Don’t wait for a rainy day to lose yourself in a Sydney museum crammed with insight into life well before our time.
You don’t have to be a history buff to get swept up in the rare and wonderful memorabilia showcased within Sydney’s best museums. From ocean-navigating vessels and iconic sporting keepsakes to historical artefacts out of The Rocks, home to one of Sydney’s best markets, any given Sydney museum is a guaranteed good time.
1. Museum of Sydney
Best for: Cultural insight into First Nations people.
Nestled within the sandstone precinct of the city’s CBD, Museum of Sydney provides a comprehensive look at the structures, people and events that have shaped Sydney. Built over the remains of the city’s First Government House, this Sydney museum invites people of all ages to soak up beautifully curated exhibitions.
Determined to shed light on and broaden education into First Nations culture, programs focus on First Nations history and the museum itself is currently planning a transformation into a dedicated First Nations cultural space. Entry is free and if you have littlies in tow, there’s a great Kids’ Trail that charts tales from First Government House.
Learn more about the First Nations people at the Museum of Sydney.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, daily.
Address: Corner Phillip and Bridge Streets, Sydney
2. Justice & Police Museum
Best for: Gory details into Sydney’s most notorious crimes.
Sucker for true crime? The Justice & Police Museum in Sydney’s CBD houses a juicy treasure trove of stories and artefacts tracing the city’s most guilty. Spread across a former copshop and two courtrooms, the extraordinary Sydney museum was originally built in the 1850s and its historical relics go as far back as the bushranger era.
The Justice & Police Museum houses a police court and police station.
You’ll see vintage weaponry, mug shots and crime scene snaps up close and personal, plus you’ll also learn about the technological advances revolutionising Sydney’s current police force. There’s also original 1800s holding cells to explore in the flesh. Entry is free and children under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult.
Step into the gory history of crime at the Justice & Police Museum.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday.
Address: Corner Albert and Phillip Streets, Sydney
3. Australian Museum
Best for: Priceless artefacts and an ongoing schedule of activities.
Celebrating all things science and nature within Australia, the Australian Museum is a mecca of wonder. You won’t miss it on approach — its grand sandstone structure, the country’s very first museum built in the 1850s, looms from the corner of Sydney’s CBD.
Marvel at the exhibitions within the Australian Museum. (Image: Tourism Australia)
Home to more than 21 million scientific specimens and extraordinary objects collected over time, there’s always something special happening to underpin its charms. Think meditation classes, animal yoga, after-hour talks and interactive playgroups for bubs. Plus, there’s always a stellar line-up of visiting attractions including this year’s Ramses and the Gold of the Pharaohs collection from Egypt. Entry is free.
You’ll find extraordinary displays and installations inside. (Image: Tourism Australia)
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Sunday
Address: 1 William Street, Sydney
4. Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Best for: Learning about Australia’s convict history.
The historic site of Hyde Park Barracks Museum was originally constructed to house convicts but these days, it’s a Sydney museum that pays tribute to the thousands of citizens it sheltered as well as the First Nations community affected by Australian colonialism.
Explore the heritage-listed Hyde Park Barracks Museum. (Image: James Horan)
Self-guided tours throughout its beautiful restoration, dotted with artefacts stored in glass cases, shed significant light on our history and there’s also a very active educational program for school children.
Absorb yourself in the fascinating artworks and displays in Hyde Park Barracks. (Image: Destination NSW)
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm, daily.
Address: Queens Square, Macquarie Street, Sydney
5. Australian National Maritime Museum
Best for: Oceanic memorabilia and mighty impressive vessels.
Dubbed Australia’s Museum of the Sea, the Australian National Maritime Museum explores everything that floats, sails and swims in the country and beyond. Our maritime history is thoroughly charted inside the Darling Harbour complex which encompasses three navy vessels you can jump on board to discover the history of the Royal Australian Navy.
