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The best museums in Sydney

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

By Time Out editors |
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Hyde Park Barracks Museum
Photograph: Supplied

If the idea of visiting a museum conjures thoughts of mind-numbing school trips and dusty exhibits, Sydney's roll call of world-class institutions are ready to well and truly banish those bad memories. 

Head out on a journey of discovery as you learn about fascinating natural histories, scientific endeavors, design innovations and the many surprising stories that have made this city everything it is today.

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

Sydney's best museums

1
Australian National Maritime Museum
Museums, History

Australian National Maritime Museum

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 ANMM if you're keen jump aboard a submarine and live out all your Hunt for Red October fantasies.

2
Powerhouse_Museum--train.jpg
Museums

Powerhouse Museum

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 exhibitions.

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3
hyde-park-barracks-exterior-shot-01-a-sydney-living-museums-credit-stephen-antonopoulos.jpg
Museums, History

Hyde Park Barracks Museum

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.

4
Justice & Police Museum
Museums, History

Justice & Police Museum

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.

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5
Elizabeth Farm homestead
Photograph: Douglas Riley
Museums, History

Elizabeth Farm

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. 

6
Museum_of_Sydney--exterior.jpg
Museums, History

Museum of Sydney

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.

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7
Old Government House
Photograph: Supplied
Things to do

Old Government House

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.

8
Nicholson Museum
Museums, History

Nicholson Museum

Camperdown

Its Victorian reserve is perfect for an exhibition that includes mummified bodies and body parts amongst the ancient objects. Haunting and beautiful, the Nicholson holds Australia's largest collection of antiquities and will entice even the most reluctant Indiana. 

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9
Sydney Observatory
Museums

Sydney Observatory

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.

10
Jewish_Museum--exhibits.jpg
Museums, History

Sydney Jewish Museum

Darlinghurst

You can't exhibit grief but you can explore it. The SJM has the dignified space needed to take us through events of the Holocaust with respect, and ponder life's biggest issues.

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11
Susannah Place Museum
Museums, History

Susannah Place Museum

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.

12
Australian Museum
Museums, History

Australian Museum

Darlinghurst

Note: The Australian Museum will be closed to the public until mid-2020 to undergo a major facelift. Funnel webs, king browns, red backs, salties – find Australia's most deadly here, stuffed or behind glass. 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.

Take a walking tour of Sydney

Culture Scouts tour Sydney
Photograph: Emma Joyce
Things to do, Walks and tours

Sydney’s best tours

We’ve tried and tested Sydney’s best tours – from seaside foraging trails to urban graffiti walks – to bring you a list of tour operators who’ll help you discover the hidden gems of this city, whether you’re local or here to soak up the view. 

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