The Best Museums in Sydney, Australia

The 10 Best Museums in Sydney, Australia Everyone Should Visit!

As one of Australia’s premier cities, Sydney is home to some of the nation’s best museums and art galleries. At the Museum of Sydney, you can uncover an Aboriginal heritage stretching back tens of thousands of years before learning about the First Fleet that founded the modern city you see today in 1788.

The Australian Museum, an institution that will make you fall in love with the natural sciences, is a treasure trove of dinosaur bones and cultural heritage. The Australian National Maritime Museum is packed with tall sailing ships and old navy vessels, the MCA is filled with contemporary artwork, and the Sydney Observatory is the perfect place to visit if you’re a budding astronomer. 

With so many excellent museums in Sydney, you might not know where to begin. So, we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best museums and art galleries for you. Stick to these fun and fascinating recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this fascinating Australian city! 

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The 10 Must-Visit Museums in Sydney, Australia

1. Museum of Sydney

Best Sydney Museums to Visit: Museum of Sydney

If you only have time to visit one museum during your stay in the city, make sure it’s the Museum of Sydney. Located on Bridge Street, this excellent museum might look modern today, but the contemporary design protects the remnants of Government House, one of the most significant historical legacies left in Sydney. 

Government House was built in 1788 by the convicts who arrived on the First Fleet from Britain. It became the home of Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales, but it was later lost to time when the building was left to decay as Sydney expanded around it. 

The remains of Government House were later uncovered and preserved, and the Museum of Sydney now tells the story of the city’s founders and of the influential figures that shaped local history. In recent years, the museum has stepped away from its colonial legacy, embracing the Aboriginal roots of Sydney through new exhibitions and galleries.

2. Australian Museum 

Top Museums in Sydney: Australian Museum

You’ll find the Australian Museum in Darlinghurst, where the country’s first-ever museum is now home to well over 21 million exhibits. With a history dating back to 1827, this is one of the best museums in Sydney, and you’ll love browsing millennia of artifacts and exhibits as you explore the natural world around you.

The museum has a broad remit, but historically, the curators have focused on natural sciences and cultural anthropology. Full-sized dinosaur skeletons greet you in the main hallways, while extensive cabinets contain endless specimens of flora and fauna collected from across Australia and the Pacific Islands. 

The cultural elements largely delve into First Nations history, providing a space for Aboriginal history to be preserved and for visitors to learn more about Australia’s tens of thousands of years of human history. Increasingly, temporary exhibitions focus on important topics such as climate change, demonstrating the Australian Museum’s continuing role in research.

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3. Australian National Maritime Museum

Museums to Visit in Sydney: Australia National Maritime Museum

If you love the sea, then you’ll love visiting the Australian National Maritime Museum. Sprawled across Darling Harbour, you’ll find a vast fleet of historic ships and vessels that are open to the public.

Tall sailing ships, trawlers, and navy submarines line the dockyards, and if you step aboard, you can immerse yourself in Australia’s fascinating maritime heritage. This is one of the most fun museums in Sydney, and it’s the perfect day out for families with kids. 

But serious history buffs and naval addicts will have just as much fun, too, especially digging through maritime archives and exploring the marine archaeological exhibits on display. Best of all, the Australian National Maritime Museum’s permanent galleries are totally free to enter! 

4. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia 

Best Sydney Museums to Visit: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Located on a beautiful perch overlooking Sydney Harbour, you’ll find the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) by the waterfront. The MCA is one of the world’s foremost modern art galleries, and you’ll love strolling through galleries and exhibitions devoted to Australia’s best contemporary artists. 

The museum dates back to 1991 and is housed within an old maritime building by the harbor that gives off serious art-deco vibes. Step inside and you’ll find photography exhibitions, paintings, sculptures, and art installations. 

An increasing amount of space is being given to Aboriginal painters and artists, allowing Australia’s First Nations people to showcase artistic styles that can be traced back tens of thousands of years. 

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5. The Rocks Discovery Museum

Abuzz with food stalls, boutique shops, and old pubs, The Rocks is one of Sydney’s most historic districts. Overlooking Sydney Harbour, right next to the iconic steel girders of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Rocks was founded by the First Fleet in 1788.