See the Australian-built replica of James Cook’s ship on exhibit at the Australian National Maritime Museum. (Image: Destination NSW)
The Sydney museum also owns a fleet of tall ships, a Cold War submarine and restored ancient boats that scatter the harbour. There’s always plenty of interactive activity happening inside the main building with exhibitions curated to children and adults. Tickets start from $25 for adults, $15 for children over the age of 15 and children under 15 enter for free.
Jump onboard to experience what it’s like to sail an ancient ship. (Image: Destination NSW)
Opening hours: 10am to 4pm, daily.
Address: 2 Murray Street, Darling Harbour, Sydney
6. Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
Best for: Discovering the best of contemporary art.
A musical chairs of more than 4,500 pieces of art consistently fill the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia located in The Rocks. The building itself is a modern masterpiece, expanded in 2012 by architect Sam Marshall who added to the original 1991 sandstone structure with a futuristic five-storey wing.
The striking exterior of the Museum of Contemporary Art. (Image: Tourism Australia)
The Sydney museum now houses two gallery floors, an entire floor dedicated to educational programs, digital and multimedia studios, a lecture theatre and further event spaces including a rooftop haven offering harbour views. Past collections include Australia’s first survey exhibition by Yoko Ono. Entry is free and the MCA also runs free guided tours.
Discover the best of contemporary art at MCA. (Image: Document Photography)
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm Monday, 10am to 5pm Wednesday to Thursday, 10am to 9pm Friday and 10am to 5pm Saturday to Sunday.
Address: 140 George Street, The Rocks
7. Sydney Observatory
Best for: Stargazing and insight into astronomy.
Located atop the highest natural point in Sydney Cove, the Sydney Observatory is a romantic space to learn more about science and evolution. The heritage-listed building was built in the 1850s and has served as everything from a defence fort and a meteorological station to an events space.
Today, the Sydney museum is home to memorabilia offering deep insight into archaeology, weather measurement, historical flag communications and of course everything in the sky. If you can climb the building’s narrow staircase, you’ll be rewarded with captivating artefacts and there’s also guided tours with one skewed towards children. Entry is free.
Opening hours: Nightly tours staged from Wednesday to Saturday.
Address: 1003 Upper Fort Street, Millers Point
8. Susannah Place Museum
Best for: Utterly transporting oneself to the 1800s.
You won’t find miniature models or screens showing black-and-white footage at Susannah Place Museum. Instead, you’ll step right into a life that started more than 150 years ago.
Step into an 18th-century house at Susannah Place Museum. (Image: James Horan)
This Sydney museum is a cluster of four itty bitty terrace houses that have sheltered more than 100 families since they were built in 1844.
Swing by Susannah Place Museum when you’re in Sydney. (Image: James Horan)
Retaining original structures and features, including the crockery and furniture worn in by the final tenants, their remarkable resilience makes for an incredible portal into a bygone era. Entry is free.
Be transported back to the 1800s at Susannah Place Museum. (Image: James Horan)
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, Thursday to Saturday.
Address: 58-64 Gloucester Street, The Rocks
9. The Rocks Discovery Museum
Best for: Keeping the kids occupied.
Follow the cobblestone road to find The Rocks Discovery Museum, constructed across three buildings including Samson’s Cottage which dates to 1844. Focused on celebrating The Rocks’ history as the original settlement site in 1788 and everything it witnessed in the years that followed, the Sydney museum is spilling over with temporary exhibitions and a fabulous school program.
Expect flocks of students if you’re visiting on a weekday. If it’s school holidays, kids will still linger — a ripper school holiday program filled with arts and crafts and other engrossing activities attracts families from all over the city. Entry is free.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, daily.
Address: 2-8 Kendall Lane, The Rocks
10. Powerhouse Museum
Best for: Eye-opening advancements in technology and science.
Committed to sparking conversation and fresh ideas, the Powerhouse Museum is a group of museums found right across Sydney. But arguably the most familiar of the lot is the Powerhouse Museum in Ultimo, which has relocated over time from the Botanic Gardens and the Domain to where it stands today. Inside, you’ll struggle to know where to start.
