Walking Tour: Museums and Art Galleries in Sydney (Self Guided), Sydney

Sydney has a wide range of museums to satisfy every possible interest. Many of these museums offer wonderful temporary exhibits in addition to their exceptional permanent collections. Most of the museums reveal the history of the Australian continent, which is inseparable from the maritime aspects. Taking this walking tour, you will become familiar with Sydney’s most famous museums.
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Walking Tour: Museums and Art Galleries in Sydney Map

Guide Name: Walking Tour: Museums and Art Galleries in Sydney
Guide Location: Australia » Sydney (See other walking tours in Sydney)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 7.1 Km or 4.4 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Sydney Observatory
  • Susannah Place Museum
  • The Rocks Discovery Museum
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Aboriginal Art Galleries
  • The Justice and Police Museum
  • Museum of Sydney
  • Art Gallery of New South Wales
  • Hyde Park Barracks
  • Australian Museum
  • Powerhouse Museum
  • Australian National Maritime Museum
1
Sydney Observatory

1) Sydney Observatory

This 140 year old observatory is the oldest in Australia. The Sydney Observatory was designed to preserve the history of the science of astronomy. It is surrounded by serene gardens where visitors can sit and enjoy the view.

The Sydney observatory was first the site of a windmill. Later a fort was built to defend the city from attacks by the French and rebellious convicts. In 1825, the eastern wall of the tower was used to send signals to passing ships. In 1856, government astronomer, William Scott was commissioned to design an observatory adjacent to the signal tower. The sandstone building has an Italianate style designed by architect, Alexander Dawson. At first the main task of the observatory was to tell the time through the Time Ball Tower. At 1.00 pm, the ball at the top of the tower would drop to signal the time to the harbour and the city.

The museum has many old telescopes, sextants and other astronomical objects on display. There is a 3-D space theatre and sky viewing sessions overseen by a professional astronomer. The sessions are held at night and visitors can observe the planets through a state of the art 40cm Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope or an ancient 29 cm refractor telescope built in 1874 which is the oldest functioning telescope in Australia.
2
Susannah Place Museum

2) Susannah Place Museum

The Susannah Place Museum highlights the life of the working class in Sydney from 1844 to 1990. It is located in the Rocks area of Sydney which was once a slum and rough neighbourhood.

The Susannah Place Museum consists of four sandstone houses. These are the last of the sandstone structures that were once found in abundance in the area. They were originally built in 1844 for Edward and Mary Riley. There is also a corner shop adjacent to the buildings. They have been the home of many working class families after the Rileys. The interesting part of the museum is that restoration has been performed only to make the structures safe. All other aspects have been left undisturbed.

The houses have layers of paint and peeling wallpaper, a 150 year old lounge, an 80 year old kitchen and a 100 year old bedroom. The brick type toilets to the recent flushing toilets are depicted to show the changing sanitary methods used in the city. The backyard shows the changing methods of washing from the tub to the washing machine used in a working class neighbourhood. The museum has a short DVD on the history of the The Rocks and photographs on how the road looked before the building of the Harbour Bridge. The corner shop is decorated to reflect the richness of working class community life and sells 19th century products over the counter.

Hours: Monday-Sunday 2:00 – 5:00 pm
3
The Rocks Discovery Museum

3) The Rocks Discovery Museum

This free museum located in Kendall Lane in The Rocks, Sydney tells the tale of the location from the time it was inhabited by the aboriginal people to the present. It is one of the most interesting and informative museums in the city.

The Rocks Discovery Museum is housed in an 1850 sandstone warehouse restored by the National Trust. It covers three floors and the exhibits are divided into sections. There are many interesting historical objects on display and computer generated audio visual displays. The four sections include the Aboriginal, the Colonial, Port and Transformations.

Objects at the museum are from many archaeological excavations. Visitors can learn about the Cadigal Aboriginal people who first resided at the Rocks, the European settlements, political and social movements, union protests in the seventies and recent events like the evacuation of local residents for the development of a commercial zone and their fight against the demolition of historical buildings that would have removed all traces of the first colonial settlement in Sydney.

