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Photograph: Chau Chak Wing Museum/Brett Boardman

The best museums in Sydney

Deadly animals, hot rocks, mummified corpses and buried treasure – Sydney's museums are anything but boring

Written by
Time Out editors
Alannah Maher

Note: the museum reopening dates listed here are correct at the time of publication. However, things change often and quickly. Always check ahead to see if the museum is open on the day you'd like to visit and if pre-booking is necessary. 

Sydney is home to some pretty fascinating museums, places where you can learn about ships, time, military history, society, the police force and more. 

Rain or shine, head out on a journey of discovery at these all-weather-friendly houses of knowledge. You'll learn about fascinating natural histories, scientific endeavours, design innovations and the many surprising stories that have made this city everything it is today. Along the way, you'll discover curious taxidermies, real Egyptian mummies, interactive space shuttles, and a peek into the lives of the real housewives of colonial era Sydney.

If your interests are more piqued by the bizarre, be sure to check out these six unusual museums in Sydney.

Looking for a different perspective? Check out these Indigenous walks and tours.

Sydney's best museums

  • Museums
  • Camperdown

Art, science, history and ancient cultures meet under one roof at Sydney's newest museum, whose collections are 150 years in the making. The museum combines three powerful collections from the vaults of the University of Sydney – including three ancient Egyptian mummies. 

Note: the Chau Chak Wing Museum reopens from October 18, 2021.

  • Museums
  • Darlinghurst

Funnel webs, king browns, red backs, salties – find Australia's most deadly at the country's oldest museum, stuffed or behind glass – as well as some prehistoric terrors. Laugh in mortality's face, glory in the wonders of natural history, and scare the rellies off your sofa bed and onto the next flight home. After closing down for 15 months for an extensive 57.5 million dollar renovation, the Australian Museum reopened in late 2020 with a fresh facelift and new collections.

  • Museums
  • Ultimo

This hotbed of science, design and innovation is big on hands-on exhibits for budding gadgeteers and button-pushers, as well as blockbuster fashion, design and pop-cultural exhibitionsThe fate of this beloved museum was uncertain for a while, but in 2020 plans to shut down the Ultimo location in favour of a new Parramatta site were scrapped. While the Parramatta branch is still set to open, the original museum is here to stay and is getting a 500 million dollar makeover in 2023. Keep an eye out the Powerhouse's ultra cool after-dark events with pop-up bars, dancefloors and intellectual fun.

  • Museums
  • Darling Harbour

Whether it's the Harbour, the beaches or Finding Nemo, Sydney's bound to the water like a babe to the breast. Circumnavigate the Maritime Museum if you're keen jump aboard a submarine and live out all your Hunt for Red October fantasies.

Update: the Maritime Museum is undertaking a staged reopening from October 11 to December 1, 2021. Find out more here.

  • Museums
  • Sydney

Home to convicts, wastrel women, immigrants, law courts, a vaccine institute and a government printer, this place has seen it all. Discover the people who built this city and, if you're really quiet, hear their footsteps echo down the halls. Make the most of your visit with the immersive audio tour, and keep an eye out for the funky after-dark events program which brings live performances, food trucks and pop-up bars to the square.

Note: Hyde Park Barracks Museum reopens from October 21, 2021.

  • Museums
  • Darlinghurst

It's not just for WWII buffs or solely for the Jewish community. The SJM explores human rights through the lens of the Jewish experience, and in doing so, help us to understand our present. The stunning architecture and in-person talks from Holocaust survivors are not be missed and won't be soon forgotten.

Note: Sydney Jewish Museum reopens from November 22, 2021. Find out more here.

Museum of Sydney
  • Museums
  • Sydney

Smack bang on top of the foundations of Australia's first Government House, the MOS is a celebration of the city's past, present and future. With video walls, poetry, storylines and panoramas out onto the city, this is a one-stop shop for visitors and curious locals.

Note: the Museum of Sydney reopens from October 21, 2021.

Justice & Police Museum
  • Museums
  • Circular Quay

For history with a macabre twist of the knife, look no further. This old court house has seen many rapscallions sentenced for dastardly deeds. Spiked gates and winding stairways take you to pokey cells, murderous mug-shots and weapons to make the stomach turn.

Note: the Justice and Police Museum is closed until further notice. Find out more here.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Rosehill

Parts of the original 1793 construction – the oldest surviving European building in Australia – remain. They also have the oldest surviving olive tree in the Museum's gardens. The interior has been restored to its 1830s condition, while the museum’s genteel tearooms are open weekends only between 10am and 4pm. 

Note: Elizabeth Farm is open from October 22.

  • Things to do
  • Parramatta

This world heritage listed monument is Australia’s oldest public building, built by convicts between 1799 and 1818. Today it boasts the nation’s most important collection of Australian colonial furniture, as well as early textiles and significant homewares from the time of the colony's early governors.

Note: Old Government House is closed until further notice. Find out more here.

  • Museums
  • Millers Point

Originally built in the late 1800s, Sydney Observatory opened to the public in 1982. Night tours (booking essential) include a talk and tour, 3D Space Theatre session and viewing through a 40cm (16in) reflecting telescope. You can also explore Sydney Observatory on a self-guided day visit or daytime staff-guided telescope and 3D Space Theatre session.

Note: Sydney Observatory is closed for maintenance and is due to reopen in December 2021.

Susannah Place Museum
  • Museums
  • The Rocks

The Rocks once teemed with working-class Aussies. Built in 1844, their terraces invoke humble glories and provide plenty of fodder for history buffs and nosy parkers.

Note: this museum remains temporarily closed, check here for updates.

  • Museums
  • Science
  • Wollongong

It’s worth a trip down south to Wollongong just to visit this fun, interactive science museum. Science Space is a big cheerful building near the beach that boasts more than 90 interactive exhibits. See your body through a heat-sensitive lens, test your strength, come face to face with animatronic dinosaurs, and be amazed by the power of magnetism. 

Note: Science Space reopens from October 18, 2021.

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