Showcasing the most thrilling developments and achievements in the arts and the worlds of design, technology and science, the Sydney museum is filled with interactive exhibitions (both temporary and permanent) and more than 500,000 objects sourced over the past 135 years. Don’t miss the world’s oldest operational rotative steam engine and the first steam locomotive to ever pull a passenger train in NSW. Entry is free.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, daily and 5pm to 9pm on Thursday.
Address: 500 Harris Street, Ultimo
11. Chau Chak Wing Museum
Best for: Stickybeaking archaeological artefacts from all over the world.
Did you know the University of Sydney has three outstanding collections of antiquities, historical photography and other extraordinary bits collected over the past 150 years? Chau Chak Wing Museum gathers every piece, almost half a million items in total, and presents them in a beautiful exhibition space right on site. This Sydney museum, designed by the award-winning design organisation Johnson Pilton Walker, is filled with works spanning First Nations art, ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt relics and more than 315,000 insects. Entry is free.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, 10am to 9pm Thursday and 12pm to 4pm Saturday and Sunday.
Address: The University of Sydney, University Place, Camperdown
12. Sydney Bus Museum
Best for: Big boys’, and little boys’, toys.
Set in an old tram shed in Sydney’s inner west, the Sydney Bus Museum is an absolute must-visit if you’re into large-scale automobiles. As its name suggests, buses are the flavour of every month and it offers a glimpse at some of the world’s rarest sets of wheels.
Venture across the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge at night on a double-decker bus.
You’ll spy more than 70 vehicles including double-deckers from across the globe, Australian masterpieces from the 1920s, 1940s and 1950s plus slick Mercedes-Benz varieties from the 1990s. Tickets cost $20 for adults and $10 for children aged between four and 16.
The pre-war Sydney double-decker bus, Leyland TD4 1379.
Opening hours: 10am to 4pm, the first and third Sunday of every month.
Address: 25 Derbyshire Road, Leichhardt.
13. Sydney Jewish Museum
Best for: Extensive insight into Jewish culture and heritage.
Gather invaluable learnings about the Holocaust and Australia’s Jewish community at the Sydney Jewish Museum in the city’s eastern suburbs. The Sydney museum was constructed in 1992 by a group of Sydney-based holocaust survivors who longed for a place to share memories and educate the wider community.
Every piece on show within the museum tells a unique story of resilience and survival and it also serves as an events space for community discussions, book launches and more. Tickets cost $18 for adults and $11 for students while children under the age of 10 are free and entry for all is complimentary on Sunday.
Opening hours: 10am to 4pm, Monday to Thursday, 10am to 3pm, Friday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday.
Address: 148 Darlinghurst Road, Darlinghurst
14. Sydney Cricket Ground Museum
Best for: Sporting fans of all descriptions.
No matter your code or allegiance, the Sydney Cricket Ground Museum is a celebration of Australia’s sporting legends and the milestones played out in the city’s most historic sporting home. Spy brilliant behind-the-scenes photographs of iconic moments in the venue’s 160-year lifespan, plus great memorabilia like prized bats and balls and life-size sculptures of everyone’s heroes.
You’ll need to sign on for the Sydney museum’s 90-minute ‘SCG Tour’ to gain access, which must be pre-booked. Prices start from $30 for adults and $20 for children.
Opening hours: 10am to 11.30am, Monday to Saturday. Closed major match days.
Address: Behind the Ladies Stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Driver Avenue, Moore Park.
15. Old Government House
Best for: Insight into Australia’s convict migration.
Step inside the oldest public building in the country at Old Government House in Parramatta. The magnificent Georgian house is home to an eye-watering collection of rare colonial furnishings but if you can get past the interiors, you’ll find emotional accounts from convicts and NSW’s first 10 Governors.
The Old Government House once sheltered NSW’s first governors. (Image: Destination NSW)
Spend some time in the grounds before you leave as the manicured gardens are worthy of some glorious selfies and panoramic shots. Adult entry costs $15 and concession entry costs $12, plus children under the age of five are free.
The magnificent Georgian house is set on spacious grounds. (Image: Destination NSW)
Opening hours: 10am to 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday.
Address: Parramatta Park, Pitt Street entrance, Parramatta