel more than a passing glance.

Where is it? Gateshead is in north-east England, three hours north of London by train.


2) The world's largest equine sculptures, The Kelpies are a pair of colossal steel horse heads sited in The Helix, a new parkland on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal in Falkirk, Scotland. Sculptor Andy Scott took inspiration from the hardworking horses that once pulled barges and coal ships along Scotland's inland waterways, resulting in these 30-metre high mythical water horse sculptures. Open to the public since 2014, there's an on-site visitor centre with café, gift shop and exhibition space, while the 45-minute Kelpies Experience Tour leads visitors inside the sculptures to marvel at their engineering and design.

Where is it? Falkirk is in Scotland, 30 minutes west of Edinburgh by train.


3) Britain's leading open-air gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park stretches across 500 acres of historic parkland on the outskirts of Wakefield in West Yorkshire. This part of Yorkshire was birthplace to eminent sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, and significant examples of their work are sited here. With more than 100 works on display across the park, other British and international sculptors represented include Elisabeth Frink, Marc Quinn, Julian Opie, Joan Miró and Ai Weiwei. Since opening to the public in 1977, the park has developed extensively and now includes five indoor galleries allowing for a wider range of works to be displayed. There's also an excellent gift shop and restaurant.

Where is it? Wakefield is in the north of England, two hours north of London by train.


4) Northern Ireland has witnessed many political and religious divisions over the years. The city of Belfast has an estimated 2,000 murals documenting these troubles. Considered the most famous political murals in Europe, murals from the 1980s tend to depict sectarian events from either the Republican or Loyalist perspective, such as the Ballymurphy Massacre and the hunger strike of Bobby Sands. The current trend is for murals representing peace and tolerance. These striking examples of political street art provide an overview of Northern Ireland's recent history. Take a 90 minute Black Cab Tour to see what the walls of Belfast have to say.
Where is it? Belfast is situated on the east coast of Northern Ireland and has its own international airport.


5) Since its inception in 2008, Folkestone Triennial has become an important fixture in the international art calendar, marking Folkestone as home to Britain's most ambitious public arts project. Each Triennial invites artists to exhibit newly commissioned work in public spaces around the town - around 20 major artworks are commissioned for each Triennial, with up to half remaining in place permanently. Under the title ‘Lookout', Folkestone Triennial 2014 attracted a record 135,000 visitors with a programme of artist-led events, guided tours and workshops. Folkestone Triennial 2017 will run between 2 September and 5 November, with a theme of ‘double edge.'

Where is it? Folkestone in on the south-east coast of England, one hour from London by train.


6) The city of Bristol has developed a vibrant street art scene - it is after all the place where world-renowned street artist Banksy hails from. The only tour supported by the Bristol street art community, Where The Wall offer the award-winning Bristol Street Art Tour. Lasting two hours, this informative guided walk tells the story of Bristol's incredible creative culture and art scene from the 1980's to the present day. Introduced in 2016, a new walking tour focuses on Banksy as well as Bristol's historic harbour area.

Where is it? Bristol is in south-west England, one hour 45 minutes west of London by train.


7) On the border between England and Scotland, Kielder Water & Forest Park incorporates several pieces of public art and architecture, each created to enhance the visitor appreciation of the natural landscape. One of the most magical is Silvas Capitalis, a giant head made of timber by artist collective SIMPARCH - enter via its open mouth, then climb upstairs to gaze at the forest through its eyes. Other sculptural artworks include Cat Cairn: the Kielder Skyspace by acclaimed US artist James Turrell, which manipulates light and space to offer distraction-free views of the sky, while family-friendly Mapping is a minigolf course derived from old and new maps of Kielder.

Where is it? Kielder Forest is in the north of England, close to the border with Scotland, two hours south of Edinburgh by car.


8) One of Britain's greatest stately homes, construction work on Castle Howard first began in 1699 and took more than 100 years to complete. Built for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, later generations also left their mark on this magnificent estate. The 7th Earl was responsible for the spectacular Atlas Fountain - built in 1853, its centrepiece is a carved Portland stone statue of Atlas, supporting a large bronze globe on his shoulders. The lavish formal gardens and landscaped grounds are home to one of Britain's most extensive collections of classical sculpture, including a series of 18th-century lead statues depicting Greek gods.

Where is it? Near York in north-east England, two hours north of London by train.


9) Another impressive stately home, Burghley House is full of historic interest. It's also an unexpected home to contemporary sculpture. Within the stunning Capability Brown landscaped grounds is Burghley Sculpture Garden, with a permanent collection including the delightful Grass Maze by sculptor Peter Randall-Page. From April to October, these are joined by an annual selection of curated sculptures, which have previously included a cast iron stag by Dido Crosby, and a tank by artist Kypros Kyprianou.

Where is it? In the middle of England, two hours north of London by train.


10) The National Botanic Garden of Wales is a fascinating venue for outdoor art, displaying works by some of Wales' leading contemporary sculptors. Tarw, the Welsh Black Bull by artist Sally Matthews is a wild steel structure stuffed with sheep's wool and burnt gorse, whilst Pi by Rawleigh Clay is a hooped metal and wood structure that acts as a viewing circle of the nearby Paxton's Tower, a Neo-Gothic landmark erected in honour of Lord Nelson. Budding artists may also find inspiration here by taking one of the occasional art-based day courses.

Where is it? In south-west Wales, one hour north-west of Cardiff by car.

For more information contact:

  • VisitBritain Media Team

Related Images
Folkestone Triennial - The Electrified Line by Gabriel Lester, (Cross-track...
Folkestone Triennial,  - Light for M R by Jyll Bradley Green,
Folkestone Triennial, Pablo Bronstein - Beach Hut in the style of Nicholas Hawksmoor, 2014
Kielder Silvas Capitalis - The striking Kielder Silvas Capitalis in the woodland area.
Kielder Skyspace - Two people looking up into the Kielder Skyspace
The Kelpies  - The Kelpies on a calm afternoon lit up in red.