Here, we share a list of 20 art destinations beyond the well-trodden art capitals. While seeing art is generally a tame experience, these pilgrimages are not necessarily. Expect to go out of your way—and maybe even out of your comfort zone—to see famed gardens, prehistoric cave paintings, dazzling museums, and surreal landscapes encrusted with sculpture. Whether you’re up for a rugged adventure or a really spectacular place to meditate, there’s something here for you.
The artist-designed gardens that inspired Yves Saint Laurent
Jardin Majorelle, Marrakech, Morocco
Art Deco studio, and started building a bountiful botanical garden. Over four decades, he cared for the land and sourced plants from around the globe. The finishing touch was the cobalt blue he used to paint his studio, which he would trademark as “Majorelle blue.”
After the artist died in 1962, the property languished until 1980, when
Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé bought the studio and gardens, and restored them. Saint Laurent would later attest to the great inspiration he gleaned from Jardin Majorelle. Today, you can book a visit to the gardens, which are part of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech.
While you’re there: Majorelle’s former studio is now the Berber Museum, dedicated to the creative output of the Berber people.
The land art road trip through the American Southwest
Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona, United States
Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) is probably the most famous work of American land art, and you might want to plan your journey around it. Due to its location in Utah’s Salt Lake, visibility differs depending on the weather. You can check Dia’s website for tips and updates.
Think ahead: The remoteness of some works, like Double Negative and Spiral Jetty, means that you may not be able to rely on GPS or cell service to navigate there. Make sure to save driving directions on your phone or print them out!
The Japanese island that’s an art and architecture sanctuary
Getting there: To get to Naoshima’s Miyanoura Port, you’ll need to take a ferry from Takamatsu, Uno, or Inujima.
The West Texas Minimalist mecca
Marfa, Texas, United States
The town also offers a smattering of contemporary art spaces, including the nonprofit Ballroom Marfa and various galleries. On the drive in or out, you can’t miss the artwork that’s become synonymous with the town itself: Elmgreen & Dragset’s Prada Marfa (2005).
Getting there: Fly into El Paso International Airport. Rent a car and drive three hours south to Marfa.
The secluded Brazilian art oasis
Inhotim, Brumadinho, Brazil
One of the stars of Inhotim is Brazilian Neo-Concrete artist Hélio Oiticica’s Invenção da cor, Penetrável Magic Square # 5, De Luxe (1977). Set between a placid lake and palm trees, the work is a series of crisp, cement walls in warm hues that form a square, inviting solitary reflection or a shared experience of color and wonder. Bound through the grounds and you’ll find equally enticing works like a kaleidoscopic telescope by Olafur Eliasson, a “Narcissus Garden” by Yayoi Kusama, and a floating tree by Giuseppe Penone. Inside the pavilions, find otherworldly installations like Cildo Meireles’s domestic interior filled with red furniture and a haven of blue-and-white tiles by Adriana Varejão.
Getting there: Drive or take a bus from Belo Horizonte. On Wednesdays, admission to Inhotim is free.
The iconic home of the Bauhaus
Bauhaus Dessau, Dessau-Rosslau, Germany
New in 2019: The Bauhaus Dessau Museum is opening on September 8, 2019, to coincide with the centenary of the Bauhaus.
The art world’s Olympics
The Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy
Getting there: Take a train directly to Venice or fly into Venice Marco Polo airport. From the airport, you can easily get to Venice by boat or bus.
The oldest cave art you can experience firsthand
El Castillo cave, Cantabria, Spain
El Castillo is best known for the Panel of Hands, a wall of some 20 deep ochre contours that hauntingly echo where hands rested over 40,000 years ago. Scientists have suggested it could be the earliest-known cave art and may even be the work of Neanderthals. That controversial theory spurred debate back in 2014, suggesting that creativity may predate human life.
Getting there: Located around 50 miles from Bilbao, El Castillo can be accessed from the town of Puente Viesgo, via a short drive or a 25-minute walk.
The Basque city with a mind-bending museum
A visit to the spectacular museum begins outside—not just to see Frank Gehry’s design from various angles, but to see the public artworks, including Jeff Koons’s giant topiary Puppy (1992) and Louise Bourgeois’s 30-foot-plus spider Maman (1999). Inside, there’s a sprawling gallery dedicated to the steel ellipses of Richard Serra
, as well as impactful temporary exhibitions.
Architecture lovers should not miss: The 15th-century Bilbao Cathedral; Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Montero; Santiago Calatrava’s Zubizuri footbridge; and the cultural center Azkuna Zentroa, which was redesigned by Philippe Starck
The transcendent desert art festival
Burning Man, Black Rock, Nevada, United States
he Playa—the footprint of the festival—is home to hundreds of artworks. Each year, teams of artists, designers, technologists, and other creators spend many months, if not years, creating large-scale sculptures and installations that are often interactive and involve light and sound components.
Further reading: “Why I Consider Burning Man the Greatest Cultural Movement of Our Time”; “16 of Burning Man’s Biggest Artists on Showing Their Work at the Smithsonian”; “See How a Massive Burning Man Sculpture Comes to Life.”
The remote cliffside caves carved with Buddhas
Bingling Temple, Gansu, China
Despite erosion and looting over the years, there are still 183 caves, over 700 sculptures, and more than 9,600 square feet of frescoes intact. While Bingling boasts many finely hewn sculptures of the Buddha, Bodhisattva, and guardians, the highlight is Maitreya, a seated Buddha carving that’s over 88 feet tall.
Getting there: Bingling Temple can be a day trip from Lanzhou. You’ll need to take a car or bus to Liujiaxia, then hire a car or a boat to take you to the caves.
The sculpture-filled Chilean island cloaked in mystery
Easter Island, Chile
The moai were created by the Rapa Nui people in what is now Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site. They are estimated to date back to 800–1200 C.E. The park covers around half of Easter Island’s 63 square miles. While many of the moai still reside by the island’s quarry, a vast number are spread across the island, facing inward, watching over the land. The great mystery of Easter Island is not just the meaning of these substantial sculptures, but how they were transported across the island. There is concern over the inevitable erosion of the moai; despite conservation efforts, the statues’ features are fading.
Getting there: Easter Island is very remote and not easy to navigate—you may want to consider booking a tour. From Santiago, Chile, you can take a five-and-a-half-hour flight into the capital, Hanga Roa.
The U.A.E.’s art hub
Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Do not miss: Concrete, a multipurpose cultural space with an ethereal-meets-industrial design by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA.
The new art destination in South Africa’s capital
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, Cape Town, South Africa
Do not miss: Cape Town is also home to an array of contemporary art galleries. During monthly street art festivals, First Thursdays, the art community convenes for music, performance, and new gallery exhibitions.
The gems of Mexican muralism
Mexico City, Mexico
Isamu Noguchi, and Grace and Marion Greenwood.
Other sites for seeing murals: Museo Mural Diego Rivera; Palacio Nacional; La Secretaría de Educación Pública; Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo; Museo Nacional de Historia at Castillo de Chapultepec; Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros; Museo Nacional De Antropología.
The eccentric art museum of Tasmania Museum of Old and New Art, Berriedale, Tasmania, Australia
In addition to Walsh’s permanent collection, the museum holds two exhibitions per year, often inviting artists to interact with the space. Artists including Simon Denny, Matthew Barney, and Marina Abramović have notably taken Mona up on this offer.
Getting there: Mona is located about seven miles north of Hobart. You can get there by ferry, in around 25 minutes; or by car, around 20 minutes.
The Surrealist architectural park tucked in a Mexican jungle
Las Pozas, Mexico
art and known to have promoted the likes of Dalí and Magritte. Late in life, he devoted himself to realizing his own Surrealist masterpiece: Las Pozas.
James started work on the architecture in 1962, and construction would continue until his death in 1984. His designs tapped into the work of the Surrealists, as well as the jungle’s vegetation and the orchids he was so fond of growing. The name—Las Pozas means “the pools”—was inspired by the nine natural pools of water on the property.
Getting there: The nearest airport is Tampico, which you can reach from Houston, Mexico City, or Monterrey. From there, it’s a four-hour drive to Las Pozas.
The erotic carvings of ancient Hindu temples
Khajuraho Temples, Chhatarpur, India
Getting there: Khajuraho has an airport that can be reached via Delhi, Varanasi, and Agra.
The gardens where Monet painted
Claude Monet’s home, Giverny, France
While you could spend hours tracing Monet’s footsteps, Giverny is also home to a small art museum with Impressionist artworks. If you walk down the town’s main drag, you’ll find the small churchside cemetery where Monet is buried.
Getting there: Take a train to Vernon, which is located between Paris and Rouen. Outside of the Vernon train station, you can hop in a shuttle bus that goes straight to Giverny, or—if you’re a confident cyclist—rent a bike for a scenic, four-mile ride.
The Byzantine chapels cut into Turkish cliffs
Göreme Open Air Museum, Cappadocia, Turkey
The volcanic rock formations led early inhabitants to build architecture into the craggy landscape—including the former monastery and churches of Göreme Open Air Museum. The monastic complex, dating back to 1000–1200 C.E., is filled with Byzantine frescoes that were painted by orthodox Christian monks.
Getting there: Göreme Open Air Museum is a 20-minute walk from the Göreme city center. To get to Göreme, you can travel by bus or plane from Nevsehir; or by bus, plane, or train from Kayseri.