One of the best free museums in Sydney is the Rocks Discovery Museum, where you can learn all about this heritage-laden precinct. The museum is located within the preserved remains of old colonial cottages that date back to 1844, and inside, you’ll find a plethora of exhibits and artifacts telling the story of The Rocks.

From its earliest inhabitants – the Gadigal people, who were forced out by British settlers – to the district’s fall into disrepair in the 1900s and chic reinvention in recent years, you’ll learn everything there is to know about The Rocks at one of the most interesting museums in Sydney. 

6. Art Gallery of New South Wales

Top Museums in Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Housed in a glorious building inspired by the neoclassical architecture of the Old World, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is a must-visit for art lovers. 

This is one of the best art museums in Sydney, and with a history dating back to 1872, it’s also one of the oldest art galleries in Australia. Located in the grand Vernon building in The Domain, a large public space in central Sydney, this art museum is home to tens of thousands of works collected from around the world.

You can spend hours at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, with permanent exhibitions divided into three key areas focusing on Australian artwork, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders artwork, and Asian artwork. Like many of the best museums in Sydney, the permanent galleries here are free to enter. 

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7. Sydney Observatory

Museums to Visit in Sydney: Sydney Observatory

On a prominent rise overlooking Sydney Harbour Bridge, you can visit one of the most interesting museums in the city. Not only does Observatory Hill offer spectacular, sweeping views of the waterfront, but it’s also home to the Sydney Observatory, a piece of local heritage that dates back to 1857.

Sydney Observatory had a resident astronomer until 1982, when light pollution made the site redundant for night sky observations. Until then, a long line of astronomers had made integral observations of the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky, contributing greatly to the astronomical canon. 

When it was closed, it was decided to preserve the observatory as a museum. Today, you can learn all about the night sky and the history of Australian astronomy as you explore the past and the skies above at Sydney Observatory. 

8. Hyde Park Barracks

Best Sydney Museums to Visit: Hyde Park Barracks

Named for the famous London landmark the First Fleet left far behind, Hyde Park Barracks has stood on Macquarie Street in central Sydney since it was built in the early 1800s. 

Now part of the wider Australian Convict Sites, which is World Heritage listed under UNESCO, Hyde Park Barracks was originally constructed as living quarters for the many prisoners being sent by Britain to Sydney. 

Between 1819 and 1848, an estimated 40,000 convicts passed through the barracks. The buildings later became immigration centers, a mint, an asylum, and more before the site was preserved as a museum in the 1990s.

Now, Hyde Park Barracks is a living museum, where you can learn about the harsh lives of the convicts that lived here and the people who laid the early colonial foundations for modern Australia. 

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9. Powerhouse Museum

Top Museums in Sydney: Powerhouse Museum

Blurring the boundaries between a museum and an art gallery, the Powerhouse Museum is dedicated to art, science, and technology.

This unusual museum is part of the wider Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, and there’s really nowhere else in Sydney that’s quite so creative and yet so informative. 

The expansive remit of the museum means that in Ultimo, where the main branch is found, you can browse a collection that includes everything from steam turbines and locomotives to decorative art pieces and retro computers. 

10. Elizabeth Farm

Stretch your legs and trade Sydney’s city center for the suburbs of Rosehill, where you’ll find Elizabeth Farm. This fascinating living history museum is located on an old farmstead, and your visit here can help you to imagine what the vast metropolis that’s now Sydney once looked like in the early colonial era.

Elizabeth Farm was established in 1793, just a few years after the First Fleet arrived in Sydney, by John and Elizabeth Macarthur. The couple became involved in the wool trade that quickly grew along the banks of the Parramatta River, and by the 1820s, they’d begun upgrading their colonial farmstead into the more comfortable cottage that you’ll see today. 

The living museum now offers a glimpse of what life was like for Sydney’s early European settlers, and you’ll love how the farmstead has been kitted out with authentic props and period furnishings, leaving it just as the Macarthurs would have known.

There you have it! The 10 best museums in Sydney. What’s your favorite museum in Sydney?

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About the Author:

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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