Interesting exhibits like Aboriginal spearheads and beer bottles used by the early European settlers are on display. Visitors can also view three informative short films on the history of the Rocks. The museum holds temporary exhibitions and special programs to introduce children to the culture of the Aborigines.
4
Museum of Contemporary Art

4) Museum of Contemporary Art (must see)

The Museum of Contemporary Art, or simply MCA, has a goal to exhibit the best contemporary art from Australia and the world. Originally opened in 1952, then relocated in 1989, it is among the newer museums in Sydney. Despite its relative youth, it has a reputation of one of the most internationally respected organizations among those purposed to exhibit, interpret, and collect contemporary art.

Why You Should Visit:
Fun & comprehensive Australian art selection in many art forms, air conditioning, and free exhibitions (the first two floors are free to access, donations accepted).

Tip:
Amazing views of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge from the rooftop café (just go onto the terrace – no purchase required!).
If you find yourself not enjoying the museum or thinking the exhibits are not good, try taking the tour, as it might help to change your mind.

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 10am-5pm; Wed: 10am-9pm
5
Aboriginal Art Galleries

5) Aboriginal Art Galleries

What to buy here: Aboriginal Artwork

The aboriginal people of Australia have a rich artistic heritage, which is captured in contemporary and traditional artwork displayed at numerous galleries in Sydney. The aboriginal people use their art to tell stories about the land, its animal and plants or the spiritual landscapes, called the Dreaming. Often natural ochre paints and bark canvases are used, making these artworks a true piece of Australia to take home. For original artworks, prices start around AU$500 and go into the thousands, but most galleries have prints available as well. One of the most well-renowned gallery chains in Sydney are the Aboriginal Art Galleries, which display and sell works at three central locations in the city. The Opera Quays gallery is located at shop 13, 2 in East Circular Quay at the Opera Quays and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Queen Victoria Building gallery is located at shop 47-51 on level 2 of the QVB, and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. The third gallery is located at The Rocks in Bay 5, 1-5 Hickson Road, right on the corner of George Street and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
6
The Justice and Police Museum

6) The Justice and Police Museum

The Justice and Police Museum is dedicated to this history of law and order and crime fighting from the arrival of the convicts to the twentieth century. It is housed in a building that was used by many law enforcement agencies throughout history.

The building had several uses before it became a museum. It served as a Water Police Court, a Water Police Station, a Police Court and Traffic Court. The rooms have an array of displays about crime fighting, famous criminal cases and heroic policemen. There are also many photographs and crime fighting equipment on display.

The Justice and Police Museum contains many interesting exhibits for visitors. There is an intact prison cell in the building, an original front desk area that formed part of many police stations, a collection of weapons used by the police down the ages, a well preserved courtroom where visitors can sit in the judge’s chair or take the witness stand and a torture chamber for misbehaving prisoners. One of the rooms contains many objects and pictures to pay homage to the policemen fallen in the line of duty. A recent display called Sin City showcases the history of crime in Sydney from the time the city served as a prison colony to the present.

Hours: Saturday-Sunday 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
7
Museum of Sydney

7) Museum of Sydney (must see)

The Museum of Sydney showcases the fascinating history of the city and how it developed from a small village near a harbour to a vibrant metropolis. History comes alive to visitors through displays, pictures and digital media techniques.

The Museum of Sydney is on the site of the first Government House built for the first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Philip. It was constructed in 1788 and was unearthed by archaeologists in 1983. The early drains are left exposed in front of the modern structure housing the Museum of Sydney. It was designed by the architect firm, Denton Corker Marshall. The museum opened its doors for public viewing in 1995. It has an award-winning sculpture called the Edge of the Trees depicting the first contact between Aborigines and British settlers.

