There’s nothing like a day out at a museum to teach you about a place. They are important attractions that welcome people of all ages, abilities and classes, and provide a portal to the past. The many different museums in Sydney give visitors a glimpse back in time and a chance to come in out of the sunshine for some cool indoor entertainment.
Every great city has its principal museum, the one that features displays of dinosaurs, fossils and other mind-boggling artefacts. In Sydney, it’s the Australian Museum.
- Australian Museum, 1 William Street, Sydney – Get up close and personal with life-sized prehistoric creatures including the gigantic T-Rex! Discover Aboriginal children’s toys and games as well as boomerangs, canoes, spears and shields used by adults in daily life. Other cultures covered include the ancient Egyptians, New Zealand’s indigenous people and Torres Strait Islanders. See some of Australia’s fauna and bird life on display. There is an entire floor dedicated to birds and another to mammals. Have a delicious lunch in the rooftop café where the views of the city are beautiful.
For great value and lots of inspiration, Sydney Living Museums offers a discounted pass which grants you access to twelve museums and historic houses. Here are three that will fascinate you!
- The Mint, 10 Macquarie Street, Sydney – Originally established in 1816 as Governor Macquarie’s Rum Hospital and later expanded to house the Royal Mint between 1855 and 2916, this is a fascinating journey through colonial history. The complex guides you through the history of the colony and tells the story of the discovery of gold in NSW which led to the need to house massive quantities of unrefined gold. The Mint was the first international branch of The Royal Mint in London.
- The Museum of Sydney, Corner Phillip and Bridge Streets, Sydney – Home and office to the first nine governors of NSW, the building was the original Government House, constructed in 1788. Over the years, it became something of a prison for Aboriginal men of the Gadigal tribe who were kidnapped in Governor Phillip’s attempt to learn more about them and their people. Now a museum, it introduces visitors to the conflict that occurred between colonisers and the local indigenous people and features archaeological relics from the colony’s first year.
- Susannah Place Museum, 58-64 Gloucester Street, The Rocks – Step into a family home and visit the ordinary lives of Sydney’s oldest neighbourhood. A terrace of four homes constructed in 1844 by Irish immigrants, Susannah Place, its tiny backyards and outdoor laundries were home to over a hundred families for almost 150 years. Learn about the original occupants, the Cunninghames and discover how they and all the other settlers lived. The guided tour offers a fascinating glimpse into the early days of Sydney.
Meandering through a museum looking at art is a wonderful way to spend a day. Here are a couple of options to consider.
- Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, 140 George Street, Sydney – The photo opportunities begin on the outside with the gorgeous Art Deco façade of the building. Opened in 1991, the museum is where you can see collections of paintings, photography and sculpture as well as moving images and works on paper. The MCA also features works by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Entry is free and daily guided tours are offered.
- Manly Art Gallery & Museum, 1 West Esplanade & Commonwealth Parade, Manly – Situated in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, the MAG&M runs an ever-changing calendar of art and museum exhibitions, all free to visit. Take the ferry to make it a great day out.
You can learn a lot about society by visiting a cultural museum. Here are two that will introduce you to very different aspects of society.
- Sydney Jewish Museum, 148 Darlinghurst Road, Sydney – Australia’s per capita population of Jewish Holocaust survivors is the highest in the world outside of Israel. The Sydney Jewish Museum tells the story of how survivors have contributed to Australian society since migrating here. Permanent exhibitions include The Ghettos, Transportation to the Camps, Liberation and After, and The Long Journey to Freedom. The museum was paid for by John Saunders, a Holocaust survivor of the Auschwitz and Dornhau camps and stands as an educational monument.
- Museum of Freemasonry, 66 Goulburn Street, Sydney – Learn about the architectural history of the building, and the secretive Freemasons’ society. The building is considered the Southern Hemisphere’s finest example of Brutalist Architecture. Inside, you will see a collection of Freemasonry memorabilia, find out which famous people have been Masons and learn about the history of this worldwide organisation. Tours are by appointment only and can be booked via the museum’s website.
Australia’s history as a penal colony is well documented. Take a day trip to a convict museum and learn
- Hyde Park Barracks Museum, Queens Square, Macquarie Street, Sydney - Designed by convict architect Francis Greenway in 1818, the barracks were built to accommodate convict men and boys. This attraction is listed by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as being of significance to convict transportation. Learn about what convicts wore and ate, how they spent their free time, the work they had to do, how they were punished, the languages they spoke and what happened if they tried to escape.
For many museum enthusiasts, the older the relics on display, the better the experience. If that’s you, here is one Sydney museum that will be right up your street.
- Nicholson Museum, Manning Road, Camperdown – The Nicholson Museum is home to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest collection of antiquities. Founded in 1860, it originally exhibited Nicholson University’s Chancellor Sir Charles Nicholson’s private collection. It boasts a 30,000-strong array of artefacts from Egypt, Cyprus, Italy, Greece and the Near East. Entry is free.
Sydney is not only about beaches, the harbour, the bridge and the Opera House. There is a plethora of educational experiences with various different themes, all waiting to be discovered. Museums in Sydney should definitely be on your to-do list when planning your trip. And if you’re looking at living or studying long-term in Sydney, then the museums are fantastic places to visit in your free time.
Read more about Australian Museums & Galleries