Where to see the UK’s best outdoor art

It’s a summer of sun, sea and sculpture at these galleries without walls 

Artists have have a love affair with the great outdoors since the first brush was set to canvas. And, after a few months pacing the same corridors and living room floors, we’ve definitely joined them in showing a lot more appreciation for outside spaces.

So, even though we were thrilled that art galleries were finally allowed to reopen, we wondered if there was a way we could dabble in both art and the outdoors at once. The answer, we discovered, is a resounding yes: there is art that you can explore outside.

Before images of wind-tattered paper, bleeding colours and battered frames fill your mind, let us reassure you: these are artworks sans frontiers that are specifically designed to outlast nature’s more destructive forces. Plus, as befits a summer of staycations, they’re in some of the country’s prettiest spots – meaning you can work a little art appreciation into your home-based holidays this year.  

Working on your tan while soaking up culture? We’re sold. So, we’ve scoured the country to find the best outdoor art there is available – from sculptures dotted on tree-lined treks to political caricatures scrawled onto the cityscape.

Sculpture in the City: for a board-game like exploration of London’s urban jungle

London’s insurance quarter may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of captivating art in the capital, but this sculptural bonanza breathes life into even the stuffiest corporate corners. Following the trail is like bumbling around a real-life Monopoly board. A giant Korean-style house is suspended over Wormwood Street; neon hands reach from the ceiling of Leadenhall Market; Undershaft's concrete armchairs invite you to sit and ponder displacement and domesticity (or what you’re going to have for lunch). This ninth edition of the open-air exhibition has been extended to autumn – perfect for a summer-soaked stroll around the capital.

Sculpture in the City, on now in London, image © Nick Turpin

Folkestone Artworks: for art beside the seaside

Almost all 76 of the impressive artworks hugging Folkestone’s sunrise coast borrow elements from the seaside town, inviting visitors to explore the area as you would a gallery. Going by train? The first piece you’ll see after leaving the station is The Luckiest Place on Earth, where you can bolster your luck at the quirky penny wishes recycling point. A blustery ramble along the beach front brings you to Cornelia Parker’s Folkstone Mermaid gazing across the Dover Strait. As you walk, keep an eye out for the tiny stone teddies and gloves scattered on benches and fences from Tracy Emin’s Baby Things and the pink geometric beacon of Richard Woods' Holiday Home floating on the tide as it rolls in. 

Folkstone Artworks, Kent, open year-round, image from Shutterstock

Jupiter Artland: for one-of-a-kind surrealist sculptures

This surreal sculpture garden sits on the outskirts of Edinburgh. More than 100 acres of digger-chiselled hills and tangled forests are sewn together by specially commissioned pieces from some of the world’s greatest artists. Andy Goldsworthy has built a fairy tale-like stone cottage in the woods, and Nathan Coley’s letters “You imagine what you desire” glowing over the park’s entrance read almost like a mission statement. Its newest addition (Gateway by Joana Vasconcelos) is the perfect immersive art piece for a hot summer: surrounded by lollipop-shaped hedges, it’s a sprawling swimming pool splattered in psychedelic swirls that you can actually take a dip in, should Scotland’s weather permit it.

Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh, open now but tickets must be pre-booked online

Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail: for artworks and wild walks

Art not only meets nature in this woodland walk: it’s almost overrun by it. The 16 sculptures concealed in the ancient forest are framed by an avenue of tightly braided trees and bulging roots – and are inspired by the crawling greenery. If you cast your eyes heavenward, you’ll see the Pinterest-famous stained glass of Kevin Atherton’s Cathedral glittering in the branch-dappled light; a glance down will reveal the jutting railway spines of The Iron Road by Keir Smith. Pack the kids and a picnic to spend a day getting joyously lost in these works in the woods.

The Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, Gloucestershire, open year-round, image from Gloucestershire Live 

Another Place: for Merseyside musings

In the world of sculpture, it’s arguably Antony Gormley who reigns supreme. Perhaps his most recognisable work is his 20m sentry, the Angel of the North, guarding the A1; but its precursor, 1997’s Another Place, scattered an army of similarly steely sculptures along the seafront at Crosby Beach. 100 cast-iron figures based on the sculptor’s body gaze across the murky waters to the distant coastline of America. It’s a poignant meditation on the human desire to expand westward in times gone by – and certainly promises to be one of your more though-provoking beach trips.

Another Place, Crosby Beach, open year-round, image from Shutterstock

Greenwich and Docklands International Festival: for pop-up immersive art

If you’ve got the immersive art itch, scratch it at this pop-up festival springing up in London at the end of August. After a long few months spent in isolation, the festival aims to celebrate togetherness and the power of the local community through a programme of carefully curated outdoor art pieces. We’ll be making a beeline straight for the celestial sound machines of Chorus and the giant Earth seemingly hovering over a park (Gaia), although Cloudscape’s promise to muse on the sky as a series of temporary galleries has also captured our whimsies. Tickets are available to book from 12th August.

Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, London, 28th August - 12th September, image from festivals.org

Banksy Walk: for the nation’s coolest street art

In Bristol, the streets are paved with spray paint. It’s home to Banksy, Britain’s most prolific graffiti artist, and over the years he’s turned the city’s cracks and crannies into his sketchbook, showcasing his scrawlings on shopfronts and street corners alike. Although you’ll be able to find his work hung on many a monolithic gallery wall, by far the best way to see his spirited sketches is on a self-guided tour of Bristol’s most colourful corners. You can find a map of the must-see murals on Visit Bristol's website, and don’t forget your camera – these politically-charged musings are perfect Instagram material.

Bristol, open year-round, image from Visit Bristol