Notable displays at the museum are panoramic views of the city, goods and chattels belonging to convicts uncovered by archaeological digs, objects dedicated to the indigenous people who lived in the location before the arrival of the Europeans and models and descriptions of the first fleet that brought British troops and convicts to Australia to set up a penal colony. The museum tells the tale of the people who lived and worked in the city and visionaries who shaped modern-day Sydney.

Why You Should Visit:
One place to quickly upgrade your knowledge about Sydney by way of varied and interesting exhibits including unique artworks, archaeology, models, and more.
Although not large, the museum is well laid out and there are several videos, archive films, and interactive exhibits.

Tip:
Taking the guided tour is a good idea, as it unravels so much more information. There is a lot of subtlety to the museum which is probably lost on the people who criticize it for not being BIG.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
8
Art Gallery of New South Wales

8) Art Gallery of New South Wales (must see)

The Art Gallery of New South Wales holds a large collection of Australian, Aboriginal, Asian and European Art and hosts changing exhibitions all through the year. The aim of the gallery is to be a place of experience and inspiration through collections, exhibitions, programs, and the study of art.

Walter Liberty Vernon designed the building in the classical tradition of grand colonial mansions of the time. The gallery opened in 1897. Since its opening, several extensions have been added to the structure including the Captain Cook Wing and an Asian Arts Wing.

The collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales includes an impressive selection of British Victorian Art and smaller collections of early French, Italian and Dutch painters. Many works of famous 19th-century Australian painters like John Glover and Arthur Streeton and 20th-century artists like Margaret Preston and Sydney Nolan. It also awards the Archibald Prize, the highest Australian art award, the Sulman Prize, and the Wynne and Dobell art prizes. The library has a large collection of books on art, manuscripts, rare books and files of Australian artists. Other facilities include a café and a shop selling art books, gift articles, and postcards.

Why You Should Visit:
Brilliant selection of art, many examples of different art genres, relaxing atmosphere, very pleasant and helpful staff.
Free admission save for special exhibitions that are generally worth paying for and seeing.

Tip:
The gallery is open late on Wednesdays – including the café and more formal dining upstairs.
Make sure you check the free guided tour schedules before you go – they make a lot of difference.

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 10am-5pm; Wed: 10am-10pm
9
Hyde Park Barracks

9) Hyde Park Barracks (must see)

The Hyde Park Barracks served to house the large convict population who were transported to Australia from Britain. It is now a museum dedicated to the history of the building.

The Hyde Park Barracks was designed by emancipated convict architect, Francis Greenway. It was built by convict labour between 1817 and 1819 as the first permanent shelter for convicts. They roamed the streets and crime was rampant until the construction of the barracks. It is located at the centre of a walled compound covering 2.16 hectares and has three floors. Other buildings inside the walls included a cookhouse, a bakery and quarters for soldiers. It was closed in 1848 and had many uses since. It became a dormitory for emigrant women who awaited the arrival of their families, an asylum for destitute women and was later converted as government offices and law courts.

In 1981, the Hyde Park Barracks became a museum run by the Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales. The first floor recreates the arrival of the first fleet with convicts and the life and times of the early convicts including a confinement box and leg irons. The second floor recreates the history of the building after it ceased to be convict barracks. The top floor recreates barrack rooms with hammocks showing the dwelling place and conditions of convicts at the time.

Why You Should Visit:
To understand more about Sydney's past either at your own pace or with the aid of an excellent audio guide that helps to bring the stories to life.
Incredible levels of detail and unique displays throughout that mix modern technologies with the old building and stories.
The staff at the gift shop and reception area are very friendly and informative.
Set on beautiful grounds, the area is just beautiful to stroll around.

Tip:
There is a cute little restaurant right outside the museum that serves great lunch and drinks – it's fun to eat in the courtyard with ivy climbing up the walls behind.
The bathrooms are also located outside and behind the main barracks building which requires you to return your audio guide on the way out and recover it when you return.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
10
Australian Museum

10) Australian Museum (must see)

The Australian Museum is the oldest in Australia and showcases an array of natural history and anthropological exhibits. It is an interesting and entertaining museum for visitors of all ages.

