Things to do in Sydney

Museums in Sydney to Satisfy Your Curiosity

Sparkling waters, gourmet food, and artistic achievements are all within reach when you visit a Sydney museum.

Fondly known as Harbour City, Sydney is on the eastern coast of Australia and offers breathtaking views. The dazzling metropolis stands in stark contrast to media portrayals of Australia as a desolate place filled with spiders and crocodiles.

Whether you're visiting for a few days or making a permanent move, there are plenty of things to do in Sydney. Start things off with a visit to at least one Sydney museum. The city is extremely diverse, so its museums, galleries, and cultural centers reflect its rich heritage. Join us as we venture through the best museums in Sydney.

Art Museums

Many artists draw inspiration from the beauty of Darling Harbour, Macquarie Street, and other local landmarks. Sydney is also a major player in the international art scene. It attracts temporary exhibitions honoring some of the most famous artists in the world.

View eye-catching paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works of art at one of these Sydney museums.

1. Art Gallery of NSW

The Art Gallery of NSW is truly something special, and that's why we love it. More than just an art gallery in Sydney, it's a place where people worldwide can bond over their love of art.

When you arrive, keep an eye out for Flowers that Bloom in the Cosmos, a colorful sculpture that stretches nearly 15 ft. in the air. Inside, the Art Gallery of NSW offers public tours, private scheduled tours, and other experiences to immerse you in a world of wonder.

Each public tour has a theme, such as highlights of the Asian Lantern Galleries and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art. Guides also give tours in Mandarin, Korean, Cantonese, and Japanese.

Photographer: sam manchester

2. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia

Step into the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia to view over 4,500 objects. MCA collects works by living artists from members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

During your visit, take advantage of Vernon Ah Kee's large set of charcoal drawings. Each drawing challenges the way Aboriginal people are depicted in Australian media.

If you prefer something more colorful, check out Participatory Community Embroidery, You and Me by Liam Benson. Made from organza and sequins rather than paint and canvas, the mixed-media object depicts Aboriginal language groups throughout Australia.

3. White Rabbit Gallery

Hop on down to White Rabbit Gallery to see one of the world's largest collections of contemporary Chinese art. Located in a prominent Sydney building, White Rabbit Gallery displays works created by more than 700 artists.

Some artists featured at WRG lived through the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the opening up of China that started in the 1980s.

While you're in town, don't miss A Blueprint for Ruins. The exhibition shows the violence of urban development, which displaces humans and damages the environment. Rapid development also reduces citizens' opportunities to visit ancestral sites.

4. Brett Whiteley Studio

In 1985, Brett Whiteley purchased a Sydney warehouse and converted it into a private residence and art studio. He lived there from 1987 until his death in 1992, making it one of the most popular destinations for art enthusiasts.

Today, Brett Whiteley Studio is part of the Art Gallery of NSW, making his paintings and sculptures accessible to a new generation of visitors. Whiteley dabbled in landscapes, abstract expressionism, and other art styles, resulting in an eclectic mix of paintings, photographs, and sketches at BWS.

The studio portion of the building also has a graffiti wall and an extensive collection of reference books. Step into the living area for a glimpse into Whiteley's personal life. Postcards, furniture, music, and other memorabilia paint a detailed picture of Whiteley as an artist.

History and Heritage Museums

Long before England established the colony of New South Wales, the Aboriginal peoples of the Eora Nation called Sydney their home. In 1788, the British arrived, bringing hundreds of convicts with them. Sydney grew rapidly after a rocky start as a penal colony, becoming a center of culture and commerce.

Visit these history and heritage museums to better understand the complex relationship between Sydney's Aboriginal peoples and the settlers who developed the city.

5. Australian National Maritime Museum

No visit to Sydney is complete without a stop at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Home to more than 160,000 artifacts, this sea museum provides valuable insight into how ships and sailors shaped Australia's history.

Before you start exploring, take a look at Colonial Wallpapers — Pacific Encounters. Waves, sea charts, and wind gods remind visitors of the power of the sea.

If you're a history buff, check out the Illustrated Log of the Whaling Barque TERROR. The book documents a 10-month journey on the harsh seas.

It also contains illustrations by Henry William Downes and William John Huggins. When you see the drawings of craggy rocks and majestic ships, you can't help but feel as if you've been transported back in time.

6. The Rocks Discovery Museum

If you're looking for family-friendly fun, look at The Rocks Discovery Museum. Stretching across three buildings, The Rocks sits at the center of Sydney's original settlement.

Local officials began their preservation efforts after realizing that modern development was wiping away some of the city's charm. Today, highly trained tour guides are on hand to educate visitors about the area's history.

Make sure you view the four permanent exhibits known as Stories of The Rocks. Warrane demonstrates how the Aboriginal peoples of Sydney Harbour used the cove's natural features to their advantage. Colony depicts the difficulties of learning new languages and cultural practices.

Port uses artifacts to trace Sydney's development into a busy port city. The final permanent exhibit, Transformations, highlights the effects of technology on Sydney. The Rocks Discovery Museum also has hands-on exhibits to keep young minds occupied.

7. Hyde Park Barracks

If you're looking for an unusual museum, Sydney is the perfect destination. It's home to Hyde Park Barracks, which started as a penal colony and later became an immigration depot.

The museum has thousands of objects to help you understand how Sydney transformed from a penal colony into a major commercial center. Several exhibits also illustrate the impact of colonization on the Aboriginal peoples of the region.

We love Hyde Park Barracks for its commitment to storytelling. Notice the rusted leg irons in the permanent collection. You can almost imagine what it was like to be transported thousands of miles from home and kept in a penal colony. The museum even has several love coins, or pieces of metal used to express affection.

8. Justice & Police Museum

Move over, Law & Order. Sydney's Justice & Police Museum immerses you in the seedier side of the city.

The museum is located on the site of a former police station and court. It has several educational programs to help visitors of all ages learn more about the legal system. The Trial Run program explores the relationship between law and society. Bailed Up! examines the role of the gold rush on the legal system.

The Justice & Police Museum also has exhibits dedicated to law enforcement in Sydney. The permanent exhibit, Alexander Riley, Legendary Aboriginal Police Tracker, honors the achievements of the Aboriginal trackers who worked for the New South Wales Police in the 1900s.

Science and Innovation Museums

Australian innovations and inventors have made a remarkable impact on the world. Thanks to their efforts, we have cochlear implants, refrigeration, electric drills, and wireless Internet.

Australian scientists also discovered enzymes, developed medical equipment, and created treatments for diseases. Visit one of Sydney's science and innovation museums to learn more about these developments.

9. Sydney Observatory

Part of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney Observatory is one of Australia's premier destinations for learning more about astrology and meteorology. In the 1800s, sailors used the observatory to navigate their ships. Astronomers also used it to map stars, making the observatory an important place for scientific advancement.

Today, Sydney Observatory is the place to be if you want to see thousands of twinkling stars. If you book a tour, you can look through one of the museum's telescopes and explore space without ever boarding a rocket. The observatory also offers stunning views of the city — a perfect place for a romantic date.

Special-Interest Museums

Special-interest museums typically have a narrow focus. They're ideal for history buffs who want to make the most of a trip to Sydney. Maybe you want to learn more about Australia's origins, or you're fascinated by the world of firefighting. Either way, you can indulge your curiosity at one of these museums.

10. Australian Museum

If you only have time to visit one Sydney museum, make it the Australian Museum. The complex has exhibits on nature, culture, and science. It's a one-stop shop for exploration and discovery.

Located in an iconic building, the museum has a First Nations gallery dedicated to telling the stories of the original custodians of Sydney Cove. The Garrigarrang exhibit uses traditional objects to show the cultural traditions of the Salt Water People.

You'll hear kids oohing and aahing in front of fossilized dinosaur skeletons. Take your kiddos here to learn about Australia's unique ecosystem. If you don't have time to visit one of the many restaurants in Sydney, grab a bite at Bistro Gadi or Billabong Waterhole.

11. Museum of Sydney

Once the site of Sydney's Government House, the Museum of Sydney now serves as a space for honoring the city's First Nations custodians. Since the site served as the home of several NSW governors, it's stuffed to the brim with interesting objects.

Keep an eye out for intricately carved chess pieces, primitive musical instruments, plaques, medallions, and model ships. Occasionally, the museum offers free film screenings, allowing you to form deeper connections with Sydney's culture.

If you're in the mood for an elegant dining experience, we recommend reserving a table at Estate Vaucluse House. The establishment serves lunch and high tea in an Art Deco paradise.

Photographer: pmorgan

12. Museum of Fire

If you're traveling with children, delight them with a visit to the Museum of Fire. Every Tuesday and Friday, drivers take visitors on fire engine rides, making this Sydney museum ideal for visitors of all ages. The Museum of Fire also offers guided tours and sensory-friendly sessions.

After your fire engine ride, stick around for a tour. You'll see old-fashioned firefighting equipment, fire engines from decades past, and digital photographs depicting firefighters in all their glory.

Photographer: Barni1

13. Sydney Jewish Museum

Founded by Holocaust survivors, the Sydney Jewish Museum is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. The museum pays tribute to the 6 million people who lost their lives during the Holocaust. It preserves their stories for future generations.

It also has objects related to the history of Judaism, the persecution of Jewish people in Europe, and the effects of that persecution on Australia's migration patterns. The Holocaust and Human Rights exhibit reminds visitors of the ongoing persecution against Jewish people and other minority groups.

Interactive media allows visitors to explore the connection between Jewish persecution and the current refugee situation in Australia, making the Sydney Jewish Museum one of the most educational stops on any itinerary.

Cultural Museums

Due to its location, Australia has strong connections with several Asian countries. It also has a long history of habitation by Aboriginal peoples. Thanks to these unique historical and geographical characteristics, Australia is a bit of a cultural melting pot. These are some of our favorite cultural museums in Sydney.

14. Chinese Garden of Friendship

Visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship to get away from the city's hustle and bustle. Its colorful flowers, rippling ponds, and other landscaping features make it one of the most tranquil places in Sydney.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship is decorated with sculptures and other design elements, so it's memorable for everyone who visits.

Photographer: Felipe Palacio

15. Aboriginal Heritage Office

The Aboriginal Heritage Office provides valuable information about more than 1,000 Aboriginal heritage sites in and around Sydney. Staff members work to protect these sites from commercial development and other threats. They ensure the stories of Sydney's Aboriginal peoples live on.

The Aboriginal Heritage Office also delivers educational programs at local schools, helping children understand the many contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Sydney's culture.

Military and Naval History

One reason Sydney developed into a prosperous city was its port location, which made it a major trade center. To protect Sydney's economy, the navy and other military units had to defend the port against invaders. Many Australians also fought overseas in World Wars I and II.

If you love military history, don't miss the opportunity to honor these brave men and women.

16. Anzac Memorial

Many Australians lost their lives during World War I. The Anzac Memorial seeks to recognize their heroism and sacrifice. Photographs, uniforms, and other memorabilia weave a fascinating tale about the contributions of Australian soldiers.

If you visit, look for the tunic belonging to Captain George Redfearn Hamilton or the medals awarded to service members injured in the line of duty.

Photographer: Virdventure

Embarking on a Cultural Journey Through Sydney's Museums

Sydney is one of the most exciting destinations in the world. Its unique blend of art museums, cultural attractions, and historic sites makes it ideal for family vacations, romantic getaways, and everything in between.

Between visiting museums and other Sydney attractions, be sure to leave room in your itinerary to catch one of our unforgettable performances. For an exciting evening you and your family will never forget, join us for one of our shows in Sydney.

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