The best public art in the world

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Why wait in line at a gallery when these splendid works are on offer in the street? And they can be enjoyed for free! In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we pick 10 of the best.

1. Angel of the North, England

Image by davidgsteadman

This bizarre steel sculpture presides over Tyneside from its hilltop perch. It's huge – as tall as four doubledecker buses and about as wide as a 747 aeroplane – and can be seen for miles around. The 'angel' stands with its 'wings' outstretched, although those peculiar, boxy things make it look more like a cyborg than an angel. It's bloody impressive, though.

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It's visible approaching Gateshead by train or driving along the A1 motorway; catch the Angel Bus from Gateshead Interchange or the Eldon Square Bus Station in Newcastle.

2. East Side Gallery, Berlin

Image by zak mc

Germany's Berlin Wall, torn down by the people in September 1989, was a target for Berliners' rage against the communist machine; the so-called East Side Gallery, the longest extant stretch of the wall, has been covered with more than 100 murals and graffiti. Although vandalism and the elements have destroyed much of the gallery's power, it's still a powerful reminder of the former regime of iron, with artworks ranging from Dalíesque freak shows to Pink Floydian bricks. Happily, a restoration project is under way.

The gallery is near the city centre; get the train to Ostbahnhof. For history and information about the conservation effort visit www.eastsidegallery.com.

3. Manneken Pis, Brussels

Image by Stylva

This bronze statue of a little kid pissing water seems like it was commissioned by Benny Hill, but the Belgians also like that sort of thing. The original was created in 1388 but later destroyed, and the people of Brussels were so outraged they demanded a replacement, which was granted to them in 1616. For national holidays and special occasions, the pissing boy gets to dress up: he's been Elvis, a samurai warrior and Mozart. He's been known to piss beer and wine, too.

Head towards the city's Town Hall from the Grote Markt, the statue is on a corner a few hundred metres up on your left.

4. Banksy graffiti

Image by Leeks

The works of enigmatic artist Banksy can be seen around the world, from the Israeli West Bank barrier to his (rumoured) home town of Bristol, England. Largely satirical takes on politics and culture, Banksy's pieces combine stencils with graffiti and have raised street art to the highest ranks (a fact he finds amusing). The prolific artist has said that he began creating stencils because graffiti took too long. Tips for seeing his work in situ are a case of hurry before it's painted over by the local council or before it goes up for auction at Sotheby's for more than £100,000.

Read Banksy's latest manifesto and see his work at www.banksy.co.uk.

5. Statue of Liberty, New York

Image by A. Strakey

Talk about 'public' art – it seems the public can do whatever the hell they like with the Statue of Liberty! As perhaps the most visible symbol of the USA (at least now the World Trade Center is no more), Liberty has suffered numerous indignities upon her person. She was almost blown up after a German attack in 1916; half-buried in radioactive sand in Planet of the Apes (1968); made to disappear by magician David Copperfield in 1983; brought to life in Ghostbusters II (1989); destroyed in Independence Day (1996); and submerged in snow in The Day After Tomorrow (2004).

Entry to the monument pedestal is only possible with a Monument Pass purchased online in advance; for more details visit www.statueofliberty.org.

6. Rodina Mat, Volgograd

Image by Helen Flamme

The stainless-steel Rodina Mat (Motherland) is one of the world's largest statues. Sitting atop the Mamayev Kurgan (a shrine to the fallen), she weighs in at 8000 tonnes and is 108m high. There's good reason for the gigantic scale: Russia lost 30 million souls during WWII. Compared to the calm beauty of the Statue of Liberty, Rodina is every inch power and fury. Brandishing a 22mlong sword, her mouth is twisted with rage – a truly awe-inspiring sight.

On your way up to the statue, go through a tunnel opening into the hillside, where there is a cavernous monument to the Battle of Stalingrad.

7. Parc Güell, Barcelona

Image by marimbajlamesa

Spain's beloved architect Antoni Gaudí is the visionary behind the Parc Güell, built between 1900 and 1914. The park was originally designed as a housing estate, although that idea was quickly abandoned. Gaudí's strange, organic style conjures up below-level passages built like the giant ribcage of some alien creature; wavy columns resembling stalactites and composed of broken, multicoloured ceramic; a long bench shaped like a serpent; and grottoes, nooks and crannies galore. It remains unsurpassed.

The nearest metro station is Lesseps, from which the park is a 20-minute walk. Opening hours are usually 10am–7pm; entry is free.

8. Federation Bells, Melbourne

Image by avlxyz

On the banks of the Yarra River in central Melbourne is an example of public art combined with sound sculpture. The 39 inverted temple-style bells of various sizes are mounted on steel poles and spread through an open space, allowing people to walk between them. The bells are struck by computer-controlled hammers programmed to play seven different five-minute compositions written by local composers. A little bit of democracy is at play too: anyone, musical genius or not, can submit their own tune for consideration.

This sound sculpture plays three times per day: 8–9am, 12.30–1.30pm, 5–6pm. To submit your own composition, see www.federationbells.com.au.

9. Mission District murals, San Francisco

Image by Franco Folini

The world-famous murals of the Latino Mission District adorn the walls of dozens of buildings. These poignant pieces of public art build upon the Mexican mural movement from the 1920s, as well as a good dollop of hungover-rom-the-'60s hippy idealism. Common themes include Hispanic, Aztec and Maya motifs, human rights, football, Carnival and Mexican cinema. The overarching theme, though, is 'community', and it's so thick in the air here you could carve it.

The District's centre is at 16th and Valencia, and its cultural heartland is the area around 24th Street; see what's happening at www.sfmission.com.

10. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota

Image by dean.franklin

These gigantic carvings of four presidential noggins (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt), embedded into Mt Rushmore's side, have infiltrated all aspects of US pop culture, from heavy metal to The Simpsons. But their power hasn't diminished – if the heads were attached to bodies, these dudes would be nearly 150m tall. Some see the carvings as a monument to racism: Mt Rushmore is in the middle of Sioux country, these early presidents had a lot to with a decline in Native American populations, and the sculptor had ties with the Ku Klux Klan.

Mt Rushmore is open daily except 25 December; for details of summer and winter schedules see www.nps.gov.