The museum was founded by the Earl of Bathurst who was the Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1845. It was housed in many temporary locations until it moved into its present building. The handsome sandstone structure was designed by architect James Barnet and opened for public viewing in 1857.

At first, exhibits at the museum included stuffed birds and animals focusing on the flora and fauna of Australia and the South Pacific. After 30 years anthropological exhibits about the indigenous people of Australia were included in the display. Objects unearthed by archaeological expeditions about the first European settlements in the country are also showcased at the museum.

Special temporary exhibitions and programs are held for young and old visitors. Children are fascinated by the dinosaur gallery and the special interactive space in the museum designed for young visitors. There are lectures and workshops for adult visitors and ‘Scientist for a Day’, programs for children. The Museum also hosts performances by local musicians and dance companies on Sunday afternoons.

Tip:
Don't forget to take the Official Sydney Guide at the airport or at one of the tourist information stands to get a coupon discount for the ticket.
You can re-enter as many times as you like on the day, so have a little picnic/siesta in the park before going back inside for more.
Otherwise, try the rooftop (level 4) café for excellent views of the city and a nice rest in between galleries.
The special exhibits that they have throughout the year are worth keeping an eye out for.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5pm
11
Powerhouse Museum

11) Powerhouse Museum (must see)

The Powerhouse Museum is the major branch of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney, the other being the historic Sydney Observatory. Although often described as a science museum, the Powerhouse has a diverse collection encompassing all sorts of technology including Decorative arts, Science, Communication, Transport, Costume, Furniture, Media, Computer technology, Space technology and Steam engines.

It has existed in various guises for over 125 years, and is home to some 400,000 artifacts, many of which are displayed or housed at the site it has occupied since 1988, and for which it is named — a converted electric tram power station in the Inner West suburb of Ultimo, originally constructed in 1902. It is well known, and a popular Sydney tourist destination. It has a quarterly magazine called Powerline sent free to members and available at the museum.

Why You Should Visit:
You could literally spend all day here! This isn't just a science museum – it has several levels of unique exhibits, both fixed and temporary.
It blends global and Australian history and applied sciences and machinery in an interactive, interesting, and fun way.
It is also right next to a wonderful food court with every kind of Asian food you can imagine at Paddy's Market.

Tip:
Take time out for a coffee or break before the next section as too much in one go can be tiring, and the daily ticket allows re-entry on the day.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-5pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
12
Australian National Maritime Museum

12) Australian National Maritime Museum (must see)

The Australian National Maritime Museum is dedicated to the maritime history of the country and its continuing involvement and dependence on seas and oceans. The building looks like a ship and the roof resembles billowing sails.

The Australian National Maritime Museum is the only federally-operated museum outside the capital territory. It has seven main galleries with different themes including one wholly funded by the USA, showcasing the maritime relationship between the two countries. The museum opened in 1989.

The galleries have permanent exhibitions depicting the discovery of Australia, the relationship and trade carried on by the Aborigines with other parts of Asia, travel to Australia by sea, the ocean as a resource and a gallery devoted to the ocean as a recreational venue. Three galleries are used for temporary exhibits. There are also three museum ships, a replica of HMS Endeavour that discovered the Australian continent, HMAS Vampire and HMS Onslow, a submarine, that are open to the public. Visitors can view life on convict ships, what emigrant ships brought to Australia and the history of the World War I naval battle of Gallipoli where an Australian fleet fought bravely and lost. The museum has many hands-on exhibits to entertain children, a cinema, and ocean-related computer games.

Why You Should Visit:
Excellent experience with really informative volunteer guides providing a real insight into life as a mariner.
The ships can be a bit claustrophobic but you can really appreciate what it must have been like to have served on board.

Tip:
The main museum is free (ink stamp on the wrist) but if you want to do the submarine, destroyer, or the wooden sailing ship you have to pay for those.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5pm

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