Sydney museums & galleries

fireworks going off over the Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House is always the centre of attention. Photo: Tourism Australia 

Sydney has a rich mix of food and culture thanks to its history and the people that make up Australia. Explore the many Sydney museums and galleries, theatres and playhouses that are dotted throughout the city. There’s loads of arty-things-to-do in Sydney, so get in touch with the city's eclectic and cultural spirit. 

 

Sydney's art galleries

A group of friends admiring artwork is just outside the Museum of Contemporary Art
'Moon in a dew drop' artwork by Lindy Lee, is just outside the Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo: Destination NSW
 

  • Sydney Opera House is uniquely Australian with its dramatic white sails billowing over the harbour. I'm calling Sydney Opera House out as an art gallery because it is the home of all things art and culture, and is one of the most photographed buildings in the world. Walk around the Opera House, or book a tour backstage. Take in an opera, theatre, ballet, play or other concert performance, or dine at the many restaurants, cafes and bars. 
     

Handa Opera outdoor performance at the Opera House
Enjoy an outdoor performance at the Opera House. Photo: Tourism Australia
 

  • The Art Gallery of New South Wales has five levels of art including colonial, modern Australian and Aboriginal art. Other collections are from China, Japan and Southeast Asia, plus European art spanning from Renaissance to Victorian times. Free entry but major exhibitions require an admission fee.

  • The Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (also referred to as the MCA) has over 4,000 paintings, photographs, sculptures, Indigenous art and moving images by living artists. MCA is right on the waterfront at the Rocks, overlooking Circular Quay. Free entry and free tours but major exhibitions require an admission fee.
     

Friends taking a selfie outside NSW Art Gallery in Sydney

Visit the NSW Art Gallery for some of the world's great masterpieces. Photo: Destination NSW


Sydney's museums & convict history

 A couple talking with an artist at Circular Quay
Every corner of Sydney is filled with art, history and new experiences. Photo: Tourism Australia

Take a free guided tour through Government House and its perfectly manicured gardens. Government House was built between 1837 and 1845 has a stunning collection of 19th-century furniture that reflects the changing tastes of the governors. Afterward, stroll through the Botanic Gardens which is right next door.

  • Museum of Sydney explores stories about Sydney’s people, places and culture. See how the city’s indigenous beginnings and convict history have shaped Sydney into today’s cultural mecca. Another quirky fact about the Museum of Sydney is that it's built on the site of the first Government House.

  • The Rocks is the birthplace of Sydney. Today, this old town quarter combines heritage buildings with modern restaurants, shops, art galleries and museums. You could say that the Rocks is an outdoor museum in itself. Experience convict Sydney as you wander through the original cobblestone lanes and beautifully restored buildings. I recommend booking a Rocks walking tour to really get to know this historic village.
     

A group of friends touring the Rocks in Sydney.
Tour the Rocks and get an idea of Sydney's convict history. Photo: Tourism Australia

  • Susannah Place Museum is located on Gloucester Street in The Rocks. This row of four houses captures stories of working-class families who lived here from 1844 to the late 20th century. Book a tour and see their tiny backyards, outdoor baths and hear stories about rat plagues. Today these terrace homes are world heritage listed.

  • The Rocks Discovery Museum is free, family-friendly, fun, and interactive. Explore the thousands of artifacts, images and collections from pre-European days to today. The museum is in an 1850s sandstone warehouse on Kendall Lane, and the exhibits bring the Rocks history alive.

  • The Australian National Maritime Museum is at Darling Harbour and is a treasure trove of all things maritime. Explore Australia's maritime history, climb aboard the magnificent replica of Captain Cook's 18th-century ship The Endeavour, a submarine, a navy destroyer and even a refugee boat.
     

The replica of Captain James Cook's 'The Endeavour' at the Australian National Maritime Museum
See a replica of Captain James Cook's 'The Endeavour' at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Photo: Destination NSW

  • Visit the Justice and Police Museum for an insight into Sydney’s notorious criminal past. Wander through the police station, jail cells and three courthouses dating back to 1856.

  • The Sydney Jewish Museum documents the Holocaust. The museum is in Darlinghurst (on the edge of the CBD), and houses historical artifacts, video footage, interactive media, and personal stories from Holocaust survivors who act as guides. 

  • The Australian Museum is home to Australia's natural history and culture and is Australia’s first public museum. There's fossils and specimens of native Australian wildlife, Indigenous Australia artifacts, dinosaur exhibits, and all kinds of plants and flowers. The Australian museum is on the edge of Hyde Park (on William Street heading towards Kings Cross), and really is a fun place for the family to hang out.

  • The Powerhouse Museum has interactive exhibitions including the Wiggles exhibition; experiments that look at some of the world’s great discoveries; 'Space' exhibit that looks at how astronauts eat, sleep and go to the bathroom. Experience weightlessness in the zero-gravity space lab.

  • Tour Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks - a prison that was built by convicts for convicts! Discover how the convicts lived, try on some leg irons, lie in a convict hammock, step inside a punishment box and uncover their haunting stories.

  • Visit the ground floor of Customs House at Circular Quay to see the 3D model of Sydney under the glass floor. Stand on top of the city and get a different perspective. Kids love it, mind you, so do the grown-ups, and it’s free!

  • Heads-up, each September, Sydney hosts the outdoor Sculpture by the Sea outdoor exhibition. It's free and fabulous.

 

An exhibit at the annual 'Sculpture by the Sea' in Bondi.
Head to Bondi and experience 'Sculpture by the Sea' exhibits. This sculpture was by artist Damien Hirst. Photo: Charlotte Curd
 
Money saver tip

If you're after cool things to do in Sydney without spending a fortune, you can't go past the Sydney Living Museums pass. You get access to 12 historic houses and museums including Hyde Park Barracks, Justice & Police Museum, Elizabeth Bay House, The Mint, Museum of Sydney, Susannah Place and Vaucluse House. You can pay an entrance fee for each Sydney museum, or you can buy a Sydney Museums Pass and get access to all 12 museums for a super